Pythagora’s Boxer. Oil on canvas.

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

6  practices that completely changed my life

I’m a big believer that  all people should push for constant change in their lives. Standing still leads to losing one’s sense of purpose and can often lead to anxiety, a feeling of discontent and even depression. Over the last 12-18 months looking back I have made some radical changes in my life some of which have been truly transformation. Here are my top ones

 

 

  1. Intermittent fasting

 

I  have been doing this religiously  for the last 18 months, initially to lose body fat, for which its  very very effective and fast, but afterwards mostly because of the addiction to the mental focus and feeling it gives you.

 

There’s lots of   literature one can read online about intermittent fasting, some with conflicting views so take what you read with a pinch of salt. Personally I’m a big fan of Thomas Delauer’s channel on Youtube – I find it one of the better sources and one that goes deeper into the science behind things as opposed to voicing generic unfounded opinions.

 

The important thing to bear in mind is that every person is different –  fasting may  or may not be for you, or, and quite likely, you will need to adapt it to what works best for you.

 

In general the thesis is that by paying attention to  WHEN you eat, not just  WHAT you eat, you allow your body to take a break from digesting food constantly and turn more attention on itself. After twelve hours Autophagy kicks in (Greek for ‘eating oneself’) where the weaker cells in your body get ‘eaten’ by the stronger ones so in essence the body replenishes itself.  You start feeling better, your skiing cleans up,  your energy levels are higher (we really don’t realise how much energy constant food digestion takes up, our hunter-gatherer body was not designed for this after all) and of course you lose fat because in the absence of food in the stomach your body turns to  reserve fat as the next easiest source of fuel.

 

The other thing to bear in mind is that fasting becomes easier the more you do it. So after a while you don’t feel the hunger any more and the shakiness (if you had it in the first instance) goes away. Your body is very good at adapting to what it’s used to. So if  you have a fridge next to your desk and keep munching all day, that’s what your body will get used to and need. If you fast it will retrain itself to accept that feeding time won’t be till hour 16 when you break your fast (another misconception: breakfast  which in the modern world has been taken to mean your morning meal, also wrongly called ‘the most important meal of the day’ by many, is meant to mean literally the meal which breaks your fast. If the first thing you do when you wake up is gobble down some food its hardly a fast. Granted you may be asleep for 8 hours but you hardly burn anything during sleep in comparison with daily activity of moving around).

 

My advice to anyone new to fasting would be to stage it. Kill the classic three meals a day (a completely  fabricated practice by the lazy modern Man – our  hunter-gather ancestors never had the luxury to feed 3 times a day, unless it was a REALLY good day in the hunt) and go to two, one being lunch and the other an early dinner. Then to one.

 

Try to  fast: feed in 12:12 hour windows at first then make it 16:8, then 18:6.  16-18 hours fast is  meant to be the optimal as you get a good few hours of autophagy and fat burn. For me what works well is to mix it up. I usually do a 24 hour fast at least once or twice a week (usually a Monday  and Tuesday following a food-indulgent weekend) and 20/4 for the rest of the working week. Weekends I let go and refeed the body. And have fun!

 

The other benefit of fasting from a physique perspective is that you can literally take whatever you would normally feed on (or actually even more)  and cram it in that 4 hour window without putting on the same amount of body fat. In other words when you fast, during the narrow feeding period your body turns into a fat-burning machine, destroying whatever you put in. Which  means you can indulge more.

 

The same goes for splitting your weekly intake (I’ve found) skewed towards weekends. If you fast all week and go nuts on weekends, the net effect body-fat wise is much less than spreading the same intake evenly throughout the week.   Your metabolism adapts to be much more efficient at digesting food when food is around, while in the mean time your body is given a chance to replenish and work on itself when it’s not, keeping insulin levels more steady and therefore avoiding the peaks and troughs in energy which you inevitably  get when constantly feeding at narrow intervals, especially so with carbs and sugars.

 

 

  1. Training every day

 

Training, in whatever format it may be (gym or doing a sport) is another one of those practices that the more you do the  easier it becomes.

