To be scared or to trust?… In memoriam of all innocent victims of meaningless violence

What happened in Brussels today was shocking, sadly predictable and totally useless act of violence. My thoughts are with victims and their families!…

Luckily for myself neither my family nor my friends were directly affected but nonetheless I guess I won’t exaggerate if I say that it left all of us in the state of deep shock. My husband was in Brussels airport couple of days ago, my good friend lives in the stone throw from Maelbeek metro station and takes it on the regular basis… Those people who died today (or any other day before) were just people like you and I; they were mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, brother and sisters, husbands and wives. They had hopes and dreams and plans for Easter vacations…

When horrible things like that happen somewhere in the world, I empathize with those who suffered but let’s be honest there is less fear as “it could not have been me”. And then suddenly it strikes right next to you and you understand not just at the level of your brain and heart but with every single cell of your body that IT.COULD.HAVE.BEEN.ME. And then the tenacious, overwhelming, paralyzing fear gets to you. But we simply ought to shake that fear off, as that’s not the idea! If we fear, they win. If we rage, they win. If we change who we are, they win. They don’t deserve to win!!! 

All the recent gruesome events made me think about how I want my kids to see this world. Yes, the first emotional reaction is fear and rage and blaming, but it is very wrong. Of course, one has to be realistic and vigilant when there is danger. However, what I don’t want for my kids is to grow up fearing this world. I don’t want my kids to spread hatred. I don’t want my kids to see people by definition as being bad. People are wonderful! Did you see what was happening on Twitter today after the attacks? People were immediately offering help, shelter, support (#ikwilhelpen). Taxi drivers in Brussels spontaneously started offering free rides. People were lining up to donate blood. I saw hundreds of offers to drive, pick up kids and so on in my Facebook feed. The same was happening in November in Paris. People are in general helpful and supportive! People are in general genuinely good! And I want to trust people. And I want my kids to trust people and not be scared of everyone they don’t know. I want my kids to be free of prejudice, judging, dividing, hatred, making false assumptions and labeling others. I want my kids to see the beauty and kindness of others and be kind themselves.

These are my values, these are our values and they are worth standing for.

In memoriam of all innocent victims of meaningless violence…





Going green: How did a city girl take on gardening

I have already proudly mentioned couple of time that I started gardening. Probably way too many times, no? Well, actually it is really a big deal for me, you know! That’s why even my tiny successes in this connection are a source of my great pride (LOL!)! I was born and raised as a total city girl. Of course I knew that tomatoes and potatoes don’t grow in supermarkets, but that for quite a while was pretty much all I knew about tomatoes and potatoes (giggle). We never had a summer house with a garden, I didn’t visit farms simply because where I was growing up there were no farms available for a visit. The closest I ever got to seeing what does the country life look like was couple of visits to the cousin of my granny who did live in one of the villages and had a garden. What I remember was that it was hot, dirty, I stepped in the cow shit while walking through the field and totally ruined my sneakers, I was bitten by mosquitoes a lot and I accidentally saw how a rooster was beheaded with an ax… So I returned to the city and swore never ever to get myself off an asphalt again.

Now for the last two years we live in the village with a garden (lovely twist of fate, ain’t it?). Our house is adjacent to the field where in spring they bring cows to graze and in the end of a summer they switch cows for horses. So literally when I look outside, at a distance of something like 4 meters (~13 feet) there are grazing cows or horses or from time to time jumping hares or running pheasants. Actually seeing a cat or a dog is nowadays much more rare and spectacular. But I am deviating. Back to the garden.

It felt right to give it a try. We have plenty of space, it is nice for kids to see how vegetables grow, and although I never bothered myself much with “let’s eat organic” and so on – I thought why not. The funny thing is that I started gardening last year still with pretty much of a city girl mentality. I made a Power Point presentation (no kidding!) on different types of vegetables that I am planning to plant… And while doing so I discovered a whole new world that I never knew existing. Like with almost everything I do, I dived right into the very depth – I followed a permaculture design course, read tons of materials about square-foot gardening and companion planting, I was theoretically equipped. No, I still think that it was needed, and especially in my case, but the problem was that although theoretically ready I was far from being ready to actually start. And recalling this brings a smile to my face.

