I left social media and nobody noticed

I’m an advertiser turned-marketer who wants to become a writer. So, obviously, the logical thing to do was to course a Big Data program and take a class on cloud-computing; which I did last year. I can almost see myself receiving a Pulitzer or a Jabuti prize for my memoir-styled novel about how to become a marine biologist after living 10 years as a buddhist monk taking care of baby koalas who are learning how to program. In C++. On the cloud. You know… PaaS. I know my CS shit.

During these amusing classes on how to create multiple entities on a single server in order to guarantee availability, I made friends with a guy who had just graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. When I asked him why he was taking a course on Big Data, he said, “I was laying around the house, doing nothing. So, this seemed like a good idea.”

We were both very enthusiastic about this course.

We always spent our class hours talking about all things non-related to cloud computing, including things such as what it’s like to live in Hungary (he was there for a year), what it was like to be 30 and unemployed (which I was all through 2016), what we did on our free time and how social networks were killing our intelligence and creativity.

We got to talking about when we started using social networks. I told him I started with mIRC. He didn’t know what mIRC was. I realized I was 9 years older than him.

Oh well…

I began with mIRC when I was 13. The year was 1998. I would wait until my parents were busy, lock myself in the basement, log into random chat rooms and talk to people, pretending I was a 23-year-old biology major at some fake university who liked poetry and listened to alternative rock. I wanted other fake adults to think I was a cool fake adult.

A few years later, MySpace was born and I created my account, obviously. I breezed through the ICQ era, until MSN started to get traction. When Orkut came along, one of the world’s first social networks (if not the first), I was already hooked on social networks.

I remember Hi5 and Friendster, but can’t recall if I used them. When blogging was the thing, I began blogging – and I’ve had over 10 different blogs since then. When YouTube came out, I started vlogging. In 2007, an American friend invited me to Facebook; my Brazilian friends started joining the following year. In 2009, I created a Twitter account and have been and on/off user for the past 8 years. And then came WhatsApp. Ka-boom!

Larissa. Social freak. Hardcore. Needy. Show-off. Addicted.

Recently, I realized that I was using Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp excessively; to the point where I was having mental fatigue. I had no more time for anything and I became obsessive with my phone, checking it every 5 minutes. I would spend hours scrolling through Facebook feeds of people I didn’t even like. It was a disease.

As days went by, I could see that my connections in social media were neither real nor meaningful. People who would like or comment on my pictures on Facebook or Instagram wouldn’t even say “Hi!” when passing by me in real life. You know that awkward moment when you see the person, they see you, and both of you turn away? Yeah…

One day, I counted how many Whatsapp groups I was in. Sixteen! These were the kind of groups where someone would say “Good morning!” at 6 a.m. and everybody would feel obligated to answer. I never answered. They were also the kind of groups where people would send pictures of angels and videos of cats doing idiot things every day. I never ever downloaded a single one.

Something was wrong. And I felt it the first time I logged onto mIRC, almost 20 years ago.

A friend prompted me to reflect on these things a few weeks ago when we were talking about friendship, connection, social media, and what was the purpose of participating in any of these networks. I thought a lot about that and a few days later, I left. I left Facebook and 12 of my 16 Whatsapp groups.

I realized that I hated all of it. Not only were these connections artificial and meaningless and annoying, but they were disturbing my life. I had to get away.

I went even a step farther and disabled all notifications for the remaining Whatsapp groups, all incoming SMSs, Instagram, YouTube, Gmail and Twitter. I made it so that my phone would only ring or vibrate when someone called me – which is almost never – or when someone talked directly to me on Whatsapp. Everything and everyone else is silenced.

And then, the most amazing things started happening: I stopped picking up my phone every 10 minutes, I was finally able to focus on the task at hand – whatever it was, I was more productive at work, and I found that I had time to do my writing and reading every day. I even had more time to play with my son.

A few days ago, all of my doubts about the artificiality and superficiality of social media were settled. April 25th was my son’s birthday and guess what happened? No one called to wish him happy birthday. Not my grandmothers, not my aunts or cousins, not his classmates – through their parents, not even anyone from his dad’s family. Not even his dad.

