Debunking a few Parenthood Myths

This is my third year into motherhood so I feel morally obliged to share some insights. It has changed my life immensely and it has been by far the biggest blessing I ever received, but I wish there were more sincere aspects of the hurdles of first time parenthood on the web to prepare women for this life-changing experience.

So here it goes, debunking some myths:

“Balancing career and motherhood will sort out itself ”: The African saying “It takes a Village to Raise a Childprobably sums this up best.When you decide to start a family and you are a professional person, the first thing you need to do is look around you and identify what is your support network. Are your parents or your in-laws retired and willing to give you a hand once you return to work? Can your salaries afford you a nanny or daycare, and would you feel comfortable leaving your new born with strangers for nine hours per day? Obviously these are questions that should be addressed beforehand.

Breast is Best. Ok, this is such a sensitive topic. Obviously breast is best. But sometimes I feel I agree with the French on this one. You should always do what keeps you balanced and sane. You are an intelligent human, not a feeding machine. Couples today, eager to be the best parents possible, go to extreme lengths to prolong breastfeeding, and are very proud when little Sofia, that has a mouth full of teeth and can speak sentences,pulls mom’s blouse down in public to drink milk. Stop feeling a failure or guilty if breastfeeding did not work out or you simply did not enjoy it.

Early Potty Training. Just like breastfeeding potty training is another topic that sparks lively database and attracts the most condescending and smug  comments from parents that trained their baby as soon as he could hold his head up. Enough with this madness. Sooner or later they will learn, and rest assured, they will not go to school wearing nappies.

Playdates: As a new mother I felt obliged to take my daughter to playdates way before she was interested in engaging with others or even inclined to liking others. I would say that toddlers from the age of two onwards are likely to look for the company of children but earlier than that, I am sorry to say, but it is a waste of time. Yes, it can be also a social opportunity for the mom to meet other moms but don’t expect to get a second for an adult conversation,let alone an intelligent conversation of any kind. Most of the time you will be either pretending to tell off your baby not to scream, cry and throw things down (and pretend in front of others that there is some logical explanation for that “This is totally because she didn’t have a nap today”) and, secretly planning your escape when she gives her best and loudest performance. “I ll take her home for that nap that we were saying”.

I take care of my baby while I work from home. Since I became a parent I came across this urban legend of the professional (usually a mom) that works from home while she takes care of her baby. Even though I am not familiar with the specific working arrangements of every person this sounds like the equivalent of trying to write a text when you are driving a motorbike at high speed. When I work I need to be able to focus on what i am doing, which is virtually impossible with an awake baby in the house. If however someone offered me the kind of job that you can do while taking care of a baby, and paid me with real money for it, i would take it in a heartbeat.

The second one will be a breeze. I left my favourite for the end. In life you can never keep people happy. When you are single people want to know when you will tie the knot, and when that happens they regularly interrogate you when are you planning to get pregnant. Just when you thought you have ticked all the boxes and they will finally leave you alone, there is the question of the second baby.I once had a mom that tried to convince me that having two kids is easier than having one just because they keep busy playing with each other. As a new mom of one, I thought it was one of the most outrageous arguments I had ever heard.  Even if it holds true for some part especially when the children are older, the popular idea that the second baby is a breeze and it will simplify your life is ridiculous. Sure, you already have all the know-how but that does not make the 3am feeds any easier, or lessens the overall responsibility of raising another human being.

So have more kids, but because you welcome the joy and the hard work, not only to provide the first one with a play mate.

The age of political correctness is destroying our only chance to tolerate each other.

Domenico-Dolce-Stefano-Gabbana

Today it feels like every other thing said is taken personally by someone and thus ends up offending a group of people. Immediately there comes the public slamming about racism of every kind. It seems if you have no intention to defend someone or something, you are banned from mentioning it/them whatsoever, as anything you say will be used against you. From joking about “synthetic babies” to cracking a green card joke, it is obvious that in the internet age every time you open your mouth you are likely walking through a minefield. The famous Voltaire saying “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” is hardly exercised any more, not when you are likely to be punished for you opinions by literally being blown up for disrespecting someone’s religious beliefs or metaphorically have your life blown up by a disapproving hashtag that can threaten to annihilate your professional achievements.