 

I was never too much of a morning person training wise, and the evenings  I often have social or work-related engagements, or just want to  chill after as tiring day at work, so for me the transformation was

 

  1. to find something I love and enjoy doing which makes it effortless. I got addicted to boxing and Muay Thai
  2. to find a time of day that works for me  and make it a regular. I religiously do it  just past midday at 2pm  just before’ breaking my fast’ . This also has the benefit of kicking me into Ketosis (as I explain further below) so that I can keep my evenings free and don’t feel drained all day with a morning workout.. plus by splitting my day in half it’s like having two fresh mornings in the day. It’s almost like a restart to the day
  3. finding a trainer or a training partner with whom you have fun so it makes your time enjoyable. I now interchange a few trainers but literally with all of them we are friends and laugh non stop together.. sometimes too much:) That one hour of my day is not just a reboot but a pleasurable laugh.
  4. setting goals that you work towards. Seeing yourself progress towards goals is motivating and gives you stamina to keep going
  5. slotting the session in my calendar and don’t move it no matter what. Its the only way to stay religious about it

 

Training has not just been lifechanging because I got healthier and in better shape but again it’s the mental stimulus, higher metabolic rate, more alertness and energy, more balanced hormonal system and a calmness that you only get by  sweating it out. Especially with all-consuming jobs like mine, finding time to train  – even if its 30 mins – every day is truly transformation. You are more focussed, have a clearer mind and feel better all round.

 

  1. Cutting out carbs and sugars from my diet

 

Unbeknown to most, sugar is the biggest killer in America and more addictive than cocaine. Not only that but it puts you in constant swings of energy from highs to lows and back all the time, hence the term ‘high on sugar’.

 

I’m lucky because I  never did like sweet things too much (apart from desert wine J) but I used to consume a lot of carby foods: bread, pasta, rice etc.  I’ve cut those out of my diet almost entirely in the last 18 months and again, much like with intermittent fasting, the first benefit is  fat loss, but then following that I got hooked on the feeling of having steady levels of insulin in my blood stream without the highs and lows in energy it creates.

 

Again, the easiest way for one to understand the science behind all this is to think of our hunter-gather ancestors. When the first Homo Sapiens evolved from our predecessors Homo Erectus  we weren’t designed with the idea that a fridge will be  next to us 24/7. Or a grocery store round the corner. Our body was designed for infrequent feeding for necessity (survival) when food is around, storing any excess as body fat to turn to when food isn’t around. What we’ve done in modern living however is invert that: we feed constantly out of pleasure (you will not die of starvation if you stop the constant munch) and our body spends more time accumulating fat instead of using it a spare resource.

 

Equally our diet was composed mostly of meat, vegetables, nuts and berries – things found in nature, in other words starch, protein and small amounts of fructose. Synthetic carbohydrates such as the ones found in bread were not part of it either. We forget that   bread and pasta are things we invented in the kitchen.

 

So when you eat a bowl of pasta,  or have a cake, the body isn’t designed to process that at its normal  metabolic rate which is why whatever energy is need is instantly released (resulting In spikes in glucose and insulin) and the rest is turned to fat storage, as opposed to the whole meal being digested at a pace akin to the pace you expend energy (therefore avoiding the energy spikes and fat accumulation).

 

On top of that, the double whammy is that – unlike with longer lasting  or  in colloquial terms more ‘filling’ meals like starchy veg or a steak – you still feel hungry because the carbs have been digested so fast (hence people saying have pasta for lunch as its ‘light’) so you end up having more of it to fill up. Which is more calories and more carbs again and hence more fat. It’s a viscous cycle,

 

 

  1. Ketosis

 

I’m not a big fan personally of the keto diet, I find it difficult to consume the amounts of fat it prescribes.  I prefer  intermittent fasting (not that they’re mutually exclusive)  coupled with high protein / low carbohydrate diet and – quite importantly – fasted training, especially HIT (High Intensity Training).

Ketosis and a ketogenic diet are often confused. Ketosis is the state you get in when your glucose levels are below a certain threshold. In the absence of glucose to turn to energy your liver secretes ketones which are used to burn body fat for energy. The effect is higher fat burn rate which is why a Ketogenic diet is often prescribed for fat loss.

 

However it’s not the only way to get into Ketosis. In fact the easiest way is by doing HIT on a fasted stomach. If you’ve done over 12 hours fast and do a high intensity training session without eating anything you’re almost certainly going to be in ketosis.

