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The newer isn’t always better

I’m prone to googling subjects I have little clue about or when I am, just in general, confused. During one of these instances, I stumbled upon a great piece of poetry by Rudyard Kipling from 1910 which instantly reminded me of a more classical piece by the King Stephen, the first king of Hungary, the ‘Admonitions to Emeric‘, from 1027.

Kipling’s ‘If—‘ is an accurate example of the British “stiff upper lip” way of living, something very common to the people of the Victorian era. A way that has recently been criticised by the Prince of Wales due to its effect on mental health. I share these views, but if we discount this as cultural influence, we find gems between the lines. Similarly, I would discount the catholic influence from Stephen’s Admonitions however significant it is from his perspective, being a first Catholic king to his country. Both of these pieces address a male offspring from a first person point of view, either at the beginning or the end. I urge you to disregard this gender bias as well, as I assume both authors would be more inclusive and less sexist in a modern cultural environment.

Although the Admonitions are guidelines drafted to establish the Catholic church and to secure its future, it continues with listing the virtues of the future leader, to a prince that never became king. These virtues are moderation, patience, humility, tolerance to foreigners, heeding good advice, and mercyWe can also identify the traits that are unwanted: idleness, indolence, neglect, immoderation.

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King Stephen’s signature on the establishing charter of Tihany Abbey – © Róbert Fodor, 2017

In a very different era, some of Kipling’s advice translated to a corporate environment are:

  • to keep your calm (If you can keep your head when all about you \ Are losing theirs and blaming it on you)
  • to trust yourself (If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you)
  • to hear others out (But make allowance for their doubting too)
  • to be patient (If you can wait and not be tired by waiting)
  • to tolerate being misinterpreted (If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken \ Twisted…)
  • to stand up after a lost fight  (Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, \ And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:)
  • to be resilient (verse 3, lines 5-8)
  • to stay humble as a leader (Or walk with Kings–nor lose the common touch)
  • to be there for others but, again, in moderation (If all men count with you, but none too much)

Yet with every piece of literature, there are things that can be highly arguable, depending on the reader: there are some lines that do not resonate with me. But I’m not here to write about those.

It must be noted that these two are randomly selected texts born 900 years apart. What is common in both, is that they talk about values when passing on advise to the next generation. This cross-generational knowledge sharing in these texts aren’t very explicit. They don’t share some explicit techniques you can find in a Forbes article, they focus on the bigger picture. Things that may serve you well in life, not only at work. Something like a universal recipe.

So here comes my point: you have an internet full of tips, tricks and techniques. Some good, some bad, cheap, and useful. There is contemporary literature on business and management, on self-help in bookstores. Yet sometimes the catharsis might just elude you. Sometimes, maybe what you need is a bit of old literature about values. You can disregard old-fashioned cultural influences that are not acceptable or relevant at this age. You can identify elements that are timeless: to listen to advice, to be patient, and moderate.

So in the future besides reading current bestsellers on self-help and management, I will just open up an old classic in the hope to find some gems, some timeless learnings.

We’re all guilty. Or are we?

I couldn’t honestly say that the past two years of my life has been a walk in the park, but it definitely had plenty of moments of success and triumph. Somehow, it always seems easier to complain than to enjoy a moment of happiness. I can only guess how much of this is due to cultural influence, but I know for sure that grumbling and nitpicking are expected of you in a post(?)-communist country.

Last January, when father died and left a small company behind, the family was completely devastated. In the first few weeks, I had to step into his shoes and manage his company I knew nothing about. I was single, and had a tremendous workload at my workplace as well. We ended up closing down the company, but I did manage to be fully present in both places. And despite the trauma and grief, I’ve had plenty of success. It was the small things, situations I never thought I could handle, I suddenly did. Social anxiety, feeling of incapability, lack of self-confidence – these are just a couple of things I overcame in certain situations. But I could just never let it sink in, I could not celebrate. In a way, I felt that everyone expected me to feel terrible all the time, to complain, to feel sad, or to express my helplessness. So I started to feel guilty: am I allowed to be happy about myself while bad things happen to me or others?

This was the first time I noticed this phenomenon. Since then, just like the constant change in my feeling of self-worth and confidence, this guilt grows and diminishes. Whenever I did a good presentation, or been asked to model in a company brand campaign, I felt happy and excited for a moment, but then the feeling guilt came over me with a powerful sense of denial – this is a mistake in the course of things, I should not enjoy this, it will surely pass. It’s an outlying data point I need to disregard.

Then, I remembered of how I learnt this as a child – a paralysing social norm, ruining healthy egos, that frowned upon those who succeed. In the old days, if you had more, the State took it away. People who had something, kept it secret. It was a rule of fear. A fear of success, individualism. Children were taught to hush about what they had at home.

Even prior to that, Christianity happened. Pride being a deathly sin, there was no distinction between a brief enjoyment of success and vanity. Less secular countries had this attitude of shaming in their very veins. Children were quickly snapped at with a phrase: ‘na ne bízd el magad’, which reads something like ‘don’t be full of yourself’.

