In the section ‘the OpenUp of ..’ someone openly tells us about his or her life. Topics such as meaning, awareness, doubts and insights will be discussed. We ask how psychology plays a role in their day-to-day lives. In this episode, we’ve asked Bastiaan van Houten, Managing Director of CPM the Netherlands.
Bastiaan, how are you doing?
“We are currently living in such an extraordinary world that I am asking myself out loud: how am I gonna answer this question? This whole year has been a rollercoaster. Basically everything that happened this year is new; nothing of it was part of a regular protocol. And all new things influence you in a certain way. That works the same way for me, it is quite a struggle sometimes. On the one hand it is a lot of fun to get your head around new things, like coming up with funny activities for my family. On the other hand, it can be challenging, for example with work. There is lots of uncertainty and we are taking on things with a higher level of consciousness and intensity. On top of that, we are all working from home, the office is closed. Having to operate like that, is not who I am. Not who I am as a person but also as a managing director.
The line between work and private life has become very thin. The other day, my thirteen year old daughter came home while I was having a business call in which someone shared a very personal story. My daughter did ask if someone was home, but I didn’t want to interrupt my call to answer her. This resulted in my daughter walking through the house while singing out loud, together with her friend. Something for which I couldn’t bring up the patience to kindly ask her to stop. “A little less loud please”.
“Every human being makes mistakes on a daily basis, and that is totally fine. Those mistakes help you grow.”
Only later I started to realize what was going on, that the safe private world of our family has become disrupted by our work being interwoven with our private lives. A child should feel free to be herself in her own world. My daughter even asked if anyone was home. We do discuss a moment like this: I apologize to her for the fact that I am bringing my work into her private life, something I never intended to do. We take a look at our agreements within our home, in order to take each other into account. Fact is that the line stays thin. And you know, everyone makes mistakes on a daily basis, and that is totally fine. Those mistakes help you grow.”
What are you currently most worried about?
“Isolation is something I definitely worry about. Not really within families, even though they have their own challenges by having to do everything together in one house. People who live alone, who don’t have the daily social environment. You can do a whole lot less nowadays, social activities, making new contacts: it is all very limited.
We experience that at work as well. We are a family, which is also embedded in our culture that is open and informal. This way of working is going well with our clients, but the question is: how do we keep the connection within the company? That is a challenge. No one lives to work, you work to do fun things.
“My goal is to discover something new about the other person in every conversation, it is something beautiful to get to know each other on a different level.”
We try to manage this as best as possible with all kinds of initiatives, like digital drinks and games and the ‘walk-talks’, in which you get paired with a different colleague every week, with whom you can call while you go for a walk. Especially those walks are moments that I enjoy and I hope that they contribute to getting to know each other a little better. The small-talk from the office is completely lacking nowadays, especially with colleagues you don’t have to meet with on a daily basis. My goal is to discover something new about the other person in every conversation. They don’t have to be profound things, but specifically small facts open a new world of conversations. Getting to know each other on a different level, that is something beautiful.
What do you do when you are not feeling well?
“I am known for my perspective taking skills. It doesn’t add up to worry about things outside of your control. I radiate calmness to others, which brings trust and peace.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t know sleepless nights. Even though I can help others to put things in perspective, I still find it difficult for myself. The only thing that really helps me is exercising, running. It helps me to clear my mind, and besides you push your boundaries while running. You push yourself to strive for something and that brings satisfaction. Also because you really féél you are doing something of course. Especially when you are working a ‘desk job’, exercising is important, which is why I like the ‘walk-talks’ that much: away from the screen and having a call like in the old days, and that while moving!
“When my eleven year old daughter saw me being stressed while working, she put me on the couch for a mindfulness breathing exercise.”
Running is a good way to clear my mind, cooking and taking care of others as well. I have been working in the service industry for 20 years and that is probably for a reason, it brings me calmth and satisfaction when I am able to take care of others. But that also means that I sometimes forget to take care of myself. It is nice to see that my eleven year old daughter pointed me at this in a beautiful way. Her teacher had taught her about mindfulness and when she saw me being stressed while working when she came home, she put me on the couch for a mindfulness breathing exercise. Not only my daughter opening my eyes for this made me happy, the exercise also worked pretty well!”
What is your experience with talking to a psychologist?
“I am a man born in the seventies, a generation that doesn’t open up that easily. I am not very good at talking about my feelings, I prefer to move myself to the background and to put all my energy into helping others.
I reached the phase in my life in which my children were getting older, I achieved my private and work related goals, we travelled to a lot of places of our bucket list and we basically felt ‘on track’. In this phase, life questions as ‘what will be the next step, what do I want to achieve next?’ and ‘what is the meaning of life, what are we living for?’ arose. I went to talk to someone about this, actually with the expectation to find answers to those questions. But it doesn’t work that way.
“You don’t have to feel great or perfect everyday, that is an illusion. It would also be very boring.”
In the end I came to the realization that you need to start the conversation with yourself. You experience certain feelings and that isn’t right or wrong, the question is: what is behind it, why do I feel this way? Don’t walk away for your feelings, but challenge yourself to investigate them. This process made me calmer and more aware, I have accepted me for who I am. The tendency to proof myself, something I carried with me since I was born, disappeared. I am less preoccupied with what I think the expectations of others are. Besides, not all questions in life need or can be answered, there is a large gray, or as I rather call it, colourful area. You need to accept the way you are and the way it is, that is okay. You don’t have to feel great or perfect everyday, that is an illusion. It would also be very boring, because how are you supposed to enjoy the little things then?
What brings colour to life in your opinion?
“I always say: ‘Enjoy life because it is short’. You can get carried away with big goals within your career or private life like traveling, but you only find great happiness in the little things. That doesn’t mean that you should stay away from dreaming big, but don’t let your happiness depend on it. My biggest moment of happiness last year was playing hide and seek with our family. Three times they went into the room where I was hidden behind the pink couch, and nobody saw me, haha. I still have to laugh about it when I think back on it. Funny how something like that arises in this crazy period, those are things I highly enjoy.
“I rather focus on what ís possible. Happiness is in the small things.”
We were supposed to backpack through Guatemala for four weeks as a family. My wife and I wanted to go on this trip even before the children were born, we told ourselves: ‘it is gonna be travelling or getting pregnant.’ The latter happened. Fifteen years and three children later, we still wanted to make this trip, but then with the whole family. For our oldest child this probably would have been the last year he would join us. As you might expect, the trip had to be canceled. I could worry about it, but it is what it is. I rather focus on what ís possible. In the end we made a trip through the Netherlands, to three different places which was very beautiful as well. That is how we try to make something of it, like I said: happiness is in the small things.”