The Girl With Her Pearls On
I am Sabina, the girl who sleeps with her pearls on

When I was little, sometimes I would go to my mum and complain about being bored. She always acted surprised and asked me what do I mean by “bored”. She then told me to go read a book, play the piano, dance, do something together with my little sister or with other kids. “Intelligent people are never bored because they always pursue interesting things and keep their minds occupied”, my mother used to say. And then after picking a book, reading 10 pages and going back to her with the same complaint, she encouraged me to read another 10 and maybe the book will grow on me. Most times, it did, but then again, mothers are always right. 20 years later, however, I have come to discover that almost everything I was taught is of no relevance for my generation. As a kid I thought growing up meant becoming more and more patient, developing my ability to look at things in more depth, be 100% present and involved in whatever I am doing, seek meaningful relationships and avoid half measures. Turns out, patience might come with age, but not with the age I’m living in.

Recently I was having drinks with a guy and after 2 glasses of wine he told me he goes out with girls for a few weeks and then gets bored of them. And the sad thing is I wasn’t surprised. I am so used to hearing stuff like this, to people sort of priding themselves for getting bored easily and saying we live in a world of so much choice and so many opportunities, there’s no point settling down for anything. While I agree we are spoilt for choices, I don’t believe all the offer out there equals opportunity. There’s a lot of variety, that’s true, but quality has never had anything to do with quantity. I don’t like giving advice, let alone lecturing people, so I didn’t tell the guy that maybe not all those girls were boring. Maybe if he had a little patience, he’d be pleasantly surprised. Just as I was with those books I actually finished.

But then again, perhaps we don’t have patience because it no longer serves us. We don’t need to grow up as fast as our parents had to, we can have babies at 40, or not at all if we don’t want to, and why should we bother with books when can learn so much in 140 characters? We constantly chase the thrill of the new because there’s always something new available, yet sometimes I feel the more choice I have, the less happy I am. The moments when I am truly focused and connected are rare, but I try to hold on because my biggest fear is not that of missing out, but that of living a shallow and mediocre life. Although I check Facebook and Instagram a lot more than I should and I am concerned with my appearance a lot more than necessary, I am still concerned with what happens inside. There are no Instagram filters for making yourself look prettier on the inside, so it’s a lot more work. But everything that matters takes hard work and time: building something you’re proud of, long lasting friendships, meaningful relationships, even finishing a good book (try Ulysses). Ultimately, life is not just about satisfying cravings, but about being happy and fulfilled.

A smart guy named Schopenhauer once said that boredom is the reverse side of fascination: “both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to another.” If it’s true that we are the sum of our choices, then I want to make the effort to be inside and choose right, not just take whatever life throws at me for no another reason than because it’s easy. For all I know, patterns are easy to fall into, but very difficult to break and I don’t want to be one of those bored people. They are boring.

I am part of a generation of girls who grew up being told they could do and be whatever they wanted to. From early on my mother instilled in me a sense of independence, she taught me to love myself, to respect myself and to always look for happiness and fulfilment within. Even my grandpa used to tell me I’d rather concentrate on my career than on having  kids and that Cinderella was, you know, just a fairy tale. This modern upbringing was very useful, especially in school where I would always speak for myself, be proud of my achievements and care more about good grades than boys. It was also useful when at 19 I packed my bags and moved to another country to study and start working towards that brilliant career my grandpa had predicted for me.

Yet what nobody told me was how confusing being a girl of my generation can sometimes be. Between searching for answers to important questions like what I actually want to do with my life and being too busy stressing about the fact that whatever I do, it’s gotta be BIG (settling for just a bunch of kids representing the ultimate failure), I also get confused about ridiculous and mundane affairs of my everyday life. Take today, when after a long day at work I’ve dragged my ill self home and ran a bath in the hope that I will somehow manage to calm my horrible cough. But after a few minutes in the warm, lavender scented water  I was further from feeling serene than I could have possibly been.

