33 cool things I did before I turned 33

Yeah, it happened.

I managed to get to the great palindromic age of 33.

Some people imagine their lives as adults when they are still kids, how their lives would look like. For me, it wasn’t that. I mostly tried to make it at least 5 years into the future. After all, I couldn’t really imagine much from post-communist Romania, in a quiet corner of north-west Transylvania.

But little did I know.

Without further ado, here it goes:

  1. I traveled to over 30 countries. I think this year I was supposed to be up to 33, but then corona happened.
  2. I rode a 1700 cc Harley at sunset, near the Golden Gate bridge, in San Francisco.
  3. I went snowboarding for over 20 days in a season, up at Tahoe.
  4. I lived in London, UK, for 2 years.
  5. I moved far, far away from my hometown for college. Like a 12 hour train ride away, or 600km in Romania.
  6. I lived in Salt Lake City, UT, for a month just to snowboard and work remotely while at a crypto startup.
  7. I moved to San Francisco with about 2 months of runway in the bank and zero safety nets.
  8. I got married in a foreign country. After meeting her on a beach, at 3am, on the Romanian seaside.
  9. I camped in the mountains and on the beach.
  10. I built a website in 2009 and bought my first car with the money from it. Then decided to become a marketer.
  11. I graduated from an Executive MBA at 26, an age where most of my colleagues had more business experience than I had life. Also, I didn’t really know how I would eventually pay for it.
  12. I commuted by plane from Bucharest to London every month, for 2 years.
  13. Swam and snorkeled between continents in Iceland.
  14. Saw the northern lights, several times, also in Iceland.
  15. Saw the Niagara Falls while in Toronto at a decentralized identity event.
  16. Bought an investment property in Ohio.
  17. Paid $4,000 rent for a 1 bedroom. Per month.
  18. Earned $1.5/hour as my first real job, without a college degree, in 2009.
  19. Dropped out of my first college adventure in finance, banking and stock exchange.
  20. Finished college as a distance learner, with career switchers and high-school exam second timers. Also graduated at the same time as my wife, even though she’s almost 4 years younger than me.
  21. Lost money on the stock market using leveraged instruments and derivatives.
  22. Lost money in crypto ICOs
  23. Made enough money to pay that $4,000 per month rent in SF.
  24. Worked from home for over 10 months before we all had to. It sucked then, still sucks now.
  25. I organized tech and entrepreneurship meetups in London and San Francisco. Still organize them in SF, only virtually while we get rid of the virus.
  26. Worked in advertising, mining, consulting, food delivery, fintech, AI, crypto and identity, with vending machines, data. I’m actively interested in quantum computing, so who knows what’s next.
  27. Owned an Audi A1 at 23, bought with my own money.
  28. I surfed in the Pacific Ocean. It’s cold.
  29. Got laid off from a controversial gold and silver mining project and left my birth country to pursue tech.
  30. Won the Green Card lottery, even though when I first found out about it in 2012, i thought it was a scam. Applied a few years in a row to get it. It’s real.
  31. I jumped from a plane, at 30,000 ft, with a parachute.
  32. I traveled to Hong Kong in a business class seat with my wife, for fun.
  33. I started writing, again and again.

There’s a ton more things I could add here, but I’ll save some for other years. I’m sure there’s plenty more to come.

Happy birthday to me!

Photo by Flora Mipsum on Unsplash

Digital Tips

Beware of Covid-19/World Bank Compensation Funds scam

Beware of Covid-19/World Bank Compensation Funds scam over email from a James Oatman.

Just got this email today:

I know it looks like an obvious scam to me.

  • it’s asking for detailed personal information
  • it’s coming from an unverified email address
  • claims to want to wire me money internationally
  • there are some failed autocomplete items in the copy
  • points out to a 3rd person that should offer “legitimacy” to the transaction
  • is deemed as urgent
  • it features poor use of English
  • Gmail flagged it as suspicious

If, with this article, I can save at least one person’s information from these scammers, I’ve done my job.

Stay safe out there!

Change Management Strategy

Empowering, not imposing – a lesson for hard times

Empowering people is hard. Imposing an opinion, solution or direction might seem like an easier way in hard times.

Spoiler alert: it’s not.

When you’re starting out a new role or a new project, or if you’re simply going through some changes in your professional or personal life, you’ll find yourself reacting with your lizard brain, the “thinking fast” one. That can get you out of trouble fast. But it can also create a lot more chaos than it was to begin with.

