Observations

Some observations about American middle class suburbia aka Southern part of Silicon Valley 🙂

Every time I drive past a beautiful multi-family building that I really like, with large windows letting just enough sunlight inside, buried in shady sighing trees and surrounded by quiet and wide but cozy sidewalks, and I think to myself: “what’s that?” – this building ends up being a senior living housing??! Every time, I swear!! :)))

It’s kind of ironic. I can see why these buildings are built this way, but I can’t understand why other buildings can’t be as cozy. Neat and clean American middle class townhouses always seemed too fake and even abandoned to me. And the “cozier” they were supposed to look, the faker they felt. Yes, someone’s towel flattering on the balcony apparently makes the whole complex look “cheaper”. And the complete absence of signs of life make the place look almost uninhabited. At a result it looks fake. One lady in our complex has so much flourishing plants and statues of ducks in her patio turned garden overlooking the internal pathway, that she immediately drew my attention and I ended up meeting her. She turned out to be a very nice lady with six grandchildren living all over the US.

Yes, the reason of all this is the idea of commercial value of everything. But if you dig deeper and start talking to people, you will find out that they actually feel the same way as you 🙂

I love speaking with elderly americans. Especially with those who’ve lived in the same neighborhood for many years. It’s amazing listening to them telling things like “Oh! I remember times when all these fancy technologies like computers and cell phones didn’t exist… and this area looked nothing like today’s Silicon Valley…” To my young immigrant mind born into the turbulent post soviet era this sounds almost amusing as if the consumption-driven economy never went through the “pre-ever-connected” stage.

About keeping in touch

Social media do strange things to us. Sometimes the fact that you see someone’s news in your feed makes you feel that you are communicating with the person. Really, you see what they are up to and you hit the “like” button, or event post a comment. You give them feedback. And later you meet this person or talk on the phone, and say: “How was this or that? I saw pictures on Facebook.” Nowadays keeping in touch with someone doesn’t really require any efforts at all. You just open Facebook and here we go! Everything is there. Furthermore, you are “keeping in touch” even with those with whom you really didn’t have much in common.

I still can’t figure out if I like it or not. It definitely makes life easier, so why should it necessarily be bad? As usual: it’s not bad, and neither it’s great. It’s just how it is.

Social media open up a whole new level of interpersonal communication that never existed before. Like, for example, why do people post birthday wishes publicly, but not privately? Probably because they want to show off that they are close enough with someone who is influential? There is a whole new layer in all this – professional. People from your social circle can obviously become your clients or bring new clients. And the circle of your friends and friends of friends is actually the first place where you want to start searching for clients. In Russia, unlike in the US, Facebook became a totally legitimate professional tool.

I can admit: I am bad at keeping in touch. Sometimes I feel awkward to keep in touch with former colleagues even though I often want to. I admire people who manage to stay in close connection with others even years after the projects on which there were working together are over.

I recently heard the expression “coming out of someone’s shell”, and I think this is what happens when I’m trying to rebuild connection with someone I didn’t talk to for a long time. But I keep finding again and again that whenever I came out of my comfort zone, it never brought me nothing but only good  🙂

 

About surpises… and what happens next

Today’s post was supposed to be about inspiration, but one small but unpleasant episode almost ruined my positive attitude. I was running errands and when I was coming back from the library where I was working, I noticed a long deep scratch and dent on a side of my car that extended almost from the front wheel and reached the trunk.

“No way I could do it myself!! – I thought, – At least I would hear some creepy scrape when trying to squeeze into some narrow spot!”

Ok, whoever that was, this person left. This is how it usually is: you live your life, and then – click – all of a sudden something happens and you see few hundred dollars flying away in front of your nose. I won’t post the picture of the scratch – I don’t want to be pissed off again the next time I open this blog ))

I drove Alenka home from preschool and when I was getting our of the car, I felt so miserable that I completely forgot that my eyeglasses were on my lap. They fell down onto the concrete bouncing like a plastic toy. I almost saw another few hundred bucks flying away. But yay! They didn’t break!! Thank you!

I noticed that this is not the first time when after one bad luck I tend to almost intentionally put myself in another bad luck situation right away. This is a wrong thing to do! I remember one interesting story. Two years ago right before Christmas I was working on my laptop and drinking tea (as I always do). One awkward move – and half of my enormous cup of tea spilled on the keyboard, warm tea in a slow motion gurgled and dissapeared between keys. Few hundred dollars, as usually, slowly took off in front of my eyes and started their farewell dance in the air. Suddenly Vova interrupted the performance by shouting: “Turn it off and don’t close the lid! Let it dry and then try to turn it on!”

