Archive for the ‘Trust’ Category

Today it’s 25 years ago, that I did something that at first looked like my biggest mistake up till then. I was 19 years old and for the first time in my life, my parents were on holiday without me.

I felt an adult. I had been living more or less on my own the year before at university.

Although 1991, had been a tough year, by the summer I felt like I finally had control again over my life and everything was about to get better. I had again a girlfriend, my parents trusted me to stay home in their house. In my hometown I had been going for the first time in my life to 10 days of partying at Gentse Feesten. And I was doing volunteer work with children at a playground. I felt at the top of my life.


And then 1 august 1991, around 19 hours, fate struck, or was it desitiny?
I made my own French Fries, and with that I burned down my parents house.

I was 19, all alone, no cell phone, without a number to call my parents, no house, wearing nothing but underwear and a pair of jeans. No t-shirt, no socks, no shoes. I went to my neighbor and I called my girlfriend, unfortunately her parents had never seen me, and they did not believe  that a boyfriend they officially did not knew she had, had just burned down a house. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do.

I felt very very lonely.

I was 19, although my life was not an open book to my parents, I realized then, there was no way that I could hide this from my parents. And even postponing this, would not help me.
Yes that evening I learned the value of transparency and default to open. 
First thing my mother did when she came home, she did not say a word, she hugged me.  That hug told me; yes you failed, and no you are not a failure.

The newly kitchen burned down before it was finished...
It was a healing hug and it was the start of a long journey, that makes it possible that I can say that for the biggest part of the next 25 years, burning down that house was one of the best things that happened to me.

No, I’m no advising you to do the same. I’m advising you, to look at the failures in your life and see what you can learn from it.
What do you gain from hiding them? Most people gain a life of fear. Fear for being embarrassed. I had just burned down a house and everyone around me, knew about it. I had no place to hide. not literally, not emotionally. Yes there were (Tons of) people that made fun of me. I even had a friend who yelled at me. He yelled because, yeah because of what? It wasn’t clear to me at the time, now I would say, he yelled because of his own fear. Today, I’m ok with it, very OK with it. It told me he was not a real friend. The kids and colleagues at the playground on the other hand turned out to be gold.

Today I will celebrate the fire. Celebrate at work, and celebrate with my family; I’ll make some French Fries and I’ll explain to my son why burning down the house turned out to be ok.

And next time I make a mistake, I’ll do a #FailureBow. If you haven’t decided what to eat today, have some French Fries and think of your failures. 

I just got back from the first edition of GentM 2015. Today the topic was Social Togetherness.
A topic that I expected to be close to my heart because of one of the speakers Frank Van Massenhove.

I don’t know Frank personally, yet I have heard his story many times and it keep inspiring me.
For those who who don’t know Frank, he turned (one of the) worst FOD (ministries – is that an English word?) around to become one of the hottest places in Belgium to work for.
Inspired by semco, the new working etc…

Many people felt inspired by the talk, yet what also happened was that a few people wondered yeah but would it also work (fill in anything you want…)

Now I have been working as an agile coach for ten years, and more specifically the last 5 years helping large to huge organisations in that role. And then my role is partly a change agent.
Helping to turn an organisation into a new way of working, with a big mindset shift.

I helped companies around EMEA and at the same time I spoke at conferences in many different countries.

Two of the most common reactions I get are:

– yes this is fine in (name another country/company ), but this would not work in (the country /company of the speaker)
– yes this is all nice in theory, but in the real world...

And yes, I have to admit, when I read some books, blogs or hear about company x or y, that I think mm this would not work here.
Well, that never is about the other people, that is me being scared of trying.
And so when you think, what I heard at GentM, or what I read about Semco, or saw in the video of spotify, stop thinking it won’t work here. But look for the smallest step you (not your company, you), can make in that direction.

Thus this mean, I’m never frustrated about where my clients are and the speed they go?
No, I’m always frustrated. I always want to go faster. And that is good because that is my job. The moment I’m happy with where a client is, that means I stayed too long.

The story that Frank told today, is where he is now, and yes it’s the good part. I’m sure there were moments he was frustrated, I’m sure that he still has things he wants to improve and he might even feel they just started. That is not the point.

