Summer 2017 resolutions

I always had this feeling that summers are special. You have more energy, days are longer, and there are more lucky stars in the skies. Which means I can do more and accomplish more – double productive and double accomplished thanks to going with the fortunate currents.

Another thing about summer (probably a carry-over from the school days) is an assumption that during summer I am determined (and allowed) to do more “for myself”. In the past it meant reading the books that I wanted to read (forget the studies!!!), sleeping longer, developing good habits, having time to finish something meaningful and be proud.

Summer nights atmosphere has a special magic of being uninterrupted. The earth graciously stops just for you. No need to rush. The time freezes and you watch the entire 5th season of the House of Cards without having to worry about waking up tomorrow at 5 am or going to the airport. All other seasons (weather, not House of Cards, but maybe both) could be intense or smart or provoking or whatever, but they are still circumstantial and conditional and contingent and full of noise, and only the summer gives you a choice of slowing down and deciding what is that that you really want to do. Christmas has a little bit of similar slowing down trend, but at that point I often have no energy left and the Xmas break is usually too short.

I thought it would be a nice idea to have a list of summer 2017 resolutions.

  1. Get into the habit of making my own fresh juice every day with our new Angel slow juicer that’s just arrived!
  2. Revitalize the blog.
  3. Write 2 new professional articles a month.
  4. Better prepare for networking events and conferences, schedule more meetings in advance, research the speakers.
  5. Become more active with Zurich blockchain community.
  6. Swim in the lake (try at least once)
  7. Prepare for TEDx
  8. Find remarkable but rare holiday spot and go there.
  9. Celebrate something small every day.
  10. Hook Diana up to reading.
  11. Try Korean skincare products.
  12. Go to Milan for a few days and really get to know the city (it’s just 3 hours away!!!!). If it comes packaged with new Marni or Oscar de la Renta dresses, so be it.



What’s on your summer to-do list?

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Option B

I read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy because Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote it and I loved both Originals and Lean In. I am still processing some of the thoughts, but in general, even without experiencing any dramatic loss in the recent past, the book still resonated, because it clearly highlighted all the things I was doing right and wrong going about achieving my personal goals.

But first things first J and I wanted to tell you all about my coaching sessions that were supposed to help me normalize my stress levels, eating and sleeping habits. In order to do that, for 6 weeks, I was supposed to keep a journal about what I eat, what I think about before and during meals, what is my stress level, how much I exercise, how much water I drink and how much I sleep. I was not supposed to change anything, just remain my cheerful-judgmental-competitive-self and simply document everything about eating, sleeping and stress. The idea is that when you have a bad habit (or a bunch of them, as I do), it is much more reliable strategy to try and understand which situations trigger unhealthy behaviors and only then try and change things.

Frankly, the experience was very annoying (despite the fact that I like writing and not only because I had to honestly document cheese or foie gras or jamon iberico with wine at 2 a.m.), but because I felt it was always the wrong moment to think about what do I eat in the middle of various conferences and it was impossible to always be my at my best, when I slept for 4-5 hours. It’s like documenting your slippages, which is practically immoral at the age when one’s life is constantly graded as Instagram-worth material. But I decided I’d do it and I did. I got regular feedback and a lot more questions to answer and specify my journal entries from the coaches, and now it’s the time to get all these materials together and reflect . On the positive side, I really did well with exercising (like 5-6 hours weekly)!

Funnily enough, my normal modus operandi is a state where I have a plan for the day, I am aware about the timing, I know if I am on track or behind, I am alert to new developments, I assess how things evolve, but still feel in control. To me, this condition turns out to be very optimal and healthy, because I eat what I planned and when I planed it, I don’t skip exercising and I go to bed in normal hours. This is the best state of mind to function and be productive for me, but obviously not the state of mind, when I can fall asleep. Interestingly, I made a personal discovery about multi-tasking. I’ve actually always felt I am the ultimate Queen of multi-tasking, because I can cook, pack, give instructions on the conference call and do online shopping all at the same time. I’ve been proud of my multi-tasking abilities for years. Turns out – it increases the stress level and makes me more tired by the end of the day, when I really have to do a lot of surprise multi-tasking (like, taking an urgent conference call during waxing appointment or doing a work-related messaging during the weekend from the theater). I can do it, obviously, but after these things happen, I do feel less energetic and deprived of my personal time. Essentially, when a surprise mini-emergency happens (and they happen a lot), I have a tendency to jump right in, usually squeezing my planned tasks and multi-tasking like crazy. This is what I decided to change right away: when people call or write “urgent” and “asap”, if it’s not related to someone going to the hospital or prison right now, it can wait a few hours or days, before I schedule it and address it in a planned fashion.

