I found a friend in Failure

I moved to Germany more than 2 years back, a new bride and madly in love. Despite all the frills, I was more than excited to be coming to the country where my profession originated.

I am a Homoeopathic doctor from India with a Masters in my field and an honour-roll student at that. (Yes, Homoeopathy was discovered in Leipzig, Germany and not in India!)

I had big plans! I was going to make it big. And fast. Or not.

In no uncertain terms, Germany informed me, that not only could I forget about keeping my title but that I had to re-qualify. In German.  You know how they say life is too short to learn  German? Well, here I was, trying to re-do my university degrees in a foreign language! I thought about not even beginning to attempt. It seemed like I had Mount Everest before me and needed to climb it in roller skates! Impossible!

Not one to shy away from challenges; I jumped headlong into learning German. The more progress I made, the more frustrated I got at all the ridiculous grammar rules! There were days when I wanted to pack my bags and go back home. Luckily, sense and the husband prevailed; with the promise that if it takes too much of a toll; we would move back to India. I fought a demon’s battle within; not wanting this alternative because it would mean I failed.

Failing is something I was allergic to. I remember being mad at my Basketball coach in school when he told me “Nicola, you need to lose a few matches so you know what losing feels like.” (We were reigning champions almost throughout my term on the team.) I thought he had lost his mind! In hindsight I know what a wisdom filled statement that was. Sir, if you’re reading this, let me say, I failed and now I know.

I spent years of my student life being detested by friends and colleagues alike for being “a nerd, smart-ass, scholar”.Well, I never failed an exam. Kinder-garden to University. So although I didn’t then, I now understand their sentiments. Life is unfair. But I have stopped apologizing for my talents. However cocky that sounds.

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So back to my roller-coaster journey in Germany. I finally broke through the language test barriers and got a C 1- which is one level below native speaker. Then came the bigger more relevant exam- qualifying as a registered Homoeopath. Being a medical doctor was out of the question unless I went back to University. After already having romanced university for eight and a half years in India; I said NO. So I began preparing for the “Heilpraktikerprüfung” which is an exam taken by all practitioners of alternative medicine.

All this while, I wanted to earn my bread and butter; so as an added challenge; I was working at Homoeopaths Without Borders, Germany in an administrative post. I’ve lost count of how often I felt undervalued while answering phone calls, writing letters and doing mundane office work. When someone so kindly pointed out- “Did you go to medical school to end up sealing envelopes?”; rage and humiliation filled me! I wanted to tear him to pieces! But again, not one to give up, I plodded on. I also continued to run my practice in Goa with a great team. (www.gergo.net for more)

In March 2017 I answered the written exam- which is conducted only twice a year- and failed. I was so struck by disappointment, shame, pain and anger; that I came a hair’s breath close to giving up. It took tons of courage to go back to the exam-preparatory class I attended and explain that I had failed.

I had another chance in October and I took it. This time fighting fainting spells from being pregnant and emotional wreckage from losing my dear father in August. That was truly rock bottom for me. As they say, the only good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way out, is up.

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And up I went.

I cleared the written exam! Hooray! Half was accomplished and now I had to clear the oral exam. If I didn’t; I would have to start again with the written exam- which if you remember, happens only twice a year.

So after studying with a vengeance for the last 3 months, (I couldn’t bear to entertain failure again) I went in today for my do-or-die moment. I was potentially looking at moving back to India.

It was 2 degrees this morning and I was sweating. My voice trembled as the examiner took me back down memory lane to university exam times and quizzed me on Anatomy, Physiology, Emergencies and then the most tricky part- laws and regulations. Indian medical laws are sketchy at best and were never part of an exam syllabus!

20 minutes through and I was asked to step outside while the two men decided my fate.

I waddled outside, taking my 36 week belly with me (not that I had a choice), and wondering if I made it.

I did!!

I’m on top of the world and success tastes so sweet!

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Failing was painful. But necessary. I have found a friend in Failure. No, I do not like it any better than before, but I have new respect for it. I have learnt a lot more than if I had passed the first time – about myself, about persevering, about medicine and most of all about life. Hard work pays off and hitting rock bottom is not bad if you get up and go on.

So here I am, finally free of exams and bureaucracy; raring to start my career in Germany as a licensed Homoeopath! But not before first taking a well deserved break to bring my son into this world. He’s due in a just a few weeks. Cross your fingers for us!

Before an exam, a match or anything I undertook; my dad always said- “Kator re Bhaji!” (The Konkani equivalent of Break a Leg! For more on why this phrase is an important part of two histories- of hypnosis and of Goa, check here). I’m certain he’s celebrating in Valhalla with lame jokes and liquid spirits! This one is for you Dada!

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When….

When you think you’re okay, but you’re really not

When you’re overwhelmed by misery

When only a minute ago you seemed fine

 

Life appears to be under control

Life smiles down at you and then

Life harshly yanks away your grounding

 

Then you know its time to stop

Then take a while and let yourself go

Then it’ll slowly make sense

 

For when you grieve, without a warning

Life grabs the reigns, shakes things up and

Then, all you can do is BE.

