Me – Preparing for the change

For the past three and a half years, I have worked in procurement for a global company, but in summer 2016, after some serious thinking and introspection, I realized that I wanted to re-direct my career to a more technical path, more towards natural sciences. Although I was procuring research and development services, the exposure to technology and natural sciences was too little for my taste. I discussed this with my boss who appreciated my openness and offered to support me in preparing a horizontal career move inside the company. My idea was to move to research and development, to creating new technologies and products, to fiddling with technical concepts, experimenting using lab equipment and building and testing prototypes.

I applied for positions in research and development, both at my then company and also at others, but to no avail. Although I had minored in technical mechanics at the university, the main concern in all cases was my lacking technical experience and expertise. Seeing the wall come up in all directions, I decided that the most sensible thing to do would be to get the required expertise. After weighing multiple options, I decided to get a university degree in physics, since it would provide a basis for a later career in both academic and the business world. I also felt that physics would be the subject that most interests me, remembering how I liked it in school. Adding to that the fact that I have during the past year or so taken interest in university level mathematics, I thought that physics would be the right combination of rigorous mathematics with tangible applications and real-life context for me. Additionally, I had also played with the thought of combining scientific work with outdoor life, something that for example a career as a climate physicist could offer.

Finally, having come to the decision to start studying physics, I applied to Helsinki University physics department. I sent my application and the admittance will be based on my score of the Finnish matriculation exam, a test I took already ten years ago and passed with excellent notes. At the moment of writing this post I am still waiting for the final results, but knowing the my own grades and judging by the lack of popularity that physics studies is faced with compared to some other subjects, I am nearly certain that I will be admitted. If I won’t be admitted, I am going to take the first year courses in open university, an option that Helsinki University offers. In any case, I will be moving to Finland to start my studies there.

I have yet to decide my major, but the application was done to the faculty of physics without declaring any further preferences at this point. Any specializations will be selected after the first year of studies, so I have time to get a feel for the different focus areas. At the moment theoretical physics and meteorology/climate science, maybe also geophysics, seem to be the most interesting areas to major in. Especially the three latter ones would offer a mix of scientific work combined with field work..

This post was originally written on May 21st and finalized on June 5th 2017.

Me – Masks are coming off

With this blog, entry I start a series of blog posts under the topic “me”. How many postings they will be in total and how long this series will last is still unclear to me. These posts serve at the time of their writing mainly three purposes:

  1. Help me in sorting out and reflect on my thoughts and actions related to living my life as I want it
  2. Provide me with a kind of personal “psychotherapy” and letting me get my thoughts and emotions out in the open
  3. Share with others, who might go through similar phases in their lives, my experiences and the lessons I have learned

During the last six months, and even before that, I have prepared, started and am carrying out a big change in my life. As mentioned in a previous blog post, about a year ago I started to plan a career change from procurement into R&D. Now, nearly a year later, what started out as a career change is nearly finished, but with a somewhat unexpected yet good end result.

I have written the first blog posts in this series between May 21st and June 4th 2017, but they won’t be published until later when this personal change of direction has been published officially at my current company. That will take place mid-June 2017, so this and some following posts will be published with significant delay after being written. I will indicate at the end of each post the time window when the post was written.

A final word should be said about the name of this series of posts. Although “Me” might sound self-righteous, even arrogant, I have deemed it be an appropriate heading for reasons that should become obvious in later blog entries. Choosing such a self-centered name for this series was not an obvious decision for me but I saw it necessary to underscore the personal importance and meaning that these texts have for me.

This post was originally written on May 21st and finalized on June 5th 2017.

Career change and observations on my passions and personality

Since August of 2016, I have been looking for a new career in the field of research of development. Having been worked in procurement two and a half years by then, and over a year in procuring R&D services, I had come to realize that I wanted to work in the field of natural sciences, their applications and development of new technologies. In this process of self-discovery the writing of this blog and self-experimentation, as promoted by Live Your Legend, played a large role. I also used the book What Color Is Your Parachute from Dick Bolles to guide me in my search. Below I describe briefly how the decision to change the direction of my career matured, and in a following series of blog entries, I will describe the process and result in more detail.

By the end of summer 2016, I had decided to pursue career R&D, but had some doubts leaving my current procurement job behind. My initial plan was to change to another position inside my current company and at the same location, so physically the move wouldn’t have been that large. But unlike when starting at procurement two and a half years earlier, now I had something I would be leaving behind. When I joined my colleagues at procurement in January 2014, I was fresh out of university and was starting at my first full-time job after graduation. I was more than happy to take the first offer that allowed me to move abroad, do interesting work, work with nice people in a good company and earn a good salary. Moving to R&D would be different: I already had a nice work environment at procurement with great colleagues. I had something I would have to give up in order to move to R&D.

