Become Someone Who Can Deal With It

I’ve recently applied to a job opening at Unsettled – it sounded like a marvellous (and fun) opportunity to learn more about teaching and coaching people, part time, and I seem to still absolutely have the travel bug. They’ve asked three questions and applicants to pick one for the cover letter. I really wanted to go with “the most important thing I’ve learned from leadership”. To talk about how, through yoga, mentoring and our company, Drungli, I’ve learned that sometimes your job is not to push but to make your people stop. But I just couldn’t make it work even after a whole lot of trial, so I’ve resorted to another of the options.

I still think knowing when to stop is a valuable lesson: in certain circumstances, you must cut your losses and however hard, gift a fresh start to everyone involved. But maybe my reasoning didn’t really come together because I knew there must be something more interesting and productive I’ve acquired from being in leadership roles. Well, I needed a fantasy book to remind me, The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson. His heroine, Shai, is a Forger and thief of exceptional skill and knowledge.* In moments of the gravest danger she has a mantra, become the person who can deal with this.

It took me back to my first handful of times teaching yoga to others, practising before my certification exams. Somewhere in there it dawned on me: the person opening the door to her friends and the person stepping onto the mat was different. Even though I was inexperienced, I sensed that in order to hold the space, deliver instructions and gently correct, I need to become someone else, somebody more. This fantasy of a good teacher, modelled on my favourite classes and yogis. Maybe I didn’t have all the knowledge, maybe it was only a handful of times that I’ve practised, but it didn’t matter. I had a mental model of 1) what is expected from a yoga teacher 2) what kind of teacher and person I myself wanted to become.
I realised I can slip into this character at will – from then on it became less nerve wrecking to prepare for the exams.

Why is this such an important lesson? Because we can all do this in times of challenge or crises. We can picture that person underneath our layers of worry, self-doubt and -critique. We can give it a fiercer sounding name – think Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce. We can decide to slip into character and lean in, if only just for a little while at first.

It is a little bit like faking it till you make it, minus the fact that we tend to associate faking with less effort, trying to get away with something. It does require enormous energy to first define who this persona (or personas) of yours is, based on your goals and aspirations. It demands courage to show that face at the next meeting or social function, instead of going with the default settings. But thinking about certain tasks and challenges as a role to perform can make you dramatically more likely to succeed.

A lot of us do this, more or less subconsciously, anyways. Doctors, expected to display a calm, reassuring, still slightly dominant presence. Bartenders and waiters, switching on “friendly” mode even if they had a really bad day. Entrepreneurs pitching, digging up all the faith and passion they can find to convince others about believing in their ideas too. Often our job description and company culture provide the guidelines for this role we are expected to play. Most of the time, the explicit expectation gives us permission to slip into the role and doing it for the others (colleagues, employees, bosses) help us do better. Which begs the question, why is it so difficult when you set out to create something by yourself? I think it’s simply harder, figuring out what this superhero self is supposed to be like when you don’t have the base of external guidelines and expectations. First, you need to justify saving yourself. Then, you have to think long and hard about what are the challenges you are about to face and what kind of person you need to become to face them. Or more precisely, which aspects of your personality do you need to come out and play.

I don not know what kind of challenges you are facing. I don’t know who you are and what your fantasy self needs to do better than your everyday persona. But I do know there are certain straightforward things you can do to prepare.

Amy Cuddy talked brilliantly about power poses in her TED talk. We learned from her that you can achieve 19% increase in testosterone, and a 25% decrease in cortisol, just by taking up a power pose** for 2 minutes, thereby making yourself actually feel more powerful and less stressed. This, in turn, leads to a lasting effect of more powerful presence, self-confidence and more assertive communication. Go ahead, it’s only 2 minutes from your life, it can’t hurt to try.

Costumes – both how we feel in them and how other people perceive our look – are powerful. There is a reason why doctors wear white coats, role play goes sexier and less cheesy if you put on the sexy maid costume for it instead of just picking up a feather duster. Why certain jobs still require employees to put on at least business casual clothing. There is a powerful interaction between how we feel in clothing that matches the role we need to play to succeed and how other perceive us in them. When intention and reaction match up, it serves as the perfect feedback loop. I dress like I’m competent and can hold my shit together – you treat me like I’m competent and can hold my shit together: I’m justified in my belief that indeed, I can keep my ducks in a row. There is no definitive outcome yet, but studies seem to show dressing the part is indeed important for success, especially in a situation when you need to be perceived as powerful. Sure it is the result of a social construct, but wouldn’t you take advantage now that you know that?

