International Women’s Day: Why It Matters To Me

International Women's Day

International Women’s Day or the 8th of March has always been a very special day for me. It was and still is a national public holiday in Belarus and the day is full of spring flowers and gifts. It is a day to celebrate women. But what does that mean?  All women and girls got gifts and flowers on March 8th and we all had cake. As a child that sounded great. But today, I realize that there are more important things we as women would rather have than flowers and gifts. I find it absolutely barbarian and unacceptable that in some parts of the world women are still treated and valued as less than a man.  There are places where women:

Nevertheless, I am happy to see that in recent years the holiday is getting more recognition and celebration across the globe. It is very inspiring to see this day becoming more of a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality. This is in part why I feel more so than ever the importance of being a woman and contributing to this movement. It is also on this day that I realize how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go on my journey towards self-acceptance, self-love, and self-respect.

“If you want to be respected by others, the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Although I have made significant strides in those areas over the years, I definitely have weak moments.  This last few months have been particularly challenging.  What I really want is to believe that I am valuable, worthy, intelligent, important and good enough just the way I am. I want to feel confident that my main worth, contrary to what I’ve been told most of my life, is not in how I look and the beauty from the outside, but rather in the beauty on the inside. I want to believe that my heart with its ability to love, give and feel deeply, is my most attractive feature.

However, I realize how much I still have to overcome. There are times when I still obsess over my weight, body, and appearance, and compare myself to other women.  I have allowed room for relationships that did not lift me up but instead brought me down and disrespected my boundaries. I found myself trying to cater to the selfish and narcissistic people in my life to get their approval. All this because I never got the approval of my parents growing up. And sometimes I still feel out of control because of it, so I try to control what I know best – which is food. Above all, I realize that unless I’m honest with myself about it, I cannot change how I feel. So I choose, to be honest with myself. Sometimes I feel weak and insecure.

“You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.'” —Erin McKean

So today, on this beautiful spring day in Dallas I’m going to CHOOSE to celebrate the progress and achievements I have made and not focus on the negatives. I’m going to choose to stay positive and surround myself with kind and compassionate people. I’m going to celebrate other women and the strides they have made for me to have the freedom and opportunities I have. And I aspire to do the same for others. Above else, today I am enough. I am exactly where I need to be.  And I will never stop working on creating a better future for myself and other women. When I am weak, there are others who are strong and together we will go far. I would love to hear your comments and stories of struggles and wins.

women's marchYours truly,

Olia

Valentine’s Day: Celebration Of Love Or Another Lucrative Holiday

I am definitely a hopeless romantic at heart.  I am also a realist and a very practical person. And sure,  I remember the excitement I felt as a teenager when I got valentine cards and gifts from secret admirers at school. But I have a different opinion about Valentine’s Day today.  As New York Daily Tribune has put it:

” There was a time when Valentine’s Day meant something. Then it was a business of real lovers and there was a sweetness under its delicate shy disguise.”

 

As it stands today I am single. But event when I was in a relationship I never understood why we had to have a day to show or celebrate love. As if we shouldn’t do it every day. Many of us don’t know the story of Valentines Day. For those who don’t remember here’s a real quick refresher: There was a priest in ancient Rome who secretly married couples because he felt bad for the soldiers who couldn’t marry their loved ones because the Emperor Claudius II thought that unmarried soldiers fought better. That’ s a pretty noble cause in my opinion and worth celebrating. Fast forward to today. We have $20 strawberries, $200  pre-fix dinners, $80 flowers and all sorts marketing promotions to increase spending on Valentine’s Day.

We live in a culture of commercialized consumerism. If we are in a relationship Valentine’s Day represents a declaration of our partner’s love for us, measured by the effort they put in on Valentine’s Day. If we are single we are constantly reminded of our single status. Social Media has taken this to a whole different level. Now it’s so easy to portray a picture of a perfect relationship by posting the perfect Valentines Day celebration pictures. But I know better than to fall into this trap. I know better that real love takes patience, dedication, and constant effort. I don’t get fooled by the commercial message that “If he really cares, he will go above and beyond and buy this or that for you.”

What I feel like we’re missing today is the true intimacy in our relationships. This kind of intimacy that takes the time to find and build. It requires patience, compromise and accepting other people as they are not as we wish they were.  Instead, we take shortcuts and opt in for the picture perfect superficial love that we see on TV, in Valentine’s Day ads, and in movies.  We get swept away by the commercial idea of love and believe that this ” being in love stage”  will last forever. I have found this disappointing at best.  So this Valentines Day I chose to focus on the kind of love that I do have in my life today: friendship, love for my dogs, love for the environment, and love for my country. I spent the evening surrounded by people who share my beliefs and invested my time in building relationships and sharing ideas. Whatever you did this Valentine’s Day I hope it was filled with true love in any shape or form and that you can count on this love every day of the year.

