Personal Breakthroughs and a Strange Feeling

This image got over 10k likes on my Instagram gallery, which is the most any of my pics have ever gotten.

This image got over 10k likes on my Instagram gallery, which is the most any of my pics have ever gotten.

In the last month I've had three big engagement spikes in the social media world, or to be more precise, on Instagram.

The first one happened when my picture got featured on Instagram's own page, you can read more about that here, and the second spike happened a few weeks ago when a picture of mine got over a 10,000 likes that resulted in over a 1000 new followers in one day, which are HUGE numbers by my standards. Then just a few days ago my picture got featured again (!?!) by Instagram as part of the weekends hashtag project.

Now that means my pictures got featured twice in a one month, which is absolutely insane and makes my socks wiggle and swirl around and do all kinds of fancy moves from excitement. And, even though the true joy of sharing creative work online lies in the connections and feeling of being part of a community much more than looking at the numbers, it does undoubtedly feel good to get validation that what I'm putting out in the world is resonating with people.

But, as I was dancing in the disco ball light of the online world, there was another peculiar feeling that hit me, namely a weird sense of passiveness. A feeling I wasn't quite prepared for.

Suddenly the engagement on my account skyrocketed without me actively doing anything, which immediately made me question, should I be doing something? It felt weird to passively stand by and see how the likes and new followers kept rolling in even though I wasn't actively doing anything right at that moment, I become almost like an outside witness to the whole thing And then an ambiguous fear started to creep in, maybe this would all be taken away from me if I didn't do something to show that I've truly earned it? Could I just lean back and allow myself to enjoy this moment and let go of my own fate? Just trust that my destiny is in the safe hands of the universe while I kick back for a moment?

Ok, so maybe I'm being slightly over dramatic here, it is after all only Instagram we're talking about. However, I think these feelings might be common when it comes to reacting to a small breakthrough of some sort. When that moment something you've wanted to happen for a really long time finally does come true, you start being afraid of losing it if you allow yourself to enjoy it too much. How can celebrating our victories be so difficult while talking about our struggles seems to come so naturally?

For me personally this might partly be due to the fact that I'm much more used to the feeling of trying really hard without really knowing if what I'm doing is going to resonate with anyone else or if it's any good. So the feeling of success is just kinda, strange.

While I'll continue to practice celebrating my successes without becoming numb and terrified, I'll remind myself that feeling like I'm failing is actually not a bad thing at all. On the contrary, whenever I feel like I'm failing or not achieving what I want I start to work that much harder. Whenever I'm feeling dissatisfied with my work I kick in another gear and start pouring all my effort and energy into it which I probably wouldn't do if I would feel confident and safe.

This picture was featured on Instagram as part of the weekend hashtag project #whpmyeveryday.

This picture was featured on Instagram as part of the weekend hashtag project #whpmyeveryday.

How about you, do you struggle with celebrating your successes? How does the feeling of having a breakthrough affect your work and creativity?

The Happiest Day of My Life

Coffee_and_cat.JPG

I'm lying on my back underneath a chair with tears falling down my cheeks. I've been laying here for what feels like hours, but in reality are probably only a handful of minutes. I am weeping because I desperately want a kitten and my parents, or mainly my Dad, won't allow it.  I'm in the middle of demonstrating my sadness, hoping my parents will see how much I'm hurting and that it will make them change their minds. I'm 7 years old, and have already understood that standing up for your beliefs (or, just trying to get things your way) by chaining yourself to a tree, or crying underneath a chair, is one tactic of negotiating in this world.

My Greenpeace inspired strategy unfortunately didn't work and I had to wait 22 more years before getting that kitten (I did get a bunny at the age of 10 that I loved very much, and my sister got a cat while I was still living at home, but those were never really the same thing as a cat of my own).

