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  • Writer's pictureNeža Krek


You probably had a moment in your life when a person makes an observation or a statement about how you behave or what you do, or how you think, that stops you in everything you do. And something in your mind or something in your head just kind of goes up. And almost everything that you believed, or thought you knew is all of a sudden questioned or put under scrutiny. I had one of those moments, just two weeks after I moved to the Netherlands to attend a creative business school.

After two weeks of me being in that programme, an excellent observer and a really, daring educator who probes and probes and probes. So you kind of either love him or you hate him. I'm on the loving part. He looked at me, and he said, with a funny grin on his face. Hey, Anita, you know, I'm looking at you, like observing you. You really like rules? Right?

For me, the answer was no, of course. I mean, rules are here for a reason, right? And he said, no rules are for breaking. And I was like, no rules are to follow. Rules are here to protect us. And I started making all of these arguments as to why we need to follow rules. I was becoming angry and agitated, and I didn't understand what was happening at all.

He sat back and started giggling. And I don't really know what happened afterwards that day, because I think I probably left in a haze. Let's just pack it in one word. It was pure discomfort. I went back home, not home in Slovenia, but home to the place that I was renting in Utrecht at that time, and I sat with: what on earth just happened? He just said, you really like rules, right? Why did that bring such commotion, such chaos into my head and into my system. I really needed to sit with that discomfort.

I've revisited this situation many times in my life since then, it was 10 years ago. Now I can tell you why that happened and what I have learned from that particular statement. What I am implementing and doing differently today. Because of that simple statement, I realized that I was taking rules for granted.

We go through life, and we start taking certain things for granted. I was 30 when he dropped that question on me. And I realized that I was in this comfort bubble, accepting the rules for what they were without questioning them. Just because they gave me a false sense of security. False, you ask? Well, yes, they were false. Because at the same time, they were taking away my agency, my feeling that I'm in charge of my own life, that I'm in charge of my own choices.

The rules I never questioned made me complacent to somebody else's plan for me. Whose plan you might ask? Well, you know, cultural expectations, institutional expectations, people around me that might have had some expectations of me, about me, to me, towards me. But somebody else's expectations, who might that be? The society around me was telling me that I should be a certain way because I'm a woman. That I should behave a certain way because I'm training to be a teacher. That I should think a certain way because I'm from Slovenia, which used to be socialistic country.

I lived a life where I was accepting rules of other people without pausing and saying, wait a minute, is this actually serving me. And you could see that also influenced the way I was facilitating at that time. I was already a facilitator, I was simply coming to Amsterdam to learn how to put facilitation into a business and not expecting that I would just be hired by a company and then working in the company.

Another layer of why I wasn't used to questioning rules is because as I was growing up, I really didn't need to question rules. I had the most loving family environment I could think of when I was growing up. I was an only child. And I had beautiful and awesome parents and grandparents who loved me and I really felt loved. I always said to myself, that I know that I'm spoiled. Because I know if anything goes away, I know that I'm loved.

I'm getting really emotional right now. Because I know, not everybody has that

privilege of knowing that you're loved no matter what stupid thing you might do.

I think that's a luxury. Once I became a mom, I said to myself, if anything that I want to pass on, is knowing that my kids are loved for whatever, whoever they are, and whoever they choose to be.

At the same time, I also needed to acknowledge in my query of what happened with that statement about rules. I was born in a socialist country, but not only born, I was raised by people who lived their majority of their adult life in a socialistic country. And that means that the society was sticking together on a very basic principle, which is you step down for the good of the collective.

It's a beautiful philosophical principle, you step down for the good of the collective. However, it also had consequences and the way I was growing up, in my own mental development, soul development, everything. I'm not saying that it's bad. I'm just saying that there was a very needed cross point in my life where I needed to realize that and ask myself: is this still something that I want to continue? And the answer was, yes, but not like this. No, I want to do it differently, I still want to keep that service to the collective, however, on my terms.

In a way that will not burn me out. In a way where I will still keep myself, my integrity and the joy to live my life, so that I can then serve other people. Before that reset when I was 30, it was the other way around. I was living for other people first and only for myself after, maybe even last. Still to this day, this reversal that I would be putting myself first is so difficult. I need to make that decision every single day.

Me being a facilitator taught me so much about how I can put myself first and really see the effect that if I do that, I can serve the collective better. Maybe it sounds counterintuitive, but that idea of putting the oxygen mask on first and then helping other people around you is also the case in facilitation. For me, facilitation is not only my profession. For me, facilitation is my way of exploring, of how I want to be as a partner, as a friend, as a mom, as a daughter, and all of the roles that I am inhabiting. For me facilitation is really an excuse to constantly question whether what I'm doing is serving me and the world around me.

So my reflection about rules really got me. This was the starting point of this journey towards myself. Towards how I can be in the center so I can serve better. To serve the people that I'm facilitating, teaching or training depending on which role I'm putting on.

