Born in the former Soviet Union, my mother spearheaded our immigration to the US when I was a toddler. We moved to Atlanta, GA and my childhood was filled with fishing trips on the Chatahoochee with my dad, ballroom dancing competitions with my sisters and mom, and sleepovers at my grandparents’ home.
My parent’s prioritized education above all and I entered Atlanta International School from grade 8-12, exposed to students from 65 different countries. For university, I attended GA Tech studying Business and Marketing. I saw college as a buffet platter of careers to sample and juggled multiple internships at the same time. I worked in financial institutions, a children’s pediatric hospital, a marketing firm dressing as a Delta Happy plane and Oscar Meyer hotdog, and waitressed at the top restaurant in the city. My greatest joy was working with Blue Planet Run and ignition as director of Russian communications at age 20 for a world wide tour on foot for clean water to Africa.
Upon graduating into the worst economic recession of our generation, I bought a one way ticket to Vietnam and solo backpacked SE Asia for six months. My parents suddenly divorced and I buried the shock into my travels, volunteering at orphanages, befriending strangers, and gaining perspective. I lost a role model in my father when he walked out; here began my journey of forgiveness and compassion.
I moved to NYC at 22, crashed on my big sister’s couch for 8 months, and threw myself into my new media career. Ad sales was a bootcamp like no other and I worked my way up with tenacity, earning the title ” The Beyonce of Digital Media” by building strong relationships with my clients. After nearly 7 years of hustling, I left on a high note professionally. Emotionally, however, I was burnt out and disconnected from my purpose at age 28. I knew what life would look like if I stayed climbing the corporate ladder and it didn’t excite me.
I dreamed of being brave and exploring the unknown in lands far away in pursuit of perspective. Who was I without any of the accolades, power, and ego that ran my NYC media life? What stories were waiting to emerge if I let the old ones die? What’s my highest calling?
With my life savings, a journal, and curiosity bursting at my seams, I embarked on another solo backpacking world tour slated for 18 months. For the trip, I adopted a curiosity-driven mindset to ‘being’ by creating a series of ‘positive disruptive behaviors’ for myself.
A few months before leaving NYC, I won a MOTH storyslam – one of the most memorable experiences of my life. A curator for a conference/festival found me on Youtube and invited me to speak on stage in Costa Rica. I began speaking about ” Hacking Human Connection” on stages from Burning Man to Panama to Germany – slowly realizing this could be my dream life.
After 9 months of traveling, I spent one week of volunteering at a refugee camp in Greece, raising $7,000 in 48 hours to aid 400 refugees. I felt on top of the world and ready to serve something bigger than myself. Five days later, the most important man in my life suddenly died, my Deda ( grandpa) and I flew to LA to be with my family totally shattered.