Yours truly,

OMG

Happy New Year!

BarcelonaHappy New Year to all you beautiful people! I cannot believe that it is 2017 already.  It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me so I wanted to give you an update on the ending of 2016 and what I’ve been up to. With all its ups and downs, 2016 ended on a high note with a trip to Barcelona, Spain where I got to ring in the New Year  with fireworks on the beach among old and new friends. In this post I want to share some of my reflections on this past year and some key takeaways.

Sometimes we have to let go

Whether it’s a relationship or a business idea, this one is never easy. Last year I had to make a difficult decision to let go of a relationship and the person I loved very much. As much as I loved him I had to realize that long-term we were not compatible. It’s so easy to sometimes get lost in the now and not think about the future. But we must always stay true to ourselves and our values because love is not enough. Losing a person is hard and very painful but losing ourselves is much worse in the long run.

I also had to let go of a business idea I was in love with. This one was also hard because it was my first stab at entrepreneurship. Just as the person loving a business is not enough, it has to be feasible and viable in the long run. I had to be honest with myself and recognize that the ideas was not very feasible and let it go. The best part about both of these is that I’ve learned so much in the process. We only lose when we don’t learn anything.

When we make emotional decisions we pay the price

It took me almost a year to find my current job after I left my last one because I hated it so much. There is nothing wrong with making changes but doing so without having a plan is not the best idea. I learned this the hard way. I know that I have an addictive personality so it’s hard for me to sometimes stay with an uncomfortable feeling. It’s easier just to get out. This can backfire without a plan. Creating a plan can take some time, but having one can save more than just money, it can save you piece of mind. Take this from this not at all perfect MoneyGirl. As many strides as I have made towards financial security and peace, sometimes I find myself going through certain lessons more than once. Hey, it’s all part of the journey.

Relationships matter above everything else

Over and over again I recognize the power of relationships. At the end of the day it’s not your fancy car or watch or bank account that will help you with your goals, problems, sadness, career aspirations etc it will be your relationships with people. And I’m not talking about 2,000 Facebook friends or 10,000 followers on Instagram. I’m talking about true, meaningful, deep relationships with REAL people. I try to live by the principle: people first, money second, then things. Last year was very hard emotionally, and it were my friends who have helped me get through it.

Patience is a necessary evil

This one is never easy for me and kind of goes back to takeaway number two. Patience is extremely important for all areas of our lives. Whether it’s financial goals, relationships, career aspirations, all of those things take time.  I’ll be the first to admit, I struggle with this one. Maybe because I was never a patient kid to begin with, I was fast and furious lol or because my parents weren’t really there to help me learn the importance of it and help develop the necessary mental muscle. All of that is irrelevant to my 29-year old self, because at the end of the day we have to teach ourselves what our parents didn’t teach us or life will teach us.

We don’t have to live our lives according to tradition or other people

I went to Barcelona for Christmas and New Year’s celebration to spend the holidays with friends and to make new friends.  This is not a typical way to spend the holidays, but I know that I’m not a typical person. For a while I tried so hard to change my family dynamics and to make it work. Holidays were stressful and full of emotional roller-coasters. And then I realized that instead of fighting I can let go and do my thing. Life is too short to hate the holidays. So I did just that and went to Spain. I am working on a travel guide from my trip so stay tuned.

I hope this new year brings new beginnings and new experiences to all of us! I am certainly looking forward to a great year!

Cheers,

Olia

The Meaning Behind Gift Giving

We all like to receive gifts . Some of us (myself included) like it more than others. If you have ever heard of The Five Love Languages you might have heard that we all have one or two primary love languages. We use these to communicate our love to others and they also happen to make us feel loved. One of these  languages is gift giving.  But isn’t that materialistic? Not at all. If you’re like me the thoughtfulness and effort behind the gifts are what really make us feel cared for. We feel known and that we are placed above whatever was sacrifices to bring the gift to us. Everyday gestures are extremely important and it’s never about the amount spent.

Now let’s talk about Christmas and our obsession with stuff. This is in my opinion very different from the natural appreciation for gifts and the thoughtfulness of others.  Christmas has become a marketing scheme used by retailers luring customers in with sales, promotions, new releases,  distracting us from focusing on what’s most important spending time with family and loved ones.  For a lot of people Christmas is about out doing friends on who has the biggest tree with the most presents under it.