Spend some time with invisible work. It is not enough to adopt the mantra and decide that from now on you’ll have this superhero self at your beck and call. You need to have fairly good ideas about what this role should look like to be able to embody it to any real effect. Choose a good day, normally less riddled by self-doubt, talk to a friend, colleague, client who thinks highly of you. Try to see what is already there from the fantasy, as others can often see it sooner and better. Then write yourself a job description to this self, a guardian and fighter who can push through the things you find challenging. It’s a lot like creating a brand actually: you want to focus on a handful of values you want to represent and use them as guidelines for behaviour. Think about the desired effect and what you can do to achieve that. However, there is no need for one persona to know all the answers. When we ask what would Jane Austen or Steve Jobs do, we think about a very specific aspect of them, not the entire complex human being.

Going back to my yoga teaching example, I knew the key things are going to be radiating a certain calm, confident instructions and a lot of attention to the people in the room with me. The costume was my yoga gear – different from the one I practice in – and interestingly it all came with a change in the pitch of my voice too. Stepping on the mat I could let this persona take over. I wasn’t Orsi anymore, an inexperienced yogi thinking who am I to tell these people how to practice? I became the teacher, who simply guides and corrects and holds the space, because that is what’s needed.*** Of course, it is only one role for one specific situation. I need others for networking or times when I dread launching a new project so much it’s paralysing. And it helps to know exactly what this better version of me needs to do to get there.

I won’t say imaginary selves will magically solve all your problems, they really won’t. Especially not if the fantasy about who you could become is not rooted in reality, who you already are to some extent. But every now and then, being able to slip into a well-defined role will help you push away your worries, act more confidently, hold out longer when inspiration doesn’t just happen. Maybe you are not the person who can deal with it all the bloody time – honestly, I doubt any of us can. But for the really important moments, conscientiously choosing to play the role of a more compelling you, you can tap into a lot more strength.


* She breaks into the imperial palace and almost gets away with it, would her ally, the Fool not betray her. Captured, she has to apply herself to the challenge of recreating the Emperor’s lost soul. I love how forgers can only change materials or objects if they understood their histories and how do they perceive themselves. It’s a good book, read it.

**Like standing with your hands on your hips, feet shoulder-width apart, chin tilted upwards or the smug CEO pose, sitting with your feet on the table, hands clasped behind your head. Basically, poses taking up as much space as possible. I’d say that Warrior 2 is a great yoga position to achieve the same effect.

***Mind you, this doesn’t mean that you have to relinquish all vulnerability or always have all the right answers.

See the World & Work: How to Be Productive While Travelling

2017 has been a beautiful year for me so far regarding travel. In January, I got on a flight to Bangkok, for my first ever South East Asian adventure. I’ve spent a month gallivanting around Thailand, a little over three weeks exploring and falling in head over heels love with Laos, 2 weeks in Vietnam, a little bit in Cambodia, to see Angkor Wat, a few days enjoying Kuala Lumpur and a whole month on and around beautiful Bali. My ambitions were super high: of course, I’m going to see all the interesting things and find my own adventures – most of the 3,5 months I travelled alone – but I wanted to get so much work done. I wanted to write a whole marketing strategy book. I wanted to connect with startup hubs wherever possible. I wanted to volunteer maybe, run a few workshops here and there. Yeah, sounds realistic, I know.*

The mind-bending heat and humidity, as well as the excitement of a completely new culture, put plans on the back burner pretty quickly.

After a rather stressful year, all I could think of was beach afternoons and waterfalls, dragon fruit mojitos and naps in hammocks. Three weeks in and not a word written – but feeling fairly rested – I realised travel and work don’t mesh as well as the myriad of digital nomad blogs would have you believe. I needed to seriously think through how can I achieve the most important things on my list. I realised spontaneity will have to suffer a little and plans will have to be made.

By the end of the trip, I had 23 000 words, dozens of illustrated diary pages. and a boatload of fantastic memories. Here is how to explore the world, and get shit done as well.


I’d consider this good practice for travelling without wanting to create as well. You won’t be able to see and do everything – the world is simply too big and wonderful – so know what you really care about, or you’ll end up burned out and exhausted.

