Life’s a Beach

June 13, 2012

Last month Expedia.com released its 2012 Flip Flop report. Seeing as I developed a flip-flop method for measuring your pace of life, I feel it’s only appropriate to post this nifty infographic.

Germans top the list of beach-loving nations ~ it could have something to do with the fact that summer is typically measured in days, not weeks or months here. Pardon my cynicism, but honestly~ 20°C does not equal warm, folks.

Note the Brazilians’ attitude toward the beach. They like to dance, relax, sunbathe and dine there. Anyone care to do a little Samba along the coast? In my view, the Brazilian attitude toward relaxation wins hands down!

Jenna McGregor at the Washington Post recently wrote about a study that absolutely caught my attention on her leadership blog.

In a forthcoming issue of American Economic Review, Cornell University researchers are presenting the findings of a new study that shows respondents prefer salary over sleep. Contrary to much of the research stating people’s well-being is based well beyond a fat paycheck, these findings propose that if people had a choice between $80,000, reasonable work hours and 7.5 hours a sleep and $140,000 with longer work hours and only 6 hours of sleep, the majority would choose the latter.

Really?

Who has a choice between the two anyway? Not many. My problem with studies like these is who is this really serving? It justifies workaholism and reinforces the time is money scheme we’ve all been led to believe. Truth be told happiness is driven by more than the almighty dollar.

A lot of it has to do with our state of mind. If you look at Gallup’s latest comparative Well-Being Index, Germans rate their level of happiness much lower overall than Americans. Despite the continued economic woes in the United States and Germany’s supreme economic stability in the face of the current Euro debate, only 41.1% of Germans ages 18 or older consider themselves ‘thriving’. 53.1% are struggling and 5.8% are ‘suffering’. In comparison, in the United States 52.9% say they are ‘thriving’ while 43.5% say they are ‘struggling’. Only 3.6% report that they are ‘suffering’.

In a country where unemployment is relatively low, universal health care is a given, and they enjoy one of the lowest average hours worked of any OECD country, I wonder why Germans are less happy. It doesn’t seem that money or time off is the answer. It may be culturally entrenched that it’s not kosher to admit you are doing well. I’ve noticed a German tendency to commiserate versus celebrate.

A mindshift is required to move from a state of lack to a state of abundance. The power of slow can help, one step at a time, to liberate ourselves from unhealthy thinking. We all know sleep can help boost our mood. You can bank on it!

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Every once in a while, my dad sends me some really great tips. Here’s a feel good three-minute award-winning short to start your week.

Bottom line: It’s never too late to be kind.

Life is a journey of learning, but without resources it is hard to continue the formal learning process. Twenty years ago I applied for a Fulbright scholarship as I wanted to study in Berlin. It didn’t pan out, but what the process did for me was to help me focus on my goals and priorities. It was an exciting time in Berlin around the time of German reunification in 1992. In the end I found a way to obtain my master’s degree elsewhere in Germany without the scholarship (by working five jobs at once). The experience taught me humility, resourcefulness and abundant thinking. No matter how little I had at the time, I had more than enough.

I just got word that the Fulbright Hays program has been slashed out of existence by Congress. It makes me sad on so many levels because international study is a cornerstone to international peace. Without foreign exchange we end up trapped in our own bubbles, unknowledgeable about other ways of thinking.

So please join me in signing this petition to save this program. It’s an outrage to think we spend billions of dollars killing other people instead of instilling a sense of international unity.

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46th Munich Security Conference 2010: Dr. Karl...

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On this President’s Day, I sit in snowy Bavaria, contemplating the state of our world today. The weekend edition of my sleepy town’s paper reported on a University of South Carolina study that found 92% of the participants lied when communicating via Email (all efforts to find the original study failed so for the purposes of this post, I am going to give the newspaper the benefit of the doubt).

The study participants were given $89, then told to let an unknown recipient how much money they had in the kitty and how much they were willing to share. A whopping ninety-two percent who used Email to convey their message were dishonest about the amount they had available to them (to their advantage). For those in the study who were required to write a letter instead, only 63% (still a huge number) lied about it.

You might argue that most people have a skewed relationship with money and are therefore dishonest about such things. But even when it comes to plagiarism, people risk being tossed out of school, or as in the case of Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s most favored politician, some risk being tossed out of office.

Having experienced what it feels like to see my own words in print under someone else’s name (a political science professor whom I greatly admired lifted a full two paragraphs from a graduate studies research paper I had written and claimed it as his own), I am following the plagarism scandal that Mr (can I still say Dr?) zu Guttenberg has swirling around him. He is accused of plagiarizing almost 100 different passages from newspapers and other published works in his doctoral thesis. While he has claimed his innocence (and part of me really wants to believe him), the piling evidence is stacked against him.

When an elected official plagiarizes, what does this teach our children? It opens up the opportuntiy for discussion about what is right and what is wrong. And yet I wonder, beyond the initial learning moment, whether they too will be pressured to keep pace with the increasing demands and give in to the temptation to do a quick cut and paste at crunch time.

