A Brief History of Time

 

My take-aways after reading A Brief History Of Time

  1. Funnily enough – I could follow and understand 98%  of it. Which is surprising given the fact that I did not particularly like physics at school. It did require some concentration and processing, but  now I feel super accomplished after having read it cover-to cover.
  2. Perhaps the reason I did not like any natural sciences at school was because I saw no moral, motivational or spiritual implications in that knowledge back then. I did not connect the topics of gravity or relativity theory to “how the world is” or “why I am even here”. Back then, those answers were coming from history lessons and classical literature. Stephen Hawking did it for me. Somehow, he connected the science and pragmatism. Physics is no longer just an abstract, and I really like this new-found wisdom.
  3. I seriously did not know before that the universe is expanding. Maybe I was day-dreaming during that lesson, maybe nobody told me, but this is the first time ever I actually learned that the universe is steadily getting bigger … which I personally interpret as better, richer, more interesting and more generous. This is an amazingly good and comforting feeling –  sitting at the beach on L’île Maurice, looking at the ocean and thinking about universe getting bigger and better.
  4. Back then during my school times, there were so many conspiracy theories, how humanity is running out of food and water and clean air, and how there won’t be enough jobs, money, husbands, luck and other goodies for everyone to enjoy (unless I do my homework, obey and respect the elderly, play by the rules, and generally act as a good girl). My interpretation of the concept of expanding universe is to mean that that the overall purpose of life is not to believe in scarcity, not to be limited, and stay opened to new opportunities. When you are building a business (and I am building several of them), it’s hard not to think sometimes that 90% of new businesses fail and all that crap, and statistically somebody can run out of luck, because it sounds so scientifically proven and serious. Somehow, reading this book gave me a confidence boost.
  5. For many years, if someone would ask me, what is the ideal physical state for a body, I would probably say “peace” or “not moving”. Probably, I associated “peace” with a state where the body has found its perfect balance or some state of ideal equilibrium, and therefore it does not get pushed around by various opposing forces. On some subconscious level, this long-term conviction made me feel less than perfect, because I personally cannot really enjoy steady state of not moving. I am constantly future focused and definitely not a peaceful person, who is able to meditate longer that two minutes at my very best. Again, after reading the book, its super comforting to know that actually, moving and balancing between opposing forces is the perfect state for a body, because it means it has the energy. Surprisingly, bodies are supposed to move all the time and are supposed to be in a bit of a tension all the time, and it’s all good and “healthy”. What a relief!
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Requests-overloaded trap

 

With ever-expanding activities I am often finding myself in a situation that I call “requests – overload trap”. What it means is that I receive multiple messages, emails, slack and telegram notifications, all asking for immediate help. Most of these requests are not really urgent, but all together they make me think and feel all of the things below and all at the same time:

  • Why people can’t solve their own problems?!?!?
  • I took on too many commitments and if I do not respond to everyone immediately, they realize how stupid I am (OMG & SOS)
  • You asked the same question last week, why are you asking again?!?!?!
  • This is not really my job, what do you want from me (&%$#@&!!! multiplied)
  • Why is it always so that until I do something myself, it does not get done properly (poor me, poor me)
  • Why life is always so hard, I hate it(&^%$$#!)

Let’s say, I planned to do something during the day,  then got distracted, derailed and diverted and ended up doing something else and feeling like a total idiot and not in control. It felt bad because whoever was creating more drama and better playing crying wolf, may have gotten my attention and been rewarded.

At some point several years ago I had a similar problem and ended up setting my phone on mute by default. Like always.  I’m serious – if we don’t have a call scheduled, most likely I won’t pick up the phone.

This time around I decided to mute off all  notifications and deliberately introduce  two working modes:

  • You cannot reach me through any channel no matter how hard you try. I am working on a specific document or going to the gym or whatever and I am not available.
  • I am available and respond instantly and happy to chat (most likely I am also on Skype or Whatsapp or UberConference with someone else, but nobody needs to know).