Similarly, pick the work projects that are seriously important to you. Maybe it is the most meaningful, maybe it is the thing that will have the longest term effect or maybe it’s something you’ve never found the time for and always wanted to do. There is no right or wrong answer here, the reasons are so personal but making a conscientious choice is important.

In my case, the book had a clear priority: it is personally very meaningful to me to complete and will have the most permanent influence in my life beyond the sabbatical year. I was definitely there to experience, see and connect but travel and planning had to mould around my writing and volunteering I sadly had to let go of.

Travel slowly

When you get busy with a meaningful project it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the travel itself. To stay productive and still experience things, travelling slowly is the answer. If I could start over again, I may have chosen a completely different tactic, picking cities as a base for a month at a time. But even if you wouldn’t want to be quite so extreme, not rushing from place to place and moving every day saves you strength as well as money and grants important grounding. Staying longer offers a deeper insight into the location you are staying at and allows time to explore when you are done with your weekly goals.

Perhaps this sounds like a hard bargain to make, but it boils down to a whole lot of self-awareness and a bit of planning.
Choose locations and experiences mindfully. Know what are the things you get really enthusiastic about and be okay with turning down the rest. Choose an area to explore instead of a whole country. Build in buffer days and occasionally stay somewhere there is not a whole lot of stuff to do but still ticking some of your boxes for an adventure.

I had some of my most productive days in Lao villages and in a seaside hostel in Hoi An. The unbelievable scenery inspired and relaxed me. Dipping into the South China Sea every afternoon or hanging out with the local kids was still as far as my London normal as it could be. I wasn’t doing something thrilling every day per se, but in every fibre of my body, I truly felt that I’m travelling.

an adventure I didn’t say no to: hiking up to the Silver Cliffs above Vang Vieng in Laos, at 5 am, to see the sunrise

Learn to say no

That said, there will be distractions. Roommates inviting you for drinks, hikes, beaches every day. Some of them will think you are downright ridiculous with your laptop and dreams.** There will be massive FOMO. Hell, part of the real joy while travelling is being able to jump on opportunities and hang out with fun people. But you made up your mind about your project. You actually enjoy working on it. You know that on the long run completing it will give you more profound contentment. Learn to be okay with turning down lovely new friends for a few hours and get on with your own business.

There will inevitably be occasions where you’ll wish you’d joined that kayak trip instead of holing up in a cafe, but truthfully, it will become easier as you progress. Hopefully you are working on something you enjoy or find meaningful. Seeing it come together and a sense of achievement will provide the strength to put up going to the beach just a little bit longer.

Whatever your project, plan it out in advance

…or better yet, work on an established idea or business. Starting a completely new project from the ground up is extremely hard between hunting for accommodation, figuring out timetables, dealing with cultural differences and constantly making decisions. Travelling – as in backpacking, making your own itinerary, especially alone – while beautiful and fulfilling, is also exhausting. The energy you need to conceptualise, set up the project and make big decisions may not be available.

The best thing you can do for the sake of your project is to kick it off while you are still at home. If you plan to actually work on the road and make money, I’d suggest to only set sail after you’ve nailed a few clients or set up your website and figured out the basic workings of your company, so what remains is mostly operative.

If the need to make money is not that pressing, you’ll still immensely benefit from making a project plan complete with timing and think through how can you best combine it with the travels.
Consider which times of the day are you at your most productive. Think about how you like to travel. Do you need every spot booked in advance or do you prefer to be able to be spontaneous? Do you love the research or just want someone to suggest a spot and be done with it? Will you need working wifi? Reasonable comfortable chairs at a cafe? With a basic awareness of your habits and baseline productivity, you can zone in on locations that will be better suited and what kind of rhythm will be comfortable for moving between places.

What worked best for me was to set a weekly word count goal – it was the first draft, so it didn’t have to be perfect. Weekly***, because it gave me the flexibility to alter plans a bit if the circumstances changed – like a 2-day hiking trip up to a Laos nature reserve sleeping in a treehouse or the occasional food poisoning. I always considered the daily amount needed, but some days the bare minimum will happen only and in others, much, much more than that.
I planned my itinerary two weeks ahead, simply because I’m aware that making travel decisions depletes my energies significantly but procrastinating those decisions leaves me with an annoying nagging voice in the back of my head. Too much stress for having the time of my life. However, if I do it in one big chunk every two weeks, I free up my focus for bigger and better things. It is also flexible enough to follow recommendations or accommodate my mood and changing interests.