 

A shout-out of love to those in the process of healing from loss. Me too.

 

 

 

Happy New YOU 2018!

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Let me explain that book cover in just a bit.

Since 2013, I have a little personal ritual that I indulge in during the passage of the old year into the new one. Seeing the success it has brought me, makes me want to share it with you.

The first time I sat myself down to do this; was on the sandy beaches in Goa, the wind blowing in my face and the aroma of freshly fried prawns tickling my nose.

The following years saw me do the same (minus the prawns), in Prague, Mirissa (Sri Lanka), Embach (Austria) and this year, soon in Hamburg. No, the ritual is not travelling; but that sure helps.

Prior to 2013, all the resolutions I made went out of the window in a few weeks. Come February and I was back to my old disgruntled self; shoveling tons of junk food down my throat and putting off my exercise to tomorrow.

Then I discovered a way to keep myself on track and  have fun doing so. I can honestly say I look forward to a happy new me every turn of the year.

Here are my two-cents on resolution-sense:

1.       Review

I begin by reviewing my last year and all that went down- good, bad and ugly. I have learned not to be hard on myself and just profit from all experiences- desirable and not-so-desirable.

2.       Choose

Pick 5 Goals.  When I began, I had as many as 50 goals. It doesn’t take a genius to guess how many I achieved and how fast I got frustrated. Keep it realistic and keep it simple. Now I pick 5. Yes, you probably have way more at the tip of your fingers. Prioritize. Pick what’s most important to you. Let the 5 goals be both from your personal and professional lives.

3.       Write

No matter how fantastic your memory is, written resolutions always carry more weight than when they’re just in your head. Also, you need to get yourself back to reading what you wrote. (See now how 5 is better than 50?) Preferably everyday; but also in March, September and everywhere in between.

4.       Do

As simple or complicated as that sounds. Just do. And do everyday. What works best for me is to use the first hour after I wake up, investing in Robin Sharma’s 20/20/20 rule– exercise, plan, learn.  Consistency is key.

So, coming back to the picture at the top- I do not literally wish I were a unicorn. That’s the cover of my 2018 Planner. The caption resonates with me because I choose to believe in my dreams and I see how they come true. (Now you understand why I don’t wish I were a unicorn. That would also come true!)

If you need inspiration for your resolutions and are sick of the usual- eat healthier, exercise more, earn better rigmarole; check here. This blog post from ted.com gives creative and fun ideas that I’m certain will strike a chord with you. (Like become pen pals with someone in prison).

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Planning 2017: on the sandy shores of Mirissa, Sri Lanka

This new years eve, unlike the one’s before will be a quiet one for me. It has largely to do with the fact that I’m very pregnant and ready to pop soon; but also with the desire for more than just festivity and a hefty hangover the next day.

We started the eve with a workshop at our yoga studio called Gratitude and New Beginnings. Besides leading us through a fun, intense yoga sequence, the teachers focused on an element I find tremendously beneficial: being thankful.

I call it “Attitude of Gratitude.” I list 3 things everyday that I am thankful for. Sometimes it’s as simple as the crisp sound of leaves crunching under my boots or as deep as the refelctions of Paul Coelho on life and gratitude.

PS- for those of you who live in Hamburg, do check out this studio- Peace out Yoga. They are fantastic!

Now as my exhausted hubby takes his “5-minute” shut-eye break ; I furiously type out what has been on my mind since the last few days.

We will soon cheer in the new year with our favourite dishes and some sparkling wine. Also on the agenda is the funny German tradition of dunking hot lead into cold water and reading your fortune for the coming year.

Tomorrow we will drive to the seaside and do what we’ve come to love- Review, Choose, Write and Do.

Here’s wishing you and yours, not just a happy new year; but a happy new YOU!

Viva!

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Planning 2016: Snowy inspiration in Embach Austria

 

 

 

Posioned Cookies for Christmas

What does Christmas mean to you? No, I mean, what does it really mean to you?

This question has been swirling in my mind since early November and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how differently we all look at this season/holiday/festival.

For some of us, it’s a time to unwind, take a holiday. For others it means more work, more family pressure and more stress. Or simply a combination of all of the above.

Of course, I know what Christmas is supposed to mean. My strong catholic upbringing took care of that- The birth of the child Jesus, the saviour of the world.

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What Christmas actually meant to me, seems to have taken on different forms every couple of years.

As a young child, my biggest thrill was the presents Santa left me on Christmas morning. Savagely tearing them open was an instant ticket to the top of the world!

Come my pre-teen and teeny years, the season was peppered with my desire to socialize at one or more Christmas dances; after midnight mass (also a matter of great fashion and social concern). Shaking a leg until the wee morning hours and then brunching with friends always made me feel great. Still does. 16-year-old me detested having my parents chaperone my Christmas specials, but today, I’m glad they did.

