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Utopia is a strength

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limitesWhat would be the world without utopia? It would be probably a world without dreams and hope.  A definition of utopia is the representation of an ideal society, the contrary of the reality. It can also refer to a reality that appears difficult to accept.  Utopia is considered as something irrational, so, unreachable and by consequence, each effort to reach it seems to be useless.

By such a definition, utopia has a negative connotation.  But considering utopia as a part of dreams, is a positive way to consider it and maybe to consider it as a strength. Let us remember this nice quote about utopia from Théodore Monod, saying that “Utopia does not mean the unrealizable, but the unrealized”. So, is utopia really something unreachable, unrealizable? Let us thing about few things to answer to that question.

Our utopias are a kind of dream guided by our own aspirations, by some values to which we adhere.  Most of the time, we have doubts to the realization of our utopias, maybe because we are referring to that perception of unreachable goal. But have we to see utopia as a final goal or as the path to move to another environment, to something new in accordance with our values and aspirations?  Utopia looks like unrealizable, but to try to get closer from our utopia can be an interesting walk for our personal life.

To reach our utopias induces an idea of movement. The most difficult part of the process is to start that movement, to start that inner walk by putting concrete actions in place. Sometimes, a phenomenon of procrastination appears to some of us, and is the sign of doubts, lack of motivation and self-confidence, seeing utopia as something irrational. Let us talk about an example. A lot of people wants to save the planet, and initiates concrete actions to contribute to that goal. For instance, you compost your household waste, in order to minimize the garbage bags you use and to decrease the ecological footprint of the elimination of household waste. Some people doubt and don’t start such action because they see such action as derisory on their individual level, compared to the overall effort that required to save the planet. But considering such action as derisory could be a way to hide your lack of ambition to face more ambitious challenges and your lack of commitment.

Commitment is probably the key element to shape your own utopias. Commitment to your values, commitment to the community, commitment to implement concrete daily actions in order to reach your goal, to live your own values. Without commitment to act, what is the meaning of values?
Commitment and actions are the conditions to start that walk to your utopias. The inner path along which you will put concrete actions making you discover new horizons and contributing to build communities sharing the same values, a path of learning along which you will shape your self-confidence and that will bring you closer to your values and ambitions, …closer to your utopias.

There are two different ways to see utopia. Or you see utopia as a barrier, a mental barrier, or you see it as a life motivation. We could say that utopia is not precisely a goal to reach but much more a state of mind. Not a goal we could name perfections, but a path leading to excellence, a path along which we discover a bit more ourselves, where we can reinvent ourselves. Don’t see utopia as a constraint, but as a motivation. Life is an utopia, utopia is a strength.

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Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

January 14, 2019 at 08:42

Culture is good for morale

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img_2572Few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast on the web talking about culture. According to the chronicler, referring to the book “Sauver la culture” (Save the culture) from Patrick Béziers, culture is an efficient antidepressant. How to reach this conclusion?

Culture is in the books, in the museums, theater, photography, in the painting, in languages and many other things. All these forms of culture express emotions, ideas, are sources of inspiration and an excellent way to stimulate serendipity. Just to remind you, serendipity is the fact to discover or invent something unexpectedly as a result of a fortuitous combination of circumstances, and often as part of a search of another subject.  In other words, it’s finding something other than what you’re looking for.

Culture can make us discover new horizons, and discover new center of interest or hide talents. For instance, you take your children to see a photo exhibition, and after, they would like to try to take photos too. It will be probably an opportunity to discover a new passion, to visit places to make a small photo trip and to learn things about these places. A kind of virtuous circle feeding your culture and knowledge.

Another example, as member of a non-profit association, you are asked to be the community manager and to take care about the blog or the website of the association. You discover the pleasure to write, to relate events or news from the association, or to develop a topic related to the object of the association. With the time, you develop the talents of chronicler or writer, you learn about social media world. On other words, you develop transversal skills.

img_2573Based on these two examples, we can say that culture allows you to find your potential of creativity. In the example of the chronicler for the non-profit association, you start first by writing editorials or articles, then you improve your writing style, you try to develop original ideas you will communicate about. Based on that acquired experience, you can think about opportunities to develop your passion to write. If you build a good reputation thanks to the quality of your writing style, why not to develop a commercial activity as writer or content provider?  What is important and we will see why, is to define a goal that will motivate you to improve your skills, to push your limit ever higher, in order to catch new possibilities.