Reflections from a personal story

I was in a situation like that recently and I was fortunate enough to be able to reflect on it a few months after the dust settled. Mergers and acquisitions are hard. Integrations are where a lot of companies end up failing. There is also constant context for conflict and roadblocks for projects. For months, as a new hire, I was involved in integrating two brands. That meant meetings, not only to get to know people, but to build things with them from the get-go. We went from forming to storming really quickly and it was hard to see the clear path to norming and performing.

I saw people being in the way (and they weren’t), so I tried to push them out of the way (so they pushed back).

It’s not very empowering, is it?

That made my life and my goals much harder to achieve. It also didn’t benefit me or the team, or the larger company context altogether. I went into meetings with a clear outcome in mind, and tried to impose the best way forward. That prevented me from collaborating with everyone else in the room. It also took much more work from my side to get to a real solution, and move things forward.

I was missing an important piece: I didn’t consider what I didn’t know. I assumed I have enough information to formulate a clear conclusion about the future.

For me, it’s not natural to admit I don’t know something or that I need help. It’s something you’re taught to avoid while growing up as a man in Romania. You have to be strong and decisive, provide solutions fast, think on your feet at all times. After all, in school, in class, whenever we were asked a question, we had to answer on the spot or get punished. Not the most empowering environment. It also builds a “come up with any answer” mindset that’s not helpful later on.

Empowering: Stop and think

I recently learned a cool way to reframe this. Before making a major decision or change of direction, ask yourself:

“What are the implications of the things we haven’t considered?”

Let me unpack that a little bit.

First, you are already a step ahead by telling yourself that there are, in fact, things that you might not have considered.

Secondly, those things are likely to have implications in your projects/tasks/endeavors.

By spending a few more hours / days thinking about this question, you’ll be able to make better decisions and empower, not impose. You’ll have strong reasons for the way you are envisioning.

This way you’ll turn to empowering, and drop the impositions.

But this was recently, months after I had got through working on the big change project.

Turning imposing into empowering

Back to my personal story. What helped me turn around was asking myself: “Is what I’m doing right now helping the team succeed?”. If the answer was no, I would shut up and let others move on with their desired path. If it was yes, I would try to ask more questions. I would also be able to suggest other outcomes as I learned more about what I didn’t know.

Next time you feel like you want to grab people and show them the way forcefully, don’t. Choose your battles.

Think of it like you are across the field from them. Instead of trying to pull them to your original position, walk towards them ask them to walk towards you. Now you both have a slightly different perspective about the problem. Now you can try to see a shared path to the solution. Ask questions, listen and and walk with them to the shared solution. Just be careful to not walk too far in their direction and lose the way completely.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


Two ways out of this coronavirus social isolation crisis

If you’re like me, you’ve been in “shelter in place”, or under some kind of isolation that your government decided for you. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to work from home. Beyond not being able to go out and grab a drink or dinner with friends, hang out with family members that don’t live with you, travel, life is pretty much the same.

What has changed, though, is that managers everywhere are coming to terms with managing remote workforces effectively; because they have to, there’s no other way now. And teams are still performing well, without that in-the-office-have-to-be-next-to-my-team vibe. This accelerates adoption of work-from-home as the new normal. It also opens the world up for one of the two scenarios I predict will follow in the next few years.

The fall of mega-cities

As soon as people figure out that they can work from anywhere in the world, they will start moving out of expensive urban jungles like New York, San Francisco and other areas hit hard by the coronavirus and isolation.

Why would you choose to pay $3-$4,000 per month to rent a small one bedroom apartment in San Francisco? You can buy a mansion in Wyoming for less than $200,000. Or you can rent a resort-style three bedroom with pools and stuff for less than $1,500 in Arizona.

Not only people start moving away and vacating these once profitable rental properties, but the commercial space becomes empty. If you run a 400 people organization in San Francisco, you’re probably paying $10M+ every year to have an office. Now that you have unlocked that capital, you can grow your company further, hire more people, invest in marketing, sales, research and development etc.

Meanwhile, smart people everywhere are moving around. New post-isolation communities are born in places that were traditionally more closed off, and had less influx of people. We’ll replace the office with social clubs and co-working spaces, home offices and other working amenities. But there’s another interesting consequence. You start competing with people within 3-4 hours of your timezone, not just the people in your area and potential relocations. This is exciting for the global marketplace, but will place a lot of people in a new, challenging environment.

There’s going to be a spillover effect into teleconferencing software. People will try to recreate life-like working conditions in VR/AR, so we can work from anywhere.