Another surprise: when I read my journal, it often felt like I was at the same time recovering from a big personal disaster and fiercely competing with someone. I used phrases such as “now is the unique time” or “recent total mess” or “cannot wait” or “I had to finish it right away”. You get the picture – there was always a sense of urgency and a fear of things being late or missed. Like, if something does not happen immediately, the world would stop and I would never know who is behind the Capital Hill bombing in the Designated Survivor.

This is where my thoughts about healthier life choices and the ideas from Option B intersected. Nobody has their dream life delivered to them exactly as they wanted, and there are always setbacks. We are all indeed living some form of our plans B. Like, I never expected to be exactly where I am now – which is building my own consultancy business for the Fintech industry that did not exist 5 years ago. But I’ve always expected to live in a stable country, be financially comfortable (by my demanding standards), enjoy beautiful nature, wear beautiful shoes and be surrounded by smart, successful and sophisticated people, and have some room for creativity and continuous learning. With all the dust now settled, it’s very clear that the main frustration I had with the corporate world was how fast I could grow. I had lots of energy and found it limiting, that no matter what I do or how many projects I take on or how many results I deliver, within the boundaries of corporate policies, my salary could only increase by 5-10% year-on-year, I could expect the promotion once in 2-3 years, if I am lucky, and when I am a real star, my bonus will be 30% instead of 20% (and when all of these wonderful numbers are calculated on after-tax basis, I end up with … just an extra pair of shoes per month). Bummer. 😦

Maybe, building a company is stressful, but it’s nothing in comparison to people recovering from life-threatening deceases or who lost loved ones or who came from wars. It gave me a real perspective.

Well, the next step is to develop a new plan and see how it’s working, right?

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I eat 8 Ferrero Rochers while reading Mindy’s “Why not me”

Why Not Me? is a perfect holiday reading: easy, funny, witty and still an insightful story!!!

If you don’t know Mindy – she was a star and a writer for The Office sitcom and then went on to create her own show Mindy’s Project for Fox/Hulu. She writes about Hollywood, her friends, perfect hair, daily routines of a Hollywood star, her anxieties and aspirations. It’s incredibly authentic and just totally hilarious, exactly like her show.

She starts by saying that she is a first generation immigrant in the US with all the associated insecurities, family pressure to excel, secret desire to fit in… Maybe, Mindy and Lena Dunham are the only modern fashionistas left who aren’t skinny and make a point out of it.

This is how she describes why she grew unhappy about her role in The Office and decided to branch out:

Most TV writers, even the good ones, aren’t usually lucky enough to be employed on a great show. And even great shows get canceled. Most writers have to hop from gig to gig to pay for their Priuses and private schools and divorces. I was an exception. I had what most writers dream of: a consistent source of free lunch for eight years. I was a member of the core creative team of what some people considered a classic American comedy, with no end in sight. And did I appreciate it? Um … sometimes? The truth was, I had started growing a little restless. I had a dream job—was I ungrateful to wonder what more there might be for me? Or complacent if I didn’t? The fights in the writers’ room and the outcomes that didn’t go my way, the one or two great lines a week on-camera, and, of course, the snacks—was there more to life than an endless supply of Australian red licorice (OK, obviously not, that stuff’s amazing, but you know what I mean)?! And who was I to try to seek anything better? In high school I had been cast as a rag-picker/townsperson/vagrant in eight consecutive plays. Why would I think I could be anything more than part of an ensemble of anything? These conflicting feelings about my job were illuminating—I was finally experiencing what they call White People Problems.

I wish I wrote it 😉

Then she convinced her boss to give her a chance, she wrote the proposal script for her own show… and it was rejected. She had this big dream and no other dreams and had no idea in the beginning, what to do next. I like how she calls show business a series of “transitioning panics”. Because you are never satisfied, always want more and facing fierce competition from everywhere. She found her second and third chances after all.