It started a couple of weeks ago, and in the beginning it was scary. I felt guilty and was terribly afraid that something bad may happen. Or something good may happen and I miss it. I was cheating and looking at slack during non-scheduled times. But the alternative of “always available” was not working at all.

A couple of week in – and it’s working. Not perfectly, but definitely better. I have a tendency to apologize for not coming back sooner or somehow implying that I always must be available, but it’s definitely better than before.

Do you have a similar problem? How is it working for  you?

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Why happiness is not the same as cheating

I have always been driven and striving and aspiring person, and for a long time I conflated my feelings of happiness with achieving some milestones and goals. Many people told me over and over again that coming from a modest background and then being an immigrant combined with being ambitious, status-conscious, and vanity-fair-inclined “made me who I am”.  Practically like Hamilton from the musical:

          Got a lot farther by working a lot harder

          By being a lot smarter by being a self-starter…

I felt like in order to be successful, I had to make sacrifices, because this is how this world works. Last year, after a series of very strange events, I realized one important thing (ha-ha) – that happiness and accomplishments are entirely unrelated.  Ever since, I have been feeling happy, simply because I am working with people I like, I enjoy my daily tasks and I have a lot of freedom not to do what I don’t want to do.

Lately, I caught myself thinking: “aren’t you getting lazy… why are you so relaxed… isn’t it immoral to be just happy for so long… you are becoming a vegetable… (and then surprise-surprise) => get on some new project”.

It’s not like I have nothing to do or work less, it’s more this strange fear of missing out unless I urgently get uncomfortable, begin to stress-out, and get frustrated after talking and having to deal with some jerks or idiots.

I wish somebody told me this, like, 25 years ago. Actions and achievements won’t make you happy, because happiness comes from within. Being happy does not mean that you are a lazy vegetable. Actually, I found that setting professional goals and making plans from the place of being happy will eliminate a lot of unnecessary friction and get me to my goals much faster with maximum amount of lucky coincidences.

It’s really funny. Just for a short while I was thinking that, perhaps, I should do a little more, try something new, get out of the comfort zone to experience the atmosphere of growing and learning, all the while enjoying myself and looking fabulous, and within a matter of a few days I got amazing news from several directions and a very-very intriguing Skype invitation to speak with one of the most talked about companies these days.

Unlike 5 years ago, I am not forcing it, I am not preparing for 10 different eventualities that may never develop, I am just going to speak at the Fintech forum in Frankfurt,  have lunch in Dusseldorf with my longest and dearest friends, visit my long-trusted dermatologist and most amazing hairdresser ever (who both work with A-list celebrities, by the way),  do my job in between, take that mysterious call, and trust the process. And I am not even talking about the fact that I’m going to Mauritius, Singapore and Hawaii all in the next  6 months 😉 Who said compliance wasn’t glamorous?

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Why women must get into crypto – right now

When I just started my consultancy business, I was approaching many great Fintechs and repeatedly got rejected. Most of the companies liked my profile and were willing to hire me as an employee. They saw compliance as a strictly in-house function and did not want to have a strange part-time arrangement with someone who was not ready to commit to them full time. It was not a question whether I could do the job, it was a question of control and leverage over someone who works for you.

It reminded me a discussion with one of my girlfriends about advantages and disadvantages of a nanny that lives with the family versus a babysitter who comes and goes. My friend was in favor of au-pair or nanny who stays with the family, because it makes this person dependable and always available. A babysitter can cancel any time, be late or have some other excuses.

Fast-forward 18 months. I am often conducting interviews for compliance and other leadership roles, and several people who interviewed me for various roles in the last years, either as bosses or peers, are interested in jobs that would be  now to some extent reporting to me.  They all have the same story: “My job is boring, the most exciting things are happening in blockchain and crypto, I want to get in, even if I have to take a salary cut or lower-level job first”.

In the vast majority of cases, these candidates don’t have any professional experience with crypto. Some have traded. Many just read occasional news about ICOs or bitcoin prices.  Everyone says they want in “because crypto is the future”.  Except for ladies, who often say that “crypto” profile of the company is not an attraction, but rather a risk factor for them.