Do a little every day

Work, especially when it comes to creative or very independent pursuits, is a daily practice to me. You won’t have genius output every day. I have thrown out entire chapters written on those days. Sometimes all I could muster was a couple of rambling handwritten pages, looking for structure and ideas. What is important however that you keep doing it. First of all, so much of achieving results is about practice and showing up. Secondly, it is incredibly easy to fall out of the rhythm you’ve finally found, whether you are trying to stick to early morning hours or afternoon ones, to keep every other day working or the half of every week. I should know, I’ve barely put a word to page in the final month on Bali, after meeting up with family and friends and planning to relax my schedule for only a week.

Doing a little every day, even if it’s a slightly different creative muscle, even on the bad days, will help you practice.  You’ll feel accomplished and hence more motivated simply because you stuck to what you wanted to do. You’ll build stamina and discipline, and without those, crossing the finish line would be nearly impossible.

See you on the road somewhere!


*The funny thing? I’m not a rookie traveller or remote worker and I still thought I’ll be able to do all this and not go mad.

** One of my favourite comments must have been an “Oh, so you are one of those people who enjoy what they do?” delivered in such a clearly condescending way I almost felt ashamed about it for a second.

***Slightly unrelated, but I found weekly budgeting the best for the same reasons. You don’t go crazy and spend all your money then panic. You can still spend a little more on a more expensive, but worthwhile experience that would be harder to justify with daily spending limits. Importantly, this is also how I saved money for this trip.

Book, Book, Book!

I’ve spent last year teaching and coaching about 200 small and medium size business owners in East London. (Do say hello in the comments if you are one of them!) The single most frequent thing I heard? I know I should do my marketing strategy (or social media, or blog) properly, but I just hate it so much!

Now, I think I have an idea why that is.

We hate what we don’t really know

You don’t really hate marketing, you just don’t exactly know where to start. It seems like there is no point getting down to it without having millions to spend or having a team to execute. It is overwhelming how many platforms and possibilities are out there and it’s hard to pick.

We tend to think marketing is dark magic

Marketing and sales are both considered as dirty as glamorous. Understandably so, when for decades, both activities built on deception and ramming stuff down our throat. And understandably, given how many fancy perfume ads and supermodels and Samsung ads with tiny colourful balls we see.

There is very little practical advice out there

If you google marketing strategy there are two kinds of bad content you can find.

One is lofty, it focuses on theory and frameworks that are so complicated, you don’t even finish reading them. Even if the theory or framework is actually useful, it is hard to access and apply without having years of industry experience.

The second mixes up strategy with tactics and talks about how you should invest in 360-degree videos and switch from Facebook to Snapchat this year. The problem here is that it teaches business owners to try to find quick fixes and hope that the next sparkly tech platform will be the answer to all of their problems.

But good marketing is not about deception or how shiny a TV ad you can get. It isn’t about randomly choosing tactics and channels and hoping for the best. It is about selling to people who really want your stuff and reaching out to them in a way that resonates with their needs in the right moment. You don’t need a million pound budget or a masters degree in manipulation to figure those out. All you need is empathy and logic.

So I decided to take what I’ve learned over 11 years in the communication industry and turn it into a book. A series of workbooks to be precise that talk about marketing strategy, human behaviour, buying decisions and psychology in plain English. Books that give you precise steps and exercises. I’ll show you that good marketing is joyful – both to you working on it and to your customers on the receiving end.

The first workbook, Real Target Audiences, is set to launch in August. It is about how to figure out who your actual customer is, why is it important and how to apply this knowledge when making decisions about campaigns. It has a lot of case studies, exercises and step by step instructions. If you complete them, you’ve done the most important part of your marketing strategy, gaining a real advantage amongst your competitors.

Leave your e-mail address in the box below, and I’ll send you a preview with the launch news, as soon as it’s ready.

Ad Rants 1.

Ford’s Unlearn Everything

The majority of times I encounter new adverts it’s in the cinema and I have to start by saying this new Ford image video is absolutely gorgeously shot. It piggybacks beautifully on the idea of unlearning behaviours, looking at the world with fresh eyes and an open mind – a sentiment that’s very much en vogue within society so much so that we have even invented unschooling for the sake of bringing this adventurous spirit of exploration and curiosity into education.