We will reopen borders, and we will travel again, provided there is a vaccine/immunity test available. But people will have moved out of big cities and into other, traditionally less desirable parts of their countries. This combination of factors will likely change the way we live in the next century.

Open source medicine

If cities are to survive this pandemic and isolation, then we need to change the way we work with medicine around the world. Right now, every country and every state have different rules and limitations when it comes to drugs, cures, medical supplies, research, patents and ability to develop, test and go to market quickly with solutions to health issues.

The world where mega-cities continue to be the main way we live, combined with large scale travel, the old normal we were used to, require a more agile approach to medicine.

Right now, countries and companies are protecting their IP, production assets. Instead of continuing this, we could create a bounty system, where everyone contributes to a pandemic protection mega-fund. It could be bundled into a travel fee, or health tax, if people don’t want to voluntarily contribute to it.

This mega-fund invests in global solutions for future pandemics, vaccine rapid creation, advanced open source medical research that any person, country, city, state or company can tap into. It could share profits from its endeavors, like a superVC, or it could be a not-for-profit. The capitalist in me would opt for the for-profit model. This can work with strong bylaws/checks and balances, like fixed pay-per-use, based on income/net worth. This is to avoid racketeering or price gauging during times of need.

This could give us a rapid-response vehicle better than the WHO, or governments, or big pharma, or even billionaires working on vaccines on their own. It would be global, and it would be open, and it would likely be more effective.

I don’t think we’re going back to the old normal, we’ll have to create a new one, just like people did after the plague, tuberculosis, yellow fever, influenza, cholera and other pandemics. This change will also be an opportunity for generations to shift, wealth to redistribute and new models to emerge for business and society.

Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash


6 ways to defend your freedom in hard times

A few of my friends called me out because I raised the alarm with my previous post of freedom. They said I didn’t offer any specific solutions about how to defend your freedom in democratic regimes.

This only works if you have elected officials representing your best interests. The more fragile the democracy, the less power we have as individuals to influence things.

Reach out to your immediate community and friends

Before taking more extreme measures or committing to more time, reach out to your friends and immediate community and assess the situation. See if others feel the same way. It’s easier to find support, and take the next steps as a group. There’s so many ways to connect and organize nowadays, so I won’t get into that. Email / phone numbers are usually a good idea to have, in case you need to move people off social networks and onto other channels.

Privately reach out to your representative

You’re living in a democracy, so you elect people to represent you at local, regional and national level. Find out who your representative is and start reaching out to them and express your concerns. Do it in a calm, articulate way and be respectful. Ask for help and show that you are not alone in feeling that your freedom is being threatened.

If they don’t respond, use public channels, like Social Media, to continue reaching out to them until they take notice. Here being more that a handful of people helps a lot. Interject existing social conversations and prevent them from carrying out their comms plans while ignoring you.

Look at how existing grassroots organizations do this. Learn from activists.

Gather public support

While you are working on the official outreach, it can be a good idea to start a petition. This is a good way to get your voice heard and get like-minded people to rally together. It will amplify your impact beyond your friends and family group. This is the place where there’s strength in numbers.

At this point, you should consider starting a group/newsletter/community, so you can better organize people that feel their freedom is threatened. This will enable you to take coordinated action, managed decision making, keep people informed of latest progress.

Find existing communities that defend freedom and democracy

It’s also a good idea to get in touch with non-profits that defend democracy and can help you defend your freedom. Thankfully, we have a lot of these in the US. They can help you connect with people with similar concerns, have experience battling abuse on this topic and have tools that you can’t easily access.

Take visible action consistently

It takes time and commitment to defend your freedom. You need to have a cadence of staging protests on visible properties/channels, petitions, press coverage, legal action and other tools your local non-profit can help with.

You need to keep doing it for a significant period of time – weeks or months, or until the threat is removed. People will stop abusive action if they are called out and there is consequence – either reputational, political, or, if the legal framework permits, constitutional.

Celebrate victories with your network

This is a very important step. Celebrate every new supporter, new piece of coverage or reply from your representatives. If you manage to get legal wins, celebrate those too. Keep spirits up during hard times by doing this consistently.

These are just a few ways you can start protecting your freedom. If you feel this will put you or your family in immediate danger, try to rally a bigger support group before going out on your own. Stay safe and stay free.

Photo by Katie Rodriguez on Unsplash

Change Management Politics

Freedom in the time of COVID-19

For the first time in decades, our freedom is under threat again. This time, it’s not even a human-made one, but a virus that’s infecting people at an accelerated rate.

Governments around the world have hit their big, red panic buttons. They have stopped tourism, travel, closed borders altogether and have severely restricted freedom of movement. Some have gone as far as enacting military orders and curfews.