Tom Walsh once said that “humour results when society says you can’t scratch certain things in public, but they itch in public.” Humour therefore takes honesty and guts (to often state the obvious), something that our society lacks. Of course not all examples of failed political correctness have to do with humour, some are simple slips of the tongue, like the Benedict Cumberbatch’s use of “coloured” instead of black which resulting in accusations of racism. (even though he was actually making an argument pointing out the lack of opportunities for black actors).

Instead of jumping on the bandwagon like sheep with those who take the opportunity to personally attack and slam others (for reasons that we might not be aware of) we should instead take a moment to think what the so called offender does in his/her life to deserve the slamming. Actions are stronger than words.

So instead of asking “Does this person speak pro/against X, Y, Z?” , you should ask “Would this person ever discriminate against X,Y,Z?”. Would this person act out of hate? This way you can also tell humour from masking hate satire.

I have seen countless of “politically correct” people (their “correctness” mainly owed to the fact that they are never honest and open about their personal beliefs) living “politically incorrect” lifestyles, the most common example hiring people of their own race/religion/sexual preference. The most “politically correct” of all of course being the politicians, the masters of political correctness and hypocrisy.

Where does this political-correctness frenzy lead us? My best guess is a distorted multiculturalism, a society where sameness is being mistaken for equality. ( but where equality is not in effect). “Multiculturalism” when there is only one culture and it is “offensive” to acknowledge otherness with respect. A new world order indeed.

But the biggest disservice is that it does not help us understand each other as human beings. On the contrary it fragments us in a state of silent hate and passive aggressiveness that condemns us to never really like each other.

Thinking about relocating abroad as a “trailing spouse”? Some things you should know.

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I may use it in the title but I dislike the term “trailing spouse”. To me it describes someone who lets her or himself be carried abroad like a another piece of luggage and from there lives trapped in a semi-stigmatised existence, confined in the role of the housekeeper and the emotional supporter. It might be true that once (you know in the olden days) when couples relocated, the wife was not expected to do much other than support the husband’s career, volunteer in the local community with women in similar situation, and attend weekly get togethers with expat women so she can vent about her expat life.

Nowadays, however, with globalisation having transformed completely the international work dynamics, a spouse should be able to do better than that. First of all, finding work abroad is much easier and much more common. People can work remotely with a laptop and a good internet connection. There is much more mobility, diversity and flexibility. So theoretically the life of the “trailing spouse” has become much easier and uncomplicated.. Right?

In my experience I have met some pretty amazing people living abroad, trying to support their partner’s career while they work hard to find their own decent place in the new society. It usually takes a lot of courage, strength, and dedication to make things happens. Often it is a huge blow to the pride. But you have to work with your self and the personal issues that every one has and find your way.

I know because I am one. Having lived abroad several times for my own sake and ambitions this was the first time I let my partner’s career goals decide where I will be.

Here is the list of things that in my opinion you should consider before deciding to take the leap:

Your motto: good research.

The Country: The country where you relocate can make or break your success story. Being “abroad” in one part of the globe will not be the same as being “abroad” in another. In short, don’t just jump with excitement in the prospect before researching the place. If you move for example in Paris, France you will have a completely different life from if you move in Oslo, Norway. Which means that if Paris is what you have fantasies for and you move in Oslo to have a similar “european” experience you will be disappointed. (the opposite is true as well, desiring to live in the woods and find yourself in the middle of a big chaotic city). Of course in this example i use extremes, Parisean lifestyle is lightyears away from Scandinavian. I know that it does not depend on the “trailing spouse” where the relocation will be but I am only highlighting patterns you should avoid. At the end of the day the connection you personally have with the country and its people will determine your willingness to work hard to integrate.

The Country: Romantic Ideas vs Real facts. You may have already visited the place and find it charming, romanic, refreshing… Only because you have seen it as a tourist. You have done all the cool stuff and somehow that makes you feel that your life there will be like that, a constant amazement. Almost every place in the world can look charming when you are a tourist. But think that once you move there you might not live in the cool city centre because the rents will be just out of reach. You might find yourself in a suburb away from amenities and attractions. When the initial newcomer’s excitement fades, would you like to live in THAT place permanently? Will the transport be convenient to use on a daily basis? What do the people do for entertainment and does that match your expectations? Are you attracted to the culture, people and society?Remember you will be a newcomer there, you need all the conveniences you can get. Is this place what you think it is or a beautiful holiday memory?

