9 to 5

The Godmother of my daughter called to wish her happy birthday and asked me about our plans. And I told her about our plans. I told her about the plans for the summer and for the next year. I love her a lot because she loves us. And I can feel it. And I think it is a great reason to love somebody, just because they love you.

I told her about the company I am building and that I am planning to make it French-American and that starting this summer the kids and I will spend some part of the year living and working in Paris. And another part here in California. And I told her that I am really into the product we are doing and into the idea of what it will be in a few years from now. And she told me not to kill myself over it. She told me that she thinks I should save money and buy a house. And have a stable home for the kids and myself.

And I told her that I am not planning to kill myself or die in the intent of building something, however, if I were asked if I would be ok to die in 5 years from now if I manage to build a large company and pay well to my employees and make sure that each of them can buy a house I would go for it without thinking. If I was asked if I would be ok to die in 5 years from now in exchange for a beautiful house for the kids and myself I would definitely say no. A house has no value by itself for me. I would love to have one as a by product while I strive for my goals.  Impacting hundreds of lives for the better does have a lot of value for me, it is something I would easily give my life for.

We will all die eventually. On a larger scale, as part of the mankind, it does not really matter whether I live 45 years or 85 years. What matters is if I was able to impact the world to make it a better place for this generation and for the future generations. And then I thought that it is very related to the 9 to 5 mindset. You either work based on hours (effort) or based on impact. While there is a certain correlation, you have to chose one or the other, there is no in-between. And there is no right or wrong answer. The world needs both types of people.

Our mindset is deeply routed in our heart. From there come all the conclusions and we say that we want to have 9 to 5 life or that we want to go and fight for something better.

I want to fight for something better. For better lives for people around me, for people in Europe who do not have that access to money and growth. I was talking to the head of the largest French investment bank last week and he said that many French startups come to Silicon Valley for growth and money but that he does not know of a case of an American startup going to France. He was a great guy and he said “You will be the first one if you want to go crazy.” And I said “Yes, let’s go crazy”.

My kids’ Godmother loves us a lot. She called me back and she said that I should find a soulmate and that I should find a place that I can call home. And I said I will. Because I did not want to be confrontational and also because I know I will. My family moved permanently out of Moscow when I was 12 and we moved countries year after year. Sometimes I really wish there would be a place I could call home… And strangely enough I found home in the night sky. I feel home when I look at the stars at night. No matter where we live I can recognize the stars on the sky. And they are the same from San Francisco, from Paris, from a tansmedeterranean cruise ship in the open sea, from Moscow, from the Pyrenees, from Norwegian villages in the Arctic circle, from our Barcelona balcony. Looking at the night sky always makes me feel home.

(This is why I am getting my daughter a real telescope on her 9th birthday. We will assemble it together tomorrow and look at the stars.)

This is all the time we have for today

“This is all the time we have for today,” said the instructor at the end of the class. We bowed, thanked each other for the practice and one by one left the dojo.

I put my jogging hoodie over my half wet t-shirt and went to the grocery store to get some plastic cups for the birthday party tomorrow. I forgot to get them in the morning when I did the rest of the shopping for the party. I was tired but not exhausted. In my mind I pictured each move we learnt today and how I did the moves and thought that I could have done them better. I could have put at least 20% more effort in each move, even if it hurt and at that moment it seemed impossible. This is all the time we have for today. Just one hour. There were three of us and David, the instructor, in this takedown class. And one hour of time. What we did in this hour, what we achieved in this hour, how well we worked with the partner depended on each of us. We could just show up or we could make a difference. The time allocated was the same, the space was the same, but the impact each of us created was different.  I heard this phrase, about the time we have for today, many many times, may be every day.

And I thought that at the end of my life it will be no different. As I drove back home I imagined a man’s voice saying “This is all the time you have” and then there will be the end. This is all the time I have. A life like a day. Like one hour of a day. Finite. And may be I will think that I did not do enough effort. That I could have tried a little bit harder and the impact would have been multiplied by ten.