Why is it important to push your limit higher? Because it is a good way to reinvent yourself, to be more creative and to imagine to start a new activity, a new life. You are not afraid of the future, and you are enough self-confident to move to unknown territories, to new experiences. Looking back, you will find that your life did not go as you thought, and that the fear of the future is a bit irrational. Only self-confidence will help you to face the future, and your capabilities will be a good way to empower your self-confidence.  The famous quote, “The best way to predict the future is to create it”, credited to both Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker, make sense.  The self-confidence has a positive impact on your moral. That is why culture that is part of knowledge, is the basic element to build future projects, to develop happiness. That is why culture is good for moral.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

January 9, 2019 at 19:42

Switching from consumerism to freedom

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IMG_0479

A second hand clothes shop in Brussels

This week, I read an interesting article about digital nomads in the Belgian economic magazine, Trends-Tendances. In this article, an IT entrepreneur explains that he decided to work as a digital nomad, in order to break the routine, to visit other countries and discover new things that can feed your knowledge and creativity. Before to start this new life, he decided to sale all the stuff he did not need anymore. His conclusion was that such decision has a liberating effect.

In his book How to be idle, Tom Hodgkinson, a British writer and editor of “The idler”, explains that he decided one day to leave London and to live in the country in a farm, and to adopt a simpler lifestyle, avoiding consumerism.  In his book, he explains that our current society is based on consumerism, and that we spend time doing a job not always enjoyable, in order to reimburse debts.

I mention these two examples, because I experienced the same thing few months ago.  As freelance consultant and interim manager, I decided to redirect my activities in another segment of business, working for SME instead of big and multinational companies. Like any business you start, it takes time to build a portfolio of customers, and when you have the first contact with a potential customer, it takes few months before to conclude an collaboration agreement, if the customer decides to contract your services.

In order to prepare this new activity on financial level, I set up a budget. In one of the different scenarios, counting on a low level of revenue, I reviewed each line of expenses in order to cut what was not necessary. A huge expense item I cut was the car expenses. In Brussels where I live, the public transportation is the most efficient way to move. In a precedent article, I explained how I made my time profitable by using public transportation by reading books. By using public transportation modes, owning a car that most of the time was parked along the sidewalk, was expensive and totally useless. As in many cities, I can use car sharing systems too, and I have the chance too to share a car with a family member.  One of my thoughts and my feeling about such decision was too a liberating effect.

How to explain this liberating effect? In this transition period, as far as the trend is on line with my budget, I have more time to do things to prepare the future, more time to do things I like to do. I take this opportunity too to meet people in order to expand my network, to do self-training sessions to expand my knowledge. At the end of the day, I have the feeling to get more satisfaction about what I did during the day.  The result of this brainstorming is to focus on doing things I like the most. But what about the revenue generated by this new activity. Will it be the same than previously? Probably not as the available budgets in SME are not comparable with large companies and the duration of assignments will be shorter.

How to deal with this constraint? There, I come back to the two examples I mentioned to begin this article. The IT entrepreneur sold his stuff before to switch to his nomad worker career, and noticed that he did not use the three quarters of what he had in his cupboards.  Another way to say that most of the time, we buy stuff because we are influenced by ads, by modes, by marketing, by the feeling to make a good deal, but not by real necessity.  Same finding done by Tom Hodgkinson. We are buying things we don’t really need and for some purchase are made on credit, generating interests. So people are obliged to take any job they don’t like in order to reimburse debts. They are slaves of the consumerism, of a stupid consumerism. Of course, each of us we consume products and services, but there are interesting alternative to consume smartly.  Buy what you really need. Buy second hand stuffs, it is good for the planet and for your wallet.

