“Everything is hard,” “get your hopes up” and 6 other entrepreneurial tips for the new year

So many of us yearn to do what we truly love in a way that will “impact” the world in meaningful ways. On the one hand these yearnings lead to a sense of determination and fulfillment. But on the one hand, the raised expectations often lead to feelings of helplessness and fear (of failure, among other fears).

In other words, we live in a very emotionally trying time.

With all that being said, here are some rules I try to live by as I make it through my day-to-day life as an entrepreneur who is more on the sensitive and questioning side of the spectrum:

1. Doing things for free ain’t so bad

photo by william white
photo by william white

I started Things to do in Jerusalem around two-and-a-half years ago just because I saw the need for a resource with info about the cool events happening in Jerusalem. I’ve been running it for free ever since, with no business plan in sight.

TTDIJ is not the only thing I do for free. I blog, speak and run an unofficial service whereby people send me private messages asking me questions about culture in Jerusalem and I do my best to answer them.

Truthfully, I often feel like I fall short for lack of resources (the main resource being my un-paid time) but I love giving these services to people in the best way I can.

So, why do things for free? Well, simply put, if you love it, you should be doing it, simply for the love of the thing itself. This gives you important experience and the ability to develop yourself professionally and the byproduct is that you are slowly marketing yourself as the go-to person for that thing you love. At the very least this means you’re doing what you love and opening the option of developing that love into a career.

2. Get out there

photo by ricky rachman
photo by ricky rachman from the made in jlm happy hour

Another thing I try to do is get out there. You need to find what is best for you but for me it includes posting info about my professional life on Facebook and on my blog (apropos this post) and going to events that attract me (like the monthly Made in JLM happy hour). (I seldom meet people one-on-one for lack of time.)

I think it’s really important to approach your “networking” as just something nice you do, not something you’re doing in order to get things out of people. That way it can be enjoyable for you and the people you meet. And truthfully, by putting myself out there, I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of help from people with everything from emotional support to amazing gigs.

3. Give big decisions very serious thought

photo source
photo source

On the one hand it’s so important to keep doing things no matter what, but on the other hand it’s so important not to jump into things without giving them serious thought. Nati, my partner, and I, have decided against seemingly perfect opportunities after discussing them in depth. At the very least you should work hard to justify your business decisions using dry numbers in a spreadsheet, market research (and preferably experience) and serious contemplation about your ability to stand up against the (excruciatingly) hard work.

Of course you still might fail but at least you know that your decision is based on serious research and not just a “passion” or a gut feeling.

4. Everything is hard

photo source
photo source

Basically anything that’s worth anything takes some really, really hard work.

For some reason we live in a time when people grossly underestimate the amount of time, effort and thought that is required in almost anything. This fact causes so much frustration from under-charging to building up unrealistic expectations regarding deadlines and quality and quantity of work. It also means that people will almost never appreciate how much effort goes into your work.

For example, would you like to guess how long this blog post took me to write? Many hours plus way more thought.

I almost never work with people who say things like, “Just throw together a blog post…” because I know that our differing attitudes regarding the effort behind my work will almost definitely cause clashes between us.

5. Work on accepting who you are and what you’ve got

photo source
photo source

I’m pretty bad at this. I’m so used to focusing on my weaknesses and the walls in front of me, that I don’t often truly appreciate my talents, my hard work and the amazing things in my life. I’ve started playing with different exercises such as going into a meeting with the assumption that I am the best person for the job. It’s interesting and I need to continue working on this since it’ll make the whole process of building myself up way more enjoyable.

6. Surround yourself with good people

photo by yuval wirzberger
photo of (part of) the Team JLMvibe taken by yuval wirzberger at the datahack

I don’t know about you but I can’t work with just anyone. To a large extent, I need my partner and colleagues to be aligned with me morally and goals-wise. We need to get along really well and respect and trust each other basically fully.

That means that it’s a long process finding people to work with which is why I think it’s important to always have your eyes open for those good matches.

7. Put one step in front of the other

photo source
photo source

Keep going. If you continue to feel connected to that thing you initially loved, keep going. And going. And going. Keep thinking, keep researching, keep learning, keep working, keep developing yourself, do stuff that goes to waste, “pivot” when necessary, take breaks, get back up, continue on. And on. And on. The painful thing is that we can’t know what is going to lead us where, we can only try to do what we believe in, continue growing, and wait and see where we end up.