Here are the most common reactions on why many women don’t own any crypto and don’t even want to try:

  • I don’t have any crypto, because I don’t know why would I need it.
  • Crypto is a bubble, I don’t want to speculate, it’s immoral and a waste of time.
  • This is something too technical, and I am just an (accountant, analyst, secretary, project manager, sales person, teacher, journalist…)
  • Crypto is the men’s world, full of freaks, geeks and hackers.
  • They work with dirty money and shady businesses.
  • I want to wait and see until more people from my circle adopt it, then I will know it’s safe for me to join.

Excuses, excuses.  Women are less comfortable  taking risks and dealing with uncertainties, but it also means that women are missing out on a lot of opportunities. I attend a lot of meetings between various Finteh startups and crypto players, where new initiatives are discussed and new partnerships may be formed, and in 95% of cases, I am the only woman in the room. It’s not a coincidence.

So, here is my advice to all women, regardless of what you do or where you live or how much money you have – find a way to get into crypto, buy some symbolic amount of virtual currencies to have this experience, learn how to manage your private keys and understand the key principles of blockchain now. Here is why:

  • There will be many jobs created in this space in the near future for everyone – for accountants, project managers, lawyers, secretaries, recruiters, financial analysts and practically anyone. If you have a previous experience with crypto, you will have an advantage, potentially higher salary and more senior role in the organization.
  • Crypto community is extremely friendly, you will find enormously supportive people, who will guide you through your first crypto steps and show you how it works. Just go to any random crypto meetup in your city and say that you want to try. Why? Because there is a strong sense in crypto community that this is just a beginning and there is a potential for everyone to make something out of it. In big companies and traditional industries, you are always competing – for promotional quotas, for budget, for projects or other resources. In crypto the pie is still big enough for everyone who wants to join.
  • Opening a crypto account is as easy as registering with Amazon. Seriously.
  • After you made your first transaction with bitcoin or ether (it could be with 2 EUR amount, does not matter) – you will feel extremely proud and accomplished. You’ll see you can do it. You will feel more independent. You will feel that this is another new thing that you can easily do. It’s not scary. It’s actually pretty cool.
  • Then, when you go to your next job interview, and a hiring manager asks you about the recent learning experience or some initiative that you have recently taken, you will tell them about how you bought your first fraction of a bitcoin (or whatever it was). And it will make you stand out 🙂

If you are  reading this and you need an extra nudge to finally get  into crypto, tell me – what’s stopping you now?

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Happy New 2018!

We welcomed New Year 2018 at the roof top terrace of one of the tallest Gran Via buildings in Madrid, eating traditional 12 grapes, making wishes, drinking Cava (and seriously freezing under the wind). It was the first full family reunion since January 2016, when we all played mafia game in Luxembourg for Anna’s birthday.

I have always liked Madrid during short business visits here during my Amazon years, but never actually had enough time to explore the city. We all agreed that it’s a very funny combination of old and new, a great place to spend a few days walking around, doing some unpretentious shopping and eating amazing food.

Who knew that all 3 kids (ages 24, 17 and 8) would be passionately competing for the title of the most fashionable sibling !!!!! (Pavel with his hmmmm… statement t-shirts, Anna with her purple hair and Diana with her GAP kids loungewear).

Diana was playing politically incorrect enfant terrible quadrupled. When she learned that I did not have any iPad when I was 8, she assumed I had chosen not to have an iPad being too old-fashioned. Pavel and Anna quickly corrected Diana that I might be a lot of different things they did not approve of, but I’m quite progressive.  However, when Diana realized there had been no iPads at the time I was 8, she just concluded “Mom, if you lived during the times with no iPads, you must be very old”. Facepalm 😉

It’s an early evening of January 1st and thus far I’ve drafted 3 first of my new year resolutions. They usually go through some alterations over the year anyway.