Finally, the question is to know if consumerism is a barrier to freedom, and if yes how to switch from consumerism to freedom?  It is a difficult process but not impossible to implement. It takes time to switch from our habits to other habits. The key of the process is motivation. As we need to work to earn money, the question is do you work only to earn more and more money or do you want to have a work  you enjoy and where you can develop yourself? Is the quality of your work more important than the fact to own a big car? What is really important in your life, what bring you satisfaction and pleasure? It only depends from your own choice, it is your own decision.  The decision to become an actor, the actor of your own life, and not only a consumer, but a smarter consumer.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 17, 2018 at 08:23

Seniority is an asset

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Seniors workersAs many other criteria like race, gender, or social level, seniority is often an element of discrimination. When companies are operating restructuring processes, it is often the seniors who are fired. Most of the time, there are considered as a cost for the company, and less productive than the youngest. It is a short term vision, and a purely financial logic that doesn’t care about the quality level of work provided by people.

Productivity and creativity are not a question of age. It is a question of mind. Some people are always in a learning mode. In an ongoing changing world, they live with their time and consider learning new things as new opportunities. The key of such way of life is motivation. As far as you define and attribute goals matching with people competences, experience and expectations, you can only have motivated people who will give the best of themselves.

Experience and knowledge are advantages of seniority, as far as you learn from them. Experience means that you are doing mistakes. As far as you are aware and learn from your mistakes, it is an asset that completes your knowledge base and allows you to anticipate similar situations in future projects.

I remember a collaborator at a customer who was nearly 64 years old. As financial guy, he was computer literate and had among other things a high level of database management knowledge. But to reach such level of knowledge is not done overnight. It was the result of hours and hours of self-training and experimentation. He had probably a good salary as a senior, but how can we evaluate a salary if you don’t take into account the level of productivity and creativity. With his database knowledge, my colleague creates applications to do the job of one day in 30 minutes, and providing more information and more accurate.  So, when companies are looking for gains of productivity, is age the right criteria of people selection without considering experience and knowledge? I don’t think so.

Another example: few years ago, I met a woman during an entrepreneur week-end. When she went on retirement, she decided to do her first steps with computers and to discover internet.  After few time, she followed a special training in order to audit websites about their accessibility for people having problems of vision. She built a strong community on the web and is attending co-working places.  Here again, the acquired competences are not a question of age but a question of mind.

Of course, in a fast and ongoing changing world, seniors like youngest must question themselves.  Seniors who worked on several projects and assignments acquired a lot of experience. But what is important is the capacity to perceive the changes of the environment and to transpose their experience into a new context.  Experience does not mean that seniors reach a summit where they know everything and have answers to each challenge and problems.  Seniors have experience, and youngest people have new visions about the future of business, of society. What is interesting is the combination of senior experience and young people visions that can lead to creating innovative processes.

Seniors can be an asset for organization as long as they consider that age is not a criteria to stop to learn and to progress. They are an asset if they are aware about their potential and if they see changes as opportunities that can enrich their personal journey. They are also an asset if they share experience, knowledge and journey with juniors. Transmission is probably a key role they can play in favor of young generations. The conditions to value seniority are first that seniors themselves have always a project and don’t see age as a barrier, and secondly that their value is recognized as an asset. This implies a long term vision. As this African proverb says: “Along we go faster, together we go further”.

 

Picture source: money.usnews.com

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 10, 2018 at 06:42

Breaking Down Our Mental Barriers

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Le penseur de Rodin

Le Penseur – Rodin

Few months ago, I was diagnosed with a serious health problem. When the doctor told me that I should consult a specialist, it was a bit a shock for me, as I never had any health troubles during my whole life. The information collected on Internet about that problem was not to reassure me, as the statistics of that disease were not very good. Only 15% of people survive within the 5 years. The chance I had is that a member of my family talked with me about his brother who was diagnosed with the same disease more than 3 years ago, and who has a normal life. These comforting words made me think that it was senseless to panic before to have more information and a detailed diagnostic from the specialist about the situation.  After consulting the specialist and further medical investigations, the doctor announced me that the diagnostic was done just in time, and that I could hope to a complete healing.  Of course, it will be only the result of a medical treatment and a surgery, but at that time, I was thinking that I had to create the condition to succeed in that process. I was surprised by myself, about my resilience capacity. I was thinking the only thing I could do was to face the situation  and to reach the goal. Because I have no choice.