And there’s the proverb in Hungarian that says: ‘dögöljön meg a szomszéd tehene is, which reads something like: ‘death to the neighbour’s cow as well’.

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Source

All in all, I have plenty of things to be sad about and plenty to feel proud of. What is a struggle to me, is that whenever there is something good I could enjoy, I must consciously remember to allow myself a moment of joy, to let it in, because the happy moments never linger anyway. And more and more often I succeed in letting it in. Which is something I should be happy about.

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Galavant: Moment in the Sun (from Wikia)

Motivation: money and prestige

I am a firm believer that motivation is a self-produced resource that cannot be produced by only boosted by someone else. Much like electromagnetic induction. What our roles as ‘motivators’ might be, is to help someone understand their own key drivers, come to terms with it, and assess how those needs can be filled.

In one of my training sessions there was a heated debate on whether money is a motivating instrument. I was quick to reference a favourite theory of mine, Herzberg’s dual-factor theory of splitting factors into elements that enhance your ‘job satisfaction’ (motivators) and others that are essential to maintaining the baseline, whose absence cause dissatisfaction but can’t give satisfaction. Herzberg counts job security, salary and fringe benefits among the hygiene factors. Some of us agreed with this theory. However, another participant, who leads a sales team, vehemently disagreed. In a base plus incentive model, he said, money is a motivator. Also, he added, a person with a personal crisis in need of money will be positively motivated. Again, I disagree.

So there a thought came: it all comes down to scarcity of resources.

What a person in a financial crisis needs is cash. If, coincidentally, that person is in a base plus incentive salary model, all they have to do is an extra effort to get access to that scarce resource that is cash. But will that make them satisfied? I think not. Money manifests as a basic need of security (as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and will not increase their overall happiness. I’ve been there, done that.

What a sales person (as well as everyone else) might truly wish for is esteem. And here it all comes down to measurement: 1 unit of esteem can mean an lump sum of currency, a few pats on the back, a nomination as employee of the month, a job title etc. This will vary from person to person.

If as a child one was taught to diminish their successes, if it was frowned upon to celebrate themselves because their parents feared they’d grow selfish, they might find they cannot get enough sense of accomplishment even when they overachieve. (Funny how similar it is to the imposter syndrome.) Esteem became a scarce resource. What a person with such a background might do is desperately try to fill that void with position, status, title or with money.

Voids cannot be filled until the wound that made them aren’t healed.

As mentors, leaders, motivators, or people managers, do we have to become therapists? Do we have to show a person that giving them an extra title, and extra status, a bonus won’t give them satisfaction until they heal their wounds and find what is behind their strongest needs and drivers?

Deafening silence

I am in love with Budapest. Although I wasn’t born here, I consider it my home. The simple sight of the Hungarian flag evokes strong patriotic feelings. I am fond of the intricacies of my mother tongue, and I can appreciate a good pálinka, although it’s not my favourite beverage.

As a citizen, I expect my state to protect me from foreign or domestic harm and terror, to provide me access to skills and knowledge through education, to maintain an infrastructure of roads and transport, to supply safe drinking water to everyone, to keep a critical reserve of natural resources like gas, fuel etc. I expect it to provide electricity, internet and heating at a price if no commercial companies are available to do the same.

I further expect it to care at least at a minimum level for my physical and mental wellbeing through free health service, and through parks and recreational sites. I allow my state’s representatives directly or indirectly chosen to pass laws on the limits of our “cohabitation” in the scope of physical and intellectual property, physical and mental safety, contracts, and organisational affairs.

I expect it to operate a police force that I can trust, is fair and balanced in its routines, to enforce the aforementioned laws. I want my state to allow an independent court of law to decide in fair judgment on disputes solely based on the laws while applying common sense.

Also, I require the state to function transparently, save for national security intelligence and trade secrets.

I would not like my state to tell me whom I can love and call ‘family’.

In compensation for all these services, I am willing to pay a certain portion of my salaries, wages and other incomes in the form of dues, fees, duties and taxes. I even believe that it is fair for a state to ask for a percentage of my spendings in form of a sales tax.

This, however, seems like a contract to me.

Unfortunately, if this really was a contract, I would be able to negotiate what compensation will the state give in their failure to provide as agreed. (Similarly, as they take measures against me if I default.)

You see, the problem I have living in Hungary nowadays is not just the current politics. It really is the constant and unceasing fretting, the long-nurtured, now fossilised frustrations of the state of affairs, the maddening hopelessness we all see and understand without really facing it and coming to terms with it.

And you know, it is us, the people, who are to blame. Because most of us do not open our mouths, our parents taught us to keep silent and endure. We are not assertive to stand for ourselves. Maybe it is a result of us not wanting to face our own and our parents’ generation’s responsibility in all this.

I fully understand that there is no country on this earth that has it all figured out, but there are some countries where all the conflicts and frustrations are approached with kindness and acceptance, maybe a new deal is set up, but at least a two-way communication is allowed, embraced and even urged.

My country will stay in this dark age of repression, denial, pointing and shaming, and deafening silence. And my voice alone is just not enough. But here’s hoping…