The Language: This one is a HUGE HUGE factor. Do you speak the language of the country you are going? If not ,are you willing to learn it? I mean really learn it, beyond ordering “a big cappuccino please”. Your partner will probably be fine speaking in English at work but the same unfortunately will not be true for you. In certain parts of the world many people will look at you in shock,bewilderment and even contempt if you don’t address them in their language. Think that learning the language is not optional when you relocate and especially when you have not already secured a job.

The job: Getting a job in the new country might be easy or difficult. it depends on the place you are, the language, your own field and skills, and in many cases nationality, ethnicity, race etc. (Sad but true. ) If you plan to work asap try to find out what people in your shoes generally say about their experience. Don’t take things for granted. You might be hot stuff in one country and in another get constant rejections. Be prepared, disappointment might come. While volunteering at a swedish shelter I met a girl , a rather fierce go getter from Spain who had moved to Stockholm because of her Swedish boyfriend. She wanted to get a job the next day. You could see she was like a lion in a cage, she was not ready to take the blow to her pride and surrender to the new hard reality where her CV did not get her any interviews. Even the simple task of handing food to the homeless had become for her a competitive task where she had to prove herself. Only a few months later she moved to Germany to work in her field. Having said that there are many well educated professionals who endure much longer than that in order to be with their partners. The reason why I think this example is important is because many people today, especially if they have invested a lot in education and personal growth, lose their sense of identity and self worth once they are removed from their jobs and careers and thus feel lost and disorientated.

Money. This is something you will probably need to sort out with your partner. His or her salary might sound alluring in dollars or yuan but once you calculate your expenses according to the cost of life in the new place you realise that your lifestyle might actually worsen. Plus his salary, if you have no job will be used to support the whole family. Will you be happy to live in a smaller apartment, have no car and depend on your partner for pocket money?

I don’t mean to sound too discouraging. At the end of the day each of us is different and will take the decision considering what they have to give up and what is important to them on a personal level. But you have to be well informed-know what you are in for.

Living abroad can be a very rewarding and unique experience. Plan your “escape” wisely.

And if you try and fail don’t beat your self up. Always kudos to you for having tried.

Thoughts on Motherhood

Lately I have spotted on the news various opinion articles written by women who confess having no regrets about deciding to stay childless. They are usually accompanied by numerous congratulatory comments from other women who have felt the pressure to become mothers for years.

I feel like this leap in human evolution has been the elephant in the room for the last decades but finally women are free to speak out the truth behind desires of motherhood. For one thing, motherhood has been regarded as a natural purpose that is manifested for every woman at some point in her life. If it doesn’t, she is seen as a person “with issues”, someone who is lacking an intrinsic part of femininity and womanliness. Women who declare they do not want children are patronizingly being told that they will change their minds when they get older and then it is going to be too late. I too know women who have regretted their decision to stay childfree. Except that they faced this dilemma a good sixty years ago.

One cannot help noticing that in today’s highly competitive world with unstable economies and relationships as well as a plethora of choices and stimulants, staying childless is something that comes naturally to both men and women and not something they have to fight off. Today’s society after all, celebrates the individual and through the social media encourages self centered lifestyles. The things you do about yourself, in short, and your career achievements are the only things you will be really congratulated for, admired or respected. Sadly nobody will ever appreciate you for the years you spend in dirty sweatpants washing bottles and cleaning like a maniac while humming the tune of Peppa Pig.

There are those of course who use children as a way to enhance their own image. These are usually women who have enough money to pay nannies to raise their children while they pursuit their careers and continue their lives as usual. In that case, the “maternity halo” make them look better in society: they make them look less self-centered and less self-absorbed, more giving and more sacrificing. But these women who experience motherhood mainly through the impression they create on others are not the women I would like to talk about.

Instead I speak of the modern woman that has too many things on her plate. Pretending career and family is an easily manageable choice, like for example my parents’ generation did with the full time voluntary help of their hard working housewives mothers and mother-in -laws is no longer an option. The new grandmas are often either still working or newly retired with little patience and little desire to babysit.