Thinking this I push myself a little bit more every day. Much more. We do not know how much we are capable of till we actually do it.  And there is a reason to push ourselves to do better.

MMA is not an end in itself. It is not even about fighting per ce. True, I enjoy fighting and competitions. And yes, of course it allows me to defend myself and people around me, but more than that it helps me to be strong and to create enough energy to pass to others, so they can become stronger and live better. It allows me to empower them. One day, many years ago, I said to a friend that all we need is love and sunshine. And I believe it is true.

When it comes to love advice is the worst thing we can give to a people. A hug is the best. And a hug with strong and reassuring hands is slightly better than “the best”. I want my hands to be strong so I can give a long hug to those who need it. And it is this need to impact people’s lives for the better that makes me wake up in the morning, read more, fight better, never slack, work on building a company, travel easily and lightly, do the impossible and bring up two kids while doing all this.

Because if I do not do it now I will not do it later. There is no later. This is all the time we have for today.


It was the end of 1999 and I was a student in Barcelona. I had split that week with my first serious boyfriend who I dated for about 3 months then. It was December and I was walking on the Passeig de Gracia among all the beautiful houses and expensive boutiques thinking about the relationship. Probably angry and sad at the same time. Those feelings right now seem blurry and I am not sure what I really felt. I ended up at an old movie theater where they were showing black and white films and that day it was Casablanca. I watched it. When I got out of the movie theater it was late. I found an open cafe and sat there and drunk carajillos. I was looking at the dark city streets through the cafe window and thinking how small my problems were comparing to those of the people in the movie. My love was so simple comparing to theirs. It was just a small bump on a road and I cut the relationship. I got out of the cafe, put on my long black winter coat and started walking. The coat was new and very black and still smelled like the new things smell. I do not remember the streets I walked through but I remember the smell of the coat and that I was smoking. I liked smoking in winter, when the air was cold and the cigarette kept the air around the face warm. When I reached his house it was close to 4am and I sat for a few minutes on the steps leading to the entrance door. I thought about the movie I just saw and hummed the song. I rang the doorbell and he answered after a short silence. He said he will be down in a few minutes. And I waited.

We split again a few months after that. Because things did not work for both of us. And because I met somebody from Pamplona and we drove to San Sebastian together, where they served huge sandwiches with tortilla and where we swam in an ice-cold water in May to prove our bravery and make life fascinating. But this was later that year and of course I did not know anything that was going to happen.  Then, sitting on the steps, I wanted things between us to work and he was my first serious boyfriend. And I thought that love was just that simple. The love between man and woman.

He came down and we walked towards the sea. We reached the beach when it was still night. It was windy and the wind sounded like a trombone. And we stood there and kissed and watched the boats move in the water. We did not talk much. It was cold before the daylight and there was not much to say. He held me by the waist and I put my head on his shoulder and we walked like that. Slowly, not to shorten the moment of calmness. As the daylight settled in we found a cafe that had just opened and had croissants and coffee there. And I told him about the movie and how our love was simple and beautiful. And he said that I was crazy. But he loved me that way and we were very happy then.

Nice people…

I did not make a picture with him. Because I liked talking to him. I liked it so much that I knew picturing would break the reality of it. Everybody else made pictures with him, because he was the star.

-Were you aggressive as a child?

-Yes. Very.

-Me too. Once I broke a hand of a boy who hit my brother… I got almost expelled from school then.

-Me too, – and he smiled with a serious smile.

And I liked how his head looked. When he left the party I could still see the shape of his head.

-Well, you really had good time talking to him,- one of the masters approached me while I was getting a piece of grilled meat and eating it with baguette.

-He is a nice guy.

-Nice guy? Hmm,  – he chuckled – this is the first time I hear him called “nice guy”.

-I do not mean nice like people mean it here. I do not like nice people. They are nice on the surface and then they betray you and hurt you.