It’s true the expensive bath salts felt nice and I really enjoyed my beautiful bathroom in my even more beautiful flat overlooking the river, and the music coming from my iPad was sweet and the fair trade-bio-super healthy hot chocolate from Whole Foods was delicious. However, some days a Diptique candle feels like nothing more than just an over priced candle that can really not replace a kiss, a good laugh with your family, a dinner with your best friend or great sex. And these are the moments when you realise all you actually want is not to feel weak or guilty for allowing yourself to be needy. It may only be a hug that you need, or in my case to be taken care of, but nonetheless, I don’t think we can be strong, independent, super girls every single moment of our lives. Better yet, feeling needy shouldn’t make a girl feel less strong or independent- just because  from time to time I’d like to have someone else buy me the Godiva chocolate covered strawberries I can afford myself, doesn’t mean I’m a closeted princess who’s waiting to be rescued. I’m too much of a control freak to be a princess anyway. And too opinionated, as some men have pointed out.

But then again, I don’t remember the last time I’ve let someone take care of me. When my mom expresses concern because she hears me coughing my lungs over the phone, I’m being dismissive or when I go out with a guy and he pays for dinner, I feel really bad. No wonder people no longer ask whether I need anything when my answer’s most likely going to be “I’m great” even when I feel like shit. Although I still believe my mom was definitely right when she told me happiness comes from within, I’ve come to the conclusion there’s a better chance for me to achieve that if I allow myself to feel vulnerable and exhausted and simply turn to others for hugs, help or love.

There is a very beautiful book called The Perks Of Being A Wallflower that everybody should read early in their lives. At some point in this book the main character says that we accept the love we think we deserve, and I believe these words to be very true. And that’s for the same reason people choose half lies instead of the truth in its whole brutality: we are afraid. And how could we not when all we hear is that we need to pursue happiness and avoid suffering? But what people forget is that you cannot treat a disease only by dealing with its symptoms rather than identifying and addressing the cause.

Fear is a result of not trusting ourselves because we have always looked for validation elsewhere. Maybe we’ve used success or others’ praise as a form of building self confidence but I think genuine confidence can only come from within. A way of finding that could be to deal with whatever’s out there, including suffering. When we suffer we allow ourselves to look directly inwards, understand our own feelings and eventually release them. And only then we are be able to approach relationships with other people differently.

When you begin to genuinely trust yourself, you can also spot the difference between real love and the idea of love more easily. We accept the love we think we deserve and we are stuck in unhealthy relationships because we don’t believe in ourselves. The moment you begin to doubt who you are, to wonder why you’re not enough or why you’re too much, when you feel the need to constantly prove yourself and end up doing things you don’t actually like doing just to keep others happy, that’s when you start to lose your true self.

I don’t think love or relationships are meant to bring happiness or fulfilment, however, I do believe being loved means feeling cherished and protected. And when you’re always kept on your toes, there’s no way of being at ease. Luckily, perspectives as well as habits can be both challenged and changed. Just as you are told to give up smoking or give up anger, it is worth trying to give up unhealthy relationships and all the things that keep you from shining. You don’t have to give up your dreams or who you are, just surrender your expectation and trust that by breaking a pattern and doing something really scary, you are allowing yourself to get your power back.

I’ve recently been experimenting with a “no questions” attitude towards life. I don’t wonder why people behave  a certain way, I don’t constantly ask myself where I’m going and when I’m going to get there and I’ve stopped asking what’s wrong and right. For a while I’d like to just listen to what that wandering mind of mine has to say and be still. I am hoping that in the process I might set some of my fears free and truly grasp that we are never alone. After all, it might sound corny but it’s also true: the relationship we have with ourselves is probably the most important of them all.

