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Russians: they get it their own way

Oftentimes Russian people like to say that Russia is a place like no other and that nothing that works in the West and East will be working here.  Well, it's a no, and a yes. A no, because many things, in business or in life, are bench-marked from abroad and implemented. But surely, almost anything gets a unique twist.

Take, for instance, International Women's Day on the 8th of March. Widely acknowledged and celebrated, it is a national holiday, which (as of now) declares some sort of appreciation and love towards women in form of endless flowers, chocolates from men to women, or boys to girls - at work, at school, and at home. It is a social ritual. Generally, man are rather more polite towards women, but most of the times, the party ends up with them (men) being wasted or drunk, or both. I would not be surprised if the survey among the Russians, asking if this day is celebrated anywhere, or comes other than from Russia, would have a negative response.

Not surprisingly, the International Women's Day has its origins in the US. It was something of a feminist movement's milestone, at that time standing for the equality in political and social rights in men and women. At the beginning of its acknowledgment in 1913-1920 it had similar connotations in Russia and later in Soviet Russia. But then something happened. And now women in Russia want to be “women” on this day: to be feminine, to be beautiful, to be weak, to be with a man with whom they feel like behind the wall.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I do not acknowledge this day: it is nice to have a special fare on the airline because you are booking the ticket to fly on the 9th March and you are a woman, though that happened in India (and perhaps, a gender scientist could call that a positive sexism?). The flowers are great too. But c'mon, gentlemen, do you really need a special day to give all that flowers or chocolates, or to be polite with the ladies? And ladies, why you want to be feminine, weak, and beautiful on this occasion so much. And why do you put an equation between “feminine” and “weak” at first place? I recon asking these kind of questions myself when I was at school, and when the boys had to line up, and present the flowers that they had bought for us. I was wondering why they had to do that - not that we were women yet, and isn't that thing was called an international women's day? Year by year, this social construct is put on you and you stop asking the questions and take it as a given. Until you come into other people's experiences and perspectives, mostly abroad. And I am so glad it happens.

Regardless, let the sun shine and the flowers bloom: on the International Women's Day and after it!

source: shutterstock

Love What You Do or Do What You Love?

...When you can not get both. Prior I move forward, what I mean by  these two? First one, love what you do, is about the occupation that you do for living, which is central to your life, and you are passionate about it, you are the master of it. The second one, do what you love, is about doing what you are into, financing it from your other projects. asically, it's Robin Sharma vs. Tim Ferriss.

I like to think of Robin as my personal coach. Perhaps, because I like and share his way of thinking. Robin calls you to thrive for more in what you are doing, to be excellent in that, do the job you do the best possible way (you need to like it first, of course). These are very simple and great points he is making, that sounds right in its essence.

Why have I opposed him with Tim Ferriss and more precise with his book “The 4 Hours Work Week”? What 4HWW says in a nutshell, is that you should organize your financial flow so, that you minimize your actual presence in the operations, whereas direct and use your time on doing what you like: travel, cook, learn salsa, or practice so called “mini-retirements”. He refers to a bunch of well-established entrepreneurs he interviewed, and who hated their jobs, making loads money (what for, he asks). And that attitude sounds quite reasonable as well.

Sure, the best way is to have the donut and eat it too. But we know that it ain't that easy. I re-read 4HWW recently, and felt less enthusiastic about the ideas he brought up. I feel what was missing is consistency: in your thoughts, in your actions. Or call it integrity. Aren't you losing yourself by enrolling on the roller coaster of this indulgence? Yes, you change with time: by countries, by situations, by people, by breakups, by makeups, by that crazy project you made fuzz about. And you have influence and change other people too. But you are still who you are.

At the same time, if we go back to the roots, and look on what our ancestors did for living: man hunted, women gathered. Well, mostly. The food matter occupied most of their time, of course, and they had to be great in that, otherwise - starve to death. So, you had to be a master in what you do, and even love what you were into. You can look on this heritage from different perspectives, do you? You can say – wait, that's sounds medieval (or prehistorical) and outdated. Or, you could say, that this way is in our genes, because, as I said, people change, but we are still who we are: hunters and gatherers - masters of our occupation.

