Open Your Door

There was a note in my mailbox yesterday: “You weren’t home when we tried to deliver your package, so we dropped it off at your neighbor’s apartment.”

This happens quite often since mailmen normally show up when I’m at work. What was different, though, was the name on the note.
A neighbor I hadn’t heard of or met yet.

When I rang, nobody answered.
I was already walking further up the stairs when the door opened.
An older man sat there in his wheelchair and invited me in.

I have lived in my apartment for three years, but I have never been in any of my neighbors’ apartments. I roughly know the names, but I haven’t really talked to anyone. Everyone seems to live their own life and is happy to enjoy quiet evenings behind closed doors.

With a heavy accent he told me about his life, how rough things have become after his leg had been amputated some months ago. His wife had died two years ago and the depression had made his whole body suffer. When his granddaughter showed up, they spoke Portuguese. He was sad about the lack of care from so many and yet wanted to enjoy living.

When I left I was deeply touched.
Here’s a story of a man, an individual behind the cold walls of my apartment building. Someone who makes it a bit more alive, more human.
And I wonder who and what else is behind closed doors, everyone with their own stories and problems. Maybe we have to challenge ourselves a bit more to look behind the scenes, to invite others into our homes, into our stories, into our lives.
Often things aren’t as shiny and happy as they seem on the outside – looking at them together might make us more alive, more human.


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

Why You Should Make Less Money [and Have More Life]

We have just started school last week and I am glad to be back in my routine, back with my students and colleagues. I teach a lot of the same classes with most of the same material in buildings I’m familiar with. There’s a schedule and a curriculum and all that. At the end of the month, there’ll be a pay check.
Same old, same old.

And yet, this year will be a little different.

This last year has really exhausted me. There was too much on the agenda, too many lessons, too much travel and projects on the side. Everything I wanted do for myself was pushed to the future and life seemed to be only about work.
I seemed to function during the week and try really hard to be alive on weekends and the breaks in between, which didn’t always go that well. I struggled with doubt and questions like, “What are you even doing here? Is this what life will always look like?”

Somewhere in between, a thought started to nag me.
What if you could change the way you work? 
What if you could make more time for the things besides your tasks? 

Maybe you feel caught up in the busyness of your life, trapped in people’s (or your own) expectations and long for space to breathe and create.
Maybe you question your work and doubt when and where life will actually happen. Maybe you want to change something and don’t know how.

Can anyone relate?

Rearrange your week
In order to make more time to create, you don’t necessarily have to quit your job and invest every minute in art or whatever you want to pursue. Sometimes it might just take another way to arrange your week.
In one episode of her podcast The Next Right Thing, Emily P. Freeman mentioned a technique I’ve tried out for a couple of months with some surprising results. Creative people who have so many different things on their plates can easily get overwhelmed. We have our jobs, our passions, our projects, our friends and family…and we never seem to have enough time to do it all. Our to-do lists are endless and leave us feeling unaccomplished and unfinished because we’ll never manage all of them in one day.

Emily suggests assigning each day a category of work, may it be chores at home or a passion project or meeting a friend. That way you don’t need to accomplish everything everyday and actually feel like you did something on that day. Whenever emails or requests come in, you can sort them into the day they belong to and don’t allow them to bother you today.
I have tried this method for a while now and it’s really helped me to calm my stress level. The different aspects of my life don’t overwhelm me as much and I have the impression that the actual days have become more productive and creative. 

Live curiously 
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about creative living – which, by the way, has nothing to do with being an artist, a writer, or a rockstar. We are meant to create, to make something of our lives and to discover hidden treasures in our souls. But far too often, we don’t do anything because we’re held back by fear.
Fear of not earning enough money,
of not being good enough,
of not being successful with what we create.
We deny ourselves the joy of creation and discovery because we give in to anxiety (which is often irrational). A sentence that really hit home for me was this:

Let your life be driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
Liz Gilbert

What would change in our lives if we listened to our curiosity some more? If we became more like children sometimes who simply follow their interests instead of necessities, their passions instead of their chores? 

At the beginning of my journey I pushed these thoughts away as foolish desires and utopian fantasies: You can’t just change things, you just don’t do that. 
I wrestled with my own fear and need for financial security and a stable routine:
What if I don’t make enough and will be lost in my week? 
I listened to advice from friends and wise words from those who’ve done it before me:
You might like it and you could always come back. 

And most of all, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling, “I don’t want to regret to not having done it.” What if I wake up with fifty and realize I have functioned all my life, but haven’t really lived?

You can’t create if you don’t try 
The other day I shared my writing ideas with a friend and immediately added, “I’m not sure I should even write about it, maybe no one will read it. Who am I to think I could write something like that?” She listened and then said very firmly, “Why don’t you think you could? You’ve already proven that you can.”

For so many of us, the biggest hindrance towards change is self-doubt. We don’t believe that we have a right to do or say certain things, we hide behind other people who might be better (or pretend to be), we question our place to be here.