I practically laughed out loud the whole book and then I realized I ate 8 Ferreros. I don’t even like chocolates that much. My family and friends know well, that my comfort food is something salty and spicy and greasy (like tacos or spring rolls) and usually involves red wine. But here, on a beautiful Praslin villa (#firstworldproblems), we don’t have access to vegetables and fruits and haute cuisine. Salads, berries, whole grain bread, organic muesli and even watermelons are all luxury not seen in a local grocery store. The only available veggies are potatoes, carrots, cabbage and onions. I have not even realized that in some parts of the world one can still drink instant coffee and use powder milk in it and open a can of (!!!) ham. It feels like the USSR of early 90-es. Good news – I don’t have any coffee addiction at all and can perfectly wake up at 10-30 am without it!!! Another good news, unlike Maldives, Seychelles were heavily influenced by the Frenchies and not a Muslim-majority country, so – South African and Chilean wines are perfectly accessible and affordable.

Even with wine, somehow, I still felt I am missing out civilization, so I tasked my amazing husband with finding “the most exquisite and decadent European chocolate you can find” (no, I am not pregnant, just spoiled 🙂 ). Andrey knows me well, so he kindly brought me this and I am now perfectly happy!

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All the light we cannot see

Just finished All the Light We Cannot See: a story of un-seen connection and dependencies between a young German soldier and a blind French girl during the WWII. This story was hugely popular during the divisive, violent and intolerant 2016. Unfortunately I was too busy and bitter last year, but  now is amazingly  perfect timing to read it!

Werner was fond of science and engineering, but he was growing in an orphanage house in the middle of German coal mines. He thought his only hope to get out was to join the prestigious Nazi military school where he could learn and become a scientist.

Marie-Laure was a daughter of a locksmith genius who served for the natural sciences museum in Paris and was tasked with a deadly mission to hide and keep a famous diamond, named Sea of Flames. Some people said, this diamond was a curse, keeping its owners safe and alive, but causing everyone around them die.

They both love reading, adore science and take their almost only pleasure in learning about the world. They believe there has to be a meaning for everything, the right answer – even if we cannot see it. That’s why I enjoyed the book so much. I also believe in knowledge as an ultimate problem solver. Every time there is a difficult period or a persistent problem in my life – I always have a tendency to say to myself “learn more, read enough, get well prepared – and you’ll get through this”.

Important theme throughout the story: how much of yourself can you be, when there is war/Nazi/occupation/external forces outside? When you are poor? When you are physically limited?

Werner saves Marie-Laure and dies shortly thereafter, practically committing a suicide, when the worst is over. Some of his last words were – he did not feel he was true to himself and lived his real genuine life.

It was a surprising ending for me, since he was a sweet little boy, shy, smart, determined, considerate and a lot of less-then-perfect characters in the book actually were allowed to survive and live. I keep wondering – why? What’s the point of killing a good character at the end? The only answer I can find – he would not have the future, because he was sort of detached from reality. Every time something bad happened around him, like bullying of his school friend or war battles, he was not really there, trying to escape into his dream world and pretend this was not really happening. As if it kept him innocent.

Those who read the book – did you get the same impression? Or maybe I am just reading too much into it?

P.S. In the last weeks I was following a coaching plan, trying to normalize my sleep and diet regime. I was supposed to keep a journal, and document everything I eat, the reasons why I think I eat what I eat, stress factors and may have affected my eating, and everything in between. Trying to understand the bad habits before you are able to kill them 🙂 Maybe this book resonated so well with me, because the coaches were asking me to think deeper about why I get stressed and what provokes me and how long have I been  on this autopilot. Which obviously shows a long history back to teenage years and early twenties.

Now, when I am embracing Seychelles’ serenity (almost like in the Indonesian chapter of Eat Prey Love), living in a beautiful villa by the ocean, sleeping 10 hours a day, no alarm whatsoever, almost no emails, amazing and very attentive hosts, food from the local grocery and village takeaway – I will tell you soon what I’ve learned thus far about life wisdoms.

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How does it feel to be an entrepreneur?

It’s been probably the 5 shortest months in my life. I try to remember events of the last weekend and it feels like a year ago, because of so many things happening in between. Just today I thought that someone was not responding for a long-long time and needs a firm reminder, but after checking our last correspondence, I realized we connected just 4 days ago.

So, if you are thinking about starting your own business and branching out from the corporate world, here is what I can say.