There’s also another aspect of gift giving that sometimes can ruin the entire experience.  It’s called manipulation. I have experienced this  in the past and in some situations have decided to forego gift  exchange all together. Some people give gifts and they do not believe in the idea that when you give a gift – it’s truly a gift, not a bribe or a bait or a purchase of love, affection, or whatever else. Here is what I believe gift giving is and is not about:

Expressing love and appreciation

Giving gifts should truly be an expression of our love towards each other. With that said, gifts should not be about the amount or the quantity of gifts. Yet somehow a lot of us think that if the tree is not full of gifts it’s not enough.

Giving someone a gift does not mean the person owes us something

This defeats the purpose of a gift. There should be  no expectations. As mentioned above if we give someone a gift and expect something in return, it’s best not to give a gift at all.

The higher price tag does not equal more love

Because of the way I was brought up I used to think  that a gift is only good enough if it’s expensive.  This is total nonsense. It is truly the meaning and the thought behind the gift as well as paying attention to details about our friends and loved ones that matter. I love getting gifts that are thoughtful and personal, useful and practical. Someone else might enjoy gifts that are unique, sentimental, luxurious, etc.  The key is to learn about the person who the gift is for and keep that in mind when looking for gifts. I am not very good at this as attention to detail is not my biggest strength. I started writing down things that people say throughout the year that help me pick a gift for them during the holidays.

Gifts do not have to be material

Helping a friend move,  giving a ride to the airport, babysitting, dog walking etc are all gifts in my book. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Acts of Service is another one of my love languages.  My point is, that gifts can have different expressions, and spending money does NOT always have to be involved. If service is not your thing, there’s always hand-made gifts as well.

However we express our love and towards others differs among us. One thing I try to remind myself this holiday season is that gifts are nice but relationships and spending quality time with people I love and enjoy are a lot more valuable than a shiny object or the latest tech gadget. I will be posting about my trip to Spain next.

Happy Holidays,

Olia

Minimalism: Simplifying Life And How I Got There

minimalism_I used to love shopping. I felt a thrill from every new purchase. My closet was full of clothes,  jewelry and accessories. I overloaded my bathroom with makeup and other toiletries. Buying a pair of shoes was like buying a cup of coffee, oh yeah I used to buy Starbucks coffee every day too.  I grew up with parents who had a million things in their house. I don’t know, it might be the communism they grew up with where everything was scarce, but things were falling out of every possible and impossible place. It was like a living in a hoarder’s house.  With all the stuff, the things I bought were not making me happy, on the contrary I felt like they were giving me more anxiety. While in counseling  I have discovered that people sometimes buy things because they feel empty inside, their life lacks meaning and meaningful relationships, and they are trying to fill in those holes with things.

So I’ve decided to stop being one of those people. I stopped buying things like a crazy person preparing for an apocalypse. The word SALE didn’t excite me any longer. I started downsizing. I’ve realized that Black Friday iss a giant scam. I avoid it at all costs. I felt a thrill when I made money from selling something I hadn’t used in a while instead of buying something new. Whatever I couldn’t sell I donated. And then almost two years ago I moved  out to my own place and have discovered a whole different part of myself that I didn’t even know existed. This part and was dying to come out.  I didn’t know that I was  actually becoming a minimalist.

What the hell is minimalism anyway? I had no idea there was such a thing until I discovered TheMinimalists blog. I just knew that I enjoyed simplicity and that having too much stuff gave me anxiety. There are several definitions of what minimalism is.  Definitely check out their blog, they are amazing. The one that resonates to me the most is: living a more meaningful life, spending time on things that are important to me, and not having to worry about stuff, getting more stuff, and maintaining stuff. Don’t get me wrong I like nice things, but I am not attached to them. If my apartment burned down tomorrow ( as long as my dogs weren’t in there), I would be upset for maybe a second but not terrified because my biggest assets are intangible. In the last several years that I have worked on simplifying my life, I have also worked on accumulating more memories from meaningful experiences.

Minimalism has helped me do a better job at:

  • Living in the moment
  • Eliminating anxiety
  • Spending more quality time with those whom I love
  • Ridding myself from unnecessary stuff
  • Helping others more
  • Living with intention

Living an intentional life does not mean we have to get rid of everything we own, it just means that we have to shift our focus and attention to things that truly matter to us. I love this saying: “I’d rather have a passport full of stamps, than a house full of stuff”. I value experiences more than things, so I choose to invest money into experiences. We all have to figure this out for ourselves but what I do know that buying stuff does not  bring lasting happiness, at least it doesn’t to me. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this.