However, and it is a humungous however for anyone who believes branding is not so much about telling but showing, you simply can’t tell your (past and future) customers to just forgot what they’ve thought about you so far and start having a brand new association to your logo and cars just like that. You especially can’t do that if you are such a household name and millions of people have been bombarded with the previous positioning through countless years.

Can it be effective? Sure, operating with an already familiar concept and encouraging people to “let go of their limiting beliefs” creates and emotional connection, making the transition easier. I’d even say it makes some sense, looking at the new power range of models Ford has launched recently and their efforts to become a force to reckon with digitally. To step into a new era where digital services are as important as the car itself, a brand certainly needs to revive itself. But as I said, telling is never as strong as showing and this is what I miss here: we are told to unlearn but doesn’t get a clear image of what we should learn instead. We are told to replace our old concepts but not given a reason to believe other than “hey, we are much cooler than you thought and anyways, unlearning is just such a rad concept”. While I get the whole message is around opening our minds to possibilities, without a few tangible guiding breadcrumbs this re-branding for me falls punctured tyre flat.

How would I approach it? Part of their Unlearn video manifesto, they say:

“Unlearn is not about forgetting the past; it’s about re-imagining possibilities to make progress in all aspects of our lives.

But Unlearn doesn’t stop with vehicles. By looking into the future with mobility at the top of our agenda, we’re building a more connected and sustainable transport future.
Why not see what happens when you let go of what you know?”

If I may dissect it, the main point they are making is that they constantly innovate and build better products, backed up by a century of know-how.* Strategically, demonstrating this innovation and truly surprising the customers would be the way to go really. Start with a huge PR stunt, like building functional Transformers robots out of oldtimers and letting them fight it out somewhere central with a huge audience. Create a space for your customers to actually explore technology and the fascinating things the future may hold for mobility. New power range? Run your very own race with all the bells and whistles and celebrities. Invite customers (or even better, stunt drivers) to tweak and race themselves. And then use all the fantastic footage from all these fun spectaculars as you TV and print campaign elements. But you know what, really, do anything, but simply tell people to forget your previous branding and get on board with the next.

But you know what, really, do anything, but simply tell people to forget your previous branding and get on board with the next.

*I’m not sure this is a super groundbreaking claim, because a) how else would you innovate, b) every other company claims the same *sigh*

The #futureofmarketing | Why Meaningful Branding Matters?

A few month earlier I ran a workshop for the Outbox Incubator, a very interesting initiative of Stemettes to attract more young girls to stick to STEM subjects and get interested in entrepreneurship as well. The particular challenge in putting my slides together laid in their age: how do you explain branding in the simplest of terms, to primary or high school students? But when it finally came together, I realised, this may just be the perfect way to explain these ideas to any branding virgin adult too. (And maybe provide a bit of a material for all brand marketers out there when they need to support their strategy.)

Let’s start with the basics: what is a brand?

My view and favourite explanation is that every brand serves as shortcut in reality. There is a mind-boggling variety of products, services and potential choices in almost all category. No wonder that people opt for wearing the same uniform every day or become somewhat repetitive in their breakfast choices: making decisions is hard and takes a lot of energy away. Even if the famous jam experiment has since been disproven, human brains are still geared towards efficiency and we are generally very happy to just beeline for the usual products and not worry too much about the content of our basket. (I mean look atMorrison’s 2010 study, the average British supermarket basket is not even very much different from those of 50 years earlier.)
If we have trust towards the brand of that product, that is.

Read the rest of it on Linkedin, where it has been featured, woopwoop.

The Magnificent Geese – idea ping-pong between startups and giant organisations

Very-very rarely, but it does happen that I want to watch something so bad that even 4 advertising block per hour can’t stop me from it. Thanks to my Drag Race addiction and its seventh season not being available on Netflix, I did watch a few ads endlessly.* (On a sidenote, whatever is happening with more sophisticated targeting online? I highly doubt that showing the same ad half a dozen times over 30 minutes gets positive responses.)

Two of these got me thinking. The Magnificent Geese ad by Verizon I have to admit made me smile every time. In my conscientious brain, I’m aware that wildlife does suffer from what we do with the environment. Moreover, after a quick dive into Google you’ll find that their fees seem to be one of the highest on the US market and would you actually want to stream whole movies, you’d end up practically broke. So two black points for lack of reality check.

