No advice on authenticity

I don’t ask for advice when it comes to application letters or interview preparation. Not because I have too good of an impression about myself, but because I believe no one can teach you authenticity.

What others can tell you is what worked for them, and what we generally tend to do is to copy their methods by the book because we are too afraid of failing while being ourselves.

I believe that we have equal chances at failing while copying others. We might as well try and be ourselves.

The courage to stand out. The courage to walk out

From my experience, people that get noticed in the real world are not those that just do their job well and expect to receive aknowledgements for it. Truly remarkable people don’t hide behind job descriptions or assigned responsibilities, they challenge the status quo, they raise their voice and contradict others if necessary or give a better idea if they see space for improvement, they assume responsibilities, don’t wait to be designated some.

For this reason they are inevitably exposed. Not every idea is as good as they imagine, they can’t see the full picture sometimes, they might just contradict a person that was right. It takes courage to stand out and get noticed because while in that position you allow to be seen in all circumstances, taking the risk to be noticed more that the others even when doing something wrong. Now that’s a fight you must willing to take and it must be worth your time and effort. You don’t want to be exposed and put yourself at risk in a place that’s not right for you. That might be a mistake as severe as having the skills to succeed and not using them. The courage to walk out from hurtful situations, from toxic environments is as important as that of standing out. Is acknowledging your potential and time are wasted in vain and moving on. That requires strength and self leadership.

And while it might seem difficult to make the difference between the two, the truth is that most times we know very well the answer to that. The hard part is making the choice of being with all your heart in or out.

Don’t lead the revolution, lead the change

Visionary people have this big gift of spotting things from miles away. They are intuitive, observe trends and see how things can be improved. But they also have this insane task of convincing other people that an idea that might have never been implemented before, is the right path to follow.

They might get frustrated and pin it on others that they are the ones that don’t get it, that resist to change because it’s painful, that are too old or too lazy. This has happened to all of us having new ideas and, as I did, many of us got mad and sick of the resistance perceived from outside. Sometimes is was disappointing and drained us of energy and enthusiasm, sometimes it was just quiet and diffuse pain.

However, and this is a big however, I realized that visionary people must themselves miss a big part of the puzzle as they find it so difficult to convince others. Many times people that spot the gaps and have ideas to improve things are also those who try to lead a revolution against everything that is old, canceling the vision of a large part of those that they want to help, saying what has been done until now is obviously wrong.

This kind of communication makes even the most open minded person resist to those innovative, great ideas sometimes. But what if visionary people tried to explain that their ideas build on what has been done until now, that their ideas only come to transform what already exists in something better and not cancel or destroy other people’s work because it has been done wrong so far? It was probably done the best it could have been with the resources at hand and nobody should come and criticize that expecting positive results.

Real change begins by accepting the flaws and successes of what exists already and aims to build on those to create a better future. That is the kind of attitude I believe leaders that want to improve the world should have. Revolutions are destructive and messy and while I agree we will perhaps still need them sometimes, most often we are dealing with people that are afraid of what change might bring to them. In these situations we only need to show we care, we understand and we are there to help. That might mean leaving time for people to adapt, to embrace change at their own pace, at the cost of our own impatience. But this is in my opinion the only long term solution.

What champions do

I have been surrounded by highly successful people for many years, people with a high potential, who are determined to have great accomplishments and change things around them for the better. I had the opportunity to meet and work with graduates of universities such as Harvard, MIT or Stanford, entrepreneurs and CEOs, professional athletes and executive coaches. While watching the final of Roland Garros where Maria Sharapova competed against Simona Halep, the first Romanian to make it to the final in 34 years, I noticed again all the traits champions share.

They recover fast. Although they acknowledge the possibility of failure and might as well feel scared or get out of control, they recover their focus and follow through with their objectives.

They compete with themselves. The opponent is important, all past experiences are, but the moment they play, the only thing that matters is to give everything.

They ignore the pressure. People will encourage you, others will say you stand no chances, but true champions keep they balance and are not easily disturbed.

They never stop fighting and know every seconds counts. Giving up before the end it’s not an option.

They don’t fear failure, it’s not important to win every time, but to stretch to the end of your limits and beyond, to give your best.

They reinvent themselves constantly. Although they are naturally defeated sometimes, they always start again stronger and more fearless than ever before.

They have enormous will power. To achieve great performance, you have to want it so badly that all the effort invested in the game it’s worth doing, that all the sweat and tears are something you are willing to give.

Congrats Simona and Maria for this great match! It was pure greatness and an inspirational 3 hours.

Change of plans

Although I like very much the field I am studying for, business administration, I sometimes disapprove of the teaching methods and the quality of information in my university. This has led me to some awkward outbursts in class over the years and to moderate absenteeism, but mostly to highly stressful exams periods. There were subjects where the information was absurdly outdated or we were forced to learn only from the professors’ book which was written so badly you’d go crazy trying to figure out what they meant. As a result, when exams came, my level of stress and my anger increased together with the volume of information I had to learn very rapidly.