I had my planting plan, I had my boxes (because in the end I opted for the square foot garden and my husband made them for me), I had my gloves, I had my seeds, I had my new rubber boots (fancy green with dots and a bow at the side). And then came the planting season… So I actually had to get myself away from my nice and neat Power Point (ouch!), put on these rubber boots and go digging (double ouch!). It was then that I had an actual argument with my husband who was telling me – “Start, it’s already time, look at the weather!” But I was replying – “I cannot plant now, my Power Point says I have to do it next month only!” A city girl…

In the end I did listen to my husband and went on to plant before the time indicated in the Power Point. And miraculously it worked. My first ever planting season brought me very tasty zucchinis, broccoli, mint, spinach and potatoes, beautiful nasturtium and chamomile for my tea infusions. It was actually an amazing feeling to see how that tiny seed you put in the ground first turns into small green sprouts and then step-by-step transforms into something beautiful and eventually tasty!

This year I am going for more variety but my planting plan is just a scribbling on a piece of paper and no longer a polished presentation. An evolution of consultancy to reality, huh? But most importantly I understood that it makes more sense to look outside and adjust yourself to the nature, rather than try to precisely follow the planting calendar. Besides, I am no longer scared to get my hands dirty if that is needed. And my tomatoes and paprika are already planted in a seed germination box and are ready to be re-planted very soon. So the city girl is definitely evolving!…

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Future-proofing your kids: how to prepare your kids for the world that is not yet there

reading time: approx. 6-7 min

How can we prepare our kids for the world that doesn’t exist yet? Which skills will they need in order to succeed? Should we focus on the technical side and teach everybody to code and program? Or should we go for the soft skills like interpersonal communication and emotional intelligence? Of course any additional skill is an asset and the more of these assets kids have the better, however, what is actually crucial? I have been thinking a lot about these questions and no, of course, I don’t have the right answers. Yet, what I do want to share is some more structured context as a basis for further discussion. In the end it is not only our kids, most probably we will still see the completely new world ourselves…

To begin with, the World Economic Forum of this year in the report The Future of Jobs identified a list of skills that will be important for the future:

  • complex problem solving,
  • critical thinking,
  • creativity,
  • people management,
  • coordinating with others,
  • emotional intelligence,
  • judgement and decision-making,
  • service orientation,
  • negotiation,
  • cognitive flexibility.

Well, you cannot go wrong with these ones, they are relevant in all times! But to think further about it: what does the skill “coordinating with others” mean and what if “others” in the future will also include machine intelligence? And what a hell is “service orientation” after all?

In the essence this is already not the world we were born into and it is going to be even more different within this and a decade. Right here and now we are already a part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: there are significant developments in such fields as artificial intelligence and machine learning, in robotics, in nanotechnology, in 3D printing, in genetics and biotech. All this is already causing a huge disruption in all domains, calling for different models of working and different skills. I don’t have the magic ball to tell what the future will look like, yet in couple of next paragraphs I would like to fantasize a bit and based on some trends try to imagine which skills might be needed in some particular contexts. I would be very interested to hear other opinions, so if you have something to say – please shoot!

What will the business of tomorrow look like and which skills will help one to succeed? If I look at the trends in various business domains, I am likely to agree with Lisa Gansky that the future of business is very likely to be something of a mesh (for more on that – check out her book “The Mesh”). In the essence that will mean sharing all kinds of stuff be it via smart and technology-enabled rental or just peer-to-peer. What it implies is actually a fundamental shift in our relationship with stuff and this is already happening. Which skills does a success in such business environment call for? I would assume among others:

  • ability to communicate efficiently and even more importantly:
  • ability to create and sustain a community around an idea,

because that’s what’s at the very heart of “the mesh”.

