An Ode to 17 Thought-Provoking Life Quotes from Fredrik Backman’s Beartown

Photo by Tony Schnagl on Pexels

I am a big fan of Fredrik Backman, even though I have read only 2 of his books.

The first one was A Man Called Ove. I completed the second one quite recently. It is a beautiful, emotional, intense story of a sleepy little cold town called Beartown. A place where people are laidback in all things except one – ice hockey. Their love for the sport transcends everything. It reminds me of professional football club fans. The same passion, the same energy, the same love. The same disappointment when their team loses or when a controversy pops up. If you are a sports fan or know someone who is, you would find this book extremely relatable.

Fredrik Backman is a genius when it comes to explaining moments and expressing emotions. I got goosebumps while reading through many of the quotes in Beartown.

I am listing some of my favorites here.

“The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?”

“Being a parent makes you feel like a blanket that’s always too small. No matter how hard you try to cover everyone, there’s always someone who’s freezing.”

“Religion is something between you and other people; it’s full of interpretations and theories and opinions. But faith … that’s just between you and God.”

“People sometimes say that sorrow is mental but longing is physical. One is a wound, the other an amputated limb, a withered petal compared to a snapped stem.”

“One of all the terrible effects of grief is that we interpret its absence as egotism. It’s impossible to explain what you have to do in order to carry on after a funeral, how to put the pieces of a family back together again, how to live with the jagged edges. So what do you end up asking for? You ask for a good day. One single good day. A few hours of amnesia.”

“In a few years’ time she’ll read an old newspaper article about research showing that the part of the brain that registers physical pain is the same part that registers jealousy. And then Ana will understand why she hurt so badly.”

“A great deal is expected of anyone who’s been given a lot.”

“Community is the fact that we work towards the same goal, that we accept our respective roles in order to reach it. Values is the fact that we trust each other. That we love each other.”

“If Peter has learned one thing about human nature during all his years in hockey, it’s that almost everyone regards themselves as a good team player, but that very few indeed understand what that really means.”

“When you can accept the worst aspects of your teammates because you love the collective, that’s when you’re a team player.”

“Because the thing you can never be prepared for when you have children is your increased sensitivity. Not just feeling, but hypersensitivity. He didn’t know he was capable of feeling this much, to the point where he can hardly bear to be in his own skin.”

“One of the first things you learn as a leader, whether you choose the position or have it forced upon you, is that leadership is as much about what you don’t say as what you do say.”

“The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.”

“Every child in every town in every country has at some point played games that are dangerous to the point of being lethal. Every gang of friends includes someone who always takes things too far, who is the first to jump from the highest rock, the last to jump across the rails when the train comes. That child isn’t the bravest, just the least frightened. And possibly the one who feels he or she doesn’t have as much to lose as the others.”

“The simplest and truest thing David knows about hockey is that teams win games. It doesn’t matter how good a coach’s tactics are: if they’re to stand any chance of working, first the players need to believe in them.”

“Fighting isn’t hard. It’s the starting and stopping that are hard.”

“There are few words that are harder to explain than ‘loyalty’. It’s always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.”

An Ode to Not Checking Work Emails on Weekends and Holidays

Photo by Ivan Samkov

We bring work to home and home to work.

We find it challenging to keep our professional and personal lives separate.

People say you should never talk about your personal problems at work; that your coworkers can use that info to bring you down. You never know who is plotting against you to climb that corporate ladder.

When it comes to bringing work home, though, things are a bit more relaxed. Many workers are guilty of committing this sin of not switching off post work-hours. We take it for granted that our loved ones would understand. No one is going to plot against you. There is no ladder to climb, except when the ceiling fan needs cleaning up, we need to fix a bulb or pull out something from a top storage unit.

The number one red flag that you are a workaholic is that you check your work emails during post-work hours and holidays. There is no urgency at work. There are no production issues. But there you are, checking your email like you are checking your fridge for something new.

I was guilty of this too.

I used to check my email after work hours. I wanted to know if my bosses replied. Sometimes the replies to my emails were neutral, sometimes positive, and sometimes negative. As expected, the negative responses were joy killers. Imagine facing anxiety during your day off. It is more than enough to ruin the rest of your day.

This is why I stopped checking work emails outside work hours.