After two years of playing this game, I realised that I got exhausted and mad because of something that I couldn’t control and worse, I hadn’t even been able to score high marks. So I thought a change of strategy should be in order and for the last exams period I had the following rules:

1. See only the big picture – don’t stumble on details, on the little errors, the poor explanations. The most absurd thing would be to lose this opportunity to learn just because some professor has a bad way of organizing information or presenting it.

2. Rewards don’t matter, what you learn does – nobody is going to be impressed in a few years about the marks I got in university, nor will that make me happy on the long term. What I learn, instead, if I’m serious about the process, might be useful for the rest of my life. This is a time to experiment and fail like no other.

3. If it’s stupid, laugh – if that Macroeconomics professor has a thing for saying “ceteris paribus” in every sentence, stop and laugh. Don’t get angry nor label the reading unbearable and eventually disregard it. It might teach you a thing or two that are actually interesting.

4. It’s enough – not everything I learn has to be a revelation; some things I will probably not use for the rest of my life, others might as well not be interesting. I should be taking them just as they are and if one idea from all that course stayed with me or raised a good question, it’s enough.

As this experiment went on, I discovered myself calmer and happier during this exams period than ever (Well, as much as one can be). And what I learned is that if I changed the way I perceived this experience, my energy levels and my optimism changed as well. The amount of work didn’t diminish, on the contrary, I started double checking the information from my professors’ books and taking the learning process much more seriously. Instead, I found myself physically and mentally able to cope with the work like never before. Moreover, I got in top 10 students and received a scholarship. Not surprisingly, as I got relaxed about the matter, my performance increased as well as my power to work.

After a few months from that experience and efforts to expand this lesson learned to others areas of my life, I think now it is a mentality worth facing the world with and I am grateful for having been able to discover it so spontaneously and early.

Top 10 books that changed my way of thinking

I read to discover new worlds, to fill my mind with fresh new ideas or find out what others had to say about my most personal struggles. To dream, to live lives that I would probably never live otherwise, to understand what other people around the world feel and think. To complete everyday existence and broaden my vision. For knowledge, inspiration and freedom of thought, because I genuinely enjoy sharing and hearing stories.

Nevertheless, I haven’t always liked reading. The first book I ever read by my own, from beginning to end, was By the River Piedra I Set and Wept, written by Paolo Coelho. I was probably around 15 years old and I never thought someone could actually enjoy reading or it wasn’t a terrifying task that they had to do. Because that is what I have learned in school. You have to read certain books and if you don’t, you’re going to get a bad mark. Even today I don’t understand why one of the first books I was supposed to read in school was a historic novel, a story portraying different social classes and their struggles in Moldova, a region of my country, in the 17th century. A great novel probably, that I couldn’t have possibly understood nor liked at 10-12 years old. And a novel I obviously did not read because I disliked it so much that I didn’t even care about the bad mark.

What did happen when I was 15 years old and I took that book written by Coelho was that I had discovered a story that intrigued me, that was interesting enough to make me want to read it, something which had never happened before. And most importantly, it was a story I identified with more than with the peasants living in 17th century Moldova. So I started reading all sorts of stuff afterwards just to see if there are any other books out there that I would like, that would surprise me or open my mind. I read thrillers, classics, dramas, love stories, motivational books, spiritual books, fictional, non-fictional, poetry, history and politics. Anything that seemed interesting and worth exploring. I’ve read many bad books as well some very good ones, I hated some of the most acclaimed work of famous writers and I liked the spontaneity and naturalness of writers no one heard of.

What I have noticed about me is that I genuinely like the books that teach me. About life, about emotions, people’s characters, places of the world I have never been to, success, fame, love. It is very important for me to leave with an idea, with a new thought that I can use in my day to day life that would make me happier or stronger or just a better human being. I know of people that read to escape reality, to relax or because they’re curious about the outcome of the story. But I read to learn. And as I am, there must be many others. So I thought about sharing a top of 10 books that changed my way of thinking, shook my system of beliefs and made me look at the world differently. So here it is:

10. Oscar and the Lady in Pink, by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt – the book tells the story of the last days of a child dying of cancer. It taught me that dying shouldn’t fill us with sadness and anger, but it is a mild good bye and it should be looked at with all the innocence that we can master and all the joy that life deserves to be lived even if it ends sometimes sooner that we’d like it to.

9. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely – a set of very funny and revealing studies presented by MIT professor, Dan Ariely, the book made me embrace irrationality as something normal and deeply rooted in our behaviours.

8. The World is Curved: Hidden Dangers of the Global Economy, by David Smick – a financial market consultant that worked with many high ranked officials and top executives, Daniel Smick writes a very refreshing book about the world economy and how it looks like after the crisis. It expanded my vision and knowledge about the complex way in which national economies are interconnected and I enjoyed the funny short stories when he reveals particular personality traits of powerful people he had met.

7. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – While reading this I felt taken out of time and living in a totally mysterious place where characters were surprising and magically interconnected, everything was chaotic and unpredictable. As little as I still think I understand from it, what struck me about the book is exactly that magically interconnected chaos is our day to day lives and there is no point in trying to control it, the whole idea is to live it.

6Drive, by Daniel Pink – people cannot be truly motivated by superficial or short term benefits, they need to find value and purpose in their work. Daniel Pink holds this theory up with many data, showing how wrong our modern reward systems still function. It made me think about how I unconsciously resist myself to this kind of external stimuli and refuse to do things just because “You have to”. There is no such thing anymore.

5. A Writer’s Reality, by Mario Vargas Llosa – novels are a product of our imagination that reveal our aspirations, the lives we would like to have but cannot, our hidden passions and fears. Llosa points out that they are also a lie. A lie that we allow ourselves to believe because it is full of possibility and reflects parts of us that cannot be expressed otherwise. It is a form of freedom and a reflection of people’s struggles and ideas. It made me see books once more with gratefulness because I understood now that they are a result of our own needs of grasping the world and we’re lucky to have the minds of people that lived before us in written form.

4. Dune, by Frank Herbert – probably one of the most famous science fiction books of all time, Dune, is rather about the complexity of the human mind and the intuitive nature of people to follow their call, rather than unbelievable technology or strange aliens. It was a book worth reading just to follow the thinking processes of the characters and reflect upon my own.

3. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell – The book shows patterns of highly successful people as a result of their personality, the families and the society they lived in, the education received, and the era they were born in or the hours of work they had spent mastering their passion. And even though I believed these to be a constraint at first, I realised they can be a source of real power and uniqueness and opportunity.

2. On China, by Henry Kissinger – I have heard many things about China before reading this book, but knew virtually nothing. Although Kissinger made it a very hard reading with all the specific details about the culture of Chinese, their history and international relations policy, what I am actually grateful for is that it made me understand how states are governed, the nature of diplomacy and how decisions are made on the global political scene.

1. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson – I have put on the first place the biography of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, for one very subjective reason: it taught me that if you want to live a great life, you need to take great responsibilities and risks. And I have been many times afraid in my life to do so because I didn’t feel that a regular personal such as I am can put a ding in the universe. So when I read Jobs’ biography I learned that he was not a genius, nor a very techy guy, he had dropped out of school and had felt lost many times in his life. He was a normal guy that chose the path that no one took. After finishing the book, I was left with this one idea: that in order to access opportunities other people don’t normally do, I don’t need to be any more special than I am, but rather should do all the things I am afraid to.

I believe in science education

I’ve never really wanted to be a scientist, even though I had the opportunity to follow such a career path. However, I cannot stop to be amazed by the beauty and magic of science. I like to think sometimes that I am dancer in another universe or a gypsy, that time travel is possible, that space and time don’t actually exist. But anyway, I think it’s important for you to be aware of these 5 things.

1. Space travel is starting to look real, see Virgin Galactic. Space is amazing. Colorful galaxies, exploding stars, black holes, wormholes, planets made of ice, no gravity. When you actually realize how complex and beautiful the Universe is, it will expand your vision so much.

2. Countries and industries stress the importance of innovation, science and technology all over the world and they invest in it. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter represent an industry expanding globally, whose values have changed the way we live our lives and do business. I’ve found out that Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia have developed a joint strategy for innovation-based economic growth, and all countries developed projects which were financed by the World Bank – that’s unique in Europe and take into consideration that they are not high-income countries.

3. We will totally need scientists more than ever. Take a look at PayPal Galactic which have committed to create payment solutions for space travelers, or just in case someone decides to drop some hotels and malls on the moon. They will definitely need astrophysicists.  Important institutes of science all over the world are trying to construct biological computers (made only of biological molecules – e.g.: DNA, enzymes). Or see the integrated technology that Microsoft envisions for 2019. Imagine these things becoming real and scalable.

4. We will need a lot of engineers in the future, as the tendency of urbanization is high and emerging markets have an enormous growth (China’s GDP almost doubled since 2008). These countries will start to build bridges, blocks, roads, differentiate all kinds of products and, boy, will they consume. We are going to run out of resources rather quickly and companies are investing in environmental friendly technology and adjusting their strategies to become more efficient. At the pace the world is consuming, there’s a big chance we are going to move our production to the moon or something. Anyway, we’ll need engineers for that too.

5. Not to mention programmers. Right now, there are so many initiatives in the world to support tech start-ups, to develop new technology that can make our lives easier, new platforms, new ways of communication. We still have a lot to exploit from the IT industry potential. You’ll see that now what stands out in a CV are Photoshop skills or coding. Holograms, intelligent glass, genetic programming are the future and even if we won’t all scientist, we need to understand how these things work and what their impact on our lives will be.