Maybe it’s the maturity that comes with age, or maybe it’s just how things are supposed to be, but not trying to force things actually feels nice for a change. Tonight, I am not trying not to be sad. I am only experiencing what it feels like to allow myself to feel exactly that: sadness. It is a strange sensation that of being still, not running, hiding or ignoring what’s going on. And it’s also something new because we are so used to being told that pain, suffering and feeling low are not good for us. But what good can come of trying to change something that can’t be changed rather than accept it?

Earlier I have just found out that the trip to New York I’ve been planning for months is not going to happen for reasons I can’t control. I was supposed to see NY for the first time, on my birthday, so it was going to be special. I was obviously very excited about it and spent the last few weeks making lists and acting like a kid waiting for Santa Claus. The feeling of anticipation and the adrenaline that comes with it are even bigger when you’re going to a place you’ve dreamed of for so long. A place you’ve seen in movies, read about in books and always felt like you knew what it was like to wonder its streets even if you’ve never actually been there. I was happy.

And then I was unhappy. Disappointed even, and maybe a little angry. My first reaction was -quite predictably- auto-sabotage. I thought I’d just stay up all night and watch movies and not wake up at 6:30 to do yoga. Then I went on Net-a-Porter and was about to spend a month’s rent on a pair of shoes. But I didn’t. Instead I cried a little more and said to myself “there is a reason for everything: maybe there’ll be a terrorist attack right when I was supposed to travel there and Fate is saving me from a tragic but un-romantic death.” Then I laughed and I said something out loud. Something that shocked me: “It’s fine, you’ll go to New York some other time.”

I have no idea where that came from, but I actually saw the auto-sabotage cloud pouf-ing away. It disappeared and with it the stupid idea that I should feel miserable and try to cheer myself up rather than just be miserable for a little while and let it all go. It’s not easy resisting the temptation to seek confort in external things that distract us from dealing with what’s happening inside. Of course I’m talking about something silly here, it’s just that I’m not going on holiday, not that I found out I’ve only got 3 months to live. But still, I guess practising this kind of atitude towards changes that life throws at us is helpful.

It’s like having a headache and no immediately reaching for pain killers but going to sleep instead and waking up feeling well again. Maybe the secret to being happy is not trying to find substitues for everything that’s missing. Learning to work or be content with what you have at a given moment might be harder than reaching for something that’s out of reach just to prove a point. But it also might turn out to be wiser because surprisingly so, I actually feel that what I have it’s enough for now. And that’s something great to learn just before I turn 23. Off to bed now, I have yoga to do tomorrow morning.

I’ve always been quite judgmental when it comes to people who only get involved in superficial relationships and never seek more than the thrill of something new. But lately I’ve been questioning my judgment and starting to give those people more credit. Not that I agree with their ways, but  I am beginning to understand the unconscious rationale behind this behaviour a little better.

As an advocate of the having less people around but knowing them very well “school of thought”, I’ve grown up valuing meaningful relationships and finding myself more satisfied with spending time with just a bunch of people than always being surrounded by tons of random ones. I am not good at networking, I don’t enjoy making small talk and I don’t really go to parties unless I wanna dance. Call me a freak, but I prefer the term selective.

Making the effort of getting to know someone very well has its rewards. Not only having a solid friendship provides you with some sort of security but it’s also comforting to know someone to the point you can actually tell what mood they’re in the second they wake up. And I suppose that’s the main difference between long-term relationships or friendships and everything else. It’s like with drugs: the one night stands, the short encounters, the fun at some party one Friday evening give you a really amazing high but leave you empty the next day. And of course you need these in your life, but can one only survive on meth? I guess we all need food as well.

Now going back to my initial point, knowing someone like the palm of one’s hand has it’s downsides as well. One of them being that no matter how well you know them, one day you will realise you actually don’t know them at all. Sounds like a cliche? Maybe, but it’s true and it usually happens with those you’re so close to and love so much that the shock of discovering something new about them is overwhelming. Family, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses or best friends can always surprise you because it’s in our nature to be unpredictable. Sometimes the surprise can be wonderful, but it can be awful as well. You might discover that they were hiding something terrible from you, that they were lying, having a double life or just suddenly see a trait in them that disgusts you.