I am a mom and I would not change my daughter for the world. She filled my life with hard meaningful work, sleepless nights and despair, strength, courage and truth. She has been my comrade in this physically and emotionally difficult journey and she has rewarded and punished me with hard all consuming absolute love.

I have however only respect for the modern woman who has also made a courageous choice and has proudly declared she wants to stay child free. As a woman and a mom I understand every single why she might want to challenge the hypocritical over-romanticized idea of motherhood as a life purpose or validation of self worth.

After all that’s the kind of pressure I would never want my daughter to face.

Confessions of a Facebookholic

Facebook-addictions

I vaguely remember these last few months before I opened a Facebook account. It was a particularly cold chinese Winter back in 2007 and I was a language student in Beijing. I did not have a soaring social life and I frequently spent the night in watching a movie or reading a book. These two activities were done always unobstructed, without me having to check on my laptop, a mobile device or an ipad to connect to others. Weirdly enough I never felt lonely too, despite spending most evenings alone in small 27th floor Beijing apartment. Every now and then there was always something to do with someone, who might not have been classified as a “Friend” but neither was there any pressure to become one. However nothing felt wrong.

There were of course established Facebookers around at the time. Usually they were younger girls around 18-20 years old that were too eager hang out with the “right” crowd (whatever that meant for them) and dismiss people who would not impress them in the first three minutes. I was watching them daily checking their Facebook accounts while browsing pictures of themselves posing and partying, and I thought what a waste of time narcissistic habit that was. (And imagine back then “selfies” were not even popular)

Six months later I got a Facebook account.

Seven years later and I feel I might be the last one of my generation that did not realize on time what an addiction Facebook is. Just like alcohol or smoking it depends how well you handle it. But it has not been inviting you to handle it well.

Facebook is a great marketing tool, especially if you are a creative artist, writer or self promoter and want to share work. It also artfully creates excuses through sharing to stay connected with people with whom you would otherwise might not stay in touch. Even if the latter might sound to some more like a curse than a blessing; we do live in times where self promoting and networking are essential for professional survival.

Recently I read this piece written by The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman which I found to be spot on on my own experience. Rothman argues that Facebook and social media in general have become our Kafkaesque “altruistic punishment”: This is how we “punish” ourselves when we are being asked to contribute to the good of the community by posting our life success but we fail to do so. When this happens viewing the posts of others can only make us feel like we are being judged for failing to contribute with a similar if not greater success story: a photo attached to an update on a job promotion, an exciting job offer, an international lifestyle.

In that sense Facebook’s hyperconnectivity does not make us feel better about ourselves. Staying in on a Friday night, for example, can only get worse if you decide to check what your Facebook Friends are doing. They are either connected or not, but both cases are likely to make you feel worse about yourself.

But above all it is the false sense that the virtual space you enter is a real space where people enter to have a common social experience for a defined period of time , like they would do for example if they went together in a pub to get a pint. The only person you really confront when you seek sociability on the web is your own lonely and insecure self.

I am still on Facebook and I am not planning to quit. But I can only imagine how lonely my Beijing winter might have felt if I had spent it on the web, and I am thus grateful for the “naivety” of those older times.

Commenting on the Comment War: The superficial age of outsmarting (dedicated to the Matt Walsh post)

Lately I have seen a number of interesting yet provocative and controversial online posts about different aspects of motherhood. I say controversial because they attract a plethora of online reactions, apparently from people who, judging by the context of their comment, shouldn’t be interested in reading in the first place.

“Motherhood simplified your life? OH PLEASE!!! All my friends became selfish self centered and boring after having kids!!!” on Lauren Laverne’s Having a Baby will simplify your Life or on one of my all time favorite posts by Matt Walsh You are a stay at home Mom what do you do all day? “OH PLEASE!!! I work full time and STILL have to take care of my kids when I go home!! In fact I work all day!!!” or “B***hit My parents are both successful psychologists working full time throughout my childhood and I am SOOO normal!!”.