One of the best things that happened to me in 2017 was moving into and being accepted by the world of crypto-community.  It’s not just one of the fastest growing market segments, it’s also the unique brand people– smart, rebellious, hardworking, funny and with a lot of self-irony. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that blockchain technology is based on the principles of seeking democratic consensus, trust and common interests and avoiding single points of failures as much as possible.

It’s totally different from the buzz words “inclusion” or “diversity” or the likes. As an example, PayPal (similar to many other tech companies) is talking a lot and doing a lot about inclusion and diversity and it is clear that there are many groups of people who can benefit from diversity programs – working mothers who were away from workforce for a few years or veterans who might need re-training. However, as far as PayPal is concerned, looking at how many of my former colleagues have left the company and started their own businesses during 2017, it’s clear that PayPal is consciously and subconsciously eliminating rebels and entrepreneurial people from its ranks, driving them away by corporate matrix inertia and inability to move faster. In terms of numbers, yes, PayPal maybe getting closer to meeting percentages and other numerical targets of having enough people of a certain gender or age or social group among its managers and employees, but in terms of different voices being heard, there is a clear discrimination against specific mentality of “rebels” and “enterpreneurs”.  I talked a lot with people who left and people who would probably leave in the next year, and it’s always the same story.

Crypto community is different. I’ve never seen so much mutual respect and ability to admire someone’s ideas or embracing uncertainty. Of course, there is competition – for investments, for rankings, for talent, for spotlight. But also there is a realization, that the pie is big enough for everyone.

Sometime in March 2017, I met with a very successful consultant whose clients include several major banks and insurance companies in Switzerland. I wanted to learn from him how to be a successful consultant and keep existing clients happy. He gave me several brilliant recommendations, for example, to never agree on trial projects with no compensation. In his experience, people who are ready to pay you and engage you, will be ready to do it from day one. He also advised that after a year on my own I would know if it’s working or not, and it would be so clear, that I did not need to second-guess myself in between.   He was totally right. We met again in early December 2017, and I was telling him how excited I felt, having just being engaged by an amazing company who I admired for a long time, and how my pipeline of blockchain customers is full and growing. He smiled and said that I was lucky, because I worked with companies I loved and he was working with the same banking people he left when he left his bank, and he wanted to move into crypto to be able to do more fun projects he actually cared about. In March, I wanted a little bit to be him, because he had a great reputation and a solid clients’ base, and in December he wanted a little bit to be me, because I worked with companies  making history and the first lines of Bitcoin Magazine and Coin Telegraph every week.

I frankly don’t know and don’t really care, if I ever go back to employment, but I definitely won’t ever go back to a situation, when I am expected to go to office every day, attend unproductive meetings regularly, and wait for some other people in the hierarchy to decide what I can accomplish this year, what my performance rating should be, or how much money it would be “fair” for me to earn comparing to others.

Corporate world has given me a lot – friends, experience, ability to understand people and their incentives, patience, useful social skills. And I’m grateful for all of that. But this is so much better now and I wish everyone can just experience that!!! Happy New 2018!!!

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Thank you, 2017!

The pre-Xmas week was symbolic of 2017: out of nowhere, I went Malta

with (practically) strangers for a couple of days. Yet another promising opportunity. The project is still under brainstorming and those strangers turned out to be incredibly smart, sharp and fun to work with.  I’m probably going to plagiarize their motto – “we don’t work with people we don’t like”.

Then Liechtenstein came calling for a few meetings that were actually planned and highly anticipated. Again, we talked business, made important decisions, formed alliances, and it felt like I could be friends with everyone I met there: great professionals, smart, very knowledgeable, open to listen and learn, ready to take charge and lead, when needed. They say yes when it’s a yes, and no when it’s a no. Life is so simple!

Opportunities keep pouring. Remember the song from Mary Poppins (the musical) – “Anything can happen if you let it”. (This qualifies as a song of the year).

This was the big thing for me this year – “letting things happen” (as opposed to frantically planning, controlling and preparing for all sorts of eventualities).

Here is my 2017 gratitude list.