My mom told me that the family congratulated him on our familie’s groups (both of which I’m no longer a part of). But, Noah didn’t receive these messages. He’s 7. He’s not in any Whatsapp group. He’s not on Facebook. He doesn’t have a phone. If someone wanted to wish him happy hirthday, they had to call him on my number. And no one did.

And this is my fault. Our fault. All of us humans. We let it get to this point. It’s so much easier to write a shallow birthday message and post it on a group than to pick up the phone and actually talk to the human being on the other side. Talking with others is really, really hard. It has become a burden that most people don’t want to deal with. I was a part of this. I did the same thing for years. Now, people are more distant and I feel a little left out, alone. About 99% of the people in my life disappeared the day I left social media.

But, the important people in our lives participate, no matter what. They remember us even if we’re not posting pictures and comments every day. They remember our birthdays and call us or text us directly – either is acceptable to me. They ask us out for coffee or drinks. They send messages asking how we’re doing and what we’re up to. And even if that conversation only goes as far as “I’m fine, how are you?”, it shows that the person was thinking of us. To me, that counts.

I left social media and most people didn’t notice, but I’m OK. Every time someones asks me why I left, I’ll send them the link to this post with the caption: “This is why I left. Thank you for caring. Your number will never be silenced. You are important.”

The important people will notice, sooner or later.

Note: I realize that sometimes us writers can get emotional about a topic, especially if it’s related to something that happened recently and had a certain impact, whether negative or positive. When I wrote down the idea for this post, it was weeks before Noah’s birthday. So, as I’m writing this now, I’m more sensitive because of all that happened – which made me sad – and I know it shows up in the writing. I tried to be honest without being hurtful to anyone. After all, we are all victims of technology. 

Note 2: I don’t want to be a hypocrite.  I still have Instagram, though I don’t use it much. I have Twitter, which I use every once in a while when I have spare time. I use Pinterest on a need-only basis, which is so rare that I don’t even have it downloaded on my phone. And I have to be on Whatsapp, otherwise I would be a complete hermit. About Noah, he has an Instagram account, which is only followed by family members and a few of my friends, it’s invite only and I handle it for him. He also has a YouTube account, because his current dream is to be a famous YouTuber. Like I said before, if it’s up to me he can be whatever he wants to be.

“Job” is not a bad word

Sometimes I feel like “job” has become a bad word. We are afraid of saying it, as if by saying it we are going against the new common sense. As if we are parting away from the “tribe” that everybody now wants to be a part of. You know that tribe, right? The “I don’t want to have to work for them for the rest of my life” tribe. We are afraid of admitting that we do – in fact – have a job. To have a job has become a bad thing.

There is a movement going on that is based on the premisse that people should no longer have jobs. Everybody should work for themselves, be their own bosses and choose what they want to do and when they want to do it. This movement states that jobs constrain us and limit us of achieving all the glories that we were meant to achieve. Author James Altucher calls it the “Choose Yourself” era.

For some, entrepreneurship is the new job and the startup is the new workplace. Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur. Everybody now has an “idea” they are sure will make them millionaires. The fact is, most people never actually execute their ideas. A shitty idea with perfect execution may earn you ten thousand dollars. MAYBE. But the world’s best idea with NO execution will make you zero dollars. FACT.

There are also the excuses people give about why they haven’t acted on their idea: no money, no angel investor (I don’t even know what that is), no venture capital (don’t know what that is either), no time, no team, no technical knowledge. Or maybe the world hasn’t conspired to make their idea become a real product, service or company. Eventually, the idea will die, reality will check in and they will realize that maybe they shouldn’t have quit their job just yet.

So maybe entrepreneurship isn’t the answer. How about offering one-on-one services, like a freelancer or a liberal professional? Even the world’s best business consultant may find that it’s difficult to enter the market or even find new markets. Not everybody is an expert in spotting trends, finding their ideal customer or validating ideas. Ramit Sethi argues that he can teach anyone how to be rich. Through his products and services, he teaches how to become an awesome consultant or freelancer. He even helps people to find their dream jobs. I have no idea. It may work for some people, but it certainly doesn’t work for everybody. 

