The importance of staying positive in COVID-19 crisis

I’m a big believer of trying to find whatever positives one can muster from whichever situation we are in however sad or tragic it may be. It’s needed to enhance our chances of survival. Negativity, self pity, complaining, panic and helplessness will only put us into a more deadly spiral. 

COVID-19 is a crisis that’s testing humanity right now. Many people have and will die or suffer,  and many will face financial ruin. That’s tragic. We should all try to help where we can and lead by example. But we must stay positive and be grateful for what we do have. 

We are grateful first and foremost to the heroes in medical services for pulling through in such tough,  nerve-racking  times and for those workers who keep much needed public services running for society to function even at its minimalistic state. 

At PeoplePerHour.com we have already pledged £5m since the start of the year to help small businesses continue working with freelancers, and we have announced this morning that we are doubling that to  £10m. Since our foundation in 2017 our purpose and mission has been to help small businesses and the self-employed freelance community succeed by connecting them together for project work. At times like these we dig in to provide much more than the platform that connects them but also  financial support to further that cause. 

Equally at TalentDesk.io, our newer business, we are proud to be serving a purpose that’s coming in much needed use to companies globally right now, small or large: allowing them to embrace remote working by using our software that enables them to collaborate with all their freelancers and employees across their entire organising, across borders, seamlessly and at scale.

It’s important we all play our part and act as leaders in such difficult times, paving through and setting the example where we can. 

But it’s equally important we learn from this  crisis and – hard as it sounds – stay positive. The worst we can do to accentuate a negative situation is get into a spiral of negativity and helplessness: a viscous cycle that traps us in a state of panic from which we cannot escape. 

It’s important we remain calm, composed, focusses and – again paradoxical or controversial as this may sound – try to find some positives from this test to humanity imposed upon us. 

For me below are just some of the things this crisis ought to teach us 

  • Reminding us humans that we are not invincible (something we do tend to forget); brining sanity back to the world
  • Reminding people to be good, kind and empathetic 
  • Reminding us that  nothing is for ever. To never  take anything for granted 
  • Reminding us that staying resilient and adaptable to change is paramount for survival. If it’s not COVID-19 it will be something else in the years to come (as it’s been historically: threat of terrorism, war, the rise of populism, climate change, the AIDS threat a few decades ago … )
  • Reminding us that that staying lean and agile, resilient and flexible, even at good times has its merits. Cutting out unneccesary cost, even in the upturns, and trimming fat at all times. Excess fat is never a good thing
  • Reminding us of the importance of humility, focus, balance and equanimity 
  • Reminding us of the the importance of looking inside ourselves, being introspective and self reflective. Finding stillness, looking inside when when one can’t go outside 
  • Reminding us of the importance of great leadership at times of need. We all need to be leaders when the world seems to be falling apart. Maintain calm and composure, think clearly with logic and unemotionally, take bold and decisive action where needed 
  • Reminding us, again, of the darwinian doctrine, of the survival of not necessarily the fittest but the most adaptable to change 

I think like any crisis we will all come out stronger from this. The world is healing, nature is reviving, we are all taking a mandatory break from the craziness, living a high frequency life where we lose ourselves and our core values. We forget to love, show empathy, exude positive energy, self reflect and find stillness. We are living in constant bombardment of information, going through the motions of life without being truly present, constantly on the go. It’s like life passes us and we are never there.

Shocks to our system like these – painful as they may be – is the bitter medicine we sometimes need to take. It’s Mother Nature showing us much needed tough love. It’s a slap in the face we all need to ‘get real’ again and go back to basics. Back to the core values that make the world a better place: compassion, empathy, love, connectedness, working together as one. 

In adverse times like these humanity magically comes together. We stop fighting and bickering over immaterial things. In the face of adversity we realised how ridiculous those  things are. A quarrel with your neighbour whose threatening litigating, law suits at work on grounds completely unfounded, feuds and arguments with friends and foes, family members business associates over matters mainly of the ego. Disgruntlement, complaints and whimsical demands over trivial matters that all of a sudden seem so  banal and pointless. 

Yet as human beings designed to think emotionally and governed by our egos we have evolved our lives and designed systems of coexistence where so much energy is expended in such trivial matters. An utmost wasteful and inefficient design.  

Times like these remind us of what truly matters in life. Being present in the moment, being happy, being kind and thoughtful, being grateful for what we have, putting positive energy in the universe to get positive things  coming back, caring for Mother Earth and it’s nature, caring for other people, avoiding such trivial pursuits steered by anger and governed by ego, seeking stillness, focus, introspection, leading when others fail to with composure and equanimity, setting the example by leading, remaining positive and keeping faith in the remarkable powers and dexterity humanity has exhibited many a time throughout our history.

We’ve been through much worse in our history as humans and we’ve come thought and stronger.  We’ve been through world wars, famine, much bigger pandemics when since was less equipped to deal with them, natural catastrophes and much more. We’ve always survived and we’ve always come out stronger. But we need to stay positive. 

Crises like those remind us that only by coming together can we survive big humanitarian threats. Together we are one. 

So, let’s stay positive , self reflect our past – we may as well what we are in isolation – see the positives and learn from this crisis, so that when we get through to the other side, as we always do, we will come out stronger. 

Equanimity

I learnt this word when I stared using a mediation app called Calm towards the end of last year. It’s since become one of my favourite words and one I think everyone should have in their vocabulary. 

If you Google the word the definition that comes up is “Calmness and composure especially in a difficult situation” 

Or according to Wikipedia a slightly more elaborate definition: 

Equanimity (Latin: æquanimitas, having an even mind; aequus even; animus mind/soul) is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.

The year has begun tremulous for many. Uncertainty over global events like Brexit, geopolitical instability, the rise of populism, climate change, and now COVID-19 virus bringing many economies to a halt and affecting the economics of many businesses and households. 

On top of that social media and the ever increasing influx of information in front of us and digital stimuli puts us more out of balance and reduces our focus and headspace.

Yet it’s in times like these where we all need to seek and find equanimity. Maintaining calm and composure is the only way to think with logic, act rationally and make sensible decisions, unemotionally, with toughness yet humility, and unwavering conviction. It’s the only way to weather a storm. 

Without equanimity our cerebrum – often referred to as the ‘CEO of the brain’ responsible for making logical decisions – shuts down and our limbic system – often called our emotional brain – takes over. The Limbic system operates on emotion and instinct not logic, and while it has a crucial part to play in survival (it is after all what every animal outside of humans exclusively operated on) it’s de facto wired to see the world negatively and fearfully  as that has more evolutionary chances of ensurIng survival. Seeing the world under a rosy lens may ensure more happiness but doesn’t necessarily ensure survival. 

In other words: panic. When we operate outside of that balance between logic and emotion we are in flight or fight mode. We make knee jerk reactions. We erupt and react emotionally. We are in jungle territory survival mode. Nothing good comes out of panic.