That experience, and I prefer to talk about experience than hardship that sounds negatively, make me thing about a metaphor I use when I doubt to start a project or to take a decision. I imagine I am at the edge of a swimming pool and I hesitate to dive in the swimming pool because I am not sure there is enough water in it. Probably that most of us are hesitating every day to take a decision because there are constraints and we are wondering how to deal with or if we want to assume these constraints. But here, in my present situation, I was thinking again about that metaphor. I was no more at the edge of the swimming pool but already falling in the swimming pool. In this case, the question was not to make a choice between an option or another, because you have only one option, but to take a decision. The decision to do all what is possible to succeed in my healing. And at this stage, I am still facing the situation, my moral is always on the top. I discover my capacity of resilience, and by this way empowering my self-confidence. But I also notice another important thing: I crossed a mental barrier.

In certain cases, our mental barriers are totally irrational. For instance, when an airplane crashes, some people hesitate to take one, or say that airplanes are dangerous. In the meantime, how many people die on a daily basis in car accidents? Much more but the difference is that most of the time, the information is not related in the media, and the number of victims in a car accident is lower than in an airplane crash, so less spectacular.  Statistically, you have more chance to die in a car accident than in an airplane crash. And who can predict that tomorrow, you will receive a roof tile on your head when leaving home? Nobody knows.  In fact, life without risks doesn’t exist and some risks levels are so low that taking a decision to change something in your life will not put you in bad shape.

Other mental barriers are more rational. For instance, people hesitate to change of job or to launch their own business, because they have loans to reimburse, they have to pay school fees for their children, etc. If they could have more certainties about the potential success they want to reach, they will probably make a faster choice. Does it mean that having to deal with constrains, transforming dream into reality is impossible? Certainly not. Having to deal with constraints is probably an opportunity to review your priorities in life. The desire to change can be intense, but change needs time, it doesn’t come overnight.
You probably think, for instance that entrepreneurs like more risks than other people and are taking decisions more easily. This affirmation is not necessarily true. Entrepreneurs are people who are more inclined to take risks, but they often first try to measure and evaluate risk, they are considering also what they are ready to lose.  What you should do to foster your decision is to consider all the constraints you have to deal with, and that are a part of your mental barriers, are essential in your life. Do you really need to have a big car? Do you need to have the last version of smartphone? All these things that weigh in your budget, that make you no more happy, and that are reducing your room of action. If you have a smaller car, a smaller home, but you the job you really want to do and not the one that pay a better salary to pay debts, you will be more happy, spending more time with your children, doing activities and hobbies that are opportunities to meet new people, to open new doors. In few words, reconsider your priorities in order to remove all these things creating mental barriers.

It is obvious that how bigger are our dreams, how impossible it seems to realize them. As already said, change doesn’t come overnight. Before considering ambitious challenges, consider first small challenges, like some habits you could change in your daily life. To use a metaphor, before to climb the Mount Everest, try to climb first a chair.  Each small challenge you will face, each small change you will do, will be an opportunity to learn, to discover new things, hide talents, or what else. Small changes will empower you step by step, and maybe guide you to more ambitious challenges. Considering big challenges first is sometimes the best way to do not start, or to hide the fact you are scared to start, by claiming that the task is not easy.

Our mental barriers are often the results of the environment we are living, where we try to secure everything. The only thing that is certain is the uncertainty. This uncertainty does not prevent us from doing things, taking decisions every day that make an enjoyable life. Time to time, we are facing failures, difficulties.  It is unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean that our entire life is a failure. A failure is an opportunity to learn and to progress, if we decide to face it on a positive way. Life is a journey, where each experience will drive you to the next one. It is the difference between living and only existing.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

October 30, 2018 at 08:53

The Motivations Of Change

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IMG_2272After times of reflection, I decided to sale my car and to use alternative transportation modes. I am the owner of a car since nearly 30 years and to take such decisions doesn’t come overnight.  Such change is never obvious, as the car is a comfortable way of transport. There are multiple reasons why I decided to take this decision. Some are evident, other are less so.