There are millions of possibilities for making money and satisfying career. They are all great, but all of them don’t work for all of us. Or maybe they even do, but at a different moment in a our lives. Sometimes we have to go through the “job” phase before we can move on to doing our own thing. But, we tend to want to quit our jobs the minute we feel dissatisfied, or feel that our potential is not being tapped into, or when we believe we earn too little or even when we believe that we’re better than our current rank.

Like everything else, sometimes work sucks. We feel pressured, we feel insecure, we feel unmotivated. It happens to everybody and it doesn’t mean we should quit our jobs on the spot (although I’m guilty of having done that, twice). Jobs are important.

I believe that some people are meant to have jobs for their entire lives. Some love it. Some don’t love it, but are fine with it. Some people look at their jobs as being secondary in their lives. That “thing” that they have to do 9 hours a day before they can go do the important things. They’re fine with that. Most people I know fall into that category and they’re happy, as far as I can tell.

All jobs are necessary and we need people for them. Look at the most basic of jobs. What if all the street-sweepers and garbage collectors in the world decided to quit and open their own businesses? These are fundamental jobs and they are important and the people who work at them are superheroes. What if there were no doctors, nurses or attendants at hospitals? What if there were no waiters at restaurants? What if hotels had no staff? What if there were no pilots or flight attendants on planes? If everybody was an entrepreneur of a freelancer, who would drive public buses or teach at schools and universities or help us at stores and supermarkets? Who would we call when – God help us – our internet crashed? Who would create, produce, market and sell every single product that we own – from cookies to the iPad?

Jobs are necessary. They serve a purpose. Many countries in the world are going through deep financial crises; including Brazil, with a 13% unemployment rate. So, to even have a job nowadays is a matter of pride and a reason for feeling grateful. It doesn’t matter whether you love it or not. We all have mouths that need to be feed, roofs to cover our heads and pillows to sleep on.

Job is not a bad word. Not for everyone. Not all the time. And for some of us, not forever.

Some people are meant to be employees, some are not. We have to figure out in which category we belong to. And take our time.

Until then, we should all just keep our jobs.

Note 1: We should all take a moment and think about government-related jobs. We should definitely cut all of those.

Note 2: I put the links up for angel investor and venture capital, but didn’t really go through the trouble of reading the wiki pages, so I still don’t know what they are.

Overwhelmed by human affection – or, free hugs!

I’m terrible at befriending people. In social events I’m always that one strange lady, awkwardly hiding in the corners and looking like she definitely does not belong there. That’s me.

At work, it takes me a long time to get used to people. Work is a hard environment to try to measure social connectivity; it will vary depending on the type of company or organization you work for. If it’s a competitive environment, or one with large focus on revenues and sales, it will always be harder. People will always be suspicious of your interest in building relationships. You will also be suspicious of them.

Then I arrived at the university, my current workplace, where the goal is to help others, to educate others, to advise them and lead them. Not caring about revenue or sales, just doing everything you can to make sure they achieve success and create beautiful, worthy things. Where people are more selfless and more giving. Where the conversations flow with more honesty and acceptance. Where people will hug you out of the blue. Yes! They will just come up and hug you. I’m not kidding.

I was overwhelmed.

When it comes to friendliness and intimacy, I’m more like Americans rather than Brazilians. I tend to cringe when touched by people I don’t know well. Hugging, hand holding, playing with hair, yikes! It’s not that I dislike physical bonding; it just takes me a while to get used to it. The spontaneity of others throw me back.

But, it’s been 4 months since I’ve been with this new crowd. The friendliness and touchy-feelyness has slithered slowly into my bones. I’ve started – very awkwardly – hugging people out of the blue as well and touching their arms when we talk and other things of the sort.

My comfort zone has been breached. My bubble has been burst. I’ve become…nice!