Paradoxically in a world constructed and operating on logical principles this dramatically reduces our chances of survival in today’s world. If you’re not thinking with logic and composure, whether it’s a business you run or a household or a country, you’re dramatically reducing your chances of survival 

Which is why maintaining equanimity is paramount especially in volatile and tough times. It’s the ultimate  test of true leadership. Everyone’s a great leader when things are rosy. It’s only when the tide goes out when we see whose swimming naked. 

I’ve found three daily habits help me maintain equanimity more than any. Other than starting with acknowledgment of what it is and realising it’s importance 

  1. Meditation

I’ve started meditating last year and since then do it every day religiously. First using various apps like Headspace and Calm (both very good) but then I did a course in TM (transcendental meditation) which I’ve found life changing. I used to be one of those guys who laughed when hearing people say that it’s life changing. Then I did it and now I’m one of them. It truly is. 

Meditation is ultimately training of the mind. Most of us acknowledge the importance of working out, training our body and staying healthy. Very few people would doubt that training your muscles has multiple benefits both physically and emotionally. So if we accept that as a truism, why would we not accept that the same holds true for your brain? It is after all another muscle and the most important one we have. 

Meditation is training your mind to control your thoughts and emotions. But it’s also finding stillness and quiet. It’s emptying the mind from the over-information we get bombarded with, the clutter and the noise. It’s like the release of toxins from your muscles when you work out. It’s a cleansing process of the brain. That’s what gives us fresh headspace to think clearly and fresh. With composure and equanimity. 

There are various kinds of meditation, I’ve dabbled at a few of them. TM in particular is a natural and unforced type of meditation that trains your mind to go from conscious thoughts (often pictured as the waves at the surface of the ocean), to finer and finer finer thoughts as you sink deeper in that ocean, until you eventually reach pure consciousness. No thoughts, just undisturbed consciousness. The bottom of the ocean. This is the origin of thought, the source of our intelligence, and much like in that analogy, you can’t go straight down to the bottom of the ocean, thoughts pop in your head and kick you back up a bit, then you sink a little further and further in zig-zag fashion till you reach the bottom. You transcend from one state to the other in oscillating fashion because you cannot prevent thoughts popping in your mind for ever. Hence transcendental. 

That process puts you into a better state of equanimity. If done consistently. It’s the only time you are truly present. There’s also a more biological explanation to why you think better. Alpha 1 waves are generated in your brain (alpha waves are what are generated during sleep and are responsible for the repair  of the mind and body) which make all the parts of your brain work better together. So your creative side, your logical brain, your emotional brain start working more in sync. Which is why people attest to getting some of their most creative ideas while meditating (I’m one of them). 

2. Training

The second habit is training your body. This I’ve been doing this far longer than meditation but meditation actually helps your training too because when the mind relaxes the body relaxes. In fact with TM it’s been proven that you can get into a state of deep rest, deeper than even sleep (this is to do with the difference between alpha 1 waves which you get in your brain during TM versus alpha waves during sleep). Which is why meditation gives you more energy. 

Training regularly I’ve found has similar benefits but like I say above complementary. The release of endorphins and heightened testosterone levels in your body puts you in a happier more positive state, akin to taking morphine. 

I find this particularly true when you’re doing something that puts you in a state of ‘flow’. Where you have to focus on exactly that thing and nothing else – like climbing or martial arts. I do boxing everyday and it takes my mind off the daily clutter: if you lose focus and your mind wanders you get hit in the face. Simple. Being in that state of focus and flow, ‘in the zone’ as they say, improves your state of equanimity. 

3. Intermittent Fasting & Ketogenic diet

The third habit that’s helped me is intermittent fasting and following a ketogenic diet. I’ve started fasting about 3 years ago initially to lose body fat (which it’s helped me do very rapidly). But since then, even when trying to put on more weight in fact, I still maintain it and do it daily because of the mental stimulus, clarity of thinking it gives you and calmness. Equanimity.

Plus multiple other benefits like a much stronger immune system and healthier organs all throughout due to the effects of autophagy (a greek word for ‘self-eating’). In essence autophagy kicks in after 12 hours of being in a fasted state, whereby your stronger cells start eating the weaker ones, therefore regenerating your organs. Your skin, hair, nails starts looking better and even chronic illnesses or symptoms (like dermatitis or eczema) go away.

When you fast you put your body into a state of ketosis (and the fastest way to get into that state is to do a high intensity training (HIT) session in fasted state – something I do daily and swear by). There’s a lot of debate and controversy around the different diets and their benefits (a lot of it being influenced by the industries that profit from their derivative benefits and the products they sell) … but for me to declutter that noise and get to the essence of it one needs to examine the pure biology behind it. 

The pure fact of the matter is that our natural state of being is ketosis. Your body and mind will either burn glucose for fuel or ketones. We are designed as animals who in nature feed very intermittently, often going days or weeks without food (in fact the Nile crocodile which is one of the most evolved animal on the planet at the top of the food chain and with one of the longest life spans. feeds once a year!) . And when they eat they don’t inject themselves with the carbs and sugary crap we eat today (which have led to the biggest killer diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even strokes). Cheese cake doesn’t grow on trees. Neither does pasta or pizza. Sugar is the biggest killer in America today – an often forgotten fact. And it’s more addictive than cocaine. Because we weren’t designed for it as animals. Simple. We are designed – as hunter gathers – to eat lean food high in protein, fats and fiber. Which is exactly what a keto diet prescribes. 

And for the sceptics who say we’ve changed since then, check your facts again. Our DNA is exactly the same today since the last mutation from Homo Erectus to Home Sapiens i.e. humans. Its our lifestyle thats changed not our genetic makup.

So when we eat a keto diet that consistently your body goes back to its natural state it’s been designed for. Your liver produces ketones, your body and brain uses those ketones instead of glucose as a source of energy. As a side benefit, to produce ketones your liver uses fatty acids (since glucose is absent) so in fact it’s burning fat to make ketones which is why a keto diet is also great for maintaining low body fat, or losing fat in the first instance.

Again biologically one can’t dispute the benefits of brain activity when operating on ketones versus glucose. Your brain is sharper, quicker and your thinking clearer. You avoid the surges – the peaks and troughs in energy levels – created by the changing levels of insulin in your body which in turn are triggered when your glucose levels fluctuate i.e. when you consume carbs. When you’re in ketosis your energy levels are constant. You don’t have sugar rushes as we call them. This helps composure, focus and, again – more equanimity.

There are probably other habits I can cite like doing something creative every day. Like keeping a journal and dumping your thoughts just for you (a habit I’ve also got addicted to as again it clears your head and gives you more equanimity). Or painting or cooking a new dish you’ve just imagined in your head (and hopefully is edible). 