Luna the cat entered my life at age 28, which coincidentally is my luck number, and reality has been exactly as good, if not even better, as all those childhood fantasies of having a cat as my best friend were. There's so many things in life that you can have very high expectations towards only to end up getting a bit disappointed with when they finally happen, so getting a cat has been a strong antidote for any cynicism or bitterness that might creep into life. And to be fair, with this one the risk of disappointment was pretty epic. I've basically built up my expectations since the age of 3, that's when I thought I got a kitten for my birthday, but it turned out later that it was just a hand puppet that my Mom was manipulating and making meowing sounds to. Learning to deal with shattered illusions started early for me.

The whole process of searching for a kitten, finding one, then going to visit it before it moved to our home was exciting and time consuming, but all worth it and I would absolutely do it again. The race of cat we got is called Scottish Straight and they are particularly known for being very social cats, and that they kinda think they are dogs. Luna comes running to the door when I come home wiggling her tail in excitement. We are convinced that if Luna could speak she would have a thick Scottish accent, every time I think of it it makes me smile.

I love the feeling of being needed and getting to take care of someone who always wants my affection and attention. Luna wakes up with me every morning and follows me into the kitchen. She enters the rest of the apartment as if it's the first time, she carefully smells the walls and the edges of the carpets, she scans the rooms for any changes and makes sure that her bowl with water is still in the same place as it was the evening before. It's a daily reminder to not take things for granted and live in the now. As a contemporary dancer the thing I always loved about improvising and dancing has been its ability to ground me into the present moment, and Luna is the best dancer in that sense. She is constantly guided by all her senses, taking in the world through her big round eyes, long wiggly whiskers and tiny nose.

The story of the girl who finally got her cat is maybe not a movie that would sell out at the theaters, but it's the little story of my life that keeps bringing me joy everyday.

Best friends girl and her cat.jpg

7 Creative Tips I Used to Get Featured on Instagram

Knitting with a big ball of yarn and a playful cat

On Tuesday morning I woke up to the carefully uttered words by my boyfriend “hey, I know it's annoying to wake up so early.. but something's going on with your Insta account, you've gotten a thousand new followers since last night”.

I jumped out of bed because I immediately had a hunch what was going on, my entry for the weekends hashtag project might have gotten featured, yippieee! I rushed to my phone, hair standing up straight and drool still on my cheeks. And yes, there it was, me and Luna the cat on the front page of Instagrams own 226 million follower account!

For those of you who might not be familiar with the #WHP, it's a weekly hashtag with a designated theme that Instagram announces every Friday. All the images submitted over the weekend with the hashtag are eligible to get featured on their account the following week.

I felt on top of the world that day, and quite proud that the effort I had put into making that picture had paid off in such a wonderful way. Because, to tell you the truth, and in name of transparency, the image didn't come without some painful moments.

On Sunday my plan for the #whpmadewithlove project was to take a picture with me and my long scarf that I was knitting. My first composition that I took outside didn't work out as I had planned, so I gave it another go inside in our apartment but it still didn't excite me.

I sat down on the couch and had a mini breakdown, buried my face in the pillows and made pathetic whimpers of frustration, feeling sick of myself and my apparent sucky creativity.

But, thankfully my boyfriend encouraged me to give it one more go, and so I gathered up all the patience I could and tried out one more angle I had on the same concept. I ended taking a total of 104 photos that day (!?!), and posted one of the last shots of the day, where everything finally came together in a satisfying way.

So, while it probably won't come as a surprise, perseverance really is your best friend in any creative endeavor. But, I also have a few concrete strategies that I've used to improve my photos. So here's a little list of creative tips that I've gathered from years of studying choreography, dramaturgy, composition and visual storytelling.

Ballet shoes and a chunky cardigan

1. Pick a concrete starting point

It's easy to get seduced by the idea for your image or creative outcome. You can spend hours on Pinterest daydreaming about the gorgeous images you will take, only to get disappointed when they don't turn out as you had imagined.

Instead, try picking an actual material starting point that allows you to start building up your idea around something concrete. Choose an object, a place, a texture, a material, anything physical that fascinates you and build up your concept around it. It's ok to have an abstract idea, but you need to find the right medium to work and realize it with. By choosing one thing as your starting point your creativity will get limitations and a situation to solve, which provides a much better basis than having to start out from zero.