Armed with the new understanding that checking emails would wreck my breaks, I consciously started staying away from work emails after the scheduled hours, on weekends and holidays. I would pull myself back from checking them. It was never easy, especially when you are anticipating a reply to an important email. But I would tell myself that enjoying the moment is of prime importance. If I were to find out I had tons of work for the next working day, I would spend my breaks coming out with an action plan. Breaks are not for making work plans! It is meant for rejuvenation.

Switching off from work made my holidays more enjoyable and relaxing. I was able to pursue my hobbies and also spend quality time with family.

I find many people around me committing this sin of checking emails post-work hours now.

A friend, during his vacation, worked almost every single day. He couldn’t stop checking his emails. Many like him tend to forget to create boundaries at work. It sends a message to your organization. That you, as a worker, are ready to work anytime, even if it is your vacation.

It is not the company’s responsibility to look after your well-being. They will never beg you to look after your own mental or physical health. They will never stop you from working after the scheduled hours or on holidays. That onus is on you!

I know many in their late 20s and early 30s who complain of backache. Each one of them works 10+ hours every day, and they have wrecked their health in the process. We overwork ourselves because we are brimming with energy, and we want to do impressive work. It is only over the years that the side effects start to show. People in their 30s and 40s are increasingly facing heart attacks. Stress is a significant contributor. There is no time to sit back and enjoy the pleasures of life. A fast-paced life only contributes to more stress.

The easiest way to kickstart your journey towards physical and mental well-being is by separating your personal and professional lives. Learn to switch off from work after the scheduled hours. If you cannot complete your work on time, learn proper time management, or better yet, ask for more time. Extra time for a project submission means improved deliverables.

The first step to post-work wellness is to sign out from your work emails.

Please do it for yourself. You highly deserve it!

An Ode to Saying Please and Thank You at Work

Say Thank You at Work
Photo by Polina Zimmerman

How often have we dealt with authoritative emails at work?

The ones that sound unnecessarily aggressive and bossy, instead of courteous yet firm.

After my previous rant on surviving performance reviews, I looked into a couple of emails of supervisors generally well-liked at the office, and those who weren’t.

The ones who were liked (Batch A), were polite and empathetic in their emails:

  • Could you please finish this task by Saturday?
  • Thank you for completing this!

In contrast, the ones who weren’t liked (Batch B), wrote their emails like this:

  • Do this by Saturday!
  • Dead silence after completing any task

See the difference? Would you like to get emails from Batch B? No one is fond of unnecessary aggression.

It is such a refresher nowadays to hear supervisors being polite. A “Thank you” or a “Please,” even if formal makes you look humane and not cold and distant. It motivates employees to do better. Politeness does not mean being weak. You can be firm and polite!

Something Batch A does often (to show the emergency of the situation):

  • Please send this across by Saturday! This is very important.

No unwanted aggression here. A simple message that conveys the seriousness of the task. Most people are smart enough to get the gist of such a message.

Employees perform their best when their supervisors are empathetic and kind. The attrition rate (the rate at which people leave) is always high in companies with bad managers. A 2016 survey in India showed that employees are willing to stay longer and work harder if they were well appreciated in their companies. About 59% felt they were unappreciated by their bosses. That’s more than half of the survey sample! No small number there. Sometimes, all it takes is a “thank you” or a “please,” to make things better.

So why are we so stingy with appreciating others or using cordial language at work?

Each supervisor is shaped by their own experiences in the corporate world. Some might have faced similar situations, a boss being too self-centered or supercilious or manipulative, and they end up thinking this is the only way to climb up the career ladder.

Sadly, this is partially true.

A recent study disturbingly stated that narcissistic, manipulative people tend to become CEOs faster (29% more) than their less self-entitled peers. We look at people at the top for inspiration, and we see a lot of them acting entitled and impolite, and we think “That’s how we become successful.

But is it really? Is this the downside of being successful? Should we dump our emotions, empathy, kindness in the garbage in the quest for power?

I have been in the corporate world for so long, and I have seen and experienced so much, that the first thought when I see a CEO or a leader on LinkedIn is not Wow! I want to be this person,” but “How many people did you demotivate and destroy to reach where you are? How many fake stories have you cooked up to save yourself, by shifting the blame onto your juniors? How good are you at playing politics in office?” This seems very dark and harsh I know. But it is mostly the truth. There are exceptions but the many leaders I have seen have sold their souls to the corporate devil. They will do anything to get on the super boss’ good books and won’t hesitate to drag anyone else down in the process.