The first big change assignment I took in a large organisation, I felt frustrated about the speed. I felt frustrated about how little we achieved. I thought I was frustrated because I compared them to what I knew in other companies. It took me a few years to realise that was not really the case.

I compared my clients with:

a imaginary team existing of  
– the best developers from the best teams I worked with
– the best tester from a great team I worked with
– a great scrummaster (who is now working as an agile coach)
– a Product owner that is a combination of two great PO’s I worked with, mixed with the person who taught my PO training and wrote one of the best books on user stories.
– …

mixed with stories I heard at conferences, read online, and hopes I have build up over the years.

so really that is not fair to anyone. None of the teams I have worked with or any of my colleague coaches, will win this comparison. All teams will look pale compare to this imaginary team.

What I started to do instead, is compare my clients to how they were when I joined.
F ex: at my current client, we now have the support of the CIO. That is something that I consider necessary for the kind of change we are trying to achieve now. And I have to admit, one year ago, I did not think we would have this already now. That is a huge achievement.

I can choose to complain about all the possible roadblocks and thing that go slower then I want, and yes I sometimes do that, because I need to let go of my frustration.

yet I love my job, because I am asked to help people to find a better working world.

Just as Frank, I meet a lot of good people that are capable of doing extraordinary things, if we allow them to think. And I know they are capable, because they do it. Unfortunately some of them don’t do it at work, but do it in some kind of volunteer work. And I’m totally not against volunteer work (I’m a coach for coderdojo, and I love helping kids discovering technology), yet I don’t like it when people do voluntary work because they can’t do what they would love to do at work.

 

Ask people their values, give them a why and trust they will figure out the how. (After all you hired them because you thought they were smart.)
Basically treat them as adults.

PS If you think they are behaving as children, ask me at the next GentM, about some of the times I treated my children as adults and what that resulted in… (Thanks Lamazone to ask me the questions that reminded me of these stories…)

  • I read a lot of books, I always have.

As a coach, I decided some years ago, that the books I read as a coach, I want to have in my possession. I decided this because I try to learn something from every book I read.

The number of books that I really have to say, I did not learn anything from is very very low.
During my coaching, I referred people to the different books I had read.
I know that not every one likes to read as much as I do, yet in every organisation there is at least someone who loves to read.

And gradually I began to bring books to the clients I was coaching.
Every company/person has their own proces for lending books.

I call my proces: the library of trust.

Here is how the Library Of Trust works:

  • You select a book you would like to read
  • You take a picture of you with the book
  • You send this picture to my work and personal e-adres
  • You read the part of the book that interest you (mandatory)
  • You bring the book back
  • You ask me to take a picture of me with the book and send it to you (important, that way I have a trace it’s back)

I get two kind of reactions to this proces:

  • Wow cool proces
  • How many books have you lost already?
    Ah that last question is interesting. I also bring my books to the XPdays conference and I leave them in the hotel lobby.
    There I lost 2 books in the last 10 years. One of them came magically back the next year at the conference.
    So I lost 1 book in 10 years.
    The reaction of one of the people that asked me this question. Wow we have a very rigid proces and we loose about 1 book a year. I rest my case.

My friend and colleague Franky Redant said that the SCARF model kinda explains why. Something I let you figure out on your own.

As I wrote in my new years video mail, last year I had two pair of shoes that I wore out. (where I usually do + one yearwith a pair of shoes)
At the start of this year, I bought a new pair of shoes. I went to buy a new pair of shoes in the first weekend of the wintersales. At first, I thought I was lucky that my shoes broke down before. Until I entered my regular shoe shop. (As much as I like to create new habits, the last shoes I bought, I bought somewhere else and you know how that ended…)

I entered the shop and it was -predictable- full of people. And unfortunately in my size not many options for shoes left. Until I found some shoes, that looked different as what I usually buy, yet looked ok. When I put them on, I noticed that inside, the was a little heel. Which basically lifted my foot half a centimetre  (or maybe even a centimeter.) It felt strange, yet the shoes fitted.

Side note: Now I personally am one of these men, who don’t like that women wear high heels. I actually think it’s rather foolish to walk around in stiletto’s of 5 to 10 centimetre. Especially when I see the narrow size of the “heel”.