Of course open comments are meant to do just that, allow people to express their personal views and opinions and thus create and ongoing debate. But very often I do wonder how people read and comprehend an opinion article. For one thing both pieces mentioned describe life lessons learnt, and life discrepancies observed and they are all drawn from sincere personal experiences. And there is something more. In Matt Walsh’s piece for example I love how obvious and yet intangible is his love for his wife. How noble is his desire in his writing to protect her from obnoxious people and defend her against social madness that sees her role as a mother as an obstacle to being someone. And by doing the above declare how invaluable is her contribution to his life and the family. His intention behind his post was sincere and true.

And yet there were numerous comments accurately reflecting the kind of negativity the author observes in his post: Women berating other women and bragging about how busy they are, exactly by doing what he described as confusing being busy with being important. It is their right to do so but it just sad. How can you really reject a piece written with honesty and love that reflects the soul of the writer?

Ernest Hemingway had said about writing “All you have to do is write one true sentence, write the truest sentence that you know.” What can be truer than a reflection of one’s soul? Because today we are continuously being drawn to the idea that one version of truth does not exist. All our thoughts and beliefs can be refuted. Even though that applies to many essential philosophical questions, it sadly also applies to moral responsibility. We have seen it in politics, society, tv shows. Being the bad guy is socially acceptable, even desirable. There are after all always two sides of the same coin.

But there is something true. It is what comes from your soul. I don’t believe all people have a soul, even though in theory they are supposed to. But to write a “true sentence” you have to have a reader that will read it with “truth”. A reader with soul. One that will not seek to destroy it with popular punch lines that reflect what is socially acceptable.

I do enjoy writing and reading comments as well as online debates. But I do wish fellow readers and writers to always read, think and write with truth.

Arbetsförmedlingen: How to not get a job in Sweden

As an English speaking job seeker in Sweden I got acquainted with Arbetsförmedlingen  , the official governmental employment agency.  To be honest some non local friends had warned me against registering for Job Coaching, as it would be a waste of time. But having recently obtained my Personal Number in Sweden and being an active job seeker, I thought it would not do any harm exploring all my options. Besides, an acquaintance recommended a career consultant who, once I were successfully enrolled in an employment program, would help me with my job search.

So it works that way: Once you have your Personal Number you have the right to go to any Arbetsförmedlingen office in town, create a CV on their database and then register as a Job Seeker.  In this application you include the name and details of the professional you wish to have as a Career Consultant or Job Coach, and that person is being contacted by Arbetsförmedlingen  to sign up an agreement with them that he or she will help you with your job search. They are paid by the State to do so, regardless of the outcome. They are paid for the coaching.

Before I tell you my experience I want to make something clear: I applied for the program as an English speaker and having no knowledge of Swedish. I do not claim that it is supposed to be easy for a person that does not speak a country’s native language to compete with native speakers in the local job market. Very much the opposite. But English is the official language of many companies, and in the healthy Swedish economy there are multinationals that do not formally request knowledge of Swedish.  Surely knowing the language of a country helps a lot when you apply for a job, but I repeat, multinationals are happy to employ people fluent in English. So basically it depends on the company and the role.

Day One: I have an appointment with the woman who in the next four months will be my Job Coach. She is a typical Scandinavian woman in her middle to late 40’s, blonde, cheerful and really pleasant to be around. I will call her Ingrid here. You can literally speak to her for hours; she has a very charming personality. She gives me a few tips about how to apply in Arbetsförmedlingen  and urges me to go there as soon as possible to sign her up as my Job Coach. She enthusiastically explains that we will be very busy once she is my career consultant and we will work very hard towards the end goal: getting me a job. She has after all tons of contacts in multinational companies that she could introduce me to.  International people like me are in demand if you know the right people.

“Don’t forget to like us on Facebook” is her motto.

Day Two: I finally have the Personal Number in my hands and I am entitled to register with Arbetsförmedlingen  . I show up at my local branch and I tell the blonde girl at the reception I am there to register as a Job Seeker. The girl asks for my Personal Number and I show her my little precious recently obtained ID Card. “Do you have Clearance from the Migration?” she asks. “But I am an EU citizen” I reply,  ”Sorry you need clearance from the Migration to sign up with us”. “But in order to get my Personal Number I need Migration Clearance and here I have my Personal Number.” I try one last time. “Sorry but unless you show us a paper that gives you Migration clearance we cannot help you.”.she replies.