2. Re-use a concept that works

If you find a concept that works, it's totally fine to re-use it! Chances are you will be able to take the same idea further the next time you do it and refine it in the process. Usually it doesn't turn out exactly as we hope the first time anyways, so why not give it another go? Use the stuff that works as a starting point and then change one parameter, change the angle, the dress, the colors, the location, the mood. That way you won't be repeating yourself in a negative kind of way but building up your knowledge and unique style.

3. Work with what you have

Try to look around you and see the potential in things that are already there. This can be everything from seeing the potential as a prop in your old ballet shoes, or noticing that wonderful texture of a brick wall just around the corner from where you live that you could use as a backdrop for a portrait. Notice shapes, light, shadows, colors, objects and things that catch your eyes. You don't need fancy things to create an interesting composition, but you do need to focus on the details and ask how to make the most out of what you've got. It's not about what resources you have, but how resourceful you can get.

4. Learn to let go

Not every idea or everything you make will be great and that's part of the process. Learn to let go of your darling ideas, sometimes you just need to move on instead of trying to force it. You can become so attached to the idea that it's difficult to separate that from the actual outcome. It's good to be persistent and stubborn, but sometimes you just have to move on to the next thing instead of pushing it.

5. Reframe it

Sometimes changing the angle can be the deal breaker. Move the camera around and really try to listen to what this particular picture and idea is asking for.

6. Give reality a twist

Twisting reality by adding an element that doesn't belong in there can give a composition that edge and out of the ordinary effect that will make someone stop and look twice at your image. For the #whpmadewithlove image I added the huge ball of yarn to create a sort of distortion of reality. Play around with the proportions and authentic size of things. Stack things, organize them in rows, put something really close to the camera, the possibilities are endless.

7. The details matter

Every little thing matters, it's after all the details that make up the bigger picture. Look at an image the same way you would when if you would write a story or compose a song or a dance, every word, every note, every movement counts, there is nothing superfluous. The same goes for images, be very attentive to the details and don't underestimate the power of the little things.

(Psst a little update. After getting featured on Instagram the first time, three weeks later I got featured again. So (ahem), not to sound too cocky, but if you still weren't sure about these tips, maybe that will encourage you to give them a try.)

But most of all, keep creating content that excites you and brings you joy. Forget the rules. Abandon the plan, and listen to the things that make your heart beat faster ♡

Living Abroad Can Do Miracles for Your Hair, and Bread Making Skills

Ribbons in our hairs

My family traveled a lot when I was younger. I was born in Finland and before the age of 1 year old I had visited Sweden, France, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark and Spain.

Maybe that's why I've chosen to go and live abroad later in life, some kind of deep grain of wanderlust that's been planted in my before I could even walk. I've since lived in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and now currently in Stockholm.

It's quite funny since in my hometown of Helsinki, I've pretty much always lived on the same block. So, the times I've moved it's either been really far away across the borders, or just literally to the house next door.

The experience of living in another country as opposed to just visiting a place for holiday is a very different thing. Pretty early on I realized that the illusions of exciting adventures that would take place in foreign countries are to a large extent just that, illusions. It's amazing how quickly the everyday life becomes very ordinary and filled with routines in any place you live.

While the experience of getting out of your comfort zone is one that has tremendous possibility for growth it has its challenges too. Here are a few other things I've learned in my years of being a stranger in the various hometowns of my life.

Breakfast with a cup of tea and a croissant

Bread is a bigger part of life than you think

Of course I start with food, because even though it's maybe not the subject for huge existential crises, it's one of those things that you have to face, with your mouth and body, every day. So, when suddenly your trusted snack companions aren't there to provide you with comfort it's a pretty big deal. Sweden is horrible at bread, at least according to me. France yes, Berlin no, Amsterdam ok. This is why I'm seriously contemplating starting to bake my own bread, just because, then when it tastes bad I've at least made it myself.

Anybody there...?