When I tried the shoes, my thought was, you know what, instead of criticising, maybe I should buy these shoes and try a little bit what it means to wear heels. (Which at the same time felt rather ridiculous as it was only a small heel and it was inside the shoe.) Yes, yes, the stories I tell myself when I buy something.

Next monday, I wore the shoes to work and by the time I arrived, my feet hurted like hell.
I was barely able to move, I don’t even call it walking.
My internal message: “Well yves new shoes always hurt, so …”

Yves this is al very nice, what has this to do with agile?
Great question, let me tell you about an agile transformation I did a few years ago.
I worked for a very big international organisation (think x0.000 people) as part of a 3 persons coaching team. We  were coaching multiple development teams.

There was another team that was thinking up the agile transformation. Some of the people of that team had been with this company for decades and had in this company only been thinking up policies and regulations. (Think project management Office style), some others had agile experience, yet never in this company. Together they came up with some way the teams were supposed to work. The coaches team realised very quickly that what they came up with did not work for the teams we were coaching.

A conversation I had recently made me realise they had split up their company in thinkers and doers. Something that might make sense in a factory (although Toyota shows us it’s not needed to be successful.) yet it for sure makes things harder in a company that does knowledge work. At a more recent agile transformation, we had a similar transformation team only  there the coaches team convinced this team to organise themselves in a similar way as the development teams.
I’m not saying this avoided all problems, yet by walking in the same shoes they asked the developers to wear, they felt the same pain. That created trust in multiple directions.

Reader:
Yves, before you leave, please tell us what happened to your new shoes.

Yves:
Thank you for asking.
In the first week, I noticed that my heels were bleeding. I remember having sore feet, yet I don’t remember bleeding feet. Once the bleeding stopped, my children noticed that I walked strangely (basically put my heels down first and only the my toes.) At some point I realised it was no longer my heel that were hurting, now it was my ankles that hurted. At that point, my partner asked, no begged me, to buy new shoes. She wanted to avoid that I would damage my legs for every. Although I felt I should really walk a while into new shoes, every morning I walked or better stumbled the 1.200 steps to the train station, I wondered what “a while” really ment.
As a change agent, I know I’m asking a lot of people to change their habits, that is why I’m regularly changing my own habits. Asking people in a large corporation to make the switch to agile, is a big change. A change that hurts.

In one of my coaching conversation I had with a CxO some years ago, this persons brain physically hurted. Intellectually this person new it was the right thing to do. yet ignoring the old reflexes gave physical pain.
And that was a person who believed in agile, where a lot of people I’m coaching, are not convinced agile is a solution to their problem. (And who can blame them.) On top, everyone around them, sees they have a hard time, and all these counsellors tell them to stop and good look for a new job. (just like my partner asked me to buy new shoes…)

Now, it’s about a month ago I bought the shoes, my feet no longer hurt. I have to admit, I still realise about once a week, I have new shoes. Which tells me, these new shoes are not a naturally extension of my body yet.
It’s similar, to a manager that is pretty new to agile, although he actually likes it,  when there is a crisis, they automatically start to micro manage their teams, not only honestly believing they are helping, mostly they don’t even realise they started doing it again.

So next time you help someone with a new process, please co-create it with them and walk a while in their shoes before you do. You will see, your new proces is accepted much faster…

 

One of my main drivers to start my own company was that I wanted more training than my previous employers gave me.
For 15 years I had a rule that I invested 10 to 20% of my revenue in training.
It was a combination of reading books, evening events, conferences, training & coaching.

The last years I have added community activities to that. I have learned a ton from creating

and mostly the teams that helped me with them.

Actually, I learned so much by working with great teams and their trust, that I decided that the next years, I want to experiment with how I will learn new things.

I want to learn by doing, instead of purchasing training. I will be helping multiple teams or organisations for a short while. This means I will contact companies that work in special ways or are doing stuff in a creative way. My current idea is to do actual work for them for a week.

Last week I came up with the name Au-PairCoaching for this and then asked on twitter what that made people think:

Here are the reactions:

Nicole Rauch: To me that sounds as if the coach would move into my house and live with me for a while.