And two red points as well. The first, building the campaign around one strong claim: “our mobile net is the fastest”. In my now decade of experience this is the hardest to get clients to be comfortable and happy with. There is always one more thing, which is understandable on the human level as well as looking at declining or really small marketing budgets. However, in communication more is almost never better. You can create powerful images and metaphors for one message but will immediately start to crumble and lose attention if you try to cram everything in there. (Or you end up with disasters of taglines like Cheerios’ “what really matters most, the goodness of oats and the people we love”. I mean, really? It’s not only grammatically incorrect, but inevitable to raise eyebrows with suggesting we should love our daily cereal as much as our family members.)

The second red point is deserved for showing that with basically no budget you can get your point across and entertain as well. The ad consists of some stock imagery of geese, clever voice-over and a few great tunes. Nothing that a startup can’t accomplish with a bit of hard work and if they are aware of the one thing they really want to get across to the target audience.

The other advertising that picked my interest is the US Postal Service. They are similarly focused on one goal, getting people trust the post again versus getting clients to sign back into the folds. However instead of drawing lessons that startups may use to their advantage, the interesting aspect of the ad is how startup spirit seemed to have inspired its approach.

“Watch us deliver” is a clever choice of slogan and one that is deeply rooted in the shift around communication, fuelled by the transparency and connectedness that comes with the internet. Delivering on your promises is the most powerful thing to do really, more effective than million dollar advertising budgets or brainstorming clever catchphrases. This is why the first few hundred customers to a startup are so important and why their early adopters and evangelists became paramount to success. A whole generation of entrepreneurs growing up with lean, UX and customer development shifts the culture of entire economies. To me, when the postal service, a major player of nationwide infrastructure adopts a strategy of show and tell and invites its customers to only belive what they see, is a sign of this shift.

*Disclaimer: I am from, live and work in Europe and therefore I am judging from a very different cultural context, had no personal experience with either brand and looking at the ads with an objective eye, analysing goals, messaging and delivery. 

Branding workshop with Stemettes’ Outbox incubator

I’m about to leave for South London, to engage with a classroom full of female STEM students, from age 11 to 22. Now, aside from the fact that I feel a little bit like a fossil – some of these girls already have a startup, how amazing is that? – it is an interesting challenge to design a workshop that gives them a compact picture of the value of branding, especially meaningful marketing and is relatable to all project stages and ages as well.

Since you don’t want to cram too much stuff into 2 hours – keeping in mind general human attention cycles and that the idea is to teach and have fun, not just to push as much knowledge in their heads as possible – I decided to focus on how values can and should lend the base building blocks of a brand.

Three exercises help them to understand how branding works and evolves in the 21st century, thanks to the Internet, information availability and the rise of a conscientious, value driven consumer:

  • starting with the icebreaker, figuring out brand names based on the logo colours only,
  • an exercise to help unearth personal values
  • and the last one helping them to apply the personal values onto the business as well as understanding how they might get into their customer’s head to understand what aspects of the product/service will matter to them.

And of course, examples, examples, examples. From established names to smaller startups, we are going to have a look at how functional values, personal benefits and collective benefits a brand brings create coherent platforms to communicate from. I must say, I’m looking forward to a lot!

9+1 lessons for life and work I’ve learned from RuPaul’s Drag Race

I’ve watched 5 seasons – that is 70 episodes –  of RuPaul’s Drag Race basically back to back. AND I can’t wait to put my little hands on season 7. (Not available on Netflix for some reason, how sad.)

It is probably the best TV shows of all times to watch in times you need a healthy butt kick and tons of inspiration. First of all, of course, watching these incredibly talented entertainers apply all their creativity and deliver a sequin-studded, extravagantly hilarious show every episode makes your brain happy. But even more importantly, it teaches endless lessons about how to handle failure and let it fuel your growth.

Wrestling with the realisation that I need to find a new job and all that this implies, it has been an immense help to me and maybe you will find it helpful too. So here are some of the things I’ve learned from these fabulous queens and RuPaul’s advice.

fail gracefully

There is no such thing as never failing. The question is what do you get out of it? Are you able to take feedback, lick your wounds for the shortest possible time and apply what you’ve learned in the next round? If so even being in the bottom two won’t stop you from rising to the top.

Sometimes all else fails, and you are out. But it’s okay, if you gave your all and tried with all your might. On to the next adventure!

always be growing

That being said, try to not make the same mistakes.  You can’t fail gracefully blaming everyone and everything or refusing to put in the extra work to acquire new skills. Crying is okay, just don’t get stuck in feeling sorry for yourself instead of applying the learnings.

always be selling

There is hope even in the last moments and an intelligent banter to critique can turn the tide completely. (So as lip-syncing for your life!) So do not give up until the very end, stay sharp, stay focused. Even how you leave the situation after all matters, builds your personal brand and paves the road for the next career move.