If I’m this wary about being physically intimate with people, I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it is for me to express my feelings. I tend to think that most people don’t care about what I have to say, that my opinion is neither relevant nor important. That my advice is disposable.

I know that that’s not true. You don’t have to tell me.

People do want to hear what I have to say. They even expect me to do it. I just never know when I’m supposed to talk or when a friend needs my help or my shoulder to cry on. If people don’t reach out to me, I’ll never know they ever even needed me in the first place.

Today, I stepped out of my comfort zone, my safety bubble. I knew that I had to say something to a friend. It was a special day and I wanted to tell her something special. I had to tell her about the fragility and scarcity of time and beg her not to waste it. I needed to give her advice about what she should expect from the next 10 years of her life. I had to let her know that she will probably receive 100 “no’s” for every “yes” and that rejection is life’s way of letting you know that you’re not there yet. You have to study more, try again, keep going. I told her to read and learn every day. To write as much as possible. I told her to be patient. I told her that if she lived to be 90, then she still had 69 years ahead of her to fuck everything up and make it all better again, thousands of times. I told her to look forward to it. It will not always be great, but it will all be worth it.

I tried to tell her this a hundred times in person, but the words never came out of my mouth. I would just stare at her for a few moments during the day, trying to get the words out, until she would start to uncomfortably shift in her chair, and I would give up.

So, I wrote it all down. I made a list of 30 things that I wanted her to know. I entitled it “30 things I really need you to know”.

What a lame-ass title. I regret that title.

I put the letter in an envelope, gave it to her and told her to read it when she got home. Today is her birthday. She turned 21. How I wish I knew all the things I wrote to her when I was her age. I hope she will read it and reflect on it.

I don’t think she will ever know how much courage and willpower it took for me to write her those things.

I tried to be selfless. I thought more about being useful to her than to stay in my comfort zone, where no human interacts with other humans and we are all shy and sad and alone.

I’m always overwhelmed by human affection. I’m afraid of it. But I know that it is the way to fully connect with those who are important to me. And if it makes a difference in someone’s life, then the effort is needed.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll find me giving free hugs out on the streets some day.

How I failed to teach my team how to learn – and got fired because of it

I worked at a company for one and a half years as a team coordinator. I had 11 collaborators, from interns to senior analysts. Despite the names of our ranks, we were all new to our craft. We had come together from different backgrounds into this newly formed team to help the company thrive in a time of economic disaster throughout the country.

I had no idea what to do.

How do you teach your team when you are a novice yourself?

My first action was to assembled the team in my office and let them know that we were on the same boat. We were all apprentices. We had to learn together and we had to learn fast. We had to deliver.

Learning to create reports on Excel and memorizing formulas was pretty easy and we all learned fast. But, analyzing all the information and turning in the reports with due analyses was a bit harder. We had to learn what to tell the sales team so they could meet and ultimately over-deliver on their goals. We had to make the company grow.

And learning technicalities is also easy. We excelled in that as well. We were a good team.

But, there was more that we had to learn. We had to learn to work together, to respect each other’s differences, to help bring up to speed those who were a little behind. We had to learn our weaknesses and strengths and work on them. We all had to learn to be leaders.

Quite a task.

What to do?

I had to start somewhere, so I asked my team to do two things. First, only read and respond to e-mails twice a day and for no longer than two hours. This would keep them from wasting too much time on unimportant things and it would keep annoying, needy people away. It would also improve productivity. If something was urgent, people would call or come looking for us at our office.

Nothing was ever urgent, so now we bought some time.

Second, I asked them to take one hour a day to read, watch, listen, and learn. Whether it was magazines, newspapers, TED videos, online courses, anything! They should spend one hour each day learning something new. Then, they should share with everybody else something interesting that they found, so that the whole team could benefit from each one’s individual learning.

I didn’t want us to learn only about our technical jobs, but also about business, entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership, culture, human behaviors. I wanted all of us to become better humans and better problem solvers. I wanted us to learn to have millions of ideas every day, execute them well, and learn how to deal with all kinds of people at all kinds of situations. I wanted us to start growing immediately.