As I had learned from doing some exercises on introspection and learning to know myself, moving to R&D would be the right move, even if it meant leaving valued colleagues behind. I like to think that even unpleasant tasks are not so bad when you do them in good company, but in the long term, you should really be doing the things you are passionate about. As I had come to realize, my passion did not lie by procurement, so moving on would be the right choice.

My largest doubts about the career change were, as already mentioned, leaving valued colleagues behind. In procurement, I had such great colleagues, both as private persons and professionally, that parting with them felt already a bit painful, even in my thoughts only. A bit like when we have a feeling comparable to physical pain when are wrong (in The Guardian on February 28th 2016), I had an uncomfortable feeling, even felt anxiety when thinking about leaving my current colleagues and joining a new team. But I was also happy for having these feelings since it showed me two things. One, my colleagues must be great persons for me to have these feelings towards them. Second, I must be somewhat of a people person, more concerned about people than things and possessions. The comparison is clumsy, but one could think a career move as an investment: you give up something to gain something else. As an analogy, when you invest your money into something, you forego the possibility of using it on something else. Interestingly, I don’t recall ever having such strong feelings of giving up something else when having done monetary investment decisions, although some of them were of significant value to me. Yet, the cost of giving up current colleagues when starting into a new career path felt very tangible.

In the end of my introspections, I then additionally came to the conclusion that I care more about people than money, a thing that we often like to think is true but might find hard to prove. In my case, the loosening of ties to current colleagues elicited in me a stronger feeling of loss than the opportunity cost of a financial investment. This was another, somewhat re-assuring lesson for me, and it made itself appear rather unexpectedly.

As a summary, I had little doubts that changing to R&D would be the right step for me, and I was determined to make that step, even if it meant giving up some existing relationships in order to pursue my passion.

Matrices and matrices in Latex

I present you yet another post on mathematics. This time I concentrate on some basics of linear algebra and matrices and introduce you to a good video series on the subject. Below the embedded pdf file you will find the links to the referred web pages.

20170604_Matrices_linear_transformations

3Blue1Brown

video series on linear algebra

video on change of basis

video on eigenvectors and eigenvalues

Trying out dancemeditation

For the past week, my yoga teacher has been giving daily sessions in a nearby castle. In castle Werdenberg a one week cultural event (“Schlossmediale”) consisting of music, visual arts and various performances is held each June. It was in this event that I was introduced to yoga in 2014, and the following year I learnt to know my current yoga instructor there.

Yesterday was the last day of this year’s Schlossmediale, and instead of a yoga section our teacher had planned and prepared dancemeditation.  I had never heard the term before, but she had told us that it would be free dancing, letting yourself move as you felt fit. When I heard about this, my immediate thoughts were: “I don’t like dancing, but I like meditation. I also like how our yoga teacher encourages us to experiment and try new things. I also want to challenge myself, get out of my comfort zone, so I must go to this dancemeditation.”

Aversion to dancing

Before telling about the dancemeditation, I include here a few words about my relationship to dancing. I have never liked dancing, period. I can manage the regular waltz, and in upper secondary school we had a ball to which we practiced some old dances, and I did like that since there were clear steps, instructions, a way to dance right, and we practiced it all. But dancing at a night club, in a disco, that has always eluded me. I remember always thinking in such events: “How do I dance right? What should I do? What’s the choreography? How does one improvise well?” Additionally I have always disliked not being able to do something well. That’s probably just part of the human condition, but I think that in my case this feeling is more pronounced. There are people who are more willing to try new things, even if they might fail. But for me failure was always a monster. I would be afraid of what others might think about me, how they would judge me and my skills, how they might laugh at me. In conclusion, taking part in the dancemeditation was something I wouldn’t have done in the past. But having become more independent in my thinking, increasingly willing to experiment and having less fear of failure, I decided to go, and it was worth it.

Dancemeditation

The session started with us all standing still, eyes closed and listening to some rhythms from the loud speakers, while a voice told us to go through our body parts, move them, feel them and let the rhythm take us. We started with moving our head, changing our focus to the shoulders, spine, hips and over the knees finally getting to the feet. After this roughly five-minute warm up the actual dance meditation started. It was a compilation of pop songs and ethnic music with very pronounced rhythms, to which you could easily dance.