No matter how much you and your friends agree to write, chat and skype you will inevitably lose touch with some. This is just how it is, when you are not there, you aren't on peoples radar as much. But I've also found that the friends that are truly dear to me never forget. Even though we don't interact on a daily basis, the friendship foundation remains strong.

New thinking patterns

In a new city you will have a chance to establish completely new patterns and habits. Both the actual physical paths you take in the new city, but also the thinking patterns in your mind. I've found that in a new city my thoughts and desires can look completely different from the ones I have back home.

In my hometown I tend to walk the same streets that are filled up with memories and stories from the past. There is the park bench where a relationship ended, the café where a friend shared a deep secret, the bridge where I stood alone and listened to the snow fall. It's a lovely feeling to be connected to a place with so much personal history, but it's also pretty cool to come to a fresh place where every spot is filled up with the possibilities of the present and future rather than memories of the past.

A new form of loneliness

I moved to Berlin to study dance when I was 19 years old, my first time living alone. The days at school were long and I and even though I was surrounded by my new classmates, I would come home late in the evening to an empty apartment, which was a new concept to me. The feeling of being alone in a city without any of your trusted social network and security, was a daunting one.

Being surrounded by new people and having a busy life can still feel lonely and isolating. And when the feeling of homesickness sets in it's the longing for all those loved and dear ones that will bring up the tears. But, I don't want to be too dramatic about this, in the end it's probably good to feel those difficult sensations to grow stronger and learn that you can take care of yourself, even though truthfully, I still call my Mom way too often to help out with stuff I don't know how to handle.

Going to the grocery store is an adventure

Yes food, again. I've always loved to go to the grocery stores in foreign countries. Just seeing all those familiar foods in slightly different wrappers and forms is just such a fascinating visual experience.

Getting lost in your own town

I love to just wander around and find new streets with new shops and cafés and atmospheres. When I lived in Berlin I would often take the train to some remote place on the opposite side of town, with the only intention to explore and hopefully find something interesting to document in my journal.

The “oh bit this is just temporary” feeling

When living in a new place it's easy to fall into thinking that this is just a temporary thing. Every time I've chosen to uproot myself and move to a different country I've never really thought I will go and live there forever. The danger with that attitude is that it might impact the amount of effort you put into making new connections and building a life for yourself in your new home town. When I slip into this kind of thinking all the quotes from the internet reminding me to focus on the present come haunting me and my daydreams. I make a quick note to self to start living with more intention and focus on the present moment. But first, let me just browse a little bit more on Pinterest and look at all those lovely English country homes...

It might do miracles for your hair

Now, I must have tried a million different shampoos, hair conditioners, hair masks and sprays, and none of them have had as a big impact on my hair as just switching the water.  No more expensive hair products, just go and switch the whole water operating system of your town, easy peasy! My hair feels much less frizzy and unruly when I wash it here in Stockholm in comparison to Helsinki. After all those expensive chemicals it turns out the true miracle treatment is just: water.

Flowers and band aids

If you've lived abroad, what kind of revelations have you had? What has surprised you? What were your expectations and how did those turn out?

Try This Instead of Worrying About the Future

Heartbeats Blog By Kika- Fairtytale dreams and flower wreaths in my hair

I don't know if it's the fact that I'm going to turn 30 next year or if it's because I recently graduated from university, but I've never worried about my future as much as this past year. On Wednesday I found a break from all that worrying in a surprising place though, the Gröna Lund amusement park.

I haven't been to one of those in many years, and honestly, I've never been a huge fan of going in all those topsy turvy machines and trains and stuff so my expectations weren't that high.

But the experience of being at Gröna Lund brought back the childlike feeling of being completely filled up with spontaneous joy. It was so liberating to feel the rush of excitement from riding a tiny blue train through a dark tunnel filled with mechanical puppet monsters and ghosts.

Never thought I would find a good reason to quote a Christmas song, especially not in the middle of September, but these lines really came to mind as I was writing this.“And all the lights are shining/ so brightly everywhere/ And the sound of children's / Laughter fills the air”. The children's excitement was genuinely contagious and I soaked up all that good stuff like a sponge.