Connecting with nature is another. I write this while I’m in front of the fireplace in the gorgeous soho farmhouse where I come regularly to get out of the city (and corona virus these days). Again its going back to our roots. We were designed to be in nature not in brick cities. Which is why many people attest (I’m one of them) to getting instant relaxation when they’re connecting with nature. Fire, water, fresh air, the earth, trees, animal and the sun (not much of the latter here but the fire compensates)

And lastly connecting with people. But in a deep and proper way, unlike the superficial connections that surround us in daily city life. These are connections that are just on the surface. They’re not true and deep connections. They are – if anything – more of that noise and clutter that we need to remove to find more equanimity. 

Wishing you all to seek and find more equanimity in these troubled times. 

Amae

In an amazing book called Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, the author refers to the skill of Empathic Accuracy as a key to building strong relationships, of any nature. Hence developing stronger “social intelligence“.


In short empathic accuracy is the ability to “read” signals correctly. It’s picking up vibes, such as someone’s moods and feelings (the empathy part), but more importantly understanding why the other person is feeling like that (the accuracy part). This is the crucial determinant that builds on the traditional notion of empathy. In the very least its the ability to not misunderstand that reading.


This is a very rare skill and indeed it’s absence leads to deterioration of relationships via misunderstandings and therefore formulation of wrong impressions of another’s behaviour, or, worse still, their character.

Someone may for example be in a pensive mood, their minds drifting away mid conversation to something that’s subconsciously preoccupying them. A very common occurrence, and one I know very intimately myself. The other person will, most of often, be quick to jump to one of many conclusions, most of them negative such as: he’s not interested in what I’m saying, he’s bored, he’s angry with me etc.


In the western cultures we pay to little attention to this super important notion of empathic accuracy. We tend to live very selfish, ego-centric and ego-driven driven lives. I was fascinated to learn that in the Japanese culture where empathy is much more embedded in their core value system there’s even a word for this: Amae.

In short Amae is this kind of intuitive understanding of others needs and feelings, and a more accurate appreciation of their possible sources.

We could all benefit from more amae. I know I certainly could.

Reflections on 2019

2019 was a year earmarked by surprise birthday celebrations and true bonding with friends and family.

I started the year in the serene beaches of Tulum, Mexico, and ended it on the sun-blushed mountains of Kitzbuhel, Austria where I was skiing with friends on unusually sunny slopes for this time of the year. It always helps to start the year with a pinch of good luck.

A year of surprises and, somehow, many b-day celebrations!

Three highlights of my year, on the personal side, were: surprising my father for his birthday in Dubai, exactly a year to this day (19 Jan) where I literally just showed up at the restaurant he was having celebratory lunch with my family.  Thanks to my brother and his wife I was able to arrive from London on an overnight flight just in time to surprise him at the venue they were lunching. Just seeing his shocked face was simply priceless. Memory to be cherished forever.

We had a few amazing days in blissful weather and true family bondong.

Similarly a second highlight was surprising one of my best friends, Rob, for his 40th birthday in Mumbai on 3rd August.  Again, thanks to his wife Farah, I was able to coordinate it perfectly such that I knocked on his bedroom door exactly after he got out of the shower (pants on thankfully, just about) and was getting ready to go out to a celebratory dinner. Again, his shocked reaction was priceless. As seen in this vid.

We then went to Goa for the weekend where we had an amazing few days indulging in insanely good food, beer, good company and incredible scenery. Being monsoon period it was raining most of the time but still there was something so romantic, picturesque and inspiring about the whole setting.

Goa for my friend Rob’s Bday

Celebrating my 40th

Last but not least: my third highlight was celebrating my own 40th birthday in Beaune, Burgundy in France in the beginning of May. As I’ve said many a time to my friends and family this experience – dubbed  by my friends as the ‘wedding without the bride-  changed me forever. Its bonded me with my really loved ones, made me realise, even more than before, the irreplaceable importance of love, friendship and family in life and spending good moments together.

I’ve since vouched to throw a similar, albeit smaller, party each year. Whats more important than bringing together good friends and family after all, once a year all in once place? I also realised how seldom that actually happens in this crazy busy life we all live where we are spread so thin in time and space. Already from this one party I have memories for a lifetime, having one a year will be an abundance of blissful moments to cherish forever.

I felt so blessed to be surrounded with so much love and emotion, it truly made me happy and it’s still the talking point amongst friends almost 7 months later. People flew in from 11 different cities (as far apart as San Francisco to Mumbai) to this little town of Beaune, where, according to the locals who looked after us there, nothing like this had ever been seen before.

As i say above, my friends dubbed this my ‘wedding without a bride’. I stole that line as my opening at the speck I gave which you can view here

To this day whenever I have a bad day at work I look at the photos, the scrap book that people wrote their wishes in, or the videos. It just reminds me of something unique and positive and sets me back in a good mood with this thought in mind: no matter what happens there is no substitute for true love, kindness, generosity – in the extended sense of the word, empathy, friendship and happiness.

As my good friend Sanu who gave an amazing speech at the party (don’t let this go to your head a**hole, you still have plenty of work to do) quoted me saying once to him: “Good food, vino, friends and family. Because everything else is actually overrated”.  

These are some of my favourites:

From my brother Stelios: “never a dull moment with you bro. Since that day 40 years ago when you came out of the hospital with those spiky hairs”

My sister Stef: “Only you could have put on a party like this. Thanks for being amazing, love you “

My father: “..the party was unique, unbelievable. ..Keep on doing it your way”

A good friend of mine Tasos, who likes to think of himself as my mentor 🙂 “I taught him all he knows. I thought. Little did I know”

One of my good friends Sarah: “happy birthday you fabulous, crazy but golden hearted animal! Thank you for this incredible weekend…I can talk on behalf of everyone when saying our lives will be so much boring without you in it.  I’m so grateful to have met you  and to count you as one of my best friends. Happy Bday, we love you! To more crazy times to come

From Leana, a close family friend: to the most authentic, good hearts, spontaneous, CRAZY person i’ve ever met. HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Best wedding ever.. cant wait for the 50th

From my friend Roland: Xenios, this big week-end was something amazing and very special for me. You made it perfectly with Aylish. Good friendship, wonderful and linked family.This moment will be written in my mind for the life. Thanks for what your are and the heart generosity you preed around you.

And from me to my guests: “Here’s to the things that truly matter. Good times with good friends and family. Everything else is pretty much overrated. Love you all

I wont rant on further on this life changing experience, as I wrote a separate Blog post on it here

Summary Video of the long weekend.