I thought this was the greatest idea I had ever had.

…and then things took a turn for the worse.

Boy, was I wrong.

It turns out that the culture instilled in employees inside an industry/sales business was that of “busyness”. We didn’t have to be busy 24/7, but we had to appear that we were. If we weren’t busy with something, we weren’t looking in the right places.

I always thought busyness was overrated and harmful. I believed that real productivity was to meet your deadlines (and over-deliver with quality) within your daily working hours, and grow professionally in the process. .

But, culture is a difficult thing to change. It took me three months to convince my team to get up from their chairs and leave at 4:48 p.m. (the end of their shift), because they were used to working extra hours every single day. When I looked at them during the day, it always seemed as if they were working on the most important project there ever was. But, I knew that this didn’t happen that often. Not everything that landed on our plates were extremely important or urgent. But, they thought that they had to work hard all the time, every day; even if there wasn’t much hard work to do. But, working hard isn’t just about making 10 Excel reports per hour. Learning is also work.

Nurturing the intellect is key to thriving in our careers.

After I set the task of learning everyday, I found out that they felt embarrassed to be seen with videos and articles on their computers. They were afraid that people would pass by them, look at their screen and infer that they were wasting company money and time with leisure-related activities.

No matter how much I told them not to worry and that I would take responsibility if ever we were confronted about this, they wouldn’t do it. They felt their careers would be damaged – even though I was their boss. Plus, they always had something important an urgent to do.

I persisted for 2 months, and then something happened.

During lunchtime, I ate at my desk so I could read. At the time, I was reading Tim Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Work Week, which was terribly translated to “Work for only four hours a week” (Trabalhe 4 horas por semana). This book is where I learned about the dangers of e-mail compulsive disorder and decided to change my approach to online letter exchange, as well as many other ideas to help improve my productivity. The “living a rich life” part of the book I’m saving for the not-so-distant future.

One day, a friend came to me and said, “Listen, I have to talk to you. Some guys from your team have been gossiping about you. They talked about that book you’re reading and said that you’re trying to dump all the work on them so you can work for only 4 hours a week. They think the whole ‘learn something every day’ thing is an excuse for you to work even less. Now, I know none of this is true and that you’re trying to create different ways to improve your team. But that’s not how you’re being perceived.”

Well, that certainly wasn’t what I expected.

If I ever felt like a failure in my lifetime, it was in that moment. The moment I realized that sometimes even our most respectable intentions can be misinterpreted. not everybody is susceptible to changes, to improvement. Some people conform to the norms and they’re very happy with it. It gives them security and peace of mind.

It wasn’t that they were afraid to learn something new and change the way they worked. They were afraid of how they would be perceived by their colleagues by doing things differently. They were afraid that their careers could be harmed if it turned out that I was wrong.

Conventionality was safe.

Innovation was risky.

I decided to change my approach to my team. I adapted to their standards and lead them in a way that they could follow and grow in their own terms. I also learned very much from them. I learned that following rules was guaranteed to keep you safe. That depending on the company you work at, keeping your opinions to yourself preserved you. That challenging status quo could get you fired.

I refused to be ordinary. And so I was fired.

(My team wasn’t, thankfully)

I wasn’t fired because I was incompetent. I was fired because I didn’t fit in at the company. We had different ideas for the future and for our employees. They needed someone who could sell; I was someone who could teach.

I started searching for another job two months before I was fired. When they finally kicked me out, I wasn’t surprised; I was delighted. We definitely weren’t a match.

I hope that my former team will continue to develop themselves and learn to grow and learn always and often. I hope they will understand the value of self-improvement and problem-solving. I hope they will benefit from it and grow because of it. If not, I hope they will be happy with the lives that they chose. We are all different, anyways. Happiness and success means different things to all of us.

Meanwhile, I’m getting in trouble at my new job with my weird, unconventional ideas.

I’ll take the risk.

I prefer to grow and stumble along the way, than to stay put and remain ordinary. (Remember, I am not a tree)

Who said change was easy?