I went all giggly in the house of funny mirrors, which, actually was kinda lame because the concept is so simple, but even more brilliant exactly because of that! No fire works and cool sound effects, just some bendy mirrors. For those few popcorn munching hours I let go of all the pressure and worries.

On the way home I could feel how that goofy little person was fully alive in my body again, not just as a memory in my head. At the age of 8 I wrote a document where I stated that when I grow up I would have a pool, be a millionaire and have glasses (still working on the first two points but at least I can check the box on the last one). But so yeah, fair to say that I didn't have any limiting beliefs about my abilities, the concept of post education anxieties and career goals were still distant back then.

Growing up as part of generation Y has been confusing because of the constant contradictions. On the one hand we have all these possibilities to become whatever we want with more freedom of choice than ever before, at the same time we live in bleak financial times where lack of money seems to be the excuse for every issue in society. How do you cope with these mixed messages?  i honestly don't know, and I think everyone just tries to solve it on a personal level. Which makes everyone even more focused on themselves and their worries, in these individualistic times where so much focus is put on the success of the individual.

As a child the boundaries of grown up life and the notion of mortality aren't present. Everything is possible when you are young, and going to the amusement park reminded me of that. Worrying is probably an inevitable part of life to some extent, but I'm going to try and balance it out adding a good portion of childish hope back into the mix. This grown-up-worrying-mush ain't really doing it for me in terms of living a good life.

Heartbeats Blog by Kika- Cherishing the inner child, wear your fance shoes outside even when it's raining

6 Things I Secretly Struggle With

Heartbeats Blog by Kika

Have you noticed how pretty much every movie ends exactly the moment when the struggle is finally over? When the main character gets the boy or saves the world from exploding the end credits start rolling in. It is the struggle that we are interested in witnessing, mainly because we can all identify with it. There is something very fascinating in seeing people overcome challenges and transform in the process.

I often experience life as small movies being played out in front of me. I only get the story in bits and pieces and will have to wait until the end to know how the full story unfolded. But for now I thought I'd make a list of some of the big and small things I struggle with at this moment in my own personal movie.

1. Making new friends as an adult

I don't have any clear memories of how I made friends as a child, but I think it happened in a pretty effortless and natural manner. To be honest, the criteria for a new friend probably wasn't very high, basically if you were at the sand box at the same time and both seemed interested in making stuff out of sand you we're new BFFs. Now, as an adult that process is a bit trickier. Most people already have a pretty tight network of friends and aren't necessarily out looking for new ones. I probably wouldn't either if it wasn't for the fact that I left all my closest friends back in my hometown Helsinki when I moved to Stockholm. But, I guess it just takes a bit more time to find your tribe as an adult. If nothing else works maybe I'll just start hanging out at the sand box again.

2. Growing out my fringe

Who knew you could have such a complex relation to straws that poke out from your head? The gruesome process of growing out my fringe continues as I try to tame it with headbands, bobby pins, curling irons, wax, hairspray... and a whole lot of standing on my head in hopes that it will grow out faster that way.

3. Being confused about my career path

Yup, still confused after having had basically 29 years of people asking me what I want to be when I grow up. I mean, I decided long ago to become a dancer and then choreographer, but I just still haven't found out how exactly I'm supposed to make a living in that particular line of work.

4. Baking bread

Don't know if this really qualifies as a legitimate struggle in the sense that I'm not really actively attempting to bake bread. I would just like to bake bread. The only time I attempted it turned out stiff and bitter.

5. Worrying about the future

This is something I engage with on a regular basis. Once or twice a week I devote some time to worrying about all the fears and doubts I have about my future. While the rational side of me knows that this habit isn't helpful at all, it continues to be a thing I struggle with.

6. Hand writing

My hand writing has always looked bad and ugly, and not doing it on a regular basis certainly hasn't helped. Even though I always try to really focus on making pretty lines and getting the letters the same shape and size it all ends up looking higgledy-piggledy (yes, that's the word that popped up when I used Google translate to find another word for messy). When I scribble down something on a piece of paper most people can't read it, which, until I need to be able to start sending secret messages to myself isn't a very helpful skill.