Yours truly,

Olia_TheMoneyGirl

What Is Love

olia_themoneygirlWhat is Love? What does it mean to love someone? Is it a feeling or is it something more? Is it a noun or a verb? What is the difference between love and being in love?  Why do we sometimes love those who hurt us or treat us badly? I’ve asked this question many times before and I’m sure most of us have heard these questions answered in many ways.  Because there are so many articles on the “definition” of love, I want to focus on my journey. As I am approaching thirty, I realize that what love means to me today is different from the love I grew up with or even from what I thought it was a few years ago. It has been a very long and painful journey, but I think I have finally found the meaning and definition of the kind of love that I want. But before I share what love means to me today I want to share the kind love I grew up with. The  parental love I grew up with said:

” I will love you as long as you make me happy. If you’re a bad girl mommy/daddy won’t love you.”

” I love you, but I love me more and I’m going to take care of myself first even if it comes at your cost.”

“I love you as long as you agree with me and ignore what you’re feeling, because it’s not valid. All you have to do is remember that I love you.”

“I love you, even though I abandoned you and left you all alone physically and emotionally. I will continue to do that. I have many reasons for this but you should know that I did it for your benefit.”

” I love you, but you shouldn’t have any needs or expectations, because I’m going to do what I feel like doing.  I make decisions based on my feelings and  need to take care of me first.”

“I love you, but I’m going to ignore everything you told me was important to you because I come first.”

This kind of love led me to get into relationships  with men that left me feeling unimportant, abandoned, lonely, sad, disregarded, dismissed and disrespected. Above all I never felt safe. After each failed attempt at finding the love I so desperately wanted I couldn’t help but  feel like I was getting back into the love I grew up with and was wondering what was wrong with me. Through counseling I have discovered that the reason I was picking those partners was because it felt very familiar to me. I grew up with the love that involved a lot of pain and abandonment. The people I met and was instantly attracted to represented the energy I grew up with. We sometimes go through our entire lives without realizing that we are recreating our parents’ marriages because that’s the only love we know and saw growing up. If you’re lucky and you have a family and parents who have a good marriage you might find yourself in a healthy, loving and safe relationship. I am happy for you, as it is truly the most wonderful thing. But since the divorce rate is over 50%  I know that the reality is not like that for many people. Through therapy and learning about the part I played in all my past relationships I have realized that I do not want to recreate my childhood love story. I also realized that it is going to take a lot of awareness and consciousness to find the love I DO want to have in my life. Here is my definition of what love should feel like and the type of love I want to have:

  • Love is always safe, it does not use fear, threat, force or manipulation to get its way. It is a safe place where each person feels safe and secure of being who they are and asking for what they need.
  • Love is never disrespectful. It does not ask for explanation. It respects the other person where they are and  with their needs. If a person I love asks me to do or not do something I don’t need to know why or understand where they’re coming from, I just respect their wish.
  • Love is selfless. It finds great joy in serving others. It does not ask: what’s in it for me? But simply knows that seeing their partner happy is a great reason to do something even if it’s uncomfortable or not what they’d rather do.
  • Love is never punishing or passive-aggressive. It allows both people be open and honest with each other even in moments of conflict. It states what the feeling is and is honest about the pain or misunderstanding caused, without trying to get back at the other person.
  • Love is always honest. It does not lie, withhold, add-on or in any way alter the truth.
  • Love is compassionate, thoughtful and empathetic. Love allows us to feel deeply for those who are in pain and for each other. It moves us to become better versions of ourselves and help others.
  • Love does not need both people to change who they fundamentally are or their goals, dreams and values. It is a place where both people fully accept each other.
  • Love has boundaries and does not allow for destructive or abusive behaviors. It always speaks the truth and points out the consequences of unhealthy behaviors. It also sticks to those consequences if the other person ignores the boundaries.
  • Love allows both people to feel pain, anger, discomfort, grief and openly talk about their feelings.
  • Love  should never be painful.

I write about this as a reminder to myself and others that true love is possible and means different things to different people. It is also hard to find and we ultimately accept the love that we think we deserve.  The more respect we have for ourselves, the more  healthy love we bring into our lives as love is never disrespectful and is always patient, kind and healing. I decided to write about this as I’m currently grieving a relationship that did not work out because it lacked some of the things I mentioned above. It’s very easy to  be in denial and make excuses for people when we love them, as well as compromise on the very things we say are important. At least it was easy for me to do and I realized it eventually. I also realized that  we shouldn’t try to change other people, that in itself is disrespectful. I don’t ever want to be disrespectful to someone I love.  At the end of the day we are responsible for our own happiness. People only change when something no longer works for them. As I have learned with my family, sometimes they never change at all.