History all over again

While some think this is justified by the imminent danger of a pandemic, I can’t but see how much power decision-makers are harboring over everyone. A part of the population is begging government to intervene because they can’t self-organize.

People fail to remember the 30s, which gave rise to nationalist regimes and eventually WWII. That was a time of economic crunch, much like we will have in the upcoming years.

People also fail to remember or ignore what communism did in Eastern Europe and other places in the world. There, up until 1989, the government and their cronies dictated who could do what, when, how much you could buy and from where, what to think, do, publish, travel etc. Retrospectives with and for those who lived through those times might help with remembering all of this.

I hope this time we’ll look back and not allow narrow-minded, aggressive leaders to pit country vs country based on COVID-19 responses, quarantine measures and numbers of infections.

So yeah, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’ll remember the freedom of 1990 – 2020 fondly, when we could travel to most countries around the world and there were little restrictions in place.

The next 10-15 years will be interesting to watch, with the world becoming an increasingly divided place – even with the coronavirus pandemic solved by vaccines.

The price of freedom

Let’s talk about freedom for a bit. Do you value freedom, or would you rather be safe?

If you don’t value freedom, then close this window and go back and wait further instructions from Big Brother.

If you do value it, have you ever asked yourself what is the price you’d pay to defend that freedom? Or the price you pay for having it?

I have. I will always prefer a system that recommends and allows people to decide for themselves over an oppressive, overstepping leadership that uses guns to dictate policies. Think about it, they tell you it’s temporary. Then elections come and those get postponed. They might cancel elections altogether, to avoid the risk of contamination. This is in spite of the fact that we have tools and technologies to vote online – with face recognition, fingerprinting and document verification with liveness checks. Would you then defend your freedom?

Something to think about while in shelter-in-place vs military orders to stay in your houses, depending on your country. Think about your governments and decision makers. Do they deserve to be given power again or if you much rather give that power to better people?

Stop cheering for imposed restrictions, cheer for people freely electing to protect others. These imposers are only gaining confidence every day that they can take a little more freedom, and people will still be ok with it.

Photo by Toni Lluch on Unsplash


Creative energy rant – a water jug approach

Yes, this a rant about creative energy. I’ve been traveling for work and personal reasons for the past few months, on and off. Sometimes close by, sometimes far away. I’ve also had a very intense, productive past few months at work. All good problems to have.

Creative work

The type of work that I do is highly intellectually intensive – strategy, decision-making, writing, conceptualizing. I also enjoy working with entrepreneurs outside my regular working hours, I read a lot of news, and sometimes I do research to justify financial decisions. On top of that, I try to keep learning, at least a few months. I know I need to cut some of these down and prioritize sleep and relaxation more, but that’s not always easy.

Water Jug of Creative Energy

The problem with this type of lifestyle is the cognitive overload that comes with it. The good news is that there are ways to reduce it. I imagine my creative energy like a water jug. Sometimes it’s full, sometimes it empties up.

When I’m in full busy mode, I pour all of my creative energies into my work, so when I try to write on my blog, for example, I’m tapped out.

When I’m out snowboarding, hiking, or traveling, and my mind has a few moments to stand still, the jug slowly begins to fill back up. Sleep sometimes does that too, but only when I do it enough to be fully rested.

There are shortcuts to filling the jug temporarily. Music works sometimes, coffee also works. Reading non-related things or hanging out with people can fill some of the creative jug, but it’s those moments of idle-ness that help the most.

I love what I do. But I need to constantly remind myself that doing too much in one part will end up sapping all my creative energy and leave none for other activities.

They don’t teach this kind of stuff in school. I wish there was more out there than generic advice on how to relax, disconnect and do mindfulness exercise every day. By the way, I found that I need some creative energy for those, too.

So far, I’ve been failing at one of my main goals in 2020 – making space to relax. But it’s only late Feb, there’s time!

Photo by Kouji Tsuru on Unsplash


Guest post on Freedom through seeking closure with your former selves

People who know me well can already see the transformations I’ve been going through in the past year or so.

While working on myself has been a top priority in the past 10+ years, in the past I have shied away from doing anything too radical.

Not anymore.

Check out my latest guest post on about redefining yourself and letting go of the past, especially if you remember certain negative things after 15+ years.

If you’re like me, try some of the closure tactics I describe in my article. I’m curious if it works for you the same way it worked for me.

Also getting an apology from a person that bullied you in the past is super-strong. Definitely a must try, if you haven’t already.