The laptop survived!!!! Not only it survived, but it is still working just fine (except touchpad, huh)! This was truly my best Christmas present ever!

So… the lesson here is: Don’t get desperately upset right away after something happens! Take a deep breath… another one… one more… Chances are it’s not that bad after all… 😉 Or… it could be worse!

Some bad things about American healthcare and how I’d like this industry to be disrupted

There is one thing about the US that drives me nuts – healthcare costs and bills. I dream there will be a company one day (I’m sure some already exist) that will turn healthcare market more transparent and make people more informed so that they can navigate this market easier and shop around for a better deal. I would also love to understand medicals bills, at least what exactly I’m paying for. And in general it would be great to be able for myself to keep track of my medical history at any given time no matter who is my doctor is at this particular time.

When my Russian friends ask me why I’m not happy with American healthcare and why I always try to get some healthcare procedures done in Russia whenever I go there, while the rest of the world dreams to have treatment in the US, I tell them scary stories about healthcare costs for ordinary people like us. Before my husband decided to get us healthcare insurance through his own company, where he is CEO (which cost the company a huge amount of money) we weren’t eligible for any government subsidized healthcare program, so we needed to buy health insurance out of pocket. We paid around $500 monthly just for the very fact that we had insurance, this sum didn’t include any services, and we needed to pay around $3000 deductible for healthcare services per year per person to even start receiving benefits.

When after giving birth to my daughter I started getting medical bills, I spent many many hours desperately trying to figure out what services exactly I was supposed to pay for. On the bills that I received I couldn’t find any detailed information about procedures performed except medical codes that only medical coding specialists can understand (not even doctors) and generic formulations like “laboratory” or “other diagnostic services”. I still don’t know what exact services were included in my bill. People who have great heath insurance benefits are almost completely covered and don’t care about the specifics of billing, but what about people who pay for everything out of pocket?

Also when you are recommended a certain medical procedure with a specific provider, there is no way to know its costs in advance. That’s exactly what a medical journalist Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal talks about in her book “An American Sickness”. People aren’t really given any opportunity to make an informed choice. So the first idea I would like to bring up (potentially business idea) is to make healthcare market more transparent.

Another idea I like is making a platform that would allow to store all personal healthcare history in a comprehensive manner and in chronological order. I dealt a lot of dental work recently. I much of this work was done by different dentists. I think my current doctors and myself would benefit tremendously from knowing when and what procedure was done, by whom and how my teeth looked like at the time of the procedure. The X-rays would show that. I realize this kind of project would be very hard to implement due to privacy policies. At every medical office we sign an agreement form that our doctor won’t disclose our private information to anyone. But I think I would benefit from having a complete history of my teeth health here and now with no need to keep an evernote blog where I write down summaries of each consultation and procedure I got and post X-rays.

Adaptability is cure

Yesterday I was at a meeting in the very center of financial district of San Francisco. I moved from SF to South Bay only a year ago and still consider myself a city girl, who doesn’t mind being around people. But now, especially after having a baby, I was rather surprised to see a playground in Portsmouth Square, like a sanctuary of innocence in the very epicenter of busy, dirty and bustling street.

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I tried to imagine, what I would feel like if I would find myself living with my child in this neighborhood?.. I like drawing these kinds of hypothetical situations, because I believe that it’s not the place that makes the person. Yes, it would be uncomfortable and probably even dangerous. But this wouldn’t make me dream less and wouldn’t make me a worse person, as well as my child. Life gives us challenges and we get stronger and wiser while we go through them. One idea crossed my mind today and I liked it: “Bad experience is good experience”. We can share our knowledge with others. It’s no coincidence that people are more interested to read about sinister and dramatic experiences of others. The more dramatic the experience is, more chances are the story becomes a hit.

People adapt to different situations. When we just had a baby and we were living in the very hearth of San Francisco with its narrow and steep streets, some weird people in the surrounding neighborhoods (I later learned where they hang out and tried to avoid those places) and lack of green trees that I love so much, I was scared in the beginning. But then over time I found my favorite playgrounds and cozy shady corners, friends with whom I could share my precious first baby moments and life came back to comfort and happiness. During every twist of our life we experience a short earthquake, when we leave our comfort zone, but then the soil under our feet becomes stable again. And after life changes again, we experience loss of what we’ve built, we miss our little cozy world that we created in the cold place previously alien, but later part of our life.