 

Ketones are important because they are one of the two sources of energy for the brain, the other being  glucose. Studies have shown increased mental activity if ketones are used for energy versus glucose: in other words you think clearer, faster and are more focussed, and even better memory.

 

So for me what’s worked in terms of getting the mental benefits of  ketosis without putting myself through a strict fatty keto diet is to break my fast every day after a fasted HIT session.

 

Some people measure whether they are in ketosis or not using one o fa variety of methods. For me its pointless. You will feel it when you are in  ketosis – the  mental clarity and focus is  quite profound and addictive.

 

  1. Getting a ‘mind coach’

 

I hate the term life coach or therapist – both carry inaccurate predispositions often associated with the negative. It’s a bit like calling your sports trainer a ‘fat burner’. The focus should be on the positive.

 

Ultimately what it comes down to is someone helping you train your mind, much like a Personal Trainer helps you train your body or helps you improve a sport. Remember: even the top sportspeople or athletes have a trainer.  So if your mind is as important as your body (if not more) why wouldn’t you do the same for your mind? Why would someone help you train your body or get better at sport be seen as so obvious (and indeed common these days) whilst someone a trainer  for your mind would not?

 

Our brains and our body are the two things we need to keep in balance the most.  This is not to say you can’t do both alone. Meditation is a form of mind training more often than not done in solitude (though not necessarily) –  as is going to the gym for physical training.  But the right coach can be transformative for both. Which is why even the best athletes have a  trainer and the best business people have as mind coach.

 

Again – chemistry with the right person is crucial here. I probably went through a dozen trainers to get one I really ‘click’ with and happy to spend an hour of my day with every day – that’s a serious commitment to keep up if you’re not having fun with that person or on the same wavelength. Same with a  mind coach.

 

What I got out of mind coaching is first and foremost a deeper understanding of myself.  Our minds are hugely complex muscles – think of how we can still perform actions in a split second that computers with infinitely more CPU power per say cant. We think we understand how our mind works but we don’t (although Steven Pinker’s book of the same name is a great help).  Others simply don’t care which  is fine for some – ignorance can be bliss- but if  you are interested to make the most of what you truly can in this short passing we have through planet earth, I’d argue you stand as far greater chance if you understand yourself.

 

What I understood is what truly motivates me in life, what my fears are and how to overcome them. Only then can you understand how you can improve your interactions with others which in turn has a knock on effect on friendship, social life, and relationships pretty much of all sorts, romantic or not,  and  in my case as a business leader, my interaction with those around me at work which is crucial to any my business success.

 

You become a more balanced person, less self-absorbed, less insecure, more in tune with those around you; you get to appreciate chemistry – again in all types of relationships – and learn to avoid those who will drain your energy (not because they are bad people but because, now that you understand yourself better, you know you’re incompatible) and spend more time to those with whom you find you recharge each others’ batteries. You cut out inefficiency in your life which leaves you feeling a bit lost, lonely, downbeat and frustrated.

 

One of the best take-aways I got from my coach puts the above more eloquently I think. He said to me: “we all a Smart Person inside us and a Kind Person (to some extent or other and in varying degrees between us of course). The important thing  to realise that the two are constantly in battle.  So when we don’t understand a situation, or are fearful of it,  we may gravitate toward being kinder but at the expense of doing the smart thing”.

 

Feeling sorry for someone (don’t confuse sympathy with empathy here) is often a good example. If someone you care for keeps doing the wrong thing then gets in tears, because you cart for them our natural reaction is to say “Aww you poor thing “and give them a hug  or a pat on the back. Guess what. You’ve just increased the chances of them doing it again.  Kindness got one over Smarts in that battle in that instance. The Smart thing to do is in fact to shock them: scream at them and say you look and sound pathetic. “You keep doing this then come crying,. Get a grip and snap out of it.”

 

Or in more layman terms: sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind.

 

  1. Meditation

 

I  never really believed in meditation but I have to confess I’m a converter. Again, the term is probably carrying negative connotation, and images of a  monk stuck in absolute silence for hours on end in a funny and uncomfortable posture.