Life is perception

I often wonder if the world sees me as I see myself.

Do people perceive me as I really am?

Am I what I think I am? I don’t even know.

For some reason, when we exhale into the world, we disguise ourselves according to the context we are breathing in. We unconsciously blend in. We say what we think we should say, not what we really want to say.

Does that change who we are?

I envy those who have the courage to stand out. They embrace their awkwardness, their creativity, their uniqueness. I tend to hide mine. Deep in the confines of my head.

Blending in puts you in a safety bubble, where you are overlooked by most and ignored by many.

In one of Maria Popova’s amazing essays, “7 things I learned in 7 years of reading, writing and living“, she teaches us something – paraphrasing Maya Angelou – that I personally took to heart: “When someone tells you who they are, believe them. When someone tries to tell you who you are, don’t believe them”.

 

Life is perception.

KurtVonnegut2-1024x485

A friend once told me that I was arrogant. I’m really not. But she perceived me as being arrogant, because of how I spoke. In thoughts, however, my speech sounded very different.

Life is perception.

“You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.” (Maria Popova)

If I consider myself kind, considerate and thoughtful – which I do – does it mean that I am also being perceived as kind, considerate and thoughtful by others?

In contrast, if others think me to be arrogant, rude and stubborn, should I be worried? Is it possible that they are right?

A few weeks ago, a friend gave his opinion on a topic we were discussing. My response was perceived as arrogant, rude and stubborn by him (and maybe it was, to some extent). I spent the following week thinking about what he said and eventually decided that he was right. I called him back and told him so. An apology of sorts. Am I still arrogant, rude and stubborn?

No. I’m human.

Life is perception. And humility.

And so it goes.

 

A poem I wrote 8 years ago, when I realized that throughout life I’d often be misunderstood:

UNKNOWN

In my lifetime
I have passed by a million people
unseen untouched unspoken
I have breathed their air
and shared their glances
looked deep into their souls
passed by them in acute silence.
I now encounter myself in the future
and I find myself
completely
unknown.

The insignificance of titles

On February 2nd, 2016, I was fired for the first time in my life.

BAM!

Just like that.

As I sat in my car, parked on the street corner in front of the company, with all my shit from my office scattered on the passenger seat, I thought, “I’m no longer Larissa: Senior Coordinator of Business Intelligence at Coca-Cola; I’m just Larissa, unemployed.”

I got home and put my things away, lay down on my bed and thought about how it felt to be fired. And the only thing that went through my head was my title: Coordinator of Business Intelligence. I had lost it.

Titleless, I would no longer sound important when people asked me what I did. It was no longer the highlight of my Linkedin profile. No longer my e-mail signature.

Sem título

My new Linkedin title is much cooler now

That’s what I had become. Someone who was attached to a silly title.

 

Throughout the following (consistently unemployed) year, this matter of having a title kept coming back to me. Why did it matter so much? Titles don’t define you. They’re not who you are. They’re temporary. As soon as you leave the job, company, post or whatever, you cease to have that title.

Not only do titles give the distorted impression of you as being important; they make you sound like an authority, an expert, a leader and master of sorts without needing to have any actual credentials.

I certainly didn’t feel like an expert in business intelligence; I was still learning. I was a beginner; far from being an expert. Come to think about it, I have always been an apprentice. Every job I ever had was completely different from the one before. So, every time I started a new one, I had to learn the ABCs of whatever the hell it was that I had to do. Throughout these jobs, my titles should all have been the same: Larissa, Senior Apprentice of All Things Related to Current Job Status.

Calling myself “Senior Coordinator of Business Intelligence” was a bit of a lie. I realized that the title wasn’t actually earned. It was just handed to me for some period of time. It was a loan. When the time came, it was taken away from me and given to somebody else.

Temporary.

So I decided that I wouldn’t let titles define me anymore.  I wouldn’t let the have any effect on how I perceived myself. To hell with titles.

Throughout the following months, after analyzing my life even a bit further, I realized that I actually had quite a few titles. But these were earned, given for life. They represent who I am and what I really stand for. They tell others much more about myself than a silly temporary job description. They show my personality, my attitudes, my accomplishments, and my goals.