After the warm up I felt that it might turn out quite nice, moving as I felt fit, not observing others and not being judged or evaluated by them. Initially, however, I was reluctant to open my eyes; I was still insecure of my own dancing, moving my body, hips and feet while swinging and moving my hands and arms without a clear purpose or plan. First I kept my eyes closed, but after the first songs, I had this feeling of just doing my own thing, not caring about the others. They were in the same room, I could see them and feel them, yet each one of us was his own world, moving in harmony between other similar worlds, yet being unaffected by them.

What also helped me is the fact that I am shortsighted and I had taken my eyeglasses off on purpose to prevent myself from seeing so well. That helped me pay less attention to others, since I had no way of figuring out where exactly they were looking at. Since I had no way of knowing whether they were looking at me and evaluating my dancing, which I am sure they weren’t doing, I could let go more easily and not think about the other people in the room.

Experiencing the joy of dance

Had some old friend or relative seen me there on the floor, they might have been surprised. Since it’s no secret that I don’t like dancing and don’t dance, seeing me shuffle my feet, twisting my hips, jiggling at the knees, bouncing up and down while throwing my arms in the air would surely have made them ask, what I had been drinking.

The dancing went on for about an hour, and after that I was so glad I had done it. This must have been the first time in my life that I have enjoyed dancing freely, not thinking about what I should do, but just doing what I feel like doing, following the music. Actually, I think this was the first time I have done so. What I found interesting was the effect music had on us all. When the song changed, people did similar changes to the way they would dance. Not just regarding tempo and rhythm, but also the specific instruments and the presence or absence of vocals seemed to have a similar impact on all dancers. I was stunned by this observation a couple of times when I, dancing with my eyes closed at the moment, opened them up as the song changed and saw how others had changed their movement patterns in ways similar to mine.

Before we started, our yoga teacher told us how she finds children so inspirational when it comes to dancing. They haven’t had the time to develop the mental constraints and fears that adults have: fear of being judged, thinking what others might think and so on. She encouraged us to express (Ausdruck in German) ourselves instead of presenting what has been imprinted (Aufdruck in German) on us by others. This a very good piece of advice to follow, if you want to do things you like instead of doing things others like.

When we were dancing in that hall in the castle, 20 or so people each to himself, I felt pure joy, listening to the music, feeling the vibration of the lower bass sounds and feet thumping on the floor, moving my body and swinging my limbs without a move being wrong, being taken away by catchy guitar playing, the amusing lyrics of the songs bringing a smile on my face. I felt like a child and I felt like dancing.

Visiting Jungfraujoch

End of May I did a trip in Switzerland I had been thinking of doing for some time now. I took the train to Jungfraujoch which houses the highest located railway station in Europe at 3450 meters above the sea level. The trip from my home to there took four and a half one hours in one direction, so most of the day I spent on the train, but it was definitely worth it, thanks to the beautiful weather, the breathtaking scenery and the reliable service of the Swiss national railways.

I first took the train to Zürich and from there over Bern and Interlaken Ost to Kleine Scheidegg, where the final leg on the Jungfrau train started.

At Kleine Scheidegg I had one and a half hours to spare, since I wanted to have enough buffer, had any of the previous trains been delayed. Additionally, due to its high popularity, I had a reserved seat on a specific train to the Jungfraujoch,

The North face of the Eiger on the left in the picture, seen from Kleine Scheidegg.
A valley east of Kleine Scheidegg.

so instead of trying to get on an earlier train with free seats I instead climbed on a nearby hill to enjoy my lunch while observing the surrounding scenery; the North face of the Eiger and the valley spreading out in front of me in the East.

 

A view from the Eismeer station.

When I finally got to Jungfraujoch, after a 30-minute train ride and a five minute stop at station Eismeer, I noticed that many people were not really equipped for the winter conditions. Some were wearing sneakers, or even flip-flops, and others had only summer clothes with them. Granted, in the Sun you could be wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, but any walking in the snow without proper shoes makes you quickly get literally cold feet.

A corridor in the ice cave.
Somebody still hasn’t found his acorn.

The Jungfraujoch station and its facilities form a large underground of kitschy exhibitions, displays and activities, something you could expect to be set up for masses of tourists; a superficial exhibition on the construction of the railway, a Lindt world of chocolate, and so on. An ice cave, as part of the complex, was an interesting work of art with small halls decorated with ice sculptures, although it doesn’t quite compare to the ice hotels you can find in other locations.