 

Meditation is nothing other than emptying your thoughts – as much as possible – from a mind that’s constantly bombarded with information all day, something accentuated with today’s social media ridden world we live in. And we do that by trying to not think at all, and train the mind to push away thoughts when they  get in our brain by focusing back on fundamentals like our breathing. The idea is the everything else in life comes and goes: breathing stays with us from start to end in our life.

 

What worked for me is doing some basics with a meditation coach, then using an app like Headspace.What I’ve found is that frequency is more important than length. Even if you do it for 5 mins every day when you wake up (normally what I do) or whenever, but do it consistently, you will find that your mind empties itself from all the clutter. You become calmer and more focussed. More content. Less anxious and agitated.

 

The other  important effect of meditation I’ve found is that you become more intuitive and less cerebral in your thinking. In other words, once the thoughts clutter is gone it’s easier to  follow your intuition, otherwise known as your instincts.  This is important in personal and professional life alike. Hugely so.

 

Why so?

 

We forget or perhaps disregard that Intuition is in essence condensed logic, lots of it, accumulated over our lives or even before, stored in our limbic brain at the back of our mind, literally (and hence the origin of the expression). Which is why we know fear as kids before we are logical enough to compute logically that a situation should be fearful.

 

Equally when an instinct tells you to avoid someone on the street (hence street smart) that’s not a logical computation at that moment. It’s still logical though, entrenched in  the back of our brain from past experiences – that tells you instantly to stay away. Hence  the term ‘street smart’  vs book smart. If you spent all your life in a library reading books you may well lack that experience to trigger that instinctive thought. Result: you get mugged.

 

Instinct is also how animals who don’t have a developed cerebral brain like humans can (as dogs do)  get a negative vibe about someone and start barking. Hence the term ‘animal instinct’

 

In short our limbic brain is  more mature and wiser than  our newer developed prefrontal and new-cortex (hence ‘neo’, Greek word for new) which is responsible for sequential computation of thought otherwise known as analytical thinking or logic. When we think instinctively we short circuit the  neo-cortex and go straight to this hub of accumulated condensed knowledge.

 

Which is why as we get more experience at doing something we stop thinking analytically and start thinking intuitively. We get into a natural ‘flow’ as often called where the activity becomes natural to us.

 

Granted some people are genetically more intuitive than others but I’ve found that meditation helped me become more instinctive buy removing a lot of the clutter and noise that gets in the way.

Reflections on 2017

 

Once again, albeit perhaps more than any other, serendipity was the champion of my year, and its ultimate driving force. A chance visit from someone I’d never met before – Andy – to our Athens office for a day’s consultation ended up him joining us later in the year as Chief Operating Officer and driving so much positive change in the company and hopefully much more to come (note: I was not looking for a COO); a chance meeting with the hilarious and formidable Rob Lynch  @Ko_Lynch aka the ‘Robbinator’ back in May made me get back into boxing & Muay Thai training which I’m now totally addicted to, doing daily and even twice daily lately, feeling so much better for it (aside of losing 13kg and getting back into shape); a chance meeting with a random guy in a brasserie in Paris one weekend yielded a new friendship with a fellow entrepreneur who later invited me to his fabulous Christmas party in Brussels which I duly attended; and a very last minute invite to a group trip to Cuba back in February with a bunch of people I’d never met before, from all different walks of life and age groups,  which I impulsively attended, has been the bedrock for numerous new friendships, with truly amazing people with whom I now share cherished memories both during that trip and after.

 

All a derivate of chance.

With the Cuba gang @ Habanos national festival, Havana, Cuba. Feb 2017

 

These are just some of the serendipitous stories that stand out in 2017. Every year that goes by, I learn again and again, in an increasingly refreshing and enlightening fashion, the importance of just being ‘tuned in’, to have your ‘receivers’ on when seemingly random events happen, because catching – or missing – any one of these chance occurrences can, and will, change your life.

 

Everything happens for a reason – I truly believe this, and more so every year that passes. But we only live to realise it if we are tuned in enough to grasp that chance moment. People whose lives are not influenced by chance are simply those who let it pass by them unnoticed. Who don’t grasp the moment.

 

Following our instincts when life just rolls the dice at us makes all the difference. And it’s a hell of a lot more fun than following a ‘grand plan’. As one of my favourite quotes goes: “life is what happens to you when others are busy planning it.” Especially in my personal life, I never was a big fan of grand planning. I just go with it.