 

  • Holger Oem: The coach is very young, has no experience on his job but is willing to do anything to help
  • Zurcherart: 19 year old learning a foreign language by coaching your children
  • George Dinwiddie Someone cheap to spend all their time babysitting the children (development team) for years.
  • Leo Exter :  Um. The stuff cheap-and-nasty romance novels are filled with.
  • RonJeffries: A young woman who doesn’t speak my language, won’t watch the kids very well and will get mixed up with my husband.

 

 

Nicole reaction, was in sync with what I thought. It’s not moving in in your house, yet moving in with your team/company.

Holger’s reaction is both good and bad.
– Although I still see myself as young, I doubt my children agree with that.
– I do have experience, I actually think I will bring lots of value.
– yes, I come to learn at the same time
– yes, I am willing to anything to help

Steve’s (Zurcherart) reaction makes me think, I burned down my parents’ house at 19. Not sure you want that 19 year old person in your company 😉
I consider working people as adults, I don’t want to treat them as children.
I want to learn, yet more the company culture then the language.

George reaction: mmm, not really want to be seen as cheap, usually people don’t listen to people they consider cheap consultants.

Leo’s reaction: I wonder if that is good or bad. these novels are popular.

Ron’s answer is really disturbing. (Thanks Ron, I like it when people push me.)
The part about not speaking the language will be true most of the times. I might miss local nuances. (It’s the main reason why we say that a CoachRetreat is done in the local language.)
I really want to do the job well. I wonder, is this the general experience with au-pairs or just rumors?
The last part; it took me 16 years to convince my wife to ask me to marry her. I’m not going to jeopardize our relation buy fooling around. And I doubt that is what au-pairs actually do. (Although It might be a secret wish of some men hiring an au-pair.) I will check with my wife to see if she has some similar concerns.

Do you know of other people doing this?
When I asked for help on the draft of this talk, I learned about a people who did something similar.

 

So Yves, how is your initiative different, how is it unique?

  • I’m talking about coaching, while most others was about programming
  • I have 3 children (and a lovely wife) that I want to give a lot of love, attention and support. This means I don’t want to go away for months in row. Just like with the training I want to replace, it’s maximum 1 week every 2 months.
  • I will be picky on the companies I pick. I want them to be a-typical. As I will have regular clients at the same time, I can afford that.
  • With that family to support, I won’t work for free
  • I will do paircoaching: One of the things I am really careful about is so called seagull coaching. dropping some shit on a team and moving on without seeing the consequences.
  • I give freelifetime support in this week
  • As I haven’t been part of what the others done, I don’t know, all the differences. I will write about it at the end.

 

Do you care if people are actually using what you are saying? You said it was about learning, so if you learned something and the company is not taking your advice, are you happy?

Great question.
Yes, it’s about learning, but learning as a coach: when I learn something that clients don’t use, I have not really learned anything. One thing that is constant in my life, is that I want to become more effective. Also  as coach. Not learn fake stuff, this is partly why this works better than training, I still have to be able to use what I learned in real life. In that sense, my learning will also be verifying assumptions that I already have.
or as Nicole rephrased it so nicely:
“Your notion of ‘learning success’ is when you learn something new, apply it and see that the other person reacts in a way that they feel helped. Of course, then you need the other person to be interested in what you are applying.”

 

You are talking about learning and you still want to earn money with it. Isn’t this some cheesy marketing scheme?

That is a hard question and one I have been struggling with for a while.
Let’s start by making clear, this is not about finding new regular clients. I will keep doing the work I am normally doing. For my clients in Belgium. If this blogpost is related to marketing, it’s about finding companies that I could learn from. The companies I am looking for, are different than my usual clients, if only because they are outside Belgium. For full transparency, the first of these companies I have already contacted and they have said yes. I will be helping them in October. After I come back to Belgium, I will do a retrospective with the coaches I have helped and plan a next iteration with another company.

The money part: can I charge for learning?
When I was at university, I had a friend who was studying at the conservatory. He practised playing guitar on the streets. earning money while he practised. He even told me, it helped him to practise longer and better. As long as he brought people value, they paid. I think that was smart. I’m sure you can find people around you that earn money while this perfecting their craft.
Update: It took me a while to realize his money scheme was different. His “customers” pay after the delivery of the songs. And they decide how much they will pay, after he has delivered. I will experiment with that.