Sometimes, from what I have seen, I feel it’s best to stay away from the rat race.

So you don’t end up becoming a rat.

An Ode to Surviving Performance Reviews by Demotivating Managers

Demotivating Manager

It is that demotivating season again.

I say demotivating because my last two performance reviews were negative. I might keep repeating “demotivating” throughout the article because that is how I feel right now.

So demotivated, dazed, confused, furious.

All because of one manager.

Somehow he has made up his mind to never encourage anyone. The only positive word I have ever seen come out of his mouth is “Good.” But he is ever ready to nullify that with 100 negatives.

The worrying part is many in my company feel that way.

2020 was the year I was most proud of myself. I learned things on my own. I built things from scratch. Got everything up and going with minimal errors after several hours of overtime. The least I expected was an “I appreciate your hard work.” An acknowledgement of what I have done.

But nothing came.

Don’t be that manager.

I am at my productive best when I am reporting to a good manager. I am at my worst when the manager is negative. This is true for many. We want to do our best, help the company reach the top when our work is valued.

Don’t get me wrong. I love constructive feedback. But not feedback that is laced only with negatives.

If you are a performance reviewer, here are some “How not to be a demotivating boss” tips:

  • Start the conversation in a light tone. A “Hi, how are you?” at the start never killed anyone. It gives the employee some time to breathe and relax. Remember, most employees get into a performance review with extreme anxiety. Help them out by being courteous and kind.
  • Start with the positives. And by positives, I do not mean just saying a single “Good.” Be descriptive. Tell them what you liked about their work. Use the same number of sentences that you would use while giving constructive criticism. 3 full sentences describing the negatives? Follow it up with 3 honest sentences about their positives. Balance it out.
  • Do not make the employee feel like they have done nothing for the company.
  • Ease into the negatives. Give some time for the employee to respond or tell you what’s on their mind. Don’t ramble non-stop. The moment you start the negatives is when you need to be the kindest. Frame negatives in a nice way, then stop and take a step back, wait for them to respond, ask if they have to anything to say. Be open-minded to listening to them.

You look around and you see many employees dissatisfied with their managers. Why is that? Because there is a huge communication gap. Any thoughts and reviews are left for the last moment i.e. during the performance review. Some companies like Microsoft, Accenture, Adobe and Deloitte have done away with annual performance reviews because of this reason alone.

The best way to give feedback is right after a task is completed. This helps them change their course if need be. Don’t wait till annual performance reviews – to throw unpleasant surprises.

I got a raise and a bonus. So it was not all bad. But all it takes is one person’s words to ruin the high you feel, right? Is that the price you pay for a salary?

By the end of it all, I told him “That was very demotivating.” Probably it was the first time he heard it from someone. Most employees prefer to ignore such bosses. My retort was followed by a one-minute silence. Of all the things I said this year, I am most proud of this one dialogue.

My manager then went on to give several excuses on how the intention was not to demotivate but to give feedback.

But feedback should be a mix of good and bad. Backed up with encouraging words on how you believe the employee can do what’s been suggested. If it is not, it is not feedback, it is being demotivational. As simple as that.

So I would like to say kudos to me for surviving yet another performance review with a demotivating manager. I expect more to come. And I plan to survive them all. By ranting here, and to my friends, and family, and anyone who would listen.

The day my boss says something nice, I will let you know. Stay tuned?

Leaving the company doesn’t make sense because as far as I know most of the people around have terrible bosses. I rather stick to one familiar demotivating one that becomes overbearing during performance review time rather than explore new ones.

If you are feeling demotivated too, rant! To someone.

That is what my colleagues and I do anyway.

One day, hopefully, all managers will learn how to give feedback constructively. Till then, the corporate servants will have to time and again, feel the extreme disappointment of not feeling valued by that one manager, who simply doesn’t know how to give a good performance review.

And I also hope one day we start earning enough passive income from our websites, investments and, other sources. So that we can run far away from everything that is, you guessed it, demotivational! Every corporate slave’s secret dream.