The video footage and photos speak for themselves which are available here  https://xenios40th.com/

I also had the luck and honour in June of being invited by one of my good friends and early supporter at PeoplePerHour.com, Fabrice Grinda, to celebrate the birthday of his father in Nice, France in their fabulous home with stunning views overlooking the cote d’Azur. Over the years i’ve had the luck of getting closer to him, his close and extended family and the pleasure of being amongst the select few celebrating such special events with him

With my friend Fabrice in Nice
Amazing dinner with fabrice, some of his family and friends in La petite Maison, Nice

Other highlights was an amazing boys group skiing trip we did in February in Chamonix, which we are repeating with the same group albeit in Val Thorens this year. I spent some time in Cyprus in the summer and Greece as always, most notably with my brother Stelios, Anna his wife and my beautiful niece Athena in Athens which I cherished.

Great shot captured by our genial mountain guide in Valle Noir Chamonix

New places I visited where the stunning Capri in Italy for a long weekend. I went to Hong Kong in March for Art Basel almost two decades after my last trip there. I spent some time in Marbella at the start of the summer attending the annual conference hosted by those special boys at Bullhound, a tech-focussed investment bank. I visited Paris twice once in March for a friend’s Meg’s birthday again, and on the 1st May for my birthday (the day before driving to Beaune) were we had an amazing celebration at Balagan restaurant with a small group of friends.  I celebrated Easter in Monaco where we had some excellent food and wine and got my first bit of spring sun.  

Business as usual. Or not.  

On the business front:  the highlight of 2019 was mainly that my new business TalentDesk.io which I started in 2017 started showing some convincing signs of solid traction. Much as I hate this term, I have a feeling that this will be a unicorn business. This software product is just so simple, intuitive and user-friendly, it solves a real problem faced by most medium to big businesses – managing their growing contingent workforce efficiently and productively – in a slick and elegant way; it addresses a huge and growing global market – more than $2.6Tn was spent on freelancers and contractors in 2018 by companies worldwide – we are constantly on-boarding new Enterprise customers and interestingly all over the world, not just the UK, and most importantly we have, now, I’m proud to say, a stellar team that is so gelled together. The team is now approaching 20 people already and each of them is a superstar in their own domain. So, all in all I believe this is a combination that just cannot do anything else than excel.

So far the business has been seeded and incubated by it’s parent PeoplePerHour.com which we founded in 2007.  Our plans for 2020 are to spin it out so it can take its own route, raise its own capital and go its own way. We have high ambitions for the business including expanding to the US soon which is an even bigger and more mature market.

PeoplePerHour.com my original business I started in 2007 is maturing and carrying on. Highlights of the year were doing some more TV advertising and, for the first time, some ‘out-of-home’ advertising in bus stops and the tube (subway). It was a proud moment so see adverts serendipitously in train wagons and tube stops. Almost a moment of affirmation and maturity

Personal habits.

On a personal level, I’ve gotten more into the habits I started mastering in 2017 and 2018 and formed some new ones.

I still do intermittent fasting religiously, which as I’ve said many a time has changed my life. I feel healthier, leaner, more focused, more mentally alert  and have a much stronger immune system. In fact I haven’t got ill once since starting fasting.

I’ve upped my fasting regime to doing a 24 hour fast twice a week, usually Mondays and Tuesdays which is cleansing after a, usually, indulgent weekend.  I then transition to a minimum 16 hour fast the rest of the week.

I feel cleaner with fasting: your skin gets better and you feel your organs regenerating as autophagy kicks in on the 12th hour onwards.

I’ve continued to maintain a cyclical ketogenic diet which means consuming high protein, high fats, low sugar and carb diet. On that equation what sits with me best is mainly high protein and moderate fats: I consume less than the recommended saturated fat synthesis of a true keto diet as they are high in calories and frankly my taste buds agree less with them. Once or twice a week I’ll throw in some complex carbs (brown fibers or rice) which are slower burning than simple white ones and so the influxes of insulin in your blood stream are still less stark and kept in check.

I continue to work out daily in fasted state, doing mainly high intensity training Boxing and Muay Thai interchangeably, although more boxing this year than last as i decided to double down on my technique. Ive become more regimented in my workout, doing a sparring session with various people on a Monday followed by technical work and weight training the rest of the days. Sparring is my favourite. There’s just something some primitive about fighting, if one can do it in a controlled way its therapeutic and cleansing like nothing else. Its my ultimate release from stress and anxiety. You focus relentlessly – otherwise you get hit in the head – you forget all your daily troubles, you zone in to the moment, and your primordial survival instincts kick in. You learn to handle fear, emotion and go back to basics: survival. It literally is my favourite hour of the week.

Contrary to what a lot of people advise or say, being hungry when you work out, literally, brings out an aggression in you which is the etymology of the metaphorical meaning of the expression. Having that ‘hungry’ look or state, else termed as the ‘eye of the tiger’ stems from our biological wiring to kick in survival mode when hungry. Our growth hormones are boosted and we are more alert for the kill.

New practices I’ve developed in 2019:

I’ve started swimming more regularly to balance of the intensity of boxing and Muay Thai on my body and joints. I now do a 15-30 min swim daily after my usual workout. This has been instrumental in reducing injury and inflammation. Swimming is a great meditative experience as well, the feeling of being immersed in water taking us back to our embryonic days. Its relaxing to the mind as well as the body.

I’ve got completely hooked an this app called Blinkist which summarises books in ca 15 mins.I now  daily get through at least 2 books a day this way  making use of downtime in Uber taxis and plane rides. Still its no substitute for reading a complete book front to back, but in the absence of abundance of time it’s a great way to get its main essence.

Some of my favourites were: The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker, Super Human by dave Asprey, Home Deus by Yuval Harari, A brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry, and Buddas Brain by Rick Hanson. I also liked Aware by Daniel Siegel and the Subtle Art of Not giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.

Books i’ve read back to back which i loved were: Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris and Why we Sleep by Mathew Walker which i refer to below.

Following my party in Burgundy I’ve become a big lover of Burgundy reds (was always a lover of the whites) and started exploring the region more focused. The world of wine is so vast and sophisticated that the only practical way around it is region by region. I’ve also started investing in wine thanks to a lovely gift I got for my 40th from my brother Stelios and his wife Anna which is an investment plan with Berry Brothers& Rudd. I was pleasantly surprised to realise how some of the top Grand Crus have gone up 10x in price in the last decade or so (like Domain de la Romanee-Conti), so my first investment was in some fabulous Grand Crus one level down like Clos de la Roche. My thinking is simple: if they dont appreciate in value, i’ll just drink them. If they do, i’ll still drink them!

I’ve become a big fan of – no joke – sleep. After reading a New York best seller ‘Why we sleep’ I’ve realised how important regular good quality sleep is, and how damaging the mantra quoted by many a-famous workaholics like Margaret Thatcher “ill sleep when I’m dead” is. As the author puts it that’s the fastest way to ensure you are in fact dead!

I now try to sleep without an alarm on for a few days a week (Jeff Bezos of amazon is famously known for that) and get in at least 8 hours regular sleep and an 11-12 hour sleep at least once a week. Our biological clock is in fact so accurate that I find myself consistently waking up a few minutes before the alarm goes off anyway. But letting sleep run its natural course actually makes a big difference. I’ve also found that taking Magnesium supplements helps in that which I now do consistently.

