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
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
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.
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
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.