Zu Guttenberg, a German royal (yes, we have those, too) with 10 first names, launched his political career while raising a young family (okay, his wife did the heavy-lifting) and writing a 450+ page doctoral thesis. Nonetheless, we must hold him to the same standard as anyone else. Cheating is cheating, no matter how many names you possess.

In our 24/7 Internet world, it’s imperative that we maintain a high level of integrity. It’s too easy to lift ideas and call them your own, all in the name of ‘saving time’. But, as in the case of my wayward professor who landed in the hospital with a broken pelvis after playing soccer shortly after I confronted him (in a letter), life teaches us that there are no shortcuts. Sooner or later someone will discover you’ve lied in an Email, or in a published work.

My power of slow advice to you all is to give credit where credit is due. Source it, people. It won’t make you shine less to give someone else the kudos for their hard-earned work. In fact, in this day and age, you might be the rare 8% who stand out as a superstar because you actually told the truth.

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Nature at its hand-made pace

November 22, 2010

With weather like this, all I want to do is graze.

It’s hard to motivate yourself when the daylight hours span 9:30 am to about 3:15 pm. I’m not kidding. It’s getting dark by tea time in Germany now.

 

As captured from Naturally Peaceful

The lack of sunlight elicits a primal response in my body. It says “Hunker down. Do puzzles. Lay low.” My appetite rises as I yearn for more chocolate than I do all year.

What to do?

Go with it.

Instead of beating yourself up, listen to what your body is telling you. Do you need more calories when the light grows dim by mid-afternoon? Honor that.

You can offset it with more indoor activity (keeping the floor clean with two children and four pet rodents that spend a GREAT DEAL OF TIME INDOORS is physically challenging enough!).

I feel like a small  animal, hamstering away goodies to keep my body fed. If I didn’t, the kids would inhale my treats in one day. So little by little, I feed from the trough of delight. A little bon-bon here, a cup of ginger tea there.

Recently, in an interview on Ageless Sages with Natalie Tucker Miller, I commented how nature goes at its own hand-made pace. You don’t see fall rushing through its season, do you? The same goes for animals. They go at their innate pace (which varies, depending on the season).

So for now I’ll be content to hunker down. With a puzzle. And some chocolate for grazing away the winter at a slightly slower crawl…

 

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Managing the Older Worker

September 14, 2010

In the last century we’ve increased our longevity by thirty years. In 1900 folks lived an average of 47 years; by the year 2000 that number had jumped to 78. Although I am far from retirement age, I follow the conversation of the changing retirement laws in Germany because it fascinates me that people are forced to stop working when they hit that ‘magic number’. While they want to raise it from 65 to age 67, there have been protests in France because they just jacked retirement up to age 60.

Imagine the thought! Why, as the population ages and fewer people are born to replace them, are people being coerced to leave the workplace?

That’s where Peter Cappelli and Bill Novelli, co-authors of the newly released book, Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order, come in. They make a strong case for retaining talent and conducting smart knowledge management. After all, older folks are living longer, have more experience and, according to the authors, are motivated by different interests than their eager, younger colleagues. Dangling a promotion in front of their noses isn’t nearly as effective as giving them an interesting assignment that keeps them as a team player.

While I was slightly disappointed that the book didn’t delve into how younger managers can actually go about managing older workers, they did make a strong case for why older workers are so valuable. In a nutshell, they are:

  • more knowledgeable (no mystery there);
  • more flexible (most of them have their child-rearing days behind them; however flexibility for elder care remains an issue as their own parents’ failing health impacts their ability to maintain a regular schedule);
  • more loyal and conscientious;
  • just as costly (or not, depending on how the company views overall employee benefits).

In other words, older workers’ value in terms of knowledge and willingness to learn new things (thereby debunking the myth that people over forty somehow can’t or won’t ‘get with the program’) far outweighs any insurance cost, etc. Also notable is the fact that older workers are much less likeyl to have costly dependents so while their insurance premiums may be slightly higher, they are actually less costly in the overall scheme of things.

I thought of this today as I stood in line, waiting with one hundred other warm bodies, to buy my daughter’s last-minute school supplies. In high school, they like to tell the kids what they will need for class on the first day of school, leaving no time to prepare over a series of weeks. That means good ole Mom gets to push her way through the crowds for those ‘extra’ items she couldn’t foresee.

But back to my point: there were two lines. One had an elderly gentleman and a middle-aged woman working the cash register. The other had a younger team. One called out the price; the other typed it into the register. I couldn’t help but notice my line with the older team wasn’t moving as fast. Despite my ownership of the power of slow principles, I felt myself getting hot under the collar (literally ~all those people in such a small space!). When it was finally my turn, the woman advised me that I was buying the wrong pens. She kindly went back into the throng to get the right ones for me. She may have been slower, but imagine the amount of time she actually saved me in getting me the right pens the first time! That’s the very conscientiousness and customer care Cappelli and Novelli praised in the older worker. Amazing!

I smiled as the power of slow found its way back into my heart…and the right school supplies into my bag. Thanks to Managing the Older Worker, I will continue to view more experienced employees as the harbingers of slow because, as we all know by now, it’s faster anyway!