This year, unlike previous ones, I didn’t do any other tech / startup investments for two reasons: prices are too high in tech still, I think we are nearing the end of a bubble again. Secondly, to diversify. My main investments for the year were in completing a big refurb job in my apartment that was being planned for over two years, my bew business TalentDesk.io, wine and good friendships!

After a lot of sweat, hassle in dealing with unreliable builders and workers its finally come to a close and I’m happy to say was worth the sweat in the end. Property never really interested me as a business: I just find it too dry, it lacks creativity, invention and imagination.  But it’s been such a steep learning for me completing this project that  I feel now if I ever wanted to get into property professionally, I probably could!

I’ve continued to paint, albeit not as much as I’d like – recurring comment I know– but still managed to get in some new art pieces completed. I still find that nothing puts me in that mode of flow like painting does, where I feel happy, connected with myself and the world, hyper-focussed in the zone. Almost euphoric. I aim to do more of it.

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s always a recurring resolution of mine to paint and write more, activities that put me in a state of ‘flow’, deep focused attention and mindfulness. States that lead to the feeling of presence and therefore happiness and well being.

Another resolution is to do more meditation: a practice I dabbled at in the past 2 years and seen similar benefits to what I describe above. More focus, deeper awareness, composure, an ability to control your thoughts and live in the moment. All of which are much needed to maintain mental and physical health in a world where we are littered and bombarded increasingly by over-information which leads to exhaustion, anxiety and unhappiness.  

Stillness, I’ve found, is the only way  of blocking that noise out and cleansing the mind. And I find that in activities that put me in that state of ‘flow’ like painting, writing, swimming, boxing, cooking, and meditation. It makes me feel more aware, connected and present in the moment.

The latter is the laggard in the practices I’ve adopted hence my resolution to ramp up on it in 2020.

Wishing you all an amazing new year and a new decade. Much love to you all and your loved ones.  

The importance of Art in Business, and the irrelevance of specialists

I was recently at a conference (which I shall not name) where some tech leaders – Founders,  CEOs, VCs, Angel investors  and other stakeholders, all specialists in their respective domains – were  sharing their vision and views on what the future of tech holds. The multi-billion dollar question, or potentially trillion dollar question (I do believe that in the next decade we will see the first trillion dollar startup)

I have vouched to stop going to such conferences and not just because of the bad coffee and boring chat. 

Listening to them talk, despite their obvious intellect, vast experience and success, it struck me that the more of these conferences one goes to, the less chance of predicting the future they have. Or creating blockbuster products and services which is what most of the chat in these conferences tends to obsess over. Or in the very least no better chances. Why? Mainly for 3 reasons I would argue.

  1. Everyone presenting at these events has an agenda of their own. They’re selling you something so their views are biased, by definition 
  2. The more they mingle with each other the more esoteric their views become. They develop tunnel vision. 
  3. If they could predict the future they certainly wouldn’t be sharing it with you. 

It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s top leaders failed to predict  the future or even see and react to fundamental shifts in their market. IBM failed to understand the importance of Software in a market they owned, paving the way for Microsoft and Bill Gates becoming the richest man on the planet. IBM’s CEO  Thomas J. Watson Jr. famously said back in 1943 “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”

Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson  which collectively owned the mobile market failed to see the rise of the smartphone, or react to it, as did Blackberry. 

The list goes on. Similarly, as innovative as todays tech companies are, tomorrows unicorns will likely not come out of the Googles or Facebooks of this world. They will most likely come out of, quite literally, nowhere. 

In fact you will struggle to find very many highly insightful or predictive quotes from top leaders anywhere which in hindsight have been proven right. And I would contest anyone supporting that they ever went to a conference that in retrospect was highly predictive of what was to come, in any field. 

Specialists, who tend to talk at such events, are specialists of today and often their views are irrelevant in tomorrows world. 

The artistic world in fact has been much more visionary, imaginative and predictive of the future than any of the ‘specialists’ opinions. Consider how relevant Star Trek is still to this day. Or ground-breaking films like the Terminator or Asimov’s novels from decades ago. 

Consider how David Bowies’ interview in 1999 to Jeremy Paxman was and still is perhaps the most visionary encapsulation of what was to come , a good two decades ago.  It was by an artist and musician, not by a tech leader. 

Art, music, film production, literature, fashion – all forms of Art – are in fact better places to look at to understand what’s to come. Why? Because Artists do one thing far better than most business people: they think fresh. They imagine. They don’t operate or act on data which is the mantra of the modern business world. By definition if you’re acting on data you’re already too late. 

This is not to say data is unimportant in business – very few businesses in today’s world can operate with any success without it. But trying to predict the future using data is like trying to paint with data. You will get something very dull at best. 

There’s  other reasons I think turning to the Art world is more useful than listening to specialists. I think Artists in general – of any form, be it fashion, music, fine art, film etc. –  are far better at understanding human’s inner desires than scientists and specialists. Why? Because for any form of art to be successful it must appeal to one’s taste. You listen to music you like, watch films you like, wear clothes you like, buy art you like without, in very many cases being able to articulate why. It’s not an act of logic or rationality, it drive by emotion and impulse. It just appeals to your taste.

The business world is rather tasteless in comparison. When was the last time you attended a board meeting when anyone addressed this – in my opinion vastly important- subject: taste. 

It only takes a quick glimpse at most business people to understand that in fact they are tasteless. When was the last time you saw a well dressed venture capitalist? 

Taste is hugely important. If only the business world was more consumed by it, so would we, literally as consumers. If you can understand peoples taste in the commercial world you are far more likely to create blockbuster products, and certainly much more than going to industry conferences hosted and attended by, mainly, people who have none. 

So, I would argue that industry leaders would do far better in spending their limited time going to art exhibitions, music festivals, the theatre, watching movies and reading science fiction rather than business books written by some Harvard MBA who shares a taste but with a blind donkey (and that’s on a good day).

Or maybe – even better- try to create some art.  Painting is and has always been my deepest passion and has contributed far more to anything I’ve ever achieved in business than anything else. For anyone who has never tried it, I highly recommend it: staring at a blank canvass before starting to paint is far more daunting as any exercise I have ever come across in my 15 years of running businesses. You need to create something from nothing. Logic, data or any analysis – tools you readily deploy in solving business problems – cannot come to your assistance. Empirical evidence is irrelevant as is ‘a priori’ knowledge or past experience. The things that most businesses entirely run on. 

In other words to create art you need to do something that unfortunately we do too little of in business: you need to IMAGINE. If only we did more of it. 

Celebrating my 40th!