I’m Larissa, badass mom.
Larissa, struggling artist.
Larissa, eternal student and learner.
Larissa, novice writer and poet.
Larissa, advertiser (not so proud of this one, but nevertheless).
Larissa, trusting friend.
Larissa, awesome granddaughter, daughter and sister.
Larissa, patient listener.
Larissa, amateur musician.
Larissa, avid reader.
Larissa, compulsive thinker.

No one can take those titles away from me.

I’m senior master badass of my own life.

Take that, Mr. Middle Manager.

Some tragedies are bigger than others

A tragedy happened recently in Brazil where dozens of people were killed in an airplane crash. Among them were the players of the Brazilian soccer team, Chapecoense

The entire country was devastated.

On Facebook, people changed their avatar to art designs that showed support to the victims and their families. For weeks others were posting about the magnitude of their pain and their sorrow and how this tragic event brought the country together. It was a collective sadness.

Companies and organizations held memorials and made all sorts of contributions to the team and the families of the players. Friendly soccer games were held to honor them, where the teams playing wore the jerseys of the Chapecó team. The country was united in the willingness to grieve and remember these victims.

It was a great tragedy.

For some reason, however, I wasn’t so struck by this tragedy like most of the country was. I wasn’t grieving, changing my avatar or posting about my sadness. I didn’t go out and buy the team’s jersey to show my support and the accident wasn’t a topic of any conversations that I held with anyone during that time.

To people around me, I seemed apathetic and cold; halfhearted. To them, it seemed that I didn’t care. I wasn’t a true Brazilian, perhaps. I had no empathy. No heart.

It’s funny how distorted people’s perception of us can be.

I cared. Of course I cared. It was a tragedy and it made me sad.

But, I just can’t understand why this particular tragedy seemed so much more important than all the others that happen every day, in every street corner, to so many families.

Families lose their children or parents or loved ones every day. They lose them to murderers and rapists and violent husbands or unexpected strangers. They lose them to drunk drivers and traffic accidents. They lose them to floods and earthquakes. They lose them to tirany and war. They lose them to cancer and AIDS and alcoholism and drugs and depression.

Families are torn apart, love is lost, lives are stained, happiness is a blur, suffering is inevitable and mourning becomes breathing.

Most of these tragedies are never known to us, for only the ones who can captivate an audience really make it to the news. Advertising is grateful.

And every time I watch something like this on TV, I cry.

Every. Single. Time.

So, to avoid crying, I don’t watch TV.

I’m not cold.

I actually care too much.

So when a national tragedy like the Chapecó accident happens, I suffer just the same. Just like everybody else.
But I think it is unfair and disrespectful to all the other people in the world who are suffering their own tragedies when one single event is so overexposed and deemed so much more important than everything else.

To me, everyone deserves the same amount of empathy and kindness. Every death deserves to be grieved.

But, to the world, it just seems that some tragedies are bigger than others.

You are not a tree

You are not a tree.

Who you are right now is not who you will always be. You are the decisions you made all the years before and the ones still to come. You are the condensed confusion of all your past mistakes and endeavors. Every thing you did brought you to this moment. And tomorrow you will be a completely different person. Maybe you’ll be better, maybe worse, maybe close to who you are now. But, you will be different.

When someone feels stuck, they tend to say that they’re going in circles. But, life does not move in a circular motion. It can move in all types of motions and directions, except circular. Circular motion means that when you’re done travelling the entire way, you will be back at the exact point where you started.

That is impossible.

Life is a spiral.

spiral-04

When you finish your round trip, you will never be back at the same point. You will always be a little off, a little different, a little changed, a little ahead. It may be that you are happier or maybe sadder. You may become more confident or more insecure. Maybe you will come back with a plan and a goal. Maybe you’ll find out that you have nowhere to go or no idea how to climb from the hole in which you fell.