Well, it’s not about being always right or becoming famous with our words or deeds, it’s about showing up and giving it a try. It’s about listening to the passions and nudges deep inside of us, uncovering them and having the courage to share them with others. They will always speak to someone – even if it’s just our own timid souls. Or, as the brilliant Liz Gilbert puts it:

You will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try.
Liz Gilbert

So, this is me trying.
When the pay check comes in at the end of the month, there will be less money on it because I chose to work less hours. I have taken a step back from going to work in order to make time for being a work in progress: Listening, creating, wondering. I don’t know if it’ll work out, I don’t know if it’ll be successful – but at the end of the day, I want to be able to say I tried. 

What are some areas or aspects of your life you’d like to have more time for? 
How could you rearrange your week in order to make more time for the individual tasks? 
What keeps you from believing you’re entitled to try? 
What could be a first step towards trying and creating?


Writing for Five Minute Friday today. This goes way beyond the five minutes, but the prompt is START and it felt appropriate to share a writer’s progress.

Life Lessons

It’s been quiet around here. Maybe a bit too quiet.
I was shocked to see that I hadn’t written anything since May, but well…life happened. This school year, I took on an extra Erasmus+ project which allowed me to travel all across Europe and gave me access to historic sites, well-connected people and great learning experiences. On the other hand, it also kept me away from my life at home and time to practice my writing.

Last Friday was the last day of school and there are six weeks of no agenda and to-do-lists ahead of me.
I can’t believe how much I need this right now.

In the last lesson I asked my students what they have learned about the world, each other and themselves this year. So they wrote down facts and skills they have taken away from my class.

But what have I learned this year?

Never stop learning.
As a teacher, your job is mainly to rearrange complex facts into learning tasks and smaller steps. It is quite easy that you forget to be a learner yourself, to take time to really dig into a topic and experience that satisfaction when you comprehend something new. The project I was in taught me a lot about history and the value of modern democracy. It felt so good to be somewhere new and to discover things I hadn’t heard about before.

Self-care has to be a priority. 
It was probably my busiest year yet because I had so many things going on on the side. On the calendar it looked like a few trips and appointments that would be manageable – being in the midst of them sometimes felt like hell. There were several days when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. It’s been a few years since my beakdown and I never wanted to let it come that far again. Well, it was close. I need to take better care of my time and allow enough moments of rest in between.

People are life’s greatest adventure. 
This year has been a lot about people. The material and schedules become less important as I grow aware of my students’ lives, personalities and challenges. In one class, students were really open and allowed me glimpses into their thoughts and emotions, which is an immeasurable gift I’ll treasure forever. I was lucky to travel a lot with the same group of students and got to know them beyond the school context. This has been enriching and life-giving.

This life is about you. So who do YOU want to be? 
However, I can’t deny that people can be exhausting and draining your energy. You give so much and often receive so little in return. If your emotional tank is depleted it can become frustrating, and sometimes I found myself angry and disappointed by so little feedback or gratitude. I discovered how much I depend on people’s appreciation and recognition. Don’t we all want to be seen and feel like we matter? I began to compare myself to friends and colleagues who seemed to be so much better and so much more loved (which is a lie, but your mind can go crazy if you don’t monitor your emotions). I had to confront my own neediness and feelings of envy – and I’m glad to have some friends who called me out on it and reminded me of the really important things in life: it’s not about the others, this is about you. Who are you and what kind of person do you want to be?

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Find your people and share yourself with them. 
When things get tough and life tosses you around, surround yourself with people who remind you of truth in the midst of lies and light in the darkness. Be brave to share yourself with others, the good and especially the rough parts, and allow them to love you either way.

Make space at the table. 
Even though it hurts when your work goes unnoticed, I don’t want it to stop me from being generous. Instead of letting bitterness settle in my heart, I want to look out for the beauty around me and speak it. I want to notice people’s service and applaud it. I want to pull others from the shadows into the light where everybody is welcome and everyone is seen.

There was one field on the evaluation form that allowed students to leave comments. Many left it blank, but a few wrote things that warmed my heart:
“You’re a great teacher.”
“Thank you for being so patient with us.”
“Thank you for all the opportunities you gave us this year.”
“I will miss you.”

Life is probably only as dark as the way you choose to look at it and people can surprise you if you allow them to. Here’s to a beauty-filled summer break ahead!

What have you learned this year? I would love to hear from you! 


It’s been a while since I joined my friends at Five Minute Friday. Kate celebrates her five year anniversary of hosting this writing family this week – come and join the party!

The Grass on this Side of the Fence

So here’s a confession: I compare. More than I actually should.
No matter how much I seem or am content with my life right now, no matter how many good things I have going on – I will always peek across the fence, observe what other people have, who they are with, what I seemingly miss in my life.
A slimmer figure.
Money to travel the world.
Better skills at writing, photography or cooking.
Success in marketing and sharing my craft.
A stable place I can call home.
A partner who loves me unconditionally.
A deep sense of belonging.
More self-confidence.
An unwavering faith.

Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 

As I spiral down into my hole of despair, I wonder how people got to the other side of the fence. Were they lucky or did they just work harder than me? Do they know more people or did they just wait until something happened? Were they given better opportunities than me?