Throughout this now 10 year journey from that very statement, I reprogram my relationship with rules. I want to take you on this journey, how I slowly started experimenting, questioning, sitting with even more discomfort. It was also very unpleasant. What you will not hear me say is that it was bad or negative. I don't want to

use those words. For me they are pleasant, unpleasant, comfortable, uncomfortable. But I don't want to put them into black and white, bad/good, negative/positive.

I dearly believe that even the uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions are a source of vital information that can then help us open new doors, see new opportunities for growth, for laughter, joy and doing things that will make our lives fun and better.

I chose to step into a few questions that I think are fundamental. They also brought a lot of discomfort.

Who am I really? And I mean not who I was told to be. But who am I really? Maybe it sounds like the contrary. I am talking so much about myself. And yet I am serving the community. However, I cannot serve the community well enough if I don't know myself. So the first question that I sat with was: who am I really?

The next question was: what is it that I want to contribute to the world? What is the change that I want to contribute? One of the answers that came out of this reflection is that I want to serve the educational community, but on my terms. That's where my love and passion for facilitation comes in. Because I do dearly believe that infusing higher education, especially adult education, with facilitation, as an approach could drastically speed up the change process that we need in these systems. It enables tapping into the group wisdom that people have when they come together.

So what changed? I want to be a part of a change towards an education where everybody can be who they truly are. And that means that they also need to be helped getting to the answers to that question. Another part of the change that I want to be a part of, is bringing awareness of the emotional world that we are living in. In order to prevent mental illness, anxiety, depression and suicide.

What better place to do that, than education. So why don't we make them a place of joy, where everybody can be who they truly are. No matter how disorganized you might be, no matter how fidgety you might be, no matter how much creativity and boost of energy you might have, or no matter how calm and shy. How can we create learning experiences where each and every student knows that they're okay?

How can we support the educators to have the capacity to do that, not only for the students, but also for themselves? I think that educators nowadays are faced with such humongous responsibilities. I've seen that working with educators throughout the pandemic. One of the questions that I think we should totally take into consideration is: what is our relationship to rules?

What are the rules that we can break without huge consequences? Because they were just written because somebody wanted to protect their own ass. Let's face it, many of the rules are there to protect somebody else's butt. Let's be daring. Let's experiment. Let's see, what is it that you can already do differently without nobody even noticing? So let's take it into practice.

How did my facilitation look like before I had this huge reflection about rules and what did it slowly morph into? When I started my nomads education in 2012, I came there with this enormous urge to control. To put order into my processes. This is what we're going to do first, then we're going to do this and this is going to take such an amount of time, because that's how I was trained as a teacher. I was taught how to make a pedagogical plan for 45 minutes down to a minute defined. It was a great starting point, don't get me wrong.

I'm so happy that I went through that training. However, I didn't know how to emotionally let go of a plan that I made with the best of intentions. My starting point was very hardcore grip on the programme that I made. And it's a great starting point. However, it also made me experience a lot of discomfort when things didn't go well.

When you prepare a beautiful lecture, and then something goes wrong, or you have a question from the audience, and everything just goes so slowly. I realized that if I wanted to change that for myself as a facilitator and for the experience in the room for my participants, I need to drastically change the way I address how people can and want to participate in the learning process itself.

I started shifting towards invitations. If you listen to the episode with Marilyn Melman, there was a quote, “You can invite people to try something out. But if they say no, and you feel annoyed with them, or yourself, then it was not an invitation.” I'm saying this because this was this intermediate phase. That I was inviting people. However, when they didn't do it, I was disgruntled.

I felt like I had not done my job. My job being my inner work of being okay with whatever happens, because I cannot control people's reactions, I can only control how I say it and how I feel about it. I can only control what my reaction to a certain other reaction will be? So first there were rules, then there were invitations with this fake smile, like I'm inviting you into here. Then slowly, with a lot of internal work, I came to really embodying the invitations that I am currently using in my practice.

I have amounted to around seven invitations that I neatly laminated after writing them too many times on a paper. Based on what I want to invite people into, I make a selection. These invitations bring a sense of agency to the participants. They offer that idea of expansion. It's an opportunity for you to expand your horizon, your capacity for whatever you're after.

Hey, I am inviting you. But it's up to you whether you accept these invitations or not. Because an invitation is like a gift. And then it's up to you whether you take it or not. It's not one of those horrible gifts that you get from a relative. Okay, thank you, and then you don't know what to do with it. You feel guilty of even the thought of throwing it away. That's not that type of invitation. Invitations are really me extending an offer. And it's up to you, whether you're taking it or not.

It's also serving the function of giving the acknowledgement that you are an adult, and I'm an adult. Let's stop pretending that I'm something more or that you are something more. We are equals, and only when we are equals we can have this fruitful collaboration. I also do that when I'm working with people younger than me. Let's say when I'm working with students who have zero experience with what I'm doing, but I know that they have their own life experience which is valuable. That's what I want them to bring in through this process.