The first reason why I decided to use other ways of transport is the cost that represents the car for the usage I have of it since few years. Like in many cities, Brussels where I am living, is facing problems of mobility. The traffic is increasing every years, and when you calculate the average speed of movement, you are nearly going faster by walking. I am a bit joking, but for instance, during my last assignment as freelance project manager, I was spending more than an hour in the morning to drive 18 km to join my customer office. Considering this as senseless, I decided to take the metro, and I noticed that it took me a bit less time than with the car, but the difference was that I can use the time spent in the metro to read a book. I was feeling less stressed and had the feeling to have learned something by reading, avoiding to waste time. One of the consequences of using less my car is that the fixed costs are expensive for a low usage.  Insurance and taxes represent expensive charges for a car parked 99% of the time along the sidewalk.

Despite the possibilities of other transportation ways (metro, car-sharing, bicycle), I was still hesitating for a while to do the step, considering that it could be possible that I could need my car a day for a reason or another.  The reason was that I never know in advance where my next customer will be located, and if it will be possible to go there in a reasonable time.  And then, I started another reflection. I have several activities, and to do them on a regular basis and in relaxing mode, what you need is….time. So I was considering if I would still ready to lose hours in traffic jams or in a long distance on a daily basis, to work for a customer. The answer was clearly “No”.  Brussels and around is a city where most of the economic activity is concentrated, offering enough opportunities, and to spend hours and hours on the road is not the best way to make your day profitable.

Then, by considering the way to work and the constraints I was ready to assume, the argument of the transportation cost was a key element in my decision. After evaluating the cost of a bundle of transportation modes (metro, car-sharing, train), I evaluated that it would represent nearly maximum 50% of my car budget. When you buy a new car, you have an increase of depreciation costs, you contract an extra insurance premium, and it means that you need revenues to cover these costs.  And then, another reflection started in my mind. By reducing the transportation costs, it would allow me to get more choice of opportunities. I would have more freedom of choice, by working for an interesting project matching with my expectations and my values, instead of working only to earn money and pay invoices.  And it is probably the real question that must be asked: why am I working for?  As freelancer, am I working to pay a car or am I working to be happy by building my own project?

By writing this article, I remember a conference of Luc de Brabandere, a Belgian consultant specialized in creativity. Luc De Brabandere mentions that each change needs two steps to be effective. The first one is to change the way we are doing things, and the other one is the way we perceive that change.  In my case, when I started to take the metro, and when I found the opportunity to read books in the metro, the question was not how long will it take to reach the office, but what can I do during that time.  So the perception of time and the perception of moving is different. This is an interesting point and somebody was telling me recently that philosophers and neurosciences specialist are in opposition. Philosophers say that everybody is able to change and that it is only a question of will. Neuroscience specialists say that it is more complicated than that. They say that when we are doing something, there is always an associated emotion, and that emotion is printed in the reptilian brain. As far as that emotion is not replaced by another emotion, the effective change process is difficult and will not happen.  Here, in my experience, the pleasure to read books and to learn was higher than the pleasure to the comfort of a car, and so a new positive emotion has been printed in my brain.

Change is complex process that doesn’t come overnight. It implies another way to think and to represent things, to consider the direct and indirect advantages that the change provides.  A change has to be desired and not imposed, and there is a time needed to integrate it. But you will notice that to start such process is a way to discover new opportunities and to move to a more enjoyable life. The key is to find the deepest motivations of your life.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

October 20, 2018 at 14:53

When you have no choice

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To reach your goal

To reach your goal   – (Picture from NYtimes)

Few weeks ago, I had to face a difficult time within the non-profit association where I am member of the board of director. We were in trouble with an employee who did not give satisfaction. We tried several time to fix what was going wrong with him, by giving some feedback about his job and about what we were expecting from him, but unfortunately, no improvement followed. After more than 2 years, we took the difficult decision to fire him.

This association is helping people in precarious situations, through different social and educative programs. I am acting as volunteer accountant and member of the board. Such commitment is very rewarding, as it makes more sense on what you are doing, by helping people. This is a real opportunity to face challenges and opportunities, and to discover new interest, to discover yourself. Nevertheless, there is not only nice things when you contract such responsibilities. There are even ungrateful things you have to face.