Dream everything

Today’s popular culture seems to exploit the concept of dream. There is no single day when I wouldn’t stumble upon an “inspirational” quote posted on beautiful background that is supposed to encourage me to follow my dream and not allow circumstances to let me down on my way to my dream. This approach is considered mainstream and almost common sense. But it assumes that a person to whom it’s addressed knows exactly what his dream is and what direction he should follow. But this is not the case for everyone and merely following the path that someone thinks is right, going through pitfalls and failures, might actually be the wrong thing to do. Why the public image of “highly successful people” that had a long and hard road to success (who hadn’t, right?) became such a typical representation of what each of us should be doing with our life?

In my opinion when a person knows what his dream is, he’s already half done with his journey to success. It’s easy to help someone who knows what he wants. He doesn’t even need any help at all. It is much more difficult (and it’s much more needed) to help someone who is lost in his goals and priorities. These people need way more guidance and menthorship.

I’m writing this because I think people shouldn’t be ashamed that they are still searching for their dream and are not sure where to move. And the public should be more receptive to people who are in their search because it’s much better in the long run to stop doing things that you don’t like in order to save time for a major career change.  Sometimes you just shouldn’t ‘keep trying’ forever. And be bold enough to say: ‘enough, I’m moving on’!

Dreams transform over time. What you thought is your dream often ends up being absolutely not what you thought it would be. I thought I wanted to be a journalist, but then I realized this is a bit different from what I thought it would be. And it took me years to admit it for myself.

The mere fact that someone encountered too many obstacles on his way to accomplishing his dream might mean that this is not what he really wants. Coping with rejections and failures might not make him happy in the bottom line. On the contrary, it can destroy his self-confidence and let go precious time that he will desperately need to rebuild his dream.

People should learn how to look inside their own desires and interests. Today we are so obsessed with ‘self-madeness’ that we forget that someone already ‘made us the way we are’. We can build skills, but we won’t be able to rebuild our nature.

In this light I would suggest an alternative to the popular saying “follow your dreams”. Something like “dare to reveal your true dream”, or “dare to admit that your real dream might not be what you are used to thinking”. Dreams are very personal, and nowadays they are very much influenced by social media, popular culture, success stories and sometimes instead of living our own life we unconsciously live other peoples’ lives.

About freedom

When I came to the US for the very first time, the perception of the country that I had back then was a compilation of images created by media and popular culture and replicated by people’s mundane judgments. The country of freedom and the American dream.

I remember that my first impression was that there is no ‘freedom’ in the US. You can’t do things that are allowed in Russia. You can’t drink alcohol until you are 21 and yet you can drive your own vehicle. You don’t have anywhere to go out after midnight because all the bars close. You can’t register to a class of your choice at the university and get credit for it if you fail to secure a spot because other people were quicker. You are not allowed to walk anywhere you want on the street (even if there is no fence) because some areas are private property and you can not trespass there. You can’t drink alcohol on the beach (hey, why can’t I spend a romantic evening with someone important enjoying sunset and a little wine?..). You are not allowed to stay in the park after dark, even in the central park in a populated community, and yet homeless people are allowed to sleep and do whatever they want pretty much anywhere, which makes, for example, parents with kids avoid some places. You can’t have picnic or camp anywhere you want. Everything seemed so much regulated. In Russia was used to the concept that if you know how to ask and whom to ask, you can get around pretty much any regulation.

So I started to think that the very concept of freedom is different in the US and in Russia. My hypothesis was that in Russia it is more like ‘liberty’ which means that if you are free, you can do anything you want, anything that comes to your mind here and now,  and nobody will tell you anything. Getting round regulations.

I started asking my friends what does freedom means for them and all the answers were similar. They said that freedom means being able to do what you like, spend time with your loved ones and friends whenever you want, travel to beautiful and meaningful places for you and pursue your dreams while not feeling restricted by work schedule imposed by employer. Apparently the employer is perceived as someone who gets in the way to their dreams. Interestingly it doesn’t necessarily mean that people I talked to would really drop everything and embark on the road to their dream (because they have families to feed, bills to pay, investors to please and employees to think about). It just means that they have this option. In this context having freedom means having choice, or having the right to choose in the personal understanding of the concept of freedom. And it doesn’t really matter whether they will use the opportunity to chose or not. The very fact that they have it is important.

What does freedom mean for you?