The invitations are for them. But they are also invitations for me. I can tell you that whenever I am explaining these invitations, they're also reminders of what I want to live by today, when I'm with you in the process. This is an invitation and constant invitation for me to walk my talk. I can tell you these invitations are challenged on a regular basis. There are moments where I need to step down or turn off my camera, make a fake break for the group, just so that I can regroup with myself. These invitations are this beautiful gateway into exploration, for expansion and growth.

You might be asking, can we please hear some of these invitations? Glad you asked. Thank you very much. If you're on my newsletter, you will get a picture of them, you will see how they look and you will have a checklist. The first invitation that I like to begin with, if I choose them, is to be prepared to be surprised. There are so many ways you can be surprised, and people normally really like surprises. I really hate them… Maybe you are in between. So being prepared for a surprise is such a beautiful invitation to opening yourself.

You don't know what's going to happen. And frankly, as a facilitator, I also don't know what's going to happen. I have a plan. I'm going to do my best to guide us through that plan. But what will happen in the group? What wisdom will come out? What questions will pop up? What realizations and what conclusions will come up? I don't know that. So being prepared to be surprised about whatever comes is a great invitation to start.

The second one is there to ask. The philosophy behind it is really to make the threshold of asking questions as low as it can possibly be. There's no stupid questions. And there are always three types of people you can ask questions to. You can always ask me, as a facilitator. You can also ask the people around you, the team that we are working with. Because there is so much wisdom there already. And people normally forget to ask themselves first, because for some weird reason, also, really sad reason, we tend to discount our knowledge. It takes courage to ask yourself, because maybe the answer that you will come up with you might not like it.

The next invitation that I extend many times is to go as deep as it feels good. Sometimes what you will find might not be joy. While they go deep into reflection, will they stay on the surface? Will they go somewhere in between, it's up to them. And it's okay, they need to be in charge of the depth that they will go for.

The invitation that follows is to respect your timing. Here I really love going back to the meaning of the word respect. If you look at it from Latin it means to look again, and again and again. So if I have respect towards myself, I am willing to look at myself again, I'm willing to look at my timing again. If I respect my timing, maybe I'm expecting myself to already learn a certain thing by XYZ time, but circumstances might have been not in favor of that rhythm.

So instead of going: “you were a bad girl. You haven't done it yet.” Instead of that I can go: “Wait a minute. Have I just given birth to twins? Yes. Okay. Is it even physically possible for you to go further in your business? Is it right now? No? Okay.” So it's a constant invitation towards myself in this case, because I don't know who you are on the other side. It's a constant invitation to be kind to yourself to have respect for your timing and ask yourself, Is this the timing when I can learn XYZ. Where I can accelerate. Or do I

need to step back on the throttle and go slower?

Maybe you will say that you are ready and want to go faster. Then we'll go faster. And for all of this to be able to exist, to be able to happen, I ask people to put on their most colorful curiosity glasses. Curiosity glasses are super fun. They come in all shapes and sizes. They are hearts, flowers, butterflies, red, yellow. All of the colors of the rainbow. They help you look at the world from a perspective that you're not used to. It's an invitation in curiosity as a mindset. I cannot tell you what beautiful things happen when people dare to step into their curiosity. They step into their playfulness, they have fun, they even dare to dance with me.

The last limitation that I extend to words, my participants on and on is progress, not perfection. I'm bringing this one back from the business world because I do believe that education systems and the way we educate needs some of the infusion of the thinking and the mindset that the business entrepreneurial world has. Since I'm a business woman, and also an educator, I call myself not an entrepreneur.. Not an educator, but I'm an enterpreneur. I believe that cross pollination in these fields can bring really cool stuff up.

Progress, not perfection. Going into experimentation, trying it out, not going for the perfect course curriculum, that you have brewed up yourself in a corner of the university. Really stepping into trying it out, testing it out, asking questions, creating together, co creating with students and different stakeholders. That's been happening in business for so long. It comes down to progress, not perfection. It goes back to being able to step back from what you've created, and being more focused on who is in the room instead of what I have designed for this particular session. These invitations really helped me create environments where people feel seen, feel a sense of belonging. Where people feel acknowledged for what they bring into the circle. It's a beautiful way to start any given process.

Now back to you. What's your relationship with rules? Is it healthy? Is it playful? Joyful? Is it constricting? What is it? How does it feel? If you look into your facilitation, training, teaching, education practice, how is it that you want to create a safe environment where your students or participants can explore and feel agency over their own wisdom and knowledge? Are there any invitations that you want to extend next time you're in the classroom? If yes, what would they be? If not, why not? I invite you to put on your most colorful fun curiosity glasses and sit with whatever comes up.

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