There are advantages in both approaches, and the best way is to try and combine them. Russian criticism have reminded me how being critical in what you get in your information diet is important, as being open and curious is. So, remember your roots, and strive for what you love. Just make sure its YOUR path.


Photo shutterstock

Are changes good? I would say yes. But it depends on a scale or a perspective you look at it: short or long term. The change is striking you most and is most visible, when you have not been exposed to the subject of the change for some time. I reflect on countries and cultures here, so here it comes. 

I happen to visit Mumbai, India this year and stayed there for about two month after over a-one-and-a-half year break. I remembered and knew the city that I have remembered. But when I was there, I felt that something had changed, and changed for the better. It was a subtle feeling and I could not exactly point on what it really was. Yes, taxi fairs got higher, and the Tiger balm went up from 40 to 45 rupees. But there was more to it: there were more newer taxis, taxi drivers were quite often following the rules of the road, pharmacies got equipped with the software and could consult you on the availability of the items you have inquired. Of course, the fact that I wasn't new to the city, and knew Mumbai's specialties, could be the reason I have seen everything as “not too bad”. Also, as a friend of mine told me, India, or any place actually, cannot be that bad, if you are with someone you like or love. And she was right, of course.

Here is another example – Russia. Well, things are not that bad here either. Of course, I came over in the summer, when everything is green, warm and pleasant, than it turned to golden color in autumn, and now it is all magically white. Taking nature aside, there are changes all over. Yes, there are issues with the government, elections and the whole tandem thing. But some of the legislation is actually focused on making the whole government services for the citizens digital: you can register online to see the doctor, get your e-signture and claim taxes without showing up when you don't have to. International companies keep flooding the Russian market and setting higher standards. Having a wifi at home is not a question, whereas 4 years ago you had to chase companies and pay them high to make it done – now they chase you - the way it should be. Russians themselves are not only willing to travel, and travel for a reason to study or work, but also coming back and bring different perspectives with themselves back. Service industry is trying to actually provide you a service, at times a good one. Moscow is finally making a paid parking in the city center, and trying to arrange the traffic.

Okay, so technologically we are definitely not standing still. And let it be, that most of the start ups here are all about technology/apps/internet and the great majority of them are B2C and simply a copy-paste of what is already out there in the US and Europe. Let it be this way, because there is no other healthy way, really (why would you reinvent a bike?) But the trick is, that these changes are not that visible if you live in your daily routine, without an opportunity to look at it from a side.

I am asking myself, why do people like to complain so much? When in fact they live better then 20 years ago. They live better, but are less happy. I believe that quite important is the fact that people do not see the change – it is all over you, but yet, you are blind to it. A change is a process, and in order to make it smooth and to feel it, you have to know it is happening - awareness is the key. Indeed, small daily improvements lead to magnificent results, as Robin Sharma says. And I wish more people become aware of changes around, and let all that startups contribute to it.

Aram se

A poem that I came accross in a thought-provoking book 4HWW of Tim Ferriss:

Slow dance
Have you ever watched kids
on a merry-go-round

Or listened to the rain
slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly's erratic flight
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down
Don't dance so fast

Time is short
The music won't last

Do you run through each day on the fly
When you ask "How are you?" do you hear the reply?

When the day is done,
do you lie in your bed

With the next hundred chores
running through your head?
You'd better slow down
Don't dance so fast

Time is short
The music won't last

Ever told your child, We'll do it tomorrow
And in your haste, not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die

'Cause you never had time
to call and say "Hi"?

You'd better slow down
Don't dance so fast

Time is short
The music won't last

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift....Thrown away...