Not feeling disheartened (I grew up in Greece after all) I decide to take the train and try a more central branch.  My decision is correct: They show me in, no questions asked. My application is handled by a very polite smiling fluent in English Swedish guy.

“So is it hard for someone with no Swedish language skills to find a job here?” I ask at some point to initiate a conversation.

“Not really, it happens, especially with people with good education” he replies kindly and makes a compliment on my CV.

He prints a document with the details of Ingrid as my Job Coach for the next 4 months.

The following four months:

My appointments with Ingrid start shortly after that. She appears to be constantly on the go and super busy with her coaching appointments. Every time I go to meet her she dashes in the room with the air of a businesswoman jumping from meeting to meeting, always looking immaculate in her black fitting suits, and very sophisticated looking holding her fancy MacBook.

Ingrid always has a story to tell. It is either about the good times she nowadays has vacationing in Greece with her Greek tycoon friends or her daughter’s professional skiing achievements. Or her daughter’s Italian vacations on a yacht with her Italian tycoon friends.   Difficult times as well of course. Like when more than 20 years ago she got a cleaning job in a restaurant in Greece. Or her wasted potential and her missed opportunity to become a prominent politician.

Ingrid one day unfortunately is feeling unwell. I show up to find her unusually gloomy and serious looking. She asks me if instead of our coaching I can join a seminar next door introducing Social Media as useful tools in Job Searching. She says the seminar is in Swedish, but would I be kind enough to join just this time and try to understand the basics. Besides, It would be such a good practice of Swedish, she adds. I reluctantly agree to join a group of people who have never heard of LinkedIn before and they appear to listen to the speaker in awe.

But thank God it is nothing serious, her feeling sick was a false alarm and she is back being her old self soon.

Time passes and I have more appointments with Ingrid. Our session usually goes like that: We meet in a private room and then she googles jobs in her sophisticated MacBook computer.  She then recommends roles for me. As a proficient Google Search Engine user I wonder when will we reach the Meet My Contacts part.  She now insists that I enroll in a Swedish language course. “It will help tremendously with your job search” she insists. I agree to do so but at the same time I try to make clear to her that I am not planning to wait around until I become fluent in yet another language in order to find a job. (In the past I have studied around six other foreign languages)

At some point she suggests I meet a girl, a fellow job seeker. “You have the same UK Masters education and you apply for the same International roles! You should definitely meet!” she says one day excited. I do not see how this would help me in my job search (especially in such a small pool of English speaking jobs) but nevertheless I meet the girl in question during one of my sessions. She is a Swede of African origins who is planning make some kind of official complaint for discrimination in the hiring process in Sweden. The girl claims that after submitting numerous job applications she cannot get a job because she is black. As Ingrid admits with honesty,” it is difficult in Sweden for a colored woman”.

I walk with the girl until the nearby metro station. As I expected, applying for the same roles does not exactly make us want to become best friends. “it must be easier for YOU” we tell each other.  I am thinking that if she could give me some of her Swedishness and I could give her some of my rather yellowish skin tone, both of us would have a much a better chance of landing a Swedish job. I am about to share this thought with her when she says goodbye and we part.

More time passes by. Ingrid still googles jobs for me. Our time is almost up now. Using the key word Greek in the search engine, Ingrid shows me a job post hiring a fluent in Greek waitress in a Greek Taverna in Stockholm.

Nothing better than have a nice Greek girl like you serve the food!” she encourages me and adds:

You should not be afraid to try waitressing or even cleaning jobs! It’s a good way to practice Swedish and make useful contacts!” she said one day near the end.

The day of our last session is here. It is almost summer and people already are talking about their Summer vacation plans.  Things have slowed down quite a bit as well.

Ingrid encourages me to keep looking and not lose faith. “Wait a minute, I have something for you” she says and goes to fetch her bag. I then realize that Ingrid is not only a talented PR person, she actually somehow likes me. Coming back she gives me a tiny box.

“A small goodbye gift for you”

And she hands me an eye shadow, silver color.

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook” she reminds me for the last time before I leave.