To round off, I'll share a quote form the TV series Skam:

"Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always"

-Nooras wall in Season 2

Heartbeats Blog by KiKa

Have some of the things you struggle with changed over time?

5 Things Being Stubborn Has Helped Me With

Heartbeats blog by KiKa- flowers in my shoes

My parents always told me I was very stubborn as a child. When I had decided not to try the weird squishy culinary experiments of my Dad, even when they had funny names like Dim Sum, he had to fight hard to try to change my mind. I remember that little person back then thinking that being stubborn was probably not such a good thing. But, still I couldn't help finding myself in situations where I just felt I knew better than all the adults around me. Now I'm 29 ,and while I've certainly matured from back then and learned that trying new things is good, I've also come to appreciate my stubborn personality more. I made a list of 5 things that it has actually helped me with.

Ps. i've also since then tried Dim Sum, and just as I suspected, that mushy stuff was not at all my thing. See Dad? I did, and still do often know better than you.

1. Not giving up easily.

When I was 16 I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a dancer, despite not having danced full time since I was a child. I worked my butt off (quite literally) while I was in high school, going to dance classes every evening and weekends to trim my ballet technique and learn as much as possible, tried everything from Hip Hop to Flamenco to belly dancing.

After graduating from high school I got into a dance school in Germany, but soon found that it was not the place for me. After a year I auditioned in London, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Finland, and got rejected from every school. I was heartbroken and felt defeated. But I continued to dance in Berlin, stubbornly determined with every tendu and plié to get into a better school next year. Good things come to those who wait, and well, those who are just stubborn and persistent. Next year I got into a school in Amsterdam which is one the best in Europe. I would never have gotten that far if I wouldn't have been so determined, even when facing doubts from everybody else in the world.

2. Following my gut and creative visions

I have a bad habit of asking people close to me for creative advice and then bluntly ignoring it. The thing is, I need someone to talk with about my creative ideas because explaining things out loud helps me sort out my own thoughts. The problem arises that when the other person (usually my boyfriend or my Mom) engage in my ideas and start trying to give suggestions or advice,  I often don't take them and that can come off as quite unappreciative. That's because I often already have a strong gut feeling for my project, even if it's not yet completely articulated or clear.

Even though it might not seem like a very nice way of using someones efforts it does help the process incredibly much. Getting another persons suggestions to push against means I often end up staying true to my own intuition and creative visions. I will immediately know if a suggestions feels wrong for the thing I am trying to make.

Of course getting other peoples perspectives and thoughts on things can also work in much more direct ways, but it can also sometimes throw you off your path and just confuse you more. So, sometimes being headstrong isn't such a bad thing.

3. Knitwear without holes in them

I will unravel a knitting project a hundred times if I am not happy with the result (okay maybe not a hundred times, but you get the idea) .

4. Proper running technique

I've had all kinds of problems with my feet and knees, which has made running, something I love, a challenging activity. I wanted to improve my running technique and started to run with my toes first touching the ground instead of the heels. It felt super awkward and exhausting in the beginning but I kept at it and now I can run without pain, hurray!

5. Finding love

Yes, I believe that here too my stubborness played a part. Before my current relationship I was single for almost four years. Single, and desperately wanting not to be single. Like many others, I put myself out there a lot in hopes of finding something meaningful, and of course got disappointed many times when shorter or longer flings ended. But, I didn't give up and no matter how many times my dreams of finding "rock your world" love (or at least "make your world inch a bit from side to side" love) came crashing down.

But, I searched for it and in the end I found it.

There is this weird mysticism revolving finding love I think, where many people seem to think that you shouldn't try too hard or say out loud that you want to be in a relationship. Like there is this notion that you should just accept that it happens when it happens, you just have sit and wait around for it. Well, that idea never worked for me, I was stubborn and put myself out there over and over again, no matter how many times that meant sobbing alone in the kitchen after yet another potential love story ended.

Heartbeats blog by Kika- Holding hands and finding love by being stubborn