 

Will you always move to the country, what about distributed teams?
Good question. I just finished reading: A year working without Pants from Scott Berkun. A wonderful book. In 2005 I was coaching an agile team that was distributed : partly in Belgium, partly in Yekatarinaburg. I loved doing that. I am interested in helping out a full distributed team like Berkun did. On top of it, it would be nice if I can work full time on my walking desk.

What do you hope to learn?

  • My current modus operandi; is to do long term assignments. I observe teams for a week and only then start giving ideas. Working for one week, I will need to change that.
  • Most of the companies that are calling for help are companies that want to change the way they are working. You can see it as a therapist helping people in trouble. I want now to work with companies that are doing great and that I will help to become even better.
  • I don’t know what I don’t know…

From the twitter remarks, it’s clear that the name au-pairCoaching is not the best name.
Will you help me find another name?

Current proposals:

  • BYOC (Bring your own Coach)
  • CoachOnTour
  • JourneymanCoach: invented by Olaf Lewitz
  • JourneyCoach: invented by Olaf Lewitz
  • CoachOnJourney
  • Distributed Coach
  • Remote Coach: invented by Olaf Lewitz
  • StageCoach: invented by Martine Vos
  • CollaborationArchitect: now used as part of Innovation Games certifications
  • CollaborationCoach
  • RemoteCollaborationArchitect
  • RemoteCollaboration
  • RemoteCollaborationCoach
  • CreativeCollaborationAgent: this is the name I have been using for a while…

Update:
After some soulsearching and discussing with friends. I decide to use Remote Coach. It fits well in all situations.

Do you know companies I should do this with?
Please tell me

 

 

One of the things that had a big impact on me and the relations (love, friendship and children) I had, was the aspect of an Emotional bank account. (Not to be confused with emotional accounting)

Gradually I used that idea in more parts of my life. I started to pay more attention to positive messages and ignored the negativity around me. When I was at a party and people around me, went into complaining mode (I’m sure you know people like that) I zoom out, loose attention and eventually go to the bathroom.

It’s not that I want to ignore reality, I prefer to focus on either the good parts or see what I can change about the negative situation. “just complaining” make me sad. Oh yes I know that complaining is part of the responsibility process and we can’t prevent it. It’s just that I want to move of that island as fast as possible.

When I was young, my default reaction was to play the devils advocate, and on social media I still have the same tendency. Problem with that, is that this gives too much attention to negativity. (And yes I am well aware that playing the devils advocate is creating negativity on its own)

Recently I have started playing a different game.

Let me introduce to you, the social media bank account.
Everytime I like, share or post, a message that talks about how bad or negative the world around me is, that bank account goes lower.

Everytime I like, share or post a message that talks about how great the people around me are, my bank account goes up.

yes, I know that most people have the tendency to mostly positive statuses on their FaceBook acocunts. I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about these repost about politics, about how screwed up our enterprises are, or how …..

From now on:

  • everytime I see someone posting about yet another nutcase beating up some lovely gay person, I’m going to post a message similar to the Dad who wrote a letter to his son.
  • Everytime someone send a message that she has a rough day, I’ll send some energy & hugs or connect that person to a Gandhi Hugger

 

I’m sure you can come up with better idea’s then this, so please join me, in creating a positive social media bank account

Because you and I got what it takes to make it, …

 

THANK you

 

To not always look for these video’s & stories, when I need them, I started a Tag on delicious.
It’s called PositiveSocialMediaBankAccount 

 

 

The last few weeks, I was discussing about the concept of thoughtleaders.

For me the idea of a thought leader, is that one person has a brilliant idea, she spreads that idea and she creates a tribe of people following that idea.
Our current culture is one of worshipping these people and they are instant famous (for 15 minutes or for eternity)
I personally have a few problems with this.

  1. I don’t like the worshipping part. As humans these are not better or worse than other people.
    It actually puts a lot of pressure on these people and for some people it even creates the impression that they are god. We have seen a few examples of brilliant people who did stupid things on a personal level. I think our system of worshipping is partly to blame for that.
  2. What is worse for me, is that this is a very limiting model.
    It means that only brilliant people can come up with idea’s: bummer for me, I’m not brilliant. And bummer for you, 50% of the people their IQ is below average.
    (Ok sorry, of course not my readers, you are all above average )
  3. I believe that most ideas are actually created by networks of people.
  4. The ideas created by many people are of higher quality then when they are created by one person.
  5. On top this all, you can’t copyright an idea, so for me it’s wrong that one person can dictate how their idea should be used.