Lastly, through this I’ve learned not to ever take for granted the love I do have in my life. Love doesn’t just come from romantic relationships, it is all around us and in difficult times, friendship love can make the world of difference.

Yours  truly,

Olia

Commencement Speech

commencement-speech-2I graduated with my MBA in December of last year. (You can read about how I did it debt free here). I applied as the commencement speaker for the ceremony. Although I was one of the top finalists my speech didn’t get selected. So I decided to share it with the world anyway. It talks a little about my story and some of the struggles I’ve been through.

Commencement Speech

“Good Afternoon everyone. I’d like to first thank President Wildenthal, Dean Cunningham and Dean Pirkul as well as all the professors with whom I had a privilege to work and build relationships with during my undergraduate and graduate studies here at UTD, and all of UTD’s professors and staff. Your knowledge, kindness, support and belief in me and my fellow students are the reasons we are all here today. I am forever grateful for an opportunity to have met so many wonderful people.  And I am proud to be a Comet.

Today is our day and it’s a very special day for me. One of my biggest goals and dreams has finally come true. Although getting an MBA or another advanced degree in my opinion does not necessarily give us a golden ticket to success in life, (at least it didn’t give one to me, :)) what it gives us are the connections, skills and resources that will accompany us throughout our entire life.  All of those will help us be successful in various areas of our lives. I’m talking about tenacity, discipline, resilience, patience, ability to get outside of our comfort zones and team work. I am extremely proud and honored to share this accomplishment with all of you here today.

But as I’m sure for many of you, this wasn’t an easy road for me. It feels like it was just yesterday, when I was a young 20-year old girl from Belarus (a small country next to Russia with the size and population smaller than Texas) who had the courage to come to US despite all odds with a dream of going to college. I was scared, I was lonely, I was insecure and I was struggling with an eating disorder. When I finally had the courage to start pursuing college, I wasn’t even sure if I could pass a GED test that I had to take. For the longest time I thought my only worth was in how I looked. Today, I am graduating with two master’s degrees.  And I would like to address all the amazing women sitting here in front of me: we are so much more than how we look. We are smart, intelligent, strong, courageous and capable of great things. And don’t ever let anyone underestimate you or your abilities, because you are a woman.

My message to all of you today is this:

  • Do not let your past determine your future. There was a time when I was very ashamed of my past and some of the things I’ve done and been through. But shame and embarrassment do not leave room for healing and growth. Although we cannot change the past, we alone are the Masters of our future. And today I am proud of the woman who I have become and I encourage you to look forward not backwards.  We are all capable of rewriting our stories.
  • Be authentic. Stay true to who you are.  Ask these questions of yourself: Who am I? What do I stand for? What is important to me? Don’t let other people’s or society’s expectations define you. It’s your life and you decide how you’re going to live it. For the longest time I tried to follow other people’s ideas for my life. And then I realized that life is too short to live for someone else. Let’s focus on being the best versions of ourselves, not merely trying to live up to a social standard of success and at the end of our lives we will feel the happiest knowing that we did our best to deliver our true selves to others.
  • Don’t be afraid to dream big. No matter how big and unreachable your dreams may seem, no matter how difficult the obstacles  you’re faced  with,  find the courage  within yourself to keep going, even if everyone else may tell you it’s impossible.  You will become a better person, and you will build strength to face life’s challenges as it is inevitable that we will have more of them once we leave the doors of UTD.  You will also find, that when you are going after your dreams, and working on something you truly care about, you will find support and encouragement from those who truly care. I really like the quote  from Paolo Coelo’s  Alchemist:

“When you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

  • Seek out mentors and ask for help and support. There is absolutely no chance I would be standing here today if it wasn’t for all my mentors, friends and the help of my professors. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. If you are struggling with something or going through serious life changes, such as a new career, marriage, relationship, health issues, children, maybe starting a company, whatever it is for you,  do not be afraid to ask for help and support. Another quote I really like states: “No one who achieves great success does so without acknowledging the help of others”. And vice versa don’t ever underestimate the difference that you can make in the lives of those around you. Once you leave UTD don’t forget to give back and help others who are in need.
  • Lastly I want to encourage you not to rush things. Enjoy this moment, live it and breathe it. You have accomplished a lot, be proud of yourself. Celebrate you and all those who helped you get to this moment.  Don’t be in a hurry to grab the C-suite, start your new job, get that next promotion, get a bigger house, new car etc. None of those things bring true happiness. True happiness comes from doing meaningful work and from having meaningful and intimate relationships with others.  So please take this day to express gratitude to those who care about you and truly be present with the people in your life. Thank you! “

Olia_TheMoneyGirl