I recently celebrated my much anticipated 40th birthday (which is on 1st May) in the beautiful Beaune in Burgundy with a lovely group of 80 people who flew in from 11 different destinations: San Francisco, NYC, London, Paris, Brussels, Dubai, Qatar, Persia, Cyprus, Athens and Mumbai. 

I feel truly blessed, humbled and honoured.

After months of preparation – leading to it being dubbed as my ‘wedding without the bride’ – I’m delighted to say that it exceeded all our expectations, even mine. 

We created a website to collect all the photo and video footage which you can see here https://xenios40th.com/

Apart from the unforgettable memories this truly magical weekend gave us all, I’m most delighted to see how people who had never met before actually really gelled, bonded, forged new friendships and now even planning holidays together flying from different parts of the world. 

I’m still getting messages from people telling me how nostalgic they are of that weekend and thanking me for their new friends. This makes me truly happy. There were tears of happiness, hugs, kisses, true bonding, friendships formed and strengthened, new business opportunities I’m sure, and, one or two break ups to spice it all up.

Once again, like I say in my speech which you can view here https://xenios40th.com/videos, serendipity, randomness, chance, are at the nucleus of the creation of great things – relationships, opportunities and memories.  Life is a series of sliding doors. In a split second your life could take a completely different trajectory. I love this about life and have always lived this way, and frankly wouldn’t know how – or want to – live any other way. 

Often confused, this is not to say we don’t set goals or targets in a structured way. I’ve always set high goals and expectations for myself in everything – be it my work, relationships friendships, sport or training. But HOW we get there is what makes all the difference. 

Given a choice I’ve always opted to get to the destination with a compass rather than a map. Always keeping one eye on the clifftop and one eye on the climb.  

There was so much happiness in these few days that I’ve decided to do a regular party of similar dimensions. The next one being over new years eve, probably on the mountains, so stay tuned. 

Life is too short to be lived in a dull way. As I say in my thank you note to my guests, “in the end what we are left with, are good memories, with special friends and family. Everything else is actually overrated”. 

(this line was taken out of a text message that I had sent to Sanu a while ago, and to my surprise he kept it and recited it in his amazing speech. That truly did move me Thanks bro, love you man.) 

In the spirit of serendipity, off the back of this party I have made three new resolutions, including to have a regular big party in a new destination.

The second is to purse a life-long dream I always had of owning a small boutique hotel (much like  the Cedre where the party was held) which can be a gathering point for good friends and family to have quality intimate moments in.  Like Sanu recites in his speech: good food, vino, and conversation with your loved ones, 

Some of my favourite moments over this long weekend which we don’t have on footage as the videographer only arrived on the Friday, were sitting around the fireplace the night before with a smaller select group of my closest friends and family, drinking exquisite Burgundy wine (Nuits St George 2014 to be precise), smoking Havana cigars and having charcuterie and cheese. That was a dream.  I want to be able to do that every weekend, so I’ve started my search for a property as cute as the Cedre in the Cotswalds in Britain. 

My third resolution is to start an events organising company which I’m planning on doing with Aylish considering what an amazing job she did (as everyone said) and how good the teamwork was.

In fact the level of detail was so out of this world that numerous people had said to her she needs to do this. And, ironically, they don’t even know the hidden stories of all the things that went wrong that she managed to fix last minute (like the luggage with all the merchandising  getting lost at the airport, the Audio-Visual technical guys arriving one day late which meant we needed to find equipment last  minute that they don’t have in a tiny town like Beaune, a power outage in the club just before the DJ was about to start playing and and I was being led to the surprise cake entrance – literally the worst timing possible – to the weather changing which meant we couldn’t use the garden and had to  figure out a plan b last minute. Which in the end may have been a blessing in disguise as the venue inside was stunning as you will see from the photos

Not only did she sort all of these out, she stayed incredibly calm and didn’t mention any of them to me until the event was over.  So I can stay cool. Simply amazing. Thank you once again for a superstar performance. The company will be a success no doubt 

My last resolution – which is more of a commitment than resolution hence I exclude it from the count – is to carry on living life like a series of siding doors. Living in the moment. Embracing serendipity, randomness, the pleasures and surprises that the pursuit of chance brings into our life. This event would not be possible if I lived my life any other way, which is why, as I say in my speech its testament to the fact that “in the grander scheme of things, minus some setbacks along the way, in the end, it works”. 

Always following my hunch, embracing serendipity, following randomness, celebrating life, living in the moment, seeing the glass half full. Otherwise life is just boring. 

Rob’s speech (the third one in speeches video) – with a good pinch of wit, smarts and sarcasm, starts by describing me as a ‘larger than life personality’. I would never say that about myself but him saying it flatters and humbles me. But, ironically, one thing I always used to and still say, is that “the only way to beat death is to be larger than life”.

So let’s hope he’s right!

NB:

One story I wanted to say in my speech but had no time by the end was that, quite symbolically, Aylish is someone I also met very serendipitously almost 10 years ago now.  She actually came in for an interview for a book-keeper, which of course  she  failed miserably J… but once again, in a very random turn of events, I followed my hunch and told her she’d make a great PR. Which was very random and out of the blue as she had no track record whatsoever in it or even knew what it was! She followed that and has been running our PR  since for 9 years now – which has been a pivotal part of our success at PeoplePerHour.com, achieving virtually thousands of press mentions across all media, TV, press and digital. 

And in another very ironic and serendipitous turn of events, we’ve now reinvented her again turning her into an Event Organiser, following the success this party!

Reflections on 2018

I started 2018  on the beautiful mountains of Hokkaido, Japan skiing, and ended it on the serene beaches of Tulum in Mexico. In-between I did unusually little travelling as I had been quite tired of excessive travelling in previous years and wanted to stay put, get into my daily routine and have a less hectic schedule.

1st Jan in Tulum

 

That said, new places I visited for the first time were Montenegro & Croatia for a friends 40thwhich was awesome, and Abu Dhabi where I visited the Louvre. The rest were usual places I like to visit like the Trois Valle  for skiing  where had the best week ever in Feb there, south of France, Greek islands, Dubai to see family, Cyprus for the  annual dosage of weddings, and Athens of course to see the PPH team there.

 

When we did our first hire in Athens in 2010 (Sotiris who is now CTO of our newest business, TalentDesk.io) we crammed everyone in a little apartment owned by my PPH  CTO (Spyros) which has since become a thriving Airbnb  business for visiting  PPH team members. I think he has better occupancy than the Four Seasons! 🙂  We then got one floor in  a 4-storey building nearby in the trendy area of Gazi.  I did say back then that one day we will get the whole building, I suspect most people thought I was  just being my usual over-bullish self.

 

This year, 8 years after that first hire, I’m proud to say, we  finally did. We now occupy all 4 floors so its officially the PPH building

 

2018 was a year I’d describe best with one word: learning.  A lot has happened in the year, some positive, some not so, but most importantly all lead to good learnings.