Of course selling is important all through the game. We need to learn how to shine light at the things we are really good at as well as getting teams and colleagues on our sides and buying our ideas. The best idea is not better then trash if you are unable to inspire people to buy and believe them so you can make it a reality. (So I’ve learned that on my own skin recently.)

Now don’t be shy,

be true to yourself

Even the most beautiful and smartest queens get this criticism often on the show: we don’t see your personality, we don’t connect to your true self. You have to be able to show vulnerability and open up, in personal relationships and I believe to certain extent in professional context as well.

When I don’t have my whole heart in something that project has very low chances of breaking through, no matter how hard I try. But passion and confidence shines through and it also help you realise if a situation is not really for you. No one needs to fit into every work environment or social group, you are allowed find what suits you best as well.

know your strengths

It’s okay to not excel at everything and it pays off to know where your strengths lie. But knowing what your extra special talents are will allow you to have more control over your life. First of all, you will be able to make real choices and shape your work, targeting and finding companies interested in exactly what you have to offer. Secondly, the biggest part of every skill is willingness and practice. If you understand the roots of your talent, your motivations and the thought processes, you will be able to apply them to new challenges.

And if all else fails, you are allowed to delegate where you know you lack expertise or ask for specific help.

don’t be afraid to try new things

That being said, don’t be a one-trick pony! Often when we are good at something, it is very difficult to get out of that box and try something new, scary and potentially hard. But the thing is, none of the queens who were falling back on the same crutches (be it body, comedy, shock value or beauty) made it past top six.

I struggle with this every time something new comes at me. Will I make a good enough job of it? Will I stumble and let the people involved down? The only way I overcome it is to be honest just getting excited about things and make big decisions – like jumping countries to live with someone after 3 dates – without thinking too much and following the siren song of adventures ahead. Rushed decisions and following your heart can be useful. They create circumstances where you have no choice but do that scary thing – call that potential client and get that sales, sing even if you have no voice – or go home.

The only way to be the best however is to be well rounded and learn how to apply your spirit and attitude to these new and unknown things. It is scary to anticipate potentially fucking up so everyone has my utmost respect who is not too afraid to try. I think ultimately life is more entertaining when you are not stuck. I’m grateful for every new leap I took, every new city and challenging opportunity that came my way. It didn’t always work out but I’m immensely richer by them.

success is simple: determination and brains

I’m in awe every season watching these people create incredible pieces of fashion and performances to laugh out loud at in extremely short amounts of time. And I’d throw in even more superlatives if I could. And ultimately it is always the smartest, most creative queen who wins the season. The one who can interpret each and every challenge to show off her uniqueness and personality.

It takes perseverance and determination to shine under such high pressure and turn out three outfits in a day while choreographing an opening dance piece too. It takes time to get to know your strength and internalise good strategies for overcoming unfamiliar challenges. Allow yourself the time to succeed and to the task at hand, give all you have.

water off the duck’s back

Seaason 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon‘s mantra is a great one for daily use. And she has a great explanation of the phrase, so I’ll let her speak, from and interview with Village Voice:

A friend of mine was dropping me off at the airport when I was going to film Drag Race. Of course I couldn’t tell her exactly what I was doing, but I told her I was really nervous and that I was going to go up for a big role. I think I told her I was auditioning for something but that it was really competitive. She said “water off a duck’s back,” but it was my drag friend Robbie Turner, one of my sisters in Seattle, that would say “water off a duck’s back” meaning other people’s negativity doesn’t affect you.

It was already a mentality I had after art school, and “water off a duck’s back” is an easier way of saying that it’s not about you as a human being. It’s not a personal attack on you, but it’s a critique of your work. To be an effective artist, you have to be able to hear critiques and take the notes there but let go of the negativity or any personal attack feelings that you feel were there in the way a person was critiquing you. You gotta let that go.[…]

don’t take yourself too seriously

All this hard work…but what does it really matter if you don’t have fun while you are doing it? It transforms the whole experience magically when you can tell the performer is completely in her element and has at least as much fun as you do watching her act.

And being able to laugh at yourself makes you more relatable. That makes a real person’s story, not flawless sashaying from success to success.  It is your real personality that shines through and makes you relatable and reaching goals ultimately easier.