That last point is interesting to think about, because one if the side effects of this is the law of raspberry jam: The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets. Many thought leaders, try to counter this point by dictating that you can only do x their way. And yes, I have seen enough people trying to change something before they understand it, to understand why ThoughtLeaders ask this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of this has inspired me to think, there should be another model, instead the model of thought leaders, we should have ThoughtJockeys.

What is the idea of a ThoughtJockey, well one part is, its created by a bunch of people. So Instead of me telling you what it is, I point you to a document that was a created by a bunch of people. I want to encourage you to:

1 read it completely

2 Adapt the parts that you think should be adapted

3 If you agree or if you changed something, please add your name to the contributors list.

Yves, wait are you tell me the full internet has editing rights?

Yes

Isn’t that insane? What about the hackers, spammer etc?

That’s why I call it an exercise of trust.
I want to see what happens, and where it takes us. And yes, when (not if, when) we will take action. Let’s for now see what trust can create.

As my father wrote a few years ago, most laws are created by a bunch of people over many years and that make them much better then just ideas of one or 2 people.

Please check with me, what’s happening….

www.ThoughtJockey.org

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Have a look at this picture. I took this during ALE2012. It was a local spectacle offered by the organizers to make us think about being agile.

It is a powerful metaphor, it inspired me to lots and lots of stories.

Today I want you to look again at the top. Do you see who is at the top?
is it:

No. It’s the smallest kid. Being an agile coach, I can be biased and say it’s because he is the most flexible, agile person.
Tonight I don’t even want to go that way.

Do you know what needs to happen for him to reach the top?

  • The full team needs to trust it’s gonna work. Yes I saw them multiple time starting over, until it was fine for everyone.
  • The small kid, is probably the one with the least experience, so for him to reach the top, he has to listen to the people with more experience.
  • I assume that some people at the bottom, used to be the little kid. They have moved on and they had to accept that they will never reach the top again. Yet thanks to their experience, their group can now maybe create bigger statues.

And once he has reached his top spot, that’s not the end. I saw them moving as a group, the kid high up in the air.

Standing on the shoulders of giants, that’s how I feel in the communities I flutter  around:

  • I trust the people I work with.
  • Like the little kid, I’m not the smartest person in my world yet I listen to the smarter people around me.
  • I have no idea if I will ever reach the top, or if my job is to support the people reaching higher…

Standing on the shoulders of giants.

For me, working as a change agents, is

  • NOT about being the smartest person.
  • NOT about who is the best author
  • NOT about the person where most people listen too

 

It’s about knowing when to listen to who and also knowing when to  move on and drop idea’s whose expiry date has long been gone…

I have no idea any more what they said, yet this post is inspired by what Liz Keog and Elisabeth Hendrickson said in their acceptance speeches for the Gordon Pask Award about standing on the shoulders of giants.

 

 

 

This TED video is very interesting as she talks about her trust and how it helped her in her life. It was interesting to hear talk about a job that gave predictable income, yet is not seen as a real job. A wonderful story.

About a failure of 25.000 sales, that inspired her to ask for money and went for crowdfunding.

  • Asking makes you vulnerable
  • crowdsourcing vs couchsurfing
  • muscians are connectors and openers.
  • the internet are talking us back
  • How do we let people for music …

 

>After seeing this, I set again the minimum price of our who is agile book to 0.
>Let’s see what happen.
I thought some more and realized that is not what Amanda was saying. I’m actually already giving the full content of Who is agile away on my blog (just as she does) By selling the book at another channel, I ask people who like it, to support it and who want a more convenient way to read it, the possibility. I set  the price now to 4.99, which is the most common price people paid for it.

 

y

Sometimes a question on the internet, brings back deep memories, like: “imagine your house is on fire what would you save.”  I don’t have to imagine that. I have been there, done that, I had no t-shirts left.

Holiday 1991, my parents go on holiday, leaving their 19 year old son at home for the first time. During the day I work at the Playground for kids in Lochristi. (Speelplein werking ) During the nights I go out at the “Gentse Fieste“.