 

Some of the things I’m happy about are:

 

Continuing to stay disciplined with my  daily training, even when I travel, and in fact mixing it up more and upping the intensity. My regular regime now is sparring sessions at least 2-3 times a week doing 15-20 rounds, 2-3 mins each of Muay Thai with the notorious Ash the PocketRocket (@Pashpocketrocket),  formerly UK’a No1  in Muay Thai, and champion of UK and Europe.  I often struggle to walk back to the office as I’m sure some have noticed 🙂 , but i’m getting addicted to the regular beating and hustling around for an hour in a room. It focuses the mind, trains the body, helps me destress, get my aggression out and very often puts me in that ‘zone’ as they call it where you are just in your element and you ‘flow’. Im getting more and more addicted to it.

 

The rest of the week I do pad and bag work , mixed in with some weight training for strength and plyometric training for explosiveness and endurance.

I’ve also started enjoying trying out different coaches  in boxing and Muay Thai wherever I travel, if I can find one. I did this in in Dubai  in November in a beautiful top floor outdoor ring, pic below, later on Miami in December, and – most enjoyably – in Tulum Mexico  in Dec & Jan where I trained on the sand on the beach every day (yes including the 31stDec and 1stJan).  Training on the beach has just taken the whole experience to a new level. It’s a lot more hard work and strain on the feet and legs but it’s just psychedelic. You connect with nature, the sea the sun the earth the wind and your body all right there in one.  And at the end you just dip in the ocean dripping wet with sweat. Pure bliss, Simply magical.

 

I’m also happy for  getting more religiously into intermittent fasting and improving  what and when I eat, getting more disciplined about it, again, even when I travel,  for which I feel so much better, more focussed, have a better immune system (did not get ill once since I started fasting) and feel generally lighter and more clear minded.

 

I’m happy that I got more into life coaching and now have a regular session with an amazing guy I met serendipitously (David) who coaches some of the top business people in Europe (not sure how I fit into that but I’m happy he’s accepted me as a client).  We met for an initial 15 minutes as he usually does to ‘interview’ his clients, and we ended up talking non stop for two hours about everything and anything. I never met someone who simply just ‘got’ me instantly, almost like knowing me all my life. I guess that’s why he is so successful at what he does, but again, much like with a physical trainer, chemistry is everything.

 

Some people you meet and in the first 20 minutes  you feel like you know them for 20 years. And then others you know for 20 years and you still feel like it’s the first 20 minutes.

 

As I said in a previous post here if our bodies can benefit with having a professional coach so can our mind. If the best athletes do better with a coach so will you.

 

I find that coaching declutters my mind,  helps me see things clearer and cuts through conundrums that often torture us like a hot knife through butter. I intend to do more of that in 2019 and have regularised a bi-weekly two hour slot  with David which I always look forward to.

 

Looking back at my last years’ 2018 resolutions post I think I kept true to some but not so true to others.

 

I kept my resolution to to cut off and stay away from toxic people in my life. Like I said in my last years post, people who always take and never give back, who have negative energy, often petty, and want the worst of you or others around them, Either out of spite, jealousy, or just small-mindedness. Toxic is the word.  People we often find ourselves making excuses for beacause they were victim to XYZ or they don’t know better. The why,  in the end, simply doesn’t matter. It is what it is.  I’ve become a lot more clinical in how I cull people from my life.

 

Like David says, its like walking in a supermarket with a bag in each hand and keep chucking stuff in. If you don’t take some stuff out, the bags will get heavy and will break.   The analogy stands – as we get through life we naturally, by the law of numbers,  meet and end up having more and more people in our lives.  We need to clear some out, starting with the most toxic ones,  and then we start feeling lighter. More focusses. Less distracted.  Less quantity, more quality of interactions. More connectedness and meaning.

 

My biggest resolution for 2019 is to make every single hour count. Literally.

 

We have a finite number of hours in this world, allocating them wisely, efficiently, in the  experiences that we get true meaning and value from is my number one goal. In the year I’m turning 40, the realisation that time is our most valuable commodity, the one thing we can’t ever get back, hits me more starkly.

 

Our biggest enemies to that endeavour are saying yes too easily, either out of politeness, kindness, a sense of (self-inflicted) obligation, fear of missing out (FOMO), sheer stupidity or just because we can. Because we don’t stop to think, we just go from moment to moment, living life like a series of motions without the birds-eye view from above. Without real presence, as I say in this recent post.

 

We waste energy making excuses for people, or analysing why, or explaining ourselves unnecessarily. I now can’t even waste the 10 or 15 seconds it would take me to respond to a message out of ‘politeness’ if it’s the wrong person. Some may say ‘it doesn’t cost you much just to write back’  to be ‘polite’. But the truth is 15 seconds here, 15 there… it quickly adds up. And those 15 seconds you will never get back. And for what?

 

Given a choice I’d much rather be impolite but efficient than the other way around. Life is too short.

 

Sadly I id not keep to my other 2018 resolution of going on safari to see the gorillas or spending a week in a training camp (although I got plenty of training all the same and I think my body is already on the limit of breakage so maybe that’s for the better 🙂 ). I’m less bothered about this because I really did need to cut back on travel and get more in a regular routine.

 

 

The other upside of that is that once I did travel I ended up appreciating it a lot more. Spending  time on the beach at the end of the year after being in London for a few months made me realise that the ‘animal’ in me needs more of that. There’s a connection I get with myself, my mind and my body which I can only get when I’m in nature. Its therapeutic, calming, sheds clarity in your mind, gives you fresh energy. It’s like hitting the restart button.

 

I’ve resolved to do more of that in 2019.   Once every month I plan to go somewhere where I can connect with nature. Whether is the beach, mountain or countryside.

 

Business wise, 2018  – our 11thyear since our founding – was our most profitable and I think most productive year.

 

Even though we have been developing the product since the start of 2017, we only really launched  end of 2007 and in  Feb 2018  our first customer for TalentDesk.io– our latest innovation under the PeoplePerHour umbrella. Since then we’ve had consecutive growth every quarter since. We also built the TalentDesk.io team up to a decent size of 10 people although being part of PPH means we all share knowledge and resources across the whole team.

 

On the PeoplePerHour front we launched our TV campaign (which you can watch here) which aired in October and November and airing again mid Jan onwards.

 

I’m very proud of the team’s efforts and results on both fronts. Both team PPH and team TD.io are truly world class, well gelled together, operating properly as a family and passionate about what they do.

 

I feel lucky and blessed to have every single member of both teams, and in particular to have the two leaders that spearhead each respectively – Spyros and Sotiris – who now do it fairly autonomously, without much involvement needed from me. This is great as it makes the business more independent, stronger and therefore more valuable.  As emotionally attached as all founders are to their companies –  they are our babies after all – our number one job, I believe, as leaders, is really is to make sure they can stand on their own feet without us. It’s that bitter-sweet joy (I assume here as I have no kids yet :)) of seeing your baby grow more independent of you each day and one day not need you at all. Then you know you’ve done a good job, putting the company above you – much like you’d do with your child.