My early 20’s were a constant tug of war between career, relationships and wanting to have the perfect Christmas. It usually played out with a very groggy, hungover me, dragging myself out of bed to Christmas lunch at grandma’s. Oh, and not before fulfilling the Goan tradition of Konsuar- distributing and exchanging homemade sweets with neighbours and family in the vicinity. Awoken by nagging requests from my parents to be the delivery girl; I wasn’t the friendliest face around.

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As my 20’s progressed, so did my thinking. I started asking uncomfortable questions about religion, politics, family and life in general. The answers I got were even more uncomfortable. The rebel in me broke out; I met and married a German and at 29, moved to Hamburg.

This may sound fairly non-rebellious. But for me, a Goan, Indian catholic girl, an only child; marrying a non-catholic, European and moving halfway across the world; was not the expected course of events. Suffice to say I have been and still am the topic of much tea-time gossip. Thankfully my parents and family are darlings and have not just come to terms with my decisions, but joyfully celebrate my differences.

My first Christmas in Germany had me completely gaga. The fairy-tale like decorations, quaint little Christmas markets and the ever-flowing hot red wine made me dizzy with delight. The love hormones accelerated my growing fascination and it was two more Christmases before I began questioning again. This year.

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I saw commercialism all around me, capitalism shouted out from every street; while the poor and homeless struggled to find a suitable corner. The focus of the season seemed to be only on getting bigger and better gifts, the more the better. Amazon and similar services, promise delivery until the 11th hour.

It isn’t all bad though. The focus on family takes first place for most. The holidays are spent together and most shops are shut. You use the time to bond and re-connect with loved ones. Christmas menus are also pre-decided; usually the same every year; the family watches Christmas movies at home, cooks together or plays silly board games.

To answer the question I posed to myself in November, I first listed what is important to me during Christmas- family, music, church and a single present exchange (not 6-8 per person as seems to be the norm). I realized what truly matters to me; what I need to do in order to feel happy is to GIVE. In any form. It is in giving that I feel most at peace. And strangely, also at the receiving end. Am I making any sense to you? I hope so…

So how would I give this Christmas? I had a couple of options up my sleeve. Some went south and others are still playing out.

For one, I continued my activity Advent Calendar tradition and used my blog to reach more people. The results have been heartening.

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Then against all odds, I convinced my Husband to have an Advent party for close friends. We had them over from as far away as China and India. It was an evening of deep conversations, lots of hot red wine and Pav bhaji (an Indian delicacy). Many confided it was the first time in a long time they felt truly Christmas-y.

This next one wasn’t a Christmas giving decision, but one we took a few months ago. We no longer needed to answer the question- do we want to bring a child into this crazy world. We had a new one- how do we bring up a child in the best way possible? My body is in the process of giving. As I come to the close of my 9 months as an expecting mum; I am fascinated by how this life inside of me is growing. I am bursting with anticipation to see how it turns out.

My fourth act of giving was the one that seems to have given me most food for thought. Funnily enough it has to do with food.

Germany celebrates the 6th of December as St. Nikolaus where kids and adults alike leave clean, polished shoes outside their door and St. Nick rewards them with a tiny gift. Dirty shoes and bad behavior are bestowed with coal and potatoes.

 

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So, I decided to play St. Nick to the 16 families living in our building. I was beside myself with joy as hubby and I tip-toed through six floors and left each flat a bag of freshly baked cookies.

A few days later, our Portuguese landlord asked us if we were the ones behind the cookies. He chuckled when we answered in the affirmative. He said he knew it had to be us, because he had entertained several panicky calls from his tenants describing the white paper bags at their doorstep. They wanted to know if it was safe to eat the cookies or not. Could they be poisoned?

 

My first reaction was flashes of annoyance and disbelief. All we tried to do was make these people smile. It hit me hard that an act of goodness was met with suspicion and the looming question of whether another intended them harm! This made me immensely sad. But I understood. In our world of today, who’s to say you can trust anyone? Unassuming vans have mowed down innocents; children have been bombed out of their houses and millions are suffering injustice.

Perhaps if we all start to give a little; even a teeny-tiny wee bit; we might change this world of corruption. Maybe then our thoughts won’t need to travel the poisonous way. Our children might have a chance at a decent life and we might preserve what’s left of our unstable environment.

That for me, I realize could be the true meaning of Christmas. Each of us giving. Each of us receiving in the act of giving. And thus, being saviours of our fragile world.

Merry Christmas!

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Day 23: Have a red-green meal

Have a red-green themed dinner. It’s Christmasy and will definitely get you thinking creatively.

Some easy options are red and green capsicum/paprika sticks with a sauce or green chutney to dip in. Red or green apples baked with cinnamon and eaten with a dollop of ice-cream. Green grapes, cheese and red wine. The list is endless!

Or simply get out some colourful cutlery with red and green napkins.

Christmas Dinner Apple Advent Baked Apple Christmas