One of the last nights just before a concert I wondered, if I had left a cooker on in the (brand new) kitchen. My friends urged me to go home. I refused. If it was true, the house would be gone (It was 3 hours after I left the house),if it wasn’t,I would miss a great concert. Both ways my evening would be ruined. I stayed. We talked a little more about it, and I forget about. Until I went home. I was afraid to turn the corner. When I did, a great relieve, the house was still there.

A few days later, I had a small car-accident in Lochristi.  Until today I am still convinced I was in my right (someone was trying to pass me on a crossroad while I was going left).
The policeman made it very clear he did not like “long hairy do-nothings”. This 19 year old did not took the time to rectify the lies the policemen wrote down (I was foolishly thinking I could do that later) I did not want to be late to take care of the kids(For free during my holiday.) (So much for a do-nothing)

I could not reach my parents. When I father saw the message asking them to call me, his first reaction was: “We should call home, great the house is still there…) That was 29 july 1991. (Remember this is pre-cell phones) My father reached me that same evening and he tells me they are moving to another camping, actually moving to my favorite camp place.

 

 

Just as last year I would not live home to study. (My father thinks it is a great thing for students to live on their own.) I could go to my place from the 1 of august. I did not have the keys yet, and St Amandsberg is closer to Lochristi as Gent. At my parents home, in my room I had everything packed to move.
On thursday 1 august 1991, there was a Games night for the leaders of the playground.
I put the new cd player of my parents in the car. Thinking, if something happens (to the car/me/the house) they will find out.  I put a lot of my records and cd’s also in the car and I take out my guitar and put it back in our house.

I put on a cassette from Derek & The DirtLove’s exaltation at full volume.
I did not know our new neighbours moved in that day  …

I go to the kitchen and make some french fries. After ten days of eating out in Gent;  French fries, with an entrecote, tomatoes and my famous tomatoes sauce will be much healthier. The normal way of making French fries is not possible. The electric equipment is broken, it is not safe anymore. My parents will buy a new one after their holiday. So I have to do it the old way: using oil that I put on the kitchen stove. I find it very dangerous, it is the first time I do it, if it would not have been for 10 days of very unhealthy food I would not have done  it.

I put on the fries and go get a shirt upstairs.

I have no idea how long I was upstairs but when I come downstairs the kitchen is on fire.

I run to the car parked in front of the house and take out the fire-extensor.  It does not work. (Later I am told by the fire men it could have exploded in my face. It was still one year valid).
I run outside again , run the bell of several neighbors, I see people standing in front of the butcher, I scream to them please call the fire brigade. They reply, you can do this inside… I run over, say the same message inside the butcher shop and ran back.

I turn of the electricity. Dereks shuts up. The silence is heavy. As if without music, I only now feel alone and realize what is happening.
I want to turn of the gas. Mmm I have to go down in the cellar, nah, I won’t do that..
I put my sisters and brothers dog in the garden, to do this I normally have to pass the kitchen, now I climbed through the window in between the living and the veranda.

I go outside and wait for the fire brigade. Five minutes can be very long. I go to the old lady living next door and call my girlfriend.(We are talking pre-cell phone times) Her parents who have never seen me yet, don’t believe her, at first she is not allowed to come. I call the boyfriend of my sister, a good friend of me. He drives crazy to our place and the only thing he did was shout at me. So far for the support I badly needed. (It should not be a surprise that I haven’t spoken to that person for the last 15 years.)
I try to reach another friend, who’s parents are at the same camp place my parents are now. He does not know the number. My sisters boyfriend tells me, my sister will call him later that night, he insists that I will pick up the phone as he does not want to tell her. It would have been something I would have proposed, the way he forces me, is not what a friend should do.

I call the playgournd telling them I won’t make it. The person answering the phone his first reaction is laughing as he does not believe me after the “Gentse Feesten” story of the week before. His voice quickly changes as he realizes I am serious.
During the extinguishing of the fire, I ‘m aggressively put behind the protection tape (by the police) I tell the policemen it is my house, he does not listen. Some ten minutes later I repeat it, now he gets mad that I did not report this earlier. yes I stayed out, with an open shirt, without shoes just for my pleasure.