-Me too. I know what you say. People tell me I am mean, and I know I am mean, but my heart is kind, – and he put a hand on his chest.

I love quietness and peace. I believe in kindness. What I also know is that since child you have to protect these values. You have to defend them. You have to fight for them. You have to fight a lot to keep the peace.


“Happy mothers day! You are the best mo….”. I did not open the email. I looked at the email in my mailbox and deleted it. It was from my ex-husband. It was all fake. Just words.

I was sitting in my bed with an ice-pack over my left foot. My pinkie painfully broken since Friday. All the house chores became slow. I thought that I had to do the laundry and to do the breakfast for the kids. The kids were hungry. I made a list in my head of all the things I had to do. It made me want not to get out of bed at all and I wanted to cry. But I pulled myself out and went to make a coffee. Walking was painful and slow. My parents called and wished me happy mothers day. Then friends texted. Somebody asked for a date on Monday. And I did not reply. I just sighted.

I was absolutely alone with two kids. And people were nice and never helped.

Now I had to make breakfast. To clean the table. To do some work. We had a birthday party in the afternoon and a dinner with friends afterwards. Then we found out that my daughter had fever and I gave her some ibuprofen and told her to stay in bed and read.

By noon I was tired from pain and from this feeling of betrayal. I did not like nice people, they hurt you the most. I wanted to go and train at the dojo. To feel stronger. Not to break down. The dominator. The aggressive one. But I could not train. I knew that. I felt weak. I wished I had a shoulder to lean on. I wished I could hug somebody longer than usual friendship.

I took the laptop and sat in my bed with an ice-pack. And then my son came and lay down next to me. And he felt asleep.

And after all the fighting and pain it felt peaceful.


Candle Wax


It felt light inside the church. You stood there and listened to the mass and all the singing. The candles were lit. Women had their hair done and wore elegant summer dresses, probably for the first time this year. The kids were dolled up and pretty. All of them holding decorated Easter candles.

The church walls were covered with mostly blue mosaic and the sunlight reflected in its golden details. Festive. This was all you could feel; Light and festive. Through the singing your body became peaceful. You wanted to breathe this blue air inside of you and make you light.

“May I have the willpower… the willpower to follow the sports diet; the willpower to never have fear and fight well; the willpower to pull my company through; to make it all work; …to be honest with myself; and more… not to destroy others. May I have the willpower not to destroy the ones I love.”

To keep the love inside and keep walking. Candles, flowers, people.

My son was playing with his friend, blowing out and lighting his candle. His new dark blue pants were covered with candle wax. He saw me looking at his pants and said “oops”. I smiled, put my hand in his hair, caressed him gently and told him not to worry about the pants, we will wash them. He smiled back. With a funny laughing smile that only a six-year old has.

The mass was finishing and I looked at the white candle in my hands. Its flame was steady and reassuring. And then after the candlelight there were people, kids, my children, the flowers, the rest of the church. The voices. It was probably noisy at the church, but all I remember is silence. As if we all stood there in silence, looking at the blue mosaic and thinking about ourselves and feeling light. This and caressing my son’s hair.

And then we made a line and the priest gave each of us a bright red Easter egg and candy bags to the kids. And we went into the sunlight and stood on the green grass. And the kids run around with the unleashed happinesses. Skirts, and dresses, and white shirts and small golden crosses. And I knew I waited for this day to feel exactly this. The lightness…

I thought that you have to be brave to feel the lightness.

Our friends came out and we went to our cars and drove to their house. There the meat was roasting, the tables were set, the wine bottles were open and the music was playing. We ate and drunk till late evening. We talked about summer that was coming and where we all were going. The kids run around and wanted to dance. I wanted to dance too. The old Greek woman approached me and pointing at my son’s pants asked me if I knew how to get those candle wax spots out. And I said I did not. And she told me to iron those with a tissue in between and the tissue will suck all the wax out of the pants. And I thanked her. And we filled our glasses and said Christos Anesti.