I’m working on a bullying related post, where my hypothesis are:

  • people who were bullies generally end up less successful than people who were bullied
  • parents of bullies are unsuccessful themselves, maybe not financially, but personally; or both
  • parents of bullied children are either conflict-avoiding themselves and believe in a greater good/peace, or haven’t resolved their bullying issues from their own childhood

More to come in a separate post.

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Life Strategy

Competitive people, choose your battles

Yes, you. I’m talking to you, the one that wants to win at everything. If it helps, I’ll admit I’m one, too, although this post is a way of toning down that overly competitive self that can drive to some pretty nasty consequences.

Communist catalysts

First, a little bit of background. I was born in (still) communist Romania, in 1987, from communist educated parents, and attended a fledgling post-communist school system. Our only goal was to get 10/10, and to get the first prize in class. My mom and my friends’ moms would always ask who got the highest marks on term papers, exams, tests and homework. If I didn’t get the highest, I’d get told off. If I got the highest mark, then they would ask who else got it, too.

I remember the only time I competed for marks by my own free will. It was when I bet with my parents that I would get a snowboard if I would get 10/10 in math over a whole semester. Obviously, they thought I wouldn’t do it, but I did and I’ve been snowboarding for over 15 years, as a result. Looking back, if they had given me similar milestones and if I had identified similar rewards, I would have been more involved in my first years of schooling.

Even childhood games were competitive, sports and any other stuff. I wrote about it earlier last year. This negative competitive attitude then went on to shape people, business and life. It creates bad work environments, bad relationships, bad friendships. It also takes a strong personal toll. If you have an internal conversation going on inside your head (I found out some people don’t, and that’s ok), even that can become competitive.


The way that manifested in mine for the longest of time was through comparing myself and my achievements with others. I know, slippery slope to depression and anxiety. It also fosters imposter syndrome and other nice side effects! If it’s not clear enough, I’ll spell it out: It’s really bad for you.

Naturally, I wanted to fix it. So here’s a few strategies I’ve been applying in work, life and sports.

Sports (for fun)

If you’re a competitive athlete, this obviously doesn’t apply to you – that’s more in the work section.

If you’re like me, and do sports for fun and casual work out, then hear me out. Up until last year, I was snowboarding and playing basketball like my life depended on it. While this was fun and I pushed myself to perform better, I often didn’t have as much fun. I was too focused on extracting every ounce of value or at beating my/others benchmarks. That took the fun out of my hobbies. Needless to say, when I stopped being competitive there, I started having way more fun.

At work

This is a tricky one. While in most situations, I would strongly encourage you to be competitive, there are different ways to approach this.

Not every battle is worth winning, and sometimes you need to give some ground in immediate battles to be able to get what you want long term. It’s like the long term greedy concept I talked a bit about in the fat cat/hungry wolf post.

So next time you’re in a work exchange of opposite views, ask yourself – do I need this win to achieve our collective long term goals, or will conceding here will buy me enough good will to get what I want/we need next time we have to negotiate? Good old fashioned politics, yes. While some people might hate it, it’s inevitable the higher up you move in your career.

Side-thread on politics – if you want to convince a large group of people to follow your lead, you’ll need to use some politics to do that. It’s as simple as finding the group leaders, the loudest people and the most likely to challenge you and working with them, not against them.

So while at work, choose your battles carefully. You might end up competing in a race that’s not yours.

Personal improvement

Here’s where I vote for going 100% competitive. Personal development is about yourself, and improving who you are every single day is a competition I love to be in.

Sure, there will be ups and downs, but overall, I’m ready to beat my previous results when it comes to being a better person, being inclusive, being kind to people, being generous and loving.

That doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up about it. They way I see it, it’s like with my snowboard bet from high-school – you need to find that positive motivation that pushes you forward. I’ll share mine in a later post.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash


Parking scams in downtown San Francisco

I should have known parking in San Francisco would be a mess.

QI went out with my wife on Valentine’s day in San Francisco. Long planned, booked in advance, all the bells and whistles. It was a surprise, so she was driving, as she commutes to work every day by car.

We got close to the venue and chose one of the parking location recommended by Open Table, as part of the official description for Black Cat.

The place was great and the jazz concert awesome. The food was good too, but the wine service was slow. We had a great time though.

My recommendation to everyone out there:

If you’re going out in the Tenderloin area and will only be out for a few hours, never park at Turk Garage. They charge $41 flat rates.

It’s not visible, so it’s meant to be a racket. Avoid at all costs. Be sure to always check the fees before you go in.