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Where in the world is it legitimate to kiss a stranger, drink wine at lunch and ride on the water even during a lightning storm?

If you guessed Italy, you’re right.

If you have spent any time in Italy at all, you will know why it is the birthplace of the Slow movement. It’s not that Italians are, per se, turtle-like. In fact, they are quite efficient (even their trains are on time!). But what informs their unique power of slow is the way they embrace life itself.

“You want to stay all day? Okay! You want to leave, okay, too!” the resort manager exclaimed in June when we found ourselves not wanting to depart after having enjoyed a week of Italian sun. He ended up giving us a free night (and a bigger place at the week’s beginning). When we spent another two weeks there in August, we started to think maybe he was giving us the special treatment.

One day, he stopped by on his bike and smiled.

“I have an idea.”

I winked at him over my glass of Chianti and said, “I like your idea already.”

He told us of a friend who has a sailboat. He’d take us out for a four-hour sail around the harbor of Trieste, “if we felt like it.”

Boy did we ever! Despite the two-foot jelly fish that rolled around the harbor waters, we managed to get on and off the ten-meter sailboat without trouble. It was a perfect, windless day so the sailing part was definitely sloooow. We topped off the evening with a sunset dinner at a nearby restaurant whose salmon made me weep. It was that good!

The last day was a tad cloudy so I headed to Venice while the kids and my husband stayed at the resort for a final day of frolicking. There I learned the water taxis are as punctual as the trains. As we skippered along the ocean to the island of Lido where the Venice Film Festival is being held, I pretended to ignore the lightning flashing behind my new friend’s head. He distracted me with his recounting his latest film in which he plays a priest murderer. I couldn’t help but notice there was a priest sitting in the boat so I felt a blend of relief and fear that my actor friend may have had ideas!

The next day, we unwillingly left our beloved Italian resort on the island of Grado and returned to Germany. We couldn’t help but notice the different pace of life immediately.

It’s good to be home with Italian memories in our suitcase, waiting for the next time to unpack the joy of slow under the Adriatic sun.

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It doesn’t take much, but it does take something to live a healthy lifestyle. According to a recent report by the German health insurance company DKV and the Cologne University for Sports Studies, one in seven Germans lives an unhealthy lifestyle, which is defined as having too little movement and too little nutritional care.

So how can we improve our habits? By taking it one step at a time. Literally.

Thirty minutes of exercise a day would take care of more than our share of health issues (whether in the United States, Germany or elsewhere). According to the Mayo Clinic web site, aerobic exercise can not only increase your stamina, reduce your stress and strengthen your heart, it can also ward off viral illnesses, keep excess weight off and keep your mind sharp.

In essence, movement keeps you young. Eating what I like to call ‘things from outside’, that is foods in their original state, can also contribute to your longevity.

Tell that to the younger set. According to the German report, people under 30 were the worst in terms of healthy habits with only 7.4% living a healthy lifestyle (defined as exercising 30 minutes five times a week and eating fruits and vegetables every day).

When I asked my wise eleven-year-old daughter why she thinks that is, she immediately pointed to all the high tech gadgets that keep kids distracted, and tethered, to them. In response, I handed her an apple to offset the Nutella she had just breakfasted and suggested that thirty minutes of housecleaning could replace a walk outside.

She grinned, then plopped herself in front of her computer for a half-hour.

Healthy habits start at home. It looks like we have some work to do in our own, but we’re on our way. Now where did I put that mop…?

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Flags of the Nordic countries - from left: Fin...
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According to a recent newspaper article about a German Census Bureau survey, 9% of all EU citizens cannot afford to buy adequate food, heat their apartment or have a car. In the land of vacation, a whopping 37% of all EU member citizens couldn’t afford to take even a week’s vacation somewhere (Poland tops the list with a full 63% not being able to do so). In Germany, thinks look a little brighter. Only 2.6% say they don’t have enough to live on, 26% can’t afford to go on a week’s vacation and only 5% said they can’t afford a car. Not surprisingly, Greece has similar numbers.

It seems to pay off to live in Scandinavia. In Denmark, Sweden and Norway, only 1% couldn’t afford to heat their apartment with only 10%, 11% and 6%, respectively, not able to go on vacation for one week’s time.

According to the 2010 International Vacation Deprivation Survey by expedia.com, Germans have an average of 27.5 days off annually, two of which get left on the table. So what does roughly one-quarter of the employed German population do that cannot take off for some sun and fun? Staycations have become a reality for a lot of people.

We’re staying close to home for the majority of our summer vacation as well. Singular day trips here and there with some time in Italy at a low-cost resort are all we’re doing. I realize as well that’s a lot more than some people get to do. No matter where you go this summer, go slow. A season pass to the community pool can be just as enjoyable and a lot more affordable than a package tour for thousands of bucks. As Financial Times Slow Lane columnist, Harry Eyres recently wrote, “spartan or quasi-monastic accommodation has its advantages” and is sometimes more relaxing anyway!

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