– Don’t do it all alone. There is so much free support and free information available. Just google “start-up your business + your location” and you are going to find tons of organizations available to help you, information about meetups with other entrepreneurs, networking events, free trainings and much much more. Don’t reinvent the wheel and get help.

– Make time for your old friends. It may feel like you’ve got to be going and speeding and meeting clients and conquering the markets, and everything else is a waste of your time. I personally found out that every time I meet old friends and former colleagues, they are actually the ones who reassure me and tell me to keep going. There are so many things that you don’t know and it could go either way. I am constantly telling my friends that I don’t know where I will be in two months and they constantly tell me back that they believe in me and see me going places and opening doors and making it happen. I hope they see what I don’t see J

– It looks like if I take on at least one more project, I need to be hiring people. It feels weird, since I don’t know where I’m going to be in two months, how on earth can I hire people and make promises? At the same time, I am working with start-ups, many of them simply take it for granted, they are going to be the next unicorns. It’s contagious. Maybe fools get lucky all the time. Somewhere inside there is a growing feeling that it could actually be a chance to hire the people I love and work with people I chose and really build something special.

– Networking is key. Whatever you do, you are offering something to people you don’t yet know. Find and use whatever networking occasions you can – fintech weeks, start-up conferences, young entrepreneurs forums, industry lunches and just go. All my leads and several important ideas came from these events.

– Accept that you can fail and that’s ok. If you are not afraid to fail, you can just accept the possibility, and it’s not the end of the world. I was so stressing out that if I don’t build a million euro business during my first year, everyone will be laughing at me and I am going to look like a fool. Funnily enough, nobody I know wants me to fail and everyone wants me to succeed. But even if I fail, it’s not a big deal and it does not look like it’s going to happen tomorrow. Not even next month. So, in the meantime I can try something new, right?

Last week was an important week, it confirmed two additional projects (and by extension, the fact that I have found my niche). In business books, they would call it “a viable business model”.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

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Spring is just around the corner!

After the snowstorms and ice age cold, do you finally feel it?  There is something soft and promising in the air, it forced me to bring back to light more joyful fragrances, make plans for Easter holidays and (yesssss!!!!)  we are going to Seychelles this time! 

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Thoughts and highlights of 2016 – 4 things to keep

I spent several hours today flipping through my Kindle highlights pages, revisiting quotes, comments and   personal notes.  I didn’t read much during 2016, it was probably the year when I read the least since the age of 7 (laws and regulations don’t count here), but the books I managed to finish,  really resonated.

  • Steer clear of ambivalent people and keep your enemies closer. Ambivalent frenemies are sometimes good and sometimes bad. You sort of like them and want to give them another chance, but they keep letting you down.Maybe they are too weak, maybe they promise too much, maybe they always have hidden agenda, maybe they want to please too many stakeholders – doesn’t matter. At some point it’s necessary to cut them off and never look back. They are not bad people, they may even be useful at times, but when they are bad, it’s too draining and difficult to overcome. You can still work with them, but stop trying to “win them over”. As I wrote once before, one of the most nurturing and hopefully lasting relationships I built at PayPal was with a person  who consistently was my open and direct “challenger”. We debated a lot and it helped me learn more, prepare better and get stronger.
  • Startups have one important advantage over corporations: they focus on creating instead of competing and this an incredibly powerful gift. In a corporate environment even the most kind person gets a feeling that everything comes at a price, that when you win, somebody loses, and that there is only so many budget/customers/promotions/ positions/projects to conquer.Startup  is  building something new, there is no worry about competition, internal or external. It may be naive and at times chaotic, but also very liberating. You see new solutions.
  • Always remember your end goals, especially when things don’t go your way. Why did you want this project, why did you come to this country, why do you need this decision?   When headwinds come, there is always a tendency to defend whatever you are doing  this very moment, it’s  probably an instinct. At the same  time, it’s possible that  whatever you are defending is small, irrelevant and does not bring you closer to the BIG GOAL.  The majority of setbacks turn out to be completely irrelevant 3-4 month after. I could  have simply done nothing!!!
  • Try not to find too many faults and flaws in people. I know, I am incredibly judgmental and can’t help it.But when I focus on people imperfections, I stop learning from them. As someone mentioned recently, “Yana,  if you approve of Trump, you can’t be too critical about  this [person X] management style”.
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