Life is not a race.
Do take it slower

Hear the music
Before the song is over.

by David L. Weatherford

Christmas and Russians

These two together do not end with exclamation mark. Europeans wonder why Russians do not go home for Christmas. Well, because usually it is the other way around - Russian people go to Europe for Christmas holidays. Catholic Christmas (the 25th one) is not existent as such in Russia, not celebrated.  Having Orthodoxy as a religion of the majority, the 7th of January is an acknowledged and followed Christmas Day. But it is a less celebrated than New Year itself. The 31st is a big day. It is rather a party thing than a family reunion; it can be both, but the party element wins. Russians simply take advantage of long vocations (official national holidays are for 10 days – form 1st to 10th January) and rather than drinking all the period long, they do foreign destinations. Europe is among them.

I have been reflecting how cultural the Celebrations indeed are. Having my third catholic Christmas in Europe I experience myself the emergence of Christmas from its start in the end of November with shops switching their product lines and embedding winter theme till the climax on the 25th when roads are empty. What I can observe, is how myself, originally from Russia, look at this holiday as something that is happening around me, but not with.  I appreciate the whole rush happening, but rather as an observer, than an active participant. Even for the 3rd time.  What it shows (and proves) is that cultural norms and behaviors are hardwired in our minds from the very, very early age. Perceptions vary based on our heritage. And it’s great to be able to enrich your luggage with other perspectives – it is beautiful to say the least!

by -12°C"s
Photo: -12°C

Friendship abroad

Is it easy or hard to become friends abroad? Well, depends. On your personality, of course, a lot; on a cultural setting you are in; on the amount of time you have. Here is another one – is it easier to become friends with a local person or a foreigner of a same caliber? Something tells me that most will vote for the second one. I will. Yes, the top recommendation for a better integration is to get to know the local people, to interact with them, to go for coffee with them, to drink wine with them, to attend their weddings as an honored guest, or to go to saunas. Sounds a lot like the activities that one does with friends. But there is a difference between “getting to know” and “being friends”. And a big one.

There is certainly a bond among foreigners abroad. No matter on their prior background, they have one thing in common – another country they are now in. They are out of their comfort zone and have most of the sensations sharpened: they see, feel, sense, and hear things that are new and different.  Like Lin, main character of autobiographical Shantaram, was wondering why is he friends with his Leopold Café gang and explained that as follows:

“The only thing that we had in common is that we all were strangers. It united us.”

Look around you and question where your friends are from? My best friend here is an American (married to a Swede though). Why is that so? Well, she is a great person, we came to Sweden almost at the same time, we shared our hate-you-love-you relationship with India, and I just love her cooking skills! 

When abroad, social network is important, both, local and foreign. But I would go for people you click with, rather than local, or even of your own origin. About ‘your people’, from the same country – that’s a fun thing because people like to categorize. Imagine you are a party or a social function, you introduce yourself, and as soon you interlocutor hears that you are from Russia, s/he will try remembering other Russians they know or met and might consider to introduce you to one another just based on this piece of information. Well, not all Russians are happy to see other Russians abroad. I think I read about similar attitudes among Italians.

So, the moral is to pick up your people and stick to them (read: enjoy your time with them). Differences unite.

On the Move (Professional)

How does existance and operation of these features of life sound to you: visa-free travel, united database of MBA School graduates ready to re-join the market, same database of all global jobs, international schools,  international banking, insurance and retirement programs. 
Want it or not – the mobility is Up and In the Air…
Was quite fascinated to find the following piece in the World Economic Forum Report 2011 on Global Talent Risks:

One characteristic will define the highly skilled workers of the coming decades: geographical and virtual mobility. These prized employees will know how to network, they will create billions of pieces of content to be shared on social media channels, and many will actively manage their “reputation capital”. These men and women will be technologically savvy, mentally flexible and committed to learning new skills and reinventing themselves to achieve meaningful careers. Many, particularly those under age 40, will be willing to move, temporarily or permanently, to new locations to pursue opportunity.

There is no resolution without a conflict

Scanning expat blogs I keep notice that quite a few are devoted to the differences that strike the most – be that something funny, fascinating, irritating or just weird. And of course expats like to share how they feel about it.