So folks, that’s my experience with Job Coaching in Sweden .  Definitely not worth the trouble but worth recording it as I just did. The bottom line is there are English speaking jobs in Sweden but a Career Coach is not the way to find them. Nor perhaps is any conventional job searching. Remember you are competing with locals, so you have to apply very smartly  and  only for certain roles and companies. It might seem impossible in the beginning but eventually you will come across the right job posts or even better the right contacts.

Good luck to ya all.

My experience with NGOs and “institutionalized” Help

In the past I have spoken a bit harshly about Ngos. I intend to keep it that way. I suspect that the last thing the human species needs right now is somebody to pick up the pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support turning a blind eye to pain, loss, or grief. Quite the opposite. I just think that the whole concept of humanity and humanitarian action can no longer be isolated in strict institutional frameworks, manipulated as a political instrument to keep things on an even keel.

Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. These are principles that do not interest anyone anymore in politics or in most professions as a matter of fact. Somehow they are seen as dated principles, linked to dying religious beliefs and truth is they carry an innuendo of embarrassment as well. Yes, embarrassment, because kindness is seen as a form of weakness. Try writing in a job application Cover Letter something like “I am an honest or just person” instead of the equivalent of “I am a corporate slave”. You don’t like where this is going? Ok, let’s move on.

My experience working for a prominent Greek NGO which in this blog I call The Public Sector for obvious reasons has been an interesting one. Its rampant bureaucracy and shocking deliberate isolation had created a surreal Orwellian landscape where extremes of Kindness and Evil existed side by side, making no pretenses. At the same time there was a total absence of grey zones in which a somehow healthy, productive, professional environment can contain the beast inside of us. In there you were likely to meet the most benevolent souls, often ordered around by the ones whose personal demons had found the most fertile ground to run wild.

The good people you met in there were almost definitely good by nature, and their goodness in this restrained and isolated environment was maximized perhaps analogically to the levels of the inhumanity of others. These kind people were kind in all aspects of their lives and obviously treated their friends, spouses and colleagues with respect. Their work helping people in this sense never ended. It was not a mission, a project or a plan but essentially a way of life.

I am thinking that, in fact, this is the only way to go ahead. You simply cannot “help” people 9-5. You can certainly try, but in the long run will not get very far. And once you try to institutionalize kindness, compassion and humanity then you are more likely part of a society that has devalued humanitarian principles.

Another simple example can be drawn from my experience in first world Sweden. A few months living there and I took up a Language Volunteer role for an Ngo helping Immigrants coming from EU countries.(not necessarily EU citizens). At that time, despite my legal rights as the wife of someone who worked full time in Sweden, the bureaucracy was preventing me for months from getting a Personal Number. (The Holy Grail of Survival in Sweden).The majority of Language Volunteers had similar profiles and stories to share: they were mostly well educated multilingual South European (and not only) women who had moved in Sweden to be with someone, either that someone was a husband, a boyfriend or family in general.

They all had more or less the same legal issues that caused great frustration and strain in their lives and relationships. In fact, many of them were not much better off from the immigrants visiting the Center to get food, shelter, clothing, Internet, Communication and legal advice. However what they needed most was a piece of solid legal advice about their pending cases and the shady laws that supposedly covered their rights as EU citizens. I for example turned to the Human Rights lawyer in the Center to ask a simple routine question about how I can deal with my inexplicably pending case. Instead I received no reply. The irony was that, as volunteers, we were asked to perform a number of such phone calls to help visitors to the Center. But we could not get further support for our own cases if we did not give up our status as volunteers and instead ask support as immigrants. Instead we were strongly encouraged every week to attend Free Counseling that was offered to all volunteers. Ironically, venting about our problems for an hour every Tuesday was fully funded and guideline approved, while getting a 5 minute practical advice about how to solve them was not.

Which leads me again to where I started. Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. Can you really be humanitarian by the book? Or does the sole act of helping others conflict with the way our whole system works? Education, experience, planning, funding are always very important. But they are useless when people-leaders especially- lack charisma and integrity.

I don’t object to systematic efforts. But please bring Goodness back in the field and people who genuinely want to help others.

Does your name on your resume matter?

In the last decade various studies and individual experiments have proven that yes, names on resumes do matter when it comes to job hunting in Western countries. Resumes with ethnic, unusual or long names are less likely to be shortlisted and more likely to end up in the trash bin.