In terms of business and economics one also cannot forget the significant systemic risk of fragility that is caused by the “inter-connectedness” and the growing complexity of this world. Moreover, this complexity makes it close to impossible to have all the information normally required to make a decision. Thus, in order to succeed one has to:

  • be creative enough to be able to construct a big picture based on fragmented input and
  • take decisions in conditions of uncertainty and rapid evolution.

In the field of technology there have also been quite some significant developments recently: cloning, 3D printing, robotics. Have a look at what Boston Dynamics create for instance, it’s amazing! In terms of medical innovation: consider, for example, how hearing aids evolved in the last decade. It will not take long before we are able to hear ultrasound. Or lenses: I am pretty convinced that one day we will be able to see ultraviolet or ultra-red and that will be mundane. Moreover, the first fully programmable cell is there! And speaking about cells – skin cells can be turned into stem cells nowadays, providing enormous possibilities in terms of regeneration. So, having some sort of physical impairment will be less of a problem and more people will also have “not original”: bio or biomechatronic body parts, making them what? Exactly! Cyborgs.

It goes further: maybe within this and a decade we will have some sort of hybrid thinking. Think about it for a moment, it’s no longer just a science fiction! You have probably heard of neocortex – that part of our brains that among others is responsible for learning new behaviors. This is in the essence what distinguishes a more complex brain. But with the rapidly developing nanotechnology there is a huge potential here: what if nanobots in the future are able to get to the brain and connect our physical neocortex to the synthetic neocortex in the cloud? What would that possibility to get outside the limits of fixed architecture of our skulls bring us? Have a look at TED for Ray Kurzweil – in his speech “Get ready for hybrid thinking” he talks more about it.

Another at this moment still futuristic technology of ingesting information might one (not that remote) day also manifest itself. Have a look in this context for some speculations about the future by Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of MIT’s Media Lab. He believes it will one day be possible to swallow a pill and then through the bloodstream the information will get into the brain and will be deposited in the right place. If that is ever possible our kids will no longer need to spend hours and hours learning another language, or learning math, or learning to code, or – you name it.

Here some caveats, however, and significant ones. First, let’s be realistic that all these technologies will be available for the lucky few in the developed world; and second, one can easily step on the tricky road of eugenics. So, as for the “skills inspired” by the above the most important in my opinion is:

  • having strong ethics, which also includes, but is not limited to:
    • ability to understand and appreciate what you have, combined with
    • understanding that others might be less fortunate and
    • willingness and drive to improve this imbalance. 

What else? Machines already learn! But what does that imply? Nick Bostrom (Swedish philosopher at the University of Oxford) speculates that:

“machine intelligence is the last thing that a human will need to invent”.

From then on, the machine will take over. And that poses a very big question of values. If the machine intelligence will go for an optimization of this planet, there is no place for a human anymore – hello, Hollywood!

But seriously… Efficiency without compassion, without love, empathy and caring – it’s a doom scenario for humanity. So we have to be able to teach the machine to learn what we value and to be able to do that one:

  • needs to have strong value foundation and
  • be able to stand for these values.

And which are these values? It’s a question for a separate post, but let’s stick to compassion and empathy for starters.

I mentioned 3D printing and we already see some fantastic applications of this invention. But there is also a dark side to it related to crimes. 3D printing means that you don’t really need to carry a gun to the destination, all you need is a file and a 3D printer at the spot. What is also scary is that the human body is likewise becoming an information technology, where DNA one day will be yet another operating system ready to be hacked.

I am not going to talk in more detail about the crimes of the future, yet what is important to remember is that the ability of one to affect many is scaling exponentially as you are reading this, and not only in a good sense. Moreover, now, more than any time before we are actually capable of completely destroying  our planet. Thus, yuppie to the last year’s discovery of water on Mars – maybe that’s the answer. But on the serious tone, an additional essential skill for the future that I would single out is:

  • an ability to forecast even the unintended consequences of one’s actions and take full responsibility for them.