 

2017 began on the beautiful mountains of Courchevel, France and ended in Tokyo, Japan, from where I then went for a few days of amazing fresh powders skiing in Hokkaido. My trip to Japan truly changed my outlook on the world. The extreme order, the discipline, the addictive hospitality, the cleanliness, the sincerity of the people, and of course the insanely delicious food. On top of all that, skiing in Hokkaido set a new standard altogether. Despite skiing as a kid in numerous places in Europe and America, I’ve never experience this kind of alpine skiing in light powder snow, which gives you the sensation of simply floating in nature amongst white picturesque landscape and spectacularly winding terrain. The whole thing was just another level to anything I’d experienced to date.

 

Below are some of my fav pics from that trip.

So much fresh light powder.. never experienced anything like this!

 

Tokyo in the morning, view from my hotel room.

Outside one of the 80 Buddhist temples in Tokyo

Prayers road, Fukagawa Temple, Tokyo

 

In between those far flung places my year was characterised by unusually little travel compared to past years. Particularly in the autumn months I deliberately wanted to stay put in one place, regroup with myself, get into a regular routine and focus on the things that matter to me the moat: my work, friends, family, health, fitness and, much less than I’d have liked to, my Art.

 

Work-wise, in the year where the company I founded impulsively as a whimsical experiment  a decade ago- PeoplePerHour.com –  turned ten, we had our best year to date by a long way, both financially but also operationally. We surpassed the $100m mark in payouts to freelancers on our site which are now scattered pretty much in every country in the world, we built the team considerably across our two main hubs, London (where the commercial centre resides) and Athens (where the technical team is mostly bases), did some painful but much needed rejigging and consolidation of functions, launched our Enterprise product TalentDesk.io and signed on our first corporate clients, and more importantly, had some really fun moments on the way.

 

In October, almost a month after our actual birthday, we had a great 10th celebration with a very vibrant and passionate community present, sharing stories which inspired us all and will carry on doing so for years to come. I gave a short talk at our celebration to reflect on some of the highlights of that decade-long journey which you can watch here.

 

Later in the year we had two amazing Christmas lunches, one for each of our offices, involving copious amounts of food and drinks.  The pictures speak for themselves

 

London core team lunch at the Smoking Goat in Soho

Athens team lunch + dinner in one 🙂 .. death by meat! @ Steki tou Hlia (translation: Hlias’s hangout.. not Google hangout, the other type ! )

 

I find these team outings very important, not just enjoyable and fun, even if they do sometimes get out of hand 🙂 They preserve our family spirit and ensure we don’t become a corporate machine as we grow. I do hope we keep doing them and never turn into that corporate gorilla.  My 10 years at PeoplePerHour have seen me go through a lot of  scarring lows – and highs of course  but it’s the lows that truly test  you and end up making you thick skinned, tough and immune to most things.  They numb your senses to a point of healthy indifference and give you a great filter to what truly matters and what doesn’t. You develop a bullet-proof shield almost that gives you the armour and stamina to keep carrying on,  undeterred, untethered. After a decade in the trenches (plus 4 years prior to that dabbling at various other entrepreneurial ventures) I think there’s little I can’t take on the chin and plough through; apart from maybe corporate bureaucracy. The day that happens may be my last. I hope it never comes.

 

Investment wise, I wasn’t as active e as I’d like to have been in the year, investing only in a few  start-ups: VillageLuxe,  Stagedoor and my sisters fashion startup Snazzy. All three consumer internet / mobile businesses appealing to niche verticals that have the potential to be a big niche. More importantly I am a big believer in all three founders,  Julia, Michael and Stefani respectively, whose passion and dedication will help charge through the inevitable road-bumps in their journey.

 

Equally for Art. Despite getting a studio at the end of 2016 I didn’t manage to spend enough time in it in 2017 as I’d like to. I intend to do more so in 2018. Still, I managed to complete a dozen or so new paintings, my favourites being the ones below. I’m particularly happy I rediscovered Oils towards the end of the year, and rekindled my love for them. I intend to do more Oil paintings  – or a mix between Acrylic and Oils – in 2018.

 

Acrylic on primed linen

Acrylic and Oil on unprimed linen

3-piece, acrylic on unprimed linen.