The line between reality and our distorted views is very fine when it comes to people we love. We do love them for who they are but we also project in them qualities they might actually not have. And this is when knowing someone very well gets tricky: just because they disappoint you or don’t match your perception of them a hundred percent of the time, does it mean you should give up on them? The answer to this question might be “just don’t have any expectations”, but I’d really love to meet one single person in this world who lives expectations-free. The other, wiser conclusion would be that we cannot make others responsible for our own happiness. However, if we do (because we all have our weaknesses), accept that your happiness and misery depend equally on someone you know well.

Since I moved to London, almost 4 years ago, I’ve been working for a technology/ advertising company and thus been somewhat involved with this world. I’ve met quite a few women CEOs or at least women having C level positions within various companies to notice a pattern. You might think what I’m referring to are the expensive but stiff clothes and the Marissa Mayer haircut. The look is part of the pattern but what intrigues me even more is the common atitude. I’ve often wondered what would happen if they all stopped being cold (or scary) and started being nice. Is “nice” a tabu word? A sign of weakness, or does it simply not fit with the job description? As a young woman just starting to build my career and trying to figure who I want to be, these are nothing but pertinent questions, especially when how women live and work today is such a hot topic.

Sheryl Sandberg might have started this whole women-can-sort-of-have-it-all trend but the funny thing is that she actually comes across as a nice person. I’ve never met her but when I listen to her giving a talk, I don’t find her intimidating. She doesn’t sound like a bitch. And this is something I’ve kept thinking about: as a woman, is it your attitude or your actions that proves something? And by that I mean anything else than proving you can easily do a man’s job, but better. Because I don’t think that’s the point of women becoming so emancipated, empowered and all that jazz. If I have to wear a pencil skirt paired with a blazer and a white shirt instead of a pink dress to make myself heard in a meeting, well, I don’t see where the empowerment lies.

But maybe that’s why I’ve only noticed so few “powerful” women who are relaxed and friendly: they care more about what they do than about proving themselves. If this era of freedom and choice allows us, women, to do whatever we want, why not take the chance to actually be women and not act as men out of fear of not being taken seriously. I’ve only met a couple of women who are naturally very cold and they’re not necessarily CEOs. Then why the facade? Perhaps because cliches and misconceptions still play a role in our “emancipation” process. However, what I can hope for is that things will change in the next few years because that’s when I’m planning to start a company. I may not know what a woman is supposed to be these days, I may not even know who I am just yet, but there’s no way I’m cutting my hair, becoming best friends with the GHDs or stop wearing pretty clothes just to make sure investors will take me seriously. And if that will confuse people and make it harder for them to put me in a certain box, than I shall not call myself a “CEO”. I still have time left to think of something nicer.

Tonight a good friend called and we spent over an hour talking about everything from boys, to shoes, movies, books and life. And at some point during our conversation I got angry and told her I am so tired of pessimist losers who f***k up my “zen”. What I was referring to were love pessimists.

I think love is for 2013 what sex used to be few decades ago: a tabu subject. We don’t talk much about it, we don’t really believe in it anymore and we are always ready to laugh at the thought of it. Especially people my age don’t do love, or relationships for that matter. We think of ourselves as a free, evolved species who doesn’t need to live the lie of monogamy anymore. Maybe monogamy is a lie, but why does love have to be one as well?

It makes me sad to see how lazy and spoiled by options people have become to not even consider a relationship. “Why settle when something better might come along?” That’s one of the questions I seem to hear all the time, but here’s a good enough reason why I think we should settle: people need meaningful relationships and friendships in their lives. We may not be monogamous but we are not meant to be or live alone either. Aristotle, in fact, said it better: “man is by nature a social animal.” And I am pretty sure he didn’t have social networking in mind when saying that.