And that’s when it clicks and somethings shifts in my mind and heart.
It’s about opportunity.

Opportunity is actually an interesting concept because it’s not something we can earn or work for. Opportunities are undeserved gifts of grace that present themselves. 
But it is up to us what we make of them.

I am challenged to open my eyes for the many gifts that I have already been given in my life. The many little chances that could make a change in my story.
I see a woman with a nice coat – do I go over and make her compliment?
I discover the talents that are inside of me – do I use them for my career and relationships?
I hear of someone in need – do I offer my help?
I have this insane understanding of a certain topic – do I make it accessible for others?
I am a rather quiet and stable person – do I use it to create an open space for people to feel welcome?
I question a lot of things and think aloud – do I help others on their journey and engage in conversation?

The more I marvel at the many opportunities I’ve been given, I realize how green the grass on this side of the fence actually is.

I challenge you to look at the opportunities in your life: which gifts of grace have you received and what do you make of them? Which opportunities can you seize today? 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

The Twist inside of Us

I sit at the table, a stack of papers in front of me. The red pen is dancing across the white sheets as I cross out something here or correct something there.
I am grading papers – one of the uncomfortable parts of my teaching job.

The more I have to tell others what they did wrong, the more I realize how twisted the mindset behind it is. We focus so much on our mistakes, call out what is not going well and complain about everything we lack. We have drilled our minds to watch out for the negative and always strive for improvement.

And while I’m not saying that we shouldn’t grow and learn and change ourselves, I wonder if this mindset tells us something about a belief we have installed in our society and allowed to trickle down into the very core of our DNA: We are not good enough. There’s always something wrong about us. 

This lie has shaped our identity from early on and affects the way we perform in school, engage in our relationships, practice our faith. In this fast-paced world of ours, we only seem to matter if we become faster, better, more effective at hiding our weaknesses.

But what if we shone some truth on this lie?
What if we celebrated our strengths and put them to good use?
What if we practiced more gratitude for the many great things we’ve been given?
What if we handed out compliments instead of criticism for a change?
What if we believed in the old words of “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing”?


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

The “Good Life”

How do we measure a life? 
What determines the label ‘good’, ‘successful’, ‘amazing’?

The titles in front of our names?
The numbers on our bank accounts?
The mountains we have climbed in our careers?
The accomplishments we can brag about?
The size of our homes, cars, fridges?
The value of stuff we can afford?
The photos of our many glamorous vacation spots?
The relationship status?

What about the many little moments of happiness that show us what is really important?
The seemingly mundane days when we simply show up for work and are present in what we do? 
The many conversations that give our soul depth and new perspective?
The valleys that have taught us growth and endurance?
The cracks in our surface that allow the light to shine through?
What about the miraculous symphony of joy and pain that make life so incredibly rich? 

Maybe life isn’t supposed to be good.
Maybe it was created to be abundant. 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.
Photo Credit: Unsplash

We Need More Life in Our Days

Adulting is a funny thing. We can’t wait to be done with school, graduate from university and find our first job. We move into our first home and finally create the life we’ve always dreamed of.
And before we know it, we’re knee deep in busy work schedules, endless to-do lists, messy apartments, tired feet, complicated relationships, challenging life questions.
We try to keep up with the insane pace life seems to dictate, wondering where in the world our time has gone.

I recently had an epiphany about that.

After some very intense weeks at work, I decided life could not be this way. I had worked for school all week and prepared some more for it on the weekends. If I wasn’t too exhausted from working and worrying, I managed to squeeze some cleaning in between. Everything else – connecting with friends, reading, meeting for coffee, shopping, summer plans – had been pushed to the next school break.

Wait, what? All the things that somehow made life enjoyable and ‘normal’ would only happen every seven-eight weeks? Insane. 

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard. The Writing Life.

Yes, there is still a lot to in my days and I can’t just drop everything and leave (and I also don’t think it should be). But I want to give my tasks the appropriate place in my week, so that I still enjoy doing them at the end of the day. I want to create rhythms, so that my days actually have more life. 

Like setting time aside to answer emails and do school work. And not be bothered by it outside of these times.
Like unsubscribing from emails I don’t read anyway and rather focus on some healthy food for thought.
Like being present for the tasks and people in front of me.
Like being more conscious about what I buy and eat.
Like treating myself sometimes .
Like taking time to reflect and practice gratitude.
Like cleaning out the messy parts and making space for new thoughts and new life.
Like taking a walk after a few hours at the desk.
Like being still and resting in the peace of the Almighty.

Something fundamental had clicked inside of me: I don’t have to live that way – haunted by my lists and unfinished business. I actually have the privilege to work and create and network – all in its appropriate time. 

When I told a friend about my epiphany, she just smiled and said, “You know, I’ve been watching you work and toil for months now and wondered when you’d come around.” Well, I finally did. It just takes a while to grow – especially as an adult.

Which rhythms can you create to give your days more life? 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.
Incidentally, Emily P. Freeman has just released a podcast episode on theme days on The Next Right Thing, if you’re interested! 🙂