A number of jobseekers testify on the web that after months or even years of fruitless job hunting, it took a simple experiment of changing their name on their CV-and only their name- to start getting calls for interviews. Taneesha became Tiffany, and Mohamed became Michael just to find out that the US and Canada workforce need more Tiffanys and Michaels, just as Sweden cannot get enough of Annicas and Svens.

One has to wonder why parents are still inspired by celebrity culture and “uniqueness” if they are not well connected millionaires themselves. Surely when celebrities give their child an outrageous name they don’t expect that this child will ever sit across an HR Manager, sweating under rigid work clothes and hands clasped in mental agony to be asked:

So, your name is Apple?”

Not that it would get that far anyway.

So how do names matter in job search? Given that they imply things about a candidate, which cannot be proven if an interview does not take place, unfortunately they match cultural perceptions and stereotypes. In these short 4 to 6 seconds that a HR megabrain takes to decide if it is a yes or no there is no time for any equality and fairness or “see the big picture” thing at all. In fact there is no time for thinking-period.

Discriminatory as it may be, it is only one in the long list of things that subconsciously or not might matter in the workplace.

The recession world has become the cause for jobseekers to struggle to rationalize their inability to land a job by scrutinizing all their professionally irrelevant traits.

Thus , “Does my skin/eye/hair color or hair thickness and/or height/weight keep me from getting an interview , landing a job or getting a promotion and a salary raise?” Not that this futile self reflection can lead to any real self improvement or any professional and personal confidence for that matter. Instead, realizing how unfair and predictable this world can be will only make you feel paranoid and bitter.

Ignorance after all is true bliss.

Ignore your guilty suspicions and good luck in your job search.

A Lesson from the Swedes

Before moving to Sweden I never had any thoughts, desires or dreams about it. For a long time I had to ask myself every morning how did I get here in the first place.  My lack of Swedish aspirations seemed to reflect in all my efforts to adapt as I was immersed in an endless bureaucratic nightmare. The problem seemed to be not only that I had no particular connection to the Swedes. But the fact that I did not dislike them either. There was simply no karmic connection between us and that seemed to be the source of all my mishaps.

My source of information about them was the only English speaking local news, the online newspaper The Local.  The Local is probably the quickest method to get an English speaking foreigner depressed in Sweden.  It is practically full of bitter stories about racism, discrimination, and xenophobia induced unemployment that the foreigners have to face in Sweden. It usually invites a string of comments underneath by infuriated locals but mostly internet trolls that complain about the damage done to their society by those rough looking dark skinned immigrants.

Once you get past that there are a lot of things to learn from the Swedish way of life. Swedes are probably the most drama free people on the planet. They make things happen. They focus on practicality and appear to mean what they say.

They have the highest rates of suicide in Europe, South Europeans often say. Even if that was the case (which I expect is no longer), I suspect the Swedes commit suicide the same way they file for divorce. There is no drama, no bitter accusations or haunting last words. They simply check out.

“After getting their pension my parents moved to Australia and make art” a Swede might say.

You get the picture. Coming from a culture nurtured by pathological family interdependence, sacrifice, obligation and accusations of betrayal, this at times may sound liberating to my ears. Labeled often as a cold and uncaring attitude, I cannot help wondering if this is in fact a more suitable manner for us humans to spend our lives, considering our human nature.

We have to move on anyway in whatever we do. Life is about moving on to the future and about making things happen, not hanging on to the past. It is a way to explore the world and live by acknowledging that we are after all humans. We are here for only a short time to build things out of nothing and feed ourselves and the children we bring to the world every single day. This is our biggest challenge and our greatest achievement.

Why do we ever think we are here to spend our lives babbling, driveling, worshipping, and obsessing like we are some sort of rare gift to the rest of humanity?

Back home in Greece we dwell on history and a glorious past. We have parades and national pride days and well-dressed zombies giving us speeches about democracy, solidarity and growth. We love big gatherings: even on the evening news there are five or six loud live studio connections creating a buzz that numbs our brain. Everything needs to reach a climax, otherwise we cannot feel engaged. And then it simply fizzles out and dies and nothing ever changes.

I am guessing that moving into the Future will be more about letting go than hanging on to what we have known so far.