So, Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, recognized author of many books on Flow, one of the main names in the area of Creativity and one of the “fathers of Positive Psychology”, officially buys tomatoes. Not only he presents at conferences worldwide, teaches PhD classes in one of the most prestigious Universities in California, meets other top-researchers from all over the world, but he also has a personal life. And buys tomatoes.
Surprising? It shouldn’t be.
When I saw those pictures on his public Facebook profile, with the title “Tomatoes for dinner”, a smile appeared on my face. As if a small window to another world was opened, allowing us to see an uncommon side of people whose work we follow.
Most of the time we get so used to see people from their professional angle, from their suit-and-tie posture, their business or research trends, that it gets difficult to see them doing daily things. Things such as….buying tomatoes in a supermarket in California, getting ready for dinner.
Especially the fact that those pictures were posted by himself on his profile, shared among important quotes, impressive encounters or recent articles from avant garde perspectives, makes it an unusual call to the human side of all of us.
These pictures made me think about the importance of keeping a fresh mind, of staying grounded and of running away from any perspectives that close life inside boxes. Especially if they are formal ones, enclosing our points of view about professional sides and personal sides.
Isn’t it all human? Aren’t all those sides part of who we are, as complete Human Beings?
I remember a conversation in Coruña, Spain, over the dinner table with an important American female researcher, the keynote speaker and the most notable of that Congress. She was explaining how important it was for her to be able to work from home two days per week. “You know? It’s great because I spend less time commuting to the University, but specially because I am able to take care of my laundry while I am finishing a paper or preparing a presentation for an international conference!” And I was just imagining that brilliant lady wearing a suit and signing her books after her presentation, in her comfortable clothes trying to remove a stain from her favorite dress.
I started listening closely to those professionals who are always on the verge of the new trends in their area, trying to understand their inner and personal stories, trying to reach their personal sides behind those extremely professional postures.
One of the stories I learned from the wife of a Portuguese CEO from an important cork company. He is always busy traveling the world and with thousands of things in his head. But at night he can only relax if he has some comic books by his side (Donald Duck comics are his favorite). He would never talk about it, but his wife explains that this was his personal way to connect to childhood, to protection, to the inner place where “everything was safe and ok.”
Another story came directly from the owner of a big company based in Madrid. Another man looking absolutely secure, powerful and determined. His voice, extremely strong and loud changed dramatically over a caña (a pint of beer), after the crazy days of work we had to share. He was telling me how he had been essentially forced to assume his father’s business after his death and that he had never had the chance to follow his true dream: perform in a heavy metal band. So, as he was always so busy and full of responsibilities, all he could do — and that was something that brought a glimmer to his eyes — was going to heavy metal concerts on his motorbike, wearing his favorite leather jacket and sing as loud as he could. All that, after closing some billion euros deal during a meeting with international investors, of course.
This takes me to another story of a successful writer and dramaturge, who is also a beautiful woman always ready for an interview or to step on the setting for the footage based on one of her scripts. She once told me, during one of her few moments to relax, that she misses time to actually be seen and taken care of so much that she visits optician clinics regularly to have her eyes checked. She does that just to feel the pleasure of someone looking her into the eyes and caring about if she can or cannot see correctly, if she feels better that way or not.
These are only some of the stories I’ve been hearing about the personal sides of the so-called “successful people”.
In this common ground that unites us, Human beings are also fragile, sometimes non-sense, needing attention and recognition. This might seem obvious, but my smile when I saw professor Csikszentmihalyi buying tomatoes for dinner proved to me that it is still not so common to see these personal sides being shared so much.
Personally, seeing these other aspects, these “hidden” parts, helps me to connect with people, helps me understand them from within, creating an empathy link. It is as if suddenly there would be a common ground for all of us, something that goes further than status, professional achievements or how occupied during the day each of us is.
It enhances the feeling of being united for what makes us more similar than different. Humanity is hidden in a heavy metal jacket, in a comic book and in the fresh tomatoes bought in a Californian supermarket.