 

Above all else, being Selfless always gets the better result.

 

Plus it gives me time to have a normal life which as a founder one forgets for many years in the beginning. Having your fingers in the fire is not sustainable for ever. You burn out (it is fire after all :)).

 

Thanks folks, you truly rock 🙂 and I can’t wait to see what 2019 unfolds for both PPH and TD.io  with all  the exciting stuff we are doing. Something tells me it will be a transformational year.

 

Other than making every hour count, in 2019 I’m looking forwards to my 40thbirthday which I’m celebrating with an amazing group of friends and family in the beautiful Burgundy, France, indulging in amazing wine, tours of the chateaux and countryside, good food and company for a long weekend on 3rd May (two days after my actual birthday). I really can’t wait.

 

 

I’d also like to spend more studio time (this is a recurring and failing resolution!)  pursuing my art, write more, read more, and do the things that put me in zone,  that state of ‘flow’ – where you are immersed in intense focus, awareness, at peace with yourself, moments of true presence, where you are in harmony with yourself.

For me normally that’s doing something creative, and interestingly enough Muay Thai fits that category too (the pocket rocket predicted that i’m a creative person from the first time we sparred so clearly there is an  element of creativity to martial arts, its not  just  brute force and technique). Which explains why I feel zoned in when I do it. Other things that give me that sensation of flow are things like cooking, painting , writing, connecting with nature, listening to an amazing tune and walking in the streets lost in the crowds peoplewatching,  imagining, thinking, as I often like to do in Soho around my office.

 

That’s my other resolution for 2019. Chase and find more moments of pure flow. And spend more quality time with good friends and family – people you have a real connection with. Making every hour count, and not wasting a single minute on meaningless experiences.

 

Below are some photos from highlights of my year 🙂

 

Wishing everyone all the best for 2019: inner peace and happiness.

 

With family in Dubai in November?

Coming down a narrow crevasse in Courchevel in Feb

With my 40year old niece in Dubai ?

Celebrating my bday with friends in May

Enjoying the sunshine in the lovely Mykonos in August

With my Godson Bertie in June ❤️❤️❤️

With my sister after a long rooftop BBQ lunch in London in July

Getting some winter sun at the gorgeous Zaya Island outside Abu Dhabi in Feb

Swimming in the caves in Croatia in July

Wine tasting with some lovely fish in Sveti Stefan Montenegro in July

The stunning Aman in Sveti Stefan – what a spot. Note the little church at the top

Halloween night – one of the best parties ever at Annabels in London!

What you looking at? 🙂 Bonding with a python at Halloween

End of the night at Halloween: things got a little hairy ???

finishing off an oil painting in my studio ?

Doing one of my fav activities – cooking. This also happens to be my fav. dish: Dover Sole Meunire ?

Learning to play the sax… or not:)??

Christmas with the family in London ❤️?

Horseriding in the desert in Dubai

My niece and goddaughter handing me a starfish ❤️❤️❤️

The power of presence

(I wrote this on the 30th of December but could not post it till today due to internet).

This morning I woke up in Miami around about 6am as my clock still hadn’t adjusted from London time. I went for a long run on a beautiful windy Florida beach, the sand still cool from the evening, dipped in the wavy water and  just sat on the beach in total solitude, catching my breath while watching the sunrise, hands and feet buried in the sand whilst the occasional wave smacked my face almost to wake me up every time I dozed off.

 

I felt present, aware, in the moment. I felt as alive as ever. Maybe it’s the tiredness of city life that accumulated on me. Still. I find that there are some rare moments when we connect with nature and with ourselves which give us a different kind of calm, focus, a feeling of clarity and true presence. I felt like I wasn’t in my body.  I was hovering above watching  me, from a birds eye view, taking in the whole scene.

 

I felt a different kind of awareness. Awareness of the daily sort is going through the motions of life, from one micro transaction to the other:  I’m having a meal, I boarding a plane, I’m brushing my teeth, I’m going into a meeting, or as in this instance, I’m clutching the sand and watching the sunrise.. There is no macro to the micro:  our life is simply a series of events. Its missing the glue that puts it all together.

 

 

This kind of awareness I felt this morning  is of a different king. Its transcendent awareness. The kind where your individual actions in themselves don’t matter,  you register them, are aware of them but park them in the background. The total picture comes to the foreground. The micro dissolve in the presence of the macro.

 

In one moment I felt more life than in the preceding  six months’ hustle and bustle  of busy city life where we live from moment to moment, transaction to transaction, motion to motion. We never stop to truly be in the moment, to detach ourselves from being truly present, truly alive, truly and absolutely aware of ourselves and our surrounding. The constant bombardment of email, texts, social media (I’m a victim myself I admit, I’m not just criticising others) only accentuates this feeling of being lost. We lose the big picture. The macro that I refer to above.

 

Most of my friends, myself included, live a pretty fast paced life. We are always doing a myriad things concurrently, and when we are not we are planning our next transaction. We analyse the past and plan the future, all the time forgetting the present. We are conscious but not really aware. We go  from one motion to the other, there Is no time for awareness.

 

I now know, more than ever,  that all the success, all the money in the world will not bring one true fulfilment unless they can feel this kind of transcendent awareness. Where you can grab the sand, feel the wave or the suns’ rays, squeeze a lemon, catch a crab or just sit in silence and still stand above these micro events. The sum of the total is greater than that of its parts. Unless we can get a birds eye view of ourselves, transcend out of our mind and body for a moment we can’t really appreciate it or truly live it.

 

I don’t know how this works – or is even possible – in a crazy city life which is non-stop, but I know I need more of this, and making it my top 2019 resolution.

The Art of Learning

I read this passage in the Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin and found it quite profound so I’m sharing here. I’ve always said and felt that people with a positive energy, a magnetism that stands unshaken by the inevitable daily tests of life, are the ones who in the end do better in any disciple they’re in and not on only that, are happier and attract other like-minded people around them.  Josh Waitzkin puts is far more eloquently than me:

 

In my experience, successful people shoot for the stars, put their hearts  on the line in every battle, and ultimately discover that the lessons learned from the pursuit of excellence mean much more than the immediate trophies and glory. In the long run, painful losses may prove much more valuable than the wins – those who are armed with a healthy attitude and are able to draw wisdom from every experience, “good” or “bad” are the ones who are happier along the  way. Of course the real challenge is to stay in range of this long-term perspective when you are under fire and hurting in the middle of war. This, maybe our biggest hurdle, is at the core of the art of learning.

 

Alexander Dumas says something similar in one of my favourite  – if not the favourite – books ever, the Count of Montechristo

Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome. Do your worst, for I will do mine! Then the fates will know you as we know you