We all value different things and while making money, having a career and building great networking skills are all important achievements, is that all there is to life? I don’t believe knowing monogamy doesn’t really exist makes us happier. It’s just the idea of endless possibilities, the thought of being more free than ever that blurs our vision and confuses us. Just because today most marriages end up in divorce does it mean we shouldn’t even give it a try?

I’ve never considered myself a romantic person who dreams of rose petals, pink hearts and late night walks under the moonlight. However, I believe in love and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with romance. We seem to have become intolerant to it, just like with lactose and gluten in the past few years, but is really that cheesy to hold hands with someone? How do you decide such gestures are shallow, meaningless and don’t express true love? As if we ever knew what “true love” meant. Some may say taking care of your partner when he’s sick, giving them one of your lungs, supporting them when someone in their family dies is true love. But what if everything is going well? What if they don’t need a lung but only a kiss?

Doing these silly, “cheesy” things with someone you’re in love with doesn’t make you pathetic or weak. Being warm and affectionate is a sign of kindness, compassion and understanding of the other. Letting your guard down and making the effort of getting to know someone as well as humanly possible while allowing them to do the same in return is probably on of the greatest things in life. I guess it’s also one of the few real things that brings out the good in us.

A relationship or marriage might make it easier to pay the mortgage and to share the burdens of day to day life but in the end it’s not all business. When I see people in love, people holding hands, kissing or looking at each other with joy, that brightens up something in me as well. And that’s because they’re always smiling and we don’t really smile as often as we’d like to think we do. Ultimately, love, relationships, being silly in love are all evidence of the fact that we are capable of true intimacy. And in a time when likes on Facebook validate so many people’s lives, even sparse, such proofs are nothing but welcome.

I’ve never felt guilty for not believing in charity or for not wanting to go rescue the kids in Africa. For one reason, I find that nowadays doing good things, being politically correct and all that are nothing more than a trend. And then aren’t all acts of charity ultimately selfish actions? I think they are and there is no argument that can deny the fact that at the end of the day, every little thing we do is for our own good, for the sake of feeling better about ourselves and for sleeping a little sounder. The reality of our very selfish nature, however, shouldn’t stop us from trying to be and do good as long as we believe in it.

About a year ago I saw an ad online for becoming a blood donator and without thinking too much about it, I just registered online. I had never done something like that before and to this day I can’t find an explanation for what was it that made me click the “yes” button. It would be strange to say the idea appealed to me, but not entirely misguided. If someone asks me to give money for charity, I wouldn’t do it because I don’t trust the money will go where it actually needs to go. If someone asks me to go to Zimbabwe to help some poor kids, I wouldn’t do that either because it isn’t something I can relate to. But when it comes to donating blood, the thought of my family being in an accident or falling ill and needing a blood transfusion is enough to make me do it. Moreover, I know that my blood is not going to be wasted whatever they choose to do with it.

When I was about 7 years old my mum had a stroke. She was very young, healthy and it all came as a huge shock. Especially because I was alone with her that day. I will never forget what I felt when I saw her collapsing, the fear the utter horror of thinking I might loose my mother. Fortunately, she recovered, but those feelings never went away entirely and whenever I donate and I see all those people who come to do the same thing, I am very thankful to all of them. But although there are quite a lot of people who do it, there isn’t nearly enough blood to go around for all those who need it. As unrealistic as it may sound, there are times in life when somethings are more valuable than money.

Donating blood in the UK is very easy to do: you register, book your first donation and after that you get a text/e-mail/letter once in 4 months as a reminder for your next appointment. On your donation day you need to drink lots of water and eat well, then have a small blood sample taken from your finger to check if you have enough iron in your body in order to donate. The donation doen’s last more than 15 minutes and the NHS staff are very well trained and very nice. After you’ve donated (approximately 500ml of blood), you rest for a few minutes and are good to go. It really isn’t painful and as long as you eat well, you aren’t going to feel sick. The whole thing takes less than an hour and what’s an hour of your life once in 4 months for someone who might not have many hours left?