So they take me inside the combi. The first time I tell my story I tell it to strange policemen for the record. It took me a few years to realize this is not the supporting place a 19 year old person needs. (My so called friend had never asked me what happened. ) I don’t remember when my girlfriend arrives, I think it’s while I am in the combi.

When I am brought to the combi I see that our dogs are inside another combi. I never saw that happen. Later when I get them into my car I smell they have pissed all over the place.

Driving to my sisters boyfriends parents home is crazy, the dogs are all exited, and they want to be as close to me as possible, like close to my pedals. It starts to rain cats and dogs.

I ‘m the persons picking up the phone when my sister calls her boyfriend and I ask her to go get my parents. And bring some paper. She freaks out as I don’t want to tell her why.

I have to repeat a few times to my father their house is gone. I urge them not to drive home that same night, it does not make sense. That is the house is still there, only you can not live in it. My father is glad that the house is closed by my key. That way burglars will not enter and steal the few/only valuable things left. I actually tell my father to stay another week on holiday, there is nothing here anyway. I have to smile when I write this now, how on earth did I even think they would consider that? My practical mind had taken over, emotions were very far away. I was in survival mode, it’s a safe guess to say I was in the Denial stage of the grieve model from Küblar-Rosss.

After that I went to the playground where I did my story. My best friend was there, she did not believe the others when they told her what happened to me, when she saw me entering she knew it was true. I asked for a pack of cigarettes and for the first time in my life I smoked a complete package.
A lot of friends offer me a place to sleep. I refuse and I ask if I can sleep at the playground. I want a place to be alone. (Not sure why, I think the experience of my previous friend, made me distrust people)

The next day the police comes to find me, I get escorted back to my parents house. The fire restarted that night. Luckily the neighbors saw it quickly. Those new neighbors, their house also had some fire damage: their walls started to burn from the heat. Luckily for them they still had all the invoices from their work. When I come in my street I see a fire car with a boat. (!) (Strange what I seem to remember). This time they had to break our house open. Later we discover my father was right. Some nice things where stolen.

I am at my aunts house with the whole family when my parents come home. The first five minutes my parents just hugged me and we cried together. Something that did not happen a lot the previous years (My parents had a hard time with this 19 year old.)I now realize this great start, was one of the reasons why I saw the fire for a long time as the best thing that happened to me.

 

Why was it so good:

  • My parents never accused me of something
  • the fire got our little family a lot closer.
  • I saw the difference of real friends and fake friends.
    • Some of my parents long time friends just dropped them like that.
    • The neighbors of colleague of my mother gave us a brand new television.
    • Some people in the youthclub Lodejo found it funny to remind me about the fire every time they ate french fries.
    • Students of my mother that graduated the year before came to help multiple weekends the next year to clean the house up.
    • >> a lot of examples how weak networking links, are a great help. Probably the start of me trusting my network.
  • I learned to ask for help
  • I realized later if I can see this as a positive thing (which I did at that time) I knew I would survive everything
  • I became a different persons after this.

As I had a haircut a few days before the fire, a lot of people think I lost my long hair because of the fire. I wanted to surprise my girlfriend coming back from holiday.

Normally I would stop working at the playground after that week, I keep working as I need something to keep my head from spinning. I am very happy the other leaders and kids allowed me to continue working.

Last year someone told me something about the project I was leading :

Yves, panic’s when small things go wrong and stays calm when really bad things happen. Just what our team needs. 

Yes I stayed very calm during the fire. I was already a good crisis manager at 19. No wonder I used this story the first 10 years in every job interview I had.
If this story moves you, like it has moved so many people before.
Know, that you can’t do anything anymore, for the 19 year old version of me.
Please pay it forward and help anyone in a crises situation when you see it.

What can you do:

– Listen to their story. Don’t judge, listen.
– Hug them.
– Give them something that brings them back day-to-day life. The best gift I personally received were toiletries ( a comb, toothbrush, towel etc etc)
– Ask what they need. (they might not know (like I did not know I needed a toothbrush), but when they do, it’s better then received 5 times the same thing. (like we did)

Thank you for reading.

Oh and about the saving? For a long time, my answer was, I did not save anything. I now know that was wrong. I save the dogs. And myself.
What do I regret having lost? Pictures and letters. (After +20 years I still have a smelly box full of letters, that is too emotional to throw away)

Everythings else, that’s just stuff.