The Jungfrau summit in the middle of the picture.

Leaving the complex and taking a walk to the nearby hut Mönchjochhütte gives you more air to breath and the number of people you meet reduces dramatically. Being at east mentally alone in the middle of the sea of ice makes you humble. I actually asked myself, how I might get back down without the train and in my current equipment and with the food I was carrying in my back pack; in places like these I tend to think and appreciate the simple things, being in and breathing the moment, eating my sandwiches and sinking into a feeling of fulfillment and calm.

As a travel goal the whole Jungfraujoch region is surely very interesting for someone who likes to do and is well equipped for trekking on glaciers. Without the proper training, or a guide, and equipment no one should leave the marked path between Jungfraujoch train station and the Mönchjochhütte. The glacier can be very dangerous, especially if you do not know the risks and how to act when they realize. There are organized tours that have you trek over part of the glacier and include and over night stay in a hut.

Even to someone without any intention to do hiking, visiting the Jungfraujoch and feeling the towering summits around, above and below you is calming. Also, feeling the effect of thinner air is interesting and makes you appreciate all the more the feats of mountaineers and those who built the Jungfrau railway.

The trip back

I had booked for myself two and a half hours on Jungfraujoch for my little hike, for admiring the view and for taking some pictures. But my trip back home turned out to be an adventure, and also a good example on how well the Swiss national railways operate.

The Jungfrau train took me back to Kleine Scheidegg and from there I travelled to Grindelwald. Unfortunately, the departure at Grindelwald was delayed by five minutes, leaving me one minute to change to the next train in Interlaken Ost. During the trip, the delay accumulated and before the last station before Interlaken Ost the delay was already estimated to be 10 minutes. This would have meant, due to missing the planned connection, that I would be arriving one hour later at home than planned.

However, when we departed from the last station before Interlaken Ost, the estimated delay suddenly dropped to 6 minutes. The driver also asked passengers changing for the train to Bern in Interlaken Ost, including me of course, to change quickly. This gave me new hope that Swiss railways would actually be as good as I had previously experienced, being able to make up the lost time and enabling passengers travel according to their original plans. On arrival at Interlaken Ost I dashed to the platform for the Bern train, just reaching the train when it was scheduled to depart. On the platform I see the conductor standing calmly and waving his hand casually to tell me that “no hurry, you’ll make it”. And we did, me and the other passengers.

After changing to the next train at Interlaken Ost, our departure there would be delayed by ten minutes, announced the driver. Now I was obviously thinking, whether the nine-minute change in Bern to the Zürich train would be doable. We arrived in Bern in time, so all was well. Except that before exiting the train I checked my trouser pocket for my ticket and found nothing. Checking my other trouser pocket and my wallet, I still found no ticket, and we would be arriving in Bern in about one minute. I mentally traced back my steps and actions during the trip from Interlaken Ost to Bern and ended up finding my ticket: The whole day I had been keeping my train ticket in my wallet, where I usually keep them. However, on the Bern train I decided to stick it into my other trouser pocket, where I also had my mobile phone, to keep it better available for the coming ticket inspections.

During the trip, after having put my ticket in the same pocket with my mobile phone, I had taken my mobile phone out of my pocket a couple of times. It dawned to me during that one remaining minute before arriving at Bern that the ticket may, without me noticing it, have slipped out of my pocket. Or maybe I had missed the pocket in the first place when putting the ticket in it. Either way, I crouched to look under my seat, expecting to find my ticket. But I saw nothing. Still, keeping my head calm, I looked a bit higher, at the metal rods beneath the chair supporting it, carefully looking for any piece of paper, and there it was. My ticket was lying on a metal rod under my chair, surely having slipped between the seat and the armrest. I was relieved and felt like Sherlock Holmes, having solved the mystery. The next connections went without any hassle, and finally I was home on time, in my bed, still thinking about the simple and raw beauty of the Alps.

The lesson of all this is that you should always check that you have all your belongings when leaving your place and to keep a cool head if something is missing. Another lesson was that delays can be thought of as your schedule becoming more flexible and loose. When I was still on the train from Grindelwald to Interlaken Ost and thought I would miss my connection, I looked for the next one. It would have been 30 minutes later, and that one I would have caught easily, even with some time to spare at Interlaken Ost. So, had I missed my original connection, my schedule would have become more loose and I would have been no more in a hurry to catch the next train. Changing the perspective may change you from being late or delayed to having ample time at your hands.