One of these ungrateful things is when we have to stop the work collaboration with an employee. We already had such cases in the past, but it was the president of the association and the managing director who were in charge of this difficult task. This time, as our president was unavailable for an undetermined period and as I was in charge to replace him during his absence, the weight of such responsibilities was on my shoulders. The day came where the managing director and me, we invited the employee to a meeting in order to inform him about the end of his contract and the reason of such decision.

Such meeting is never pleasant, and it was the first time I had to fire somebody, as I never had people under my responsibility during my professional career. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the fact that I stayed calm, keeping eye contact with the employee and the director. And at the end of the meeting, I thought “You did it!”. Yes, I did something I thought I would never be able to do. I did it because I had no choice, but I did it. And I began to wonder why I stayed so calm during this meeting, doing something I am normally scared to do. What was the tips making that I “succeed” in this task and having a different feeling than the one I would think I had ?

A first element is that this decision was the result of a long reflection process. During few boards of directors, the managing director talked about the problems he faced with the employee. We invited the employee to a meeting with only the administrators, to talk to us about his job, about the satisfaction he had or the problem he faced. He expressed some expectations we communicated to the managing director. Based on that, the managing director gave him some opportunities matching with his expectations, but the results were not successful. After many reframing of his tasks and an ongoing monitoring, we concluded that the job was not for him. We communicated our conclusions to him, but expressed also that he would be maybe more happy in another kind of job. The first element was a good argumentation making think us that we took the right decision.

Another element to take such conclusion, was the lack of productivity of this worker, and the consequences it had on the activity. This person was supposed to manage a team of 6 people in a social and professional integration program. He had not the skills and talents to manage such team, with negative consequences on the work improvements of the team and on the reputation of the association. This situation produced conflicts within the team, caused an additional workload for the director, and had a negative impact on the productivity of the team. The risk of seeing the activity decline and to get a bad reputation, were not an option.

The challenge here is to succeed by doing something we are scared by. By thinking about this experience I mentioned, I see two keys contributing to succeed.

  • What is the goal? To define the goal is an important step, because the goal will be the key of your motivation, the element that feel feed your energy to succeed. In the case I mentioned, the goal was not to fire the employee, but the goal was to solve the problem of organization and productivity caused by the lack of competence of this person. It could have huge and damaging consequences on the durability and the reputation of the association.
    It is interesting to think that what you define as a goal on a first time is probably not the final goal that will motivate you to take action. I remember a video of a guy who wanted to put out weight. Each day, he was going to work by running, and had always some food with him. The first days were not easy to find the motivation, and the desire to eat was still there.
    On his way, he was meeting homeless people, and one day, he decided to give them a part of his food. By doing this, he made a step to get more motivation, by defining another goal. His goal was not only to put out weight but also to help poor people by sharing food with them.
  • The other key is your motivations and the reasons why you want to achieve that goal. There are many reasons why you want to achieve a new goal, but the most important is probably the need of change. You want to change something, because the present situation is not an option anymore. By starting such change process, you will think about strategies and have a different perception of things. You will learn new things, and maybe discover new hide talents or passions. Learning something is the best way to empower your self-confidence and to give you the possibility to face new challenges and opportunities, to have bigger ambitions. I would say that the desire to learn is probably more important than the desire to succeed. And that desire will make that you will not be scared to try something new and eventually to fail. The other important element if you want not to be scared is to have an alternative plan in case of failure. Louis Pasteur said that chance smiles to prepared mind (La chance sourit aux esprits préparés).

The experience I mentioned above make me realize that sometimes, we are not enough ambitious, but also that we missed sometimes interesting opportunities. When you have no alternative and you have to face a challenge, a situation, you will concentrate all your power and energy to succeed and in some cases, you will note that you were able to win this challenge. You won because you have no choice. What is maybe more important than to define a goal, is to find the reason why you have no choice and why you have to go, to realize a dream or to face a new challenge.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 21, 2018 at 22:39