It doesn’t matter how you turn out when you complete the turn around your life spiral. Whatever happens, you will always be at least a few millimeters ahead from the line where you started. You will always be ahead. You will always move forward.

And that little white space between the line where you are now and the line from which you left? That’s called experience.

So, no matter how or where you are now, you are more prepared to change your situation than you were before, because now you have experience. The more turns you take, the more white spaces you accumulate, and the more opportunities you create for yourself.

Embrace that.

Move forward and outward.

Remember, you are not a tree.

 


Notes:

  1. I read the expression “you are not a tree” in a book called Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley. I believe it was first coined by Jim Rohn. The full excerpt is: “If you don’t like how things are, change them! You’re not a tree.”
  2. My apologies to trees. This is really unfair to them since the changes that trees undergo throughout their existence – whether through surviving cold winters, dry summers, hard winds and lack of nutrition from the grounds – only adds to their magnificence.

We are not raising children; we are breeding adults

Noah started reading when he was 3. When he was almost 4, he could write his own name. Between ages 4 and 5, he learned the basics of reading and writing and started to put small sentences together. By age 5, he could read simple children’s books. At the current age of 6, he was able to follow the captions to the movie Lalaland, which we watched together last week. Last year at school he learned how to add and subtract and at home I taught him how to multiply and divide.

Noah is a fast learner and I think it’s kind of cool.

But, is this really important at this point? Would there had been any consequences if he had started to learn to read and write at age 6 or 8 rather than age 3? Does he have to know how to add and subtract at 6?

Noah has been sitting at a desk, staring at a whiteboard and doing homework since he was 3. 

I had no other choice but to put him in school. Compared to other possibilities, school was cheaper.  But, I pay a price.

At the age of 6 (and the preceding years), I believe that kids should play. They should create and build and search and discover and pretend and imagine and be curious and PLAY. They should run and climb trees and fall and play ball and swim and be active. They should make friends and interact and socialize. They should sing and dance and paint and draw and act. They should even get bored – something kids don’t have the luxury of doing nowadays.

But we aren’t nurturing creativity and curiosity, we are killing them. (see Do schools kill creativity? by Ken Robinson)

Instead of coming home with drawings, paintings and new games to play from school, Noah brings two textbooks and 6 or 7 pages of homework to do every single day.

Again, he’s 6.

I want him to read. I want him to learn through books. As far as I know, that’s where real knowledge is and that’s one of the ways we cultivate imagination.

As part of homework, Noah now has to watch videos on my phone. Augmented reality is now a school subject and smartphones are the new books.

Noah loves to sing and dance and paint and act. But, school hasn’t supported or encouraged him in these activities. Originality and uniqueness are not praised; they are contained. Everyone has to wear the same clothes, sing the same songs and on recitals, they all play the same part.

It’s all backwards.

Schools are not striving to nurture creative human beings. They want to create disciplined students who are great at memorizing historic dates and who’ll get into the best universities when they’re 18. Which will be hard, since none of them will excel in anything, for they will have always learned to stay at the same level as the others. We’re settling for average.

So it seems that we are not raising children; we are breeding adults. And not very good ones, mind you.

We’re not raising thinkers; we’re breeding memory champions. We’re not teaching curiosity; we’re celebrating obedience. We’re not nurturing talents; we are striving for average. We are not cultivating their art – in whatever form that may be; we are demanding an A+ on math.

School may not prioritize art, creativity and movement in Noah’s daily life. And I no longer expect them to.

But, as long as he’s with me, we will live as curious adventurous artists every day. I’ll make sure of it.

To hell with school.


This afternoon (Saturday), Noah and I came home from lunch and we stayed downstairs for a while. Our building has coconut trees and there were a few of coconuts on the grass, at the bottom of this little hill. We picked up about 10 of them and started throwing them from the top to see which ones rolled faster down the hill. It was a coconut race. He won every time. Then, we came up to the apartment and laid down on the sofa with our books and read together for about 40 minutes. While I’m writing, he is still on the couch, reading.

We are making our own art.

PS: For my own sake, I hope he doesn’t decide to become a doctor or an engineer.