Oh, and you know:

The Barista is Naked!

A couple of days ago when I first came across the new Nestlé Bliss creamer campaign my first reaction was giggles and delight. I mean sex is still part of advertising’s holy trinity and it’s unlikely you will ever fail to grab some attention with a few perfectly shaped boobs and butts. Plus points for employing both male and female actors, too. (and no, we are not discussing sexism today)

Then I started to think. It is one thing that the idea is not exactly new, Carr’s got naked butlers to hand out free crackers with nothing but an apron in 2010 and a Dallas restaurant is about to launch the male version of Hooters just now. Channeling Bliss’ only natural ingredients certainly makes more sense from conceptual point of view, than merely trying to grab attention with well toned backsides.

My issues start with the need of putting sugar and natural flavour into an au naturel creamer. Sure, both ingredients are found in the nature but there are countless non-healthy, however natural ingredients one might pick. (You probably don’t want to add flavour – and cholesterol – with lard or poisonous mushrooms to get a little more extreme.)

So first of all, can we stop fooling customers with overusing the word natural and try to find something more meaningful, or heaven forbid focus on producing healthy food instead?

Secondly, campaigning to show just how natural Nestlé products are might very well backfire in the light of all the activities they don’t exactly approach in mother nature’s best interest. In reality, the #NoNestlé hashtag is still alive throughout Twitter and activist will be fast to recite the list that gets them angry.

Focusing on the value peaceful co-existence between humans and nature, several stands out.
In the 1970’s huge waves arose around their mother’s milk substitute and the aftermath is still ongoing. Marketing their product as a natural start in one of the fuels for modern day boycotters. The palm oil scandal, a bitter fight between GreenPeace and Nestlé on their use of the ingredient whose production is the primary cause for deforestation was the loudest in 20120. Nestlé has committed to using only “certified sustainable palm oil” by 2015 and while they deserve the benefit of the doubt – and I haven’t done a lot of research to find out what is the state of their supply chain today – there is no thorough, third party monitoring in place to determine whether they’ve succeeded. The most current negative PR Nestlé received is the consequence of the California draught. Refusing to stop producing bottled water that they pump from already dry and endangered areas, not to mention getting around regulations by draining springs in reservation areas, that are not obligated to supply any statistics of the actual amount of water being processed.

Is the new Bliss campaign fun? Sure, it did make me smile. Is promoting how natural a product is, when natural doesn’t necessarily mean healthier (sugar, heavy cream, etc., etc…) uncool? Undoubtedly, even if it’s hardly an unusual thing as of today. Should you build a campaign around being 100% natural when the company’s actions are everything but pro-nature? With a bit of integrity, absolutely not. Human beings as consumers are becoming smarter and more responsible. Even if we are still not the utopian world where everyone only buys products they have zero ethical problem with, it is approaching fast. Build a brand where you make even grand statements and own values with a crystal clear conscience. That, or get used to the thought of perishing slowly.


Interview with Nick Habgood, Azini Capital

My new life in London and new role in GrantTree offers me a unique opportunity to immerse myself in the startup scene of the city, for which I am incredibly grateful. One of the recent occasions to learn more about different funding opportunities and interesting people was a Friday morning chat with Nick Habgood, co-founder of Azini Capital. Their profile is direct secondary transactions, which is an area that was completely new to me and he was kind enough to share their journey and experience on the field.

Holding shares in a sexy startup sounds like an exciting idea and it’s potentially a very lucrative investment. However, sometimes the exit can’t come fast enough – the company might be doing great but just not yet ready to be sold or IPO. Maybe (if you’re a VC) your fund was set up for 10 years but the company needs at least a couple more to succeed, and you would like free up some cash. Maybe you’re a founder who’s left after years of building your business, and now you need cash for a new venture instead of some highly illiquid shares.

Nick Habgood, one of the founders of Azini Capital, described these scenarios while chatting about how exactly direct secondary transactions work, and who might profit from their services. “A direct secondary transaction is the acquisition of shares or other securities (for example shareholder loans) in a private or small cap public company from historical investors and shareholders. This type of transaction is also described as replacement capital.” Their typical client would be as described above, venture capital funds looking to unwind some investments, but also hedge funds and, on rarer occasions, the founders of businesses looking for liquidity.

Read the rest of the interview on the GrantTree blog.