Acrylic and Oil collage on canvas

Another key lesson of 2017 for me, as obvious as it may sound, is that you cannot, you cannot, overinvest in yourself. Whether it’s your fitness, health, knowledge, attaining new skills, developing your hobbies or passions, or travelling which in itself is an education, every dime and hour spent will come back to you tenfold. I intend to do more of that in 2018. More educational / adventure travel,  more training and broader in nature, more reading and working on myself in general, more cooking which I’m passionate for, and Art. My next two adventure trips (still unplanned) will likely be staying in a training camp in Thailand to train with Muay Thai professional boxers, and later on do another safari which I dearly miss, this time to see Gorillas in the wild, probably in Uganda. I can’t wait!

 

My other goals for 2018 are to spend more time forging real connections with special people, and conversely spending less time with a lot of the ’empty’ people  that inevitably, and quite sadly, surround us. Doing some solo travelling at the end of the year (very therapeutic!) I’ve realised how many of those people exist in our surrounding (or at least mine), people who simply suck your energy, people who like to take but don’t offer anything back; who see the glass half-empty, constantly whinge, constantly complain, constantly point fingers at everyone else instead of looking at themselves, people who are never at fault, have no inkling of selflessness  or grandeur in them; they’re self-absorbed, often jealous  of others in malicious ways, and who have this unjustified sense of entitlement that’s almost God-given to them.  They’re unhappy, confuse sarcasm for humour, typically small-minded and expend their and your energy on optimising things that in the grander scheme of things just don’t matter.

 

I was never fond of this breed of people, but may have over-tolerated them in my life, either due to procrastination,  empathy, sympathy even, or just laziness in doing anything about it.

 

As the year turned  I confess that a  switch flicked in my head. I cant, and don’t want to, tolerate this negativity in my life any longer. Life is too short. It sounds bad given that we are, after all, talking about people, but once every so often we do need a ‘clean up’ in our lives. Unfortunately.

 

Conversely, time and time again I’ve found that building deeper connection with people who amplify, instead of drain,  your energy, people who see the big picture, don’t micro-optimise, are generous, giving, open-minded, true optimists with a big heart,  who are happy for you when you do well instead of jealous and malicious; people who never whinge, who don’t criticise you behind your back, who always see the positive in every situation, who give credit to others and put themselves last; who listen and don’t just talk, who don’t take themselves too seriously, who are not too highly strung and brittle,  who have a sense of humour, who don’t feel the need to always have the last word, make the wittiest remark and be the seemingly smartest person in the room… those people may be few and far between but they  are like gold-dust in our lives.

 

Find them, stay close to them, cherish them. F*ck the rest.

 

I’m particularly happy that in 2017 I’ve been asked to be Godfather for the second time (the first being my beautiful niece Athena) to my dear friend’s Alastair and Masha’s gorgeous son Bertrand, and later in the year to be best man (also for the second tome) to a dear friend of mine’s  Artemi and Ana’s (hopefully) upcoming wedding. Both are great honours and deepen those deep bonds I have with each of those four dear people in my life. Thanks folks, you’ve made my year!

Betrand (Godson) the day after he was born!

Work-wise, I hope the team will stay as bonded and gelled as it is today, or even more. Never in my 10 years have I felt that bond stronger and it’s something I’m most proud of. Only when really talented people come together with unselfish agendas and collectively outperform their individual talents and capacities, can great things happen.

 

That’s the magic of bonded teamwork.  I believe we are in that position now and I can’t wait for the years ahead to see what we, working as a team, cook up and achieve together.

 

Last but certainly not least, I’m glad and grateful that I managed to spend more time with my family in 2017. Even though my parents travel less these days, I have done 3 trips to Dubai where’s they’re based as well as Cyprus for Christmas. I look forward to doing more of that in 2018.

 

Me and my niece in Dubai

The Reservoir Dogs 🙂 La Familia.. apart from my sister Stef (who was in Cy at the time) and sister-in-law Anna (the photographer)

Me and my niece & Goddaugher Athy in Dubai 🙂

 

The more good fortune life brings my way the more I realise that without close friends, family and people you’re passionate for, be it at work or outside, to share it with, it truly is meaningless.

 

Wishing you all a great 2018, love, prosperity, peace and happiness.