There are much more developments in different domains than what I have enumerated in this post and probably more skills needed for our kids to be successful. However, without trying to belittle the importance of technical skills I am inclined to conclude that it is mostly the soft side that requires to be “strengthened”. To conclude, it is not going to be an easy world our kids will step into, but something tells me, if equipped right they will have hell of a ride!

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Guilty pleasures: Pampering your inner child

A guilty pleasure is something, such as a movie, a television program or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard. (source: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid I always wanted to grow up as fast as possible for one main reason: I could do whatever I wanted. That’s what I thought. I could eat that chocolate for breakfast, I could go out for a walk in the late evening, I could watch that stupid show for the third time, I could stay for a whole day in my nightgown and a whole bunch of other stuff that I could finally do. Yesterday I had an argument with my daughter that wanted to eat M&M’s instead of an apple for her snack time. I bet she was also thinking at the moment how she will grow up and then…! And then comes adulthood and understanding of what’s good for you and what’s not. And you don’t do it, although now you finally can. So unfair, isn’t it?

I must admit that even though generally I am a responsible health-conscious adult (giggle!), I allow myself some guilty pleasures from time to time, because it makes me feel good and if I feel good it affects everything I do. Maybe because I still have that inner child in me that also needs to be pampered from time to time.

So this is precisely why:

  • Sometimes instead of a decent lunch I have yet another cup of coffee and a chocolate. Or two.
  • And speaking about chocolates: if we have a box of chocolates, I first eat all the ones that I like the most, even if they are in the bottom layer of the box (so annoying, ain’t it?).
  • Sometimes I distract my kids with a cartoon and in the meanwhile eat a bowl of ice-cream. Alone. Without sharing.
  • Sometimes I watch those totally brainless sitcoms like “Two and a half men” (and that’s not the first round, I am afraid) and even “Married… with children”.
  • Sometimes instead of going for a normal walk, I get my son to sleep in his buggy on the terrace and in the meanwhile train my golf pitch in the garden.
  • After opera I like to go to McDonald’s. Maybe because after I have been “lifted up” by the gorgeous classical music I feel the strong urge to be grounded again. Maybe. But that’s already a tradition that I have with my mom. And I like it. (or should I better say – “I’m loving it?”)
  • I once spent a whole evening recording myself singing Jennifer Lopez songs. Well, technically she was still singing, but I was just opening my mouth. On the video it looked like it was me who was singing, though. It was fun! Hello! My name is Maria and I am turning 31 today.
  • When I am playing with Lego together with kids I take their blocks away if I need them to build my “castle”… Did I mention I am turning 31 today? (LOL)

Keyword in all of the above is of course “sometimes”, otherwise it is no longer a guilty pleasure, but just a guilty lifestyle (gigle!). But it is somehow comforting to know that I am able to let that nasty little girl that lives inside of me to have some fun from time to time. If it doesn’t fit the image of a smart grown-up mother of two – well, as they say it Dutch – pech! (~ “bad luck!”).

P.S. and my daughter did get her M&M’s even though it was only after she had her apple…

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To be or not to be: Why asking questions is a necessary and important means of learning

When I was still studying in the lyceum (long long time ago), we had the so-called “Day of Shadows” when we could arrange to go and spend a day with any businessman, politician or other known person we wanted. I chose, together with 4 others, to be the “shadow” of the CEO of a large factory in Latvia. The idea of the day was that we had to follow the guy around, see all his daily activities and ask any question we wanted. I was 16. I always had a lot of good questions in my head. I still do, but nowadays I have no problems asking them anymore. However, back then my level of self-doubt was way too high. I still remember that day, Continue reading To be or not to be: Why asking questions is a necessary and important means of learning

Self-development, reaching goals and lifestyle balance through the prism of parenthood and immigration

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