Books of the year – Mindy Kaling Why Not Me? Marcus Luttrell Lone Survivor  Yuval Noah Harari Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow and Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankindand Don ThompsonThe Supermodel and the Brillo Box.

Most favorite office place – the TenX Tower in Singapore

Most favorite shopping  and fun destination – Paris

Biggest achievement of the year – happened on December 15th and must keep quiet for now, but stay tuned 🙂

Best conference of the year – MoneyConf in Madrid

Holidays of the year – Seychelles

The brand of the year – Zug Crypto Valley

Movie of the year 29+1

Country of the year –  Switzerland. I think I really like it here now and want to stay.

Inspiration of the year – my dearest friend M. who is the most responsible, loyal and hard working person I know, and she told me “it’s the risk worth taking”.

New things tried – swimming in the lake (the ultimate cool thing to do), scooter (it was fun), wall climbing (never again), recording compliance related videos for v-log (still trying).

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Just sharing happiness

I had an incredible week and actually am beginning to think that 2017 has been an incredible year, maybe the best year of my life thus far.  Until recently my happiest, proudest and luckiest year was 2012, when I started working for Amazon, got rid of a lot of insecurities about who I was and what I could accomplish, published the book, and became a lot more like my true-self.

I did not really see it coming, but I could tell that some kind of a miracle was underway. Earlier this year, projects were hard, delayed and confusing. My favourite dermatologist was telling me about his first year after opening his private practice: he was always worried and could not sleep, afraid that he won’t get traction with clients or might miss something or hurt someone. Now he is one of the world best in his field and he still remembers his early clients (I was among them 😉 ). And since everyone thinks I am at least 10 years younger than I actually am,  you know, he is the best.

Anyway. At some point professional life got really difficult, but instead of panicking or stressing out  further or pushing even harder I just told myself to take a brake: don’t force myself doing anything that does not feel right, don’t go into a project just for the money, don’t meet the people if you don’t want to meet them and just do what feels happy.  For a month. It felt like cheating. I did not do it as a strategy, I did it so stay sane and I thought I was just taking a break  to be able to chill out and then go back to “hard work”. And then the real magic happened: I started meeting amazing people,  they were inviting me for coffee and conferences, I was  learning about blockchain and crypto. It felt like vacationing, since I was not doing any “hard work”. One contact led to another, one bit of information I learned today just for fun converted into helping  someone I was meeting the next day. Never in my life did i have so many happy coincidences. Then I was hired, and hired again and again … and only by people I was happy to see each time we meet.

The whole summer felt like holidays, but at the time I still thought it was an exceptional assignment to work in a Disneyland for a while (which must finish and then the hard work inevitably takes over). But the “happy-working-with-happy-people” magic continued and intensified.  Then it hit me. Everything that every single wise and successful person says about success and happiness is true: do what you feel passionate about, do it well, and you will be rewarded and it won’t even feel like work.  It’s all true!!!!

I was interviewing lately a few very senior people from large and famous corporations – they apply for jobs at startups . It’s actually amazing how many people at corporations have had enough. They all ask me the same question: how did I feel leaving a great/safe/reputable/enviable job at PayPal and joining the uncertainty of a startup world, where my clients/bosses/peers are 10-15 years younger than me and I’m partially paid in cryptocurrencies that fluctuate, split, multiply, mutate and occasionally hit the $7,000 threshold 🙂   I had to practice my answer a lot lately, because I honestly want these  candidates to know what they are getting themselves into (which is – you will initially feel like you lost your social and professional GPS and you have no idea  how to talk about your jobs and projects and what success looks like… and some former colleagues would gossip that you are having a meltdown and midlife crisis…) but I also wanted them to actually take the job and the challenge, because it’s worth it.

Suddenly, instead of sedate promotions every 3 years and annual salary increase of 3-5% on average you get to a point where the runway is extraordinarily long and opportunities are literally endless. Funnily enough – as soon as I stopped worrying about the money and simply did my best contributing to projects that I was excited about, the money, equity, advisory roles, offers to join the boards, successful regulatory outcomes and even bitcoin price – everything fell into place.

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