Yesterday I received a registration form for becoming an organ donor and although it is a morbid topic and my mother doesn’t really want to talk about it, I will do it. Call it the wisdom that comes with age, but I got to that point in my life where nothing seems more important than health.

When I was little, maybe 10-11 years old, my grandpa told me that if one day I won’t be able to dance anymore or just decide that I don’t actually want to be a ballerina, everything would be fine because I was smart enough to do anything. We used to play chess together and he always said I was smarter than him. He used to ask me trick geography and history questions and be very happy when I’d given him the correct answers. He also used to train me to do all sorts of acrobatic moves to test how brave I was. He taught me how to swim by throwing me in 5m deep swimming pool and telling me to figure a way not to drown. My grandpa used to say that my best skills were my great memory and the fact that I was very observant. One could now say that he was an amazing grandpa for encouraging me to do great things and to push my own limits. In a way, that’s true.

The problem, however, is that I got to a point in my life where being a ballerina is not going to happen anymore and the “you can do anything” mindset is no longer enough because I don’t know what I want to do. Surely, there are things I am good at and I have a few ideas and plans for what I want my future to look like. But I look at people who are extremely passionate about what they do and I know I am not one of them. There are moments when the feeling that everything about me is so fickle scares me to death. I know that there’s no perfect recipe for success and that we are all building our very own road to it, but what happens if we get lost and there’s no one there to tell you to just “follow the yellow brick road”?

I’ve met people who are amazing at one thing but have no idea how to do anything else, or have no interest in stuff that is outside their area of expertise. On the other hand, I’ve also met people who know maths and business but can talk about art and music just as well. So how do you figure what you want to do with your life? Does it come from a good education (whatever that means), from having a little bit of luck? Or is the advice you receive? In my case, neither my education nor the advice I was given proved to be of any help. As it turns out, the only option I have is to wait for the day I’ll get lucky, but how realistic is that? I do think that not all people are meant to do amazing things, “change the world”, be famous or successful. But all people want to be happy. Some don’t know how to even do that, and for those of us” following the yellow brick road” is nothing but herder because we can’t help but listen to what others have to say about the way we live our lives our look up to people we admire and feel guilty for not being more like them.

There is also a problem with the prefabricated idea of success translated into a certain amount of money one has, how many people they know and how many people in return know them, having certain jobs that are better than others and so on. And yes, most parents tell their kids that they can be whatever they want to be in this world but what they actually mean is “be successful at what you do”, not “be happy”. Thus figuring out what you want to do comes with the enormous pressure of being the best at whatever that is. Both not knowing what I want to do and living a mediocre life scare me and sometimes I feel like having the smarts and so many options makes it even harder to decide. This is how I end up caught in a vicious circle where all I can do is ask myself questions all over again. But when fear daunts me, there’s only one thing to do: remember one of the lines from Baz Luhrmann’s Wear Sunscreen.

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.. the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.”

And this is probably the single, truly useful piece of advice I’ve ever heard.

Life is mostly a struggle. A road you find yourself on, not helping but always asking ‘am I there yet?’. You meet people who will let you down, you fail, you go through hard times when everything seems horrible because you’ve gained 5 pounds. And the great moments are rare, but when they do come, you suddenly realise there is something more to your little insignificant existence than your little stupid self. That’s those few people you truly love. I’ve always questioned love and my own ability to feel love for anyone other than myself and to my relief, I have found the answer. I know I love when I feel as proud and happy for someone else’s success than I am for mine. I know I love when I give up something I want for someone who needs it. I know I love when I find the strength to lift my friend up even If I’m sinking lower than him. And I know I love when for a short time I really manage to think of someone else and forget about myself.