In Sweden a lot of things seem to be working perfectly fine, you just need to have your social security number and you are nearly perfect. What’s left - learn how the system works and you are done. Easy? It is. Or… it just makes you lazy and in order to keep busy with something you need to create some action. What’s the solution or the consequence of such a “silent mode”– a Long Lasting Decision-Making. Sounds like a weird alternative to the action, but that is where I see the routes for it.

Here, the decision, especially within the group takes a while. They call it “to be polite”, or “not to over speak someone”, or take into consideration all voices… Sure, if there is nothing else to do.

I wonder if it’s any different in Denmark…

...there is nothing to fight against, but there is no resolution without a conflict.

The right fit

Is it the right one? You never now or – to put it less bluntly for over reacting ones – you might not always be too sure. But once something is not the way it should be or you expect it to be – you feel it.

Take job change or a change from work to ‘back to studies’ mode. What happens ones you are in a new environment? Right, first everything is too new and hectic (be that calm Sweden or crazy India or old school Russia). Takes time to locate yourself on the axis, understand where you are. Than, goals, experience, friends, values developed and collected over time are with you. So what happens is an imposition of one matrix to another; your framework on reality framework. Perfect when they match. If not – that’s the bitch.

Aim of science is knowledge generation, for instance. Scientific community has its own markers, values, language, understanding what leadership is – is it just a different form or even absence of it, am not sure. It feels like absence of it, because you are called a good researcher not in case you made a breakthrough discovery or innovation , but rather quite the opposite – proved something already existing with a lot of references to the past (‘in the paradigm’ they call it). I do not mind that you need to learn and take into account the past (indeed, no need to create a wheel every time), but the trick is that the logic of science and business is different. Scientific logic (want it or not) is imposed on you, that’s what I am aware of. And to remember your aims and stick to them is super important.

On one blog there was an interesting post about one-sideness with example of a father advising that in AIESEC you are becoming a one-sided person with only one goal which is too bad for your development. And there is something in the argument. You really work on a goal (develop potential, realize exchanges, sign contracts and so on), which may not be as direct as to get materialistic own villa on a Mediterranean sea cost in 5 years or simply sentimental growing old with the one you love. What AIESEC does (or empowers) is opening of boarders if you have a will for it. Which is great of course, and way not everyone have an opportunity to have such opener and you keep meeting people with loads limitations, complexes, ’want but can't’. But what it doesn’t - and you better be aware of – it doesn’t limit these boarders and you better should. Life without limits may hurt. Most likely the limitation is a for-profit-company with similar values (and similar people); your own thing with Your people (for that you need to settle down). Any other local comapany or science i doubt will work - way to go to tune yourself for it.

So, less bluntly, it’s easier, clearer with some limitations. Imposed on you or by you.
When you travel, be that short term or long, for holidays or for business, to visit or to live, you face weather change among all. I remember my first week in Mumbai – felt sick with fever and soar throat almost straight away. In Malmo things went slightly better (I learn, huh). There are few principles to follow in order to be in a good shape and enjoy a new place.

Multiple layers. Striptease or dressing show will save you from temperature fluctuations. Have something to put on or put of in a restaurant with AC, a warm office with central heating, on a windy street or in a draughty party room (you know when people go out for a smoke). Yeah, and don’t be seduced by the way local people dress – without anything on their head at -5 or a light salvar kamiz at +35 (and +20 with AC inside) – you are not form here and it takes time to get used to.

Vitamin C and hydration. Multivitamins and fresh fruits are also highly appreciated. Body needs support form inside – do yourself a favor.

Good food. It can be local food, or something you used to, or both. With local food though better be careful – remember eyes opened so wide when tried your first real biriyani? I do:) The point is not that it’s no good because too spicy, quite the opposite actually – keels the germs, but that you can’t eat enough (in the beginning at least) – and that’s the bitch. So, in the beginning makes sense to start with something familiar and push on more experimental dishes with time.

and of course Good mood. Priceless…
Be good and healthy!