8. Get your hopes up

photo source
photo source

When we used to say to my Bubby, “Don’t get your hopes up!” she’d say, “I hate when people say that to me. Of course I’m going to get my hopes up. What have I got, if not hope?”

So that’s my last tip for January 1, 2017: Get your hopes up. Let yourself get dragged into those projects that thrill you, that turn on your creative juices and make you lie in bed, sit on the toilet, take a shower and wash the dishes with your brain churning out ideas like a fiend. And dream and hope of what can be.

Wishing you all a happy, new, entrepreneurial year.

The time I made a huge financial error

I made a really serious financial error in 2015 and I’m still (literally) paying for it now, at the end of 2016. Here’s what happened.

Although I’ve been a freelancer for over 10 years, 2015 was the first time that all my income was through my business, with no income from an employer.

Throughout the years, to me it always seemed that I was paying very little to bituah leumi (BL) and in income tax. There was even a period that I was living abroad and continued paying BL and the amount then was minimal (around 150NIS/month). And so when I became completely independent, I made a very wrong assumption that the BL and the income tax I’d owe would be minimal because my income wasn’t amazingly high.

And so, as I often do with things relating to government offices and money (because I find this stuff completely daunting), I pushed off properly finding out my pending expenses. Near the end of 2015 I finally hired an accountant who immediately told me I owed BL thousands of shekels and I was going to owe the tax department a few thousand more.

Any money I thought I owned turned out to be owed funds. This threw me into such a difficult financial position that I’m still working on pulling out of it, now, 12 months later.

My accountant really helped me through this time. For example, they were the ones who recommended I pay as much of the BL as I could before the end of 2015 – it seems this would lower the amount of taxes I owed for that year. They also helped me set up my payments for my owed taxes.

I feel quite stupid from the whole thing. There was money I spent during that time which wasn’t necessary and I wish I’d been more on top of things. And pushing things off often doesn’t matter (I once pushed off doing my hatzharat hon (declaration of capital?) for a few years and all that happened was that they fined me, although I was able to lower the fine just by asking nicely), but Lord almighty did it matter this time.

Following this painful experience, the main advice I try to give others is to make sure to properly set up your account with BL, the income tax department and, if necessary, with the VAT department. Try to have a hold on what each department is and approximately how much you’re going to owe each one, so you can calculate your prices and necessary income properly. Also, seriously consider having an accountant or yoetz mas (tax advisor), at least in the beginning, who is available to answer your questions and make sure you’re paying everything on time.

The other piece of advice I give people is to not feel like they have money when they think they do. But that might be a little extreme… :)

Photo by Fabian Blank

this is a yoman!

All my work tools

I never thought I’d be this person, but I use so many tools for my work – mainly online – that it’s a little ridiculous when viewed in a list.

Here, let me show you:

  1. Google Keep – for notes
  2. Trello – for notes
  3. Google Calendar – for planning our days
  4. Google Drive – for collaborating on documents and spreadsheets
  5. Dropbox – for backing up and sharing my hard drive
  6. Toggl – for timing myself
  7. Asana – for working on tasks
  8. Insightly – for organizing contacts
  9. Paper – for taking notes

There are a few others but I’m not going to mention them since they’re really marginal (and it’s getting embarrassing).

Here is an overview of how I/we use each tool and a bit about what I like and don’t like about them:

Google Keep

google-keepThis is where I keep notes on the go. Like, really on the go. I can make notes in Trello, in a notebook, in Asana and in other places, but Keep is the simplest tool I know for this. You can quickly open up an existing note or a new one and throw pixels on the screen.

It has the option for a regular note or a check list. The check list works so easily and smoothly – it’s amazing.

The main drawback: The only reason we started using Trello was because Google Keep kept not syncing and we’d literally lose stuff we’d written because of this. It was very upsetting.


trelloWe started using Trello very recently because of the syncing problem in Google Keep. So, while Keep is where I keep my own personal notes, or notes relating to work that Nati, my business partner, doesn’t need to see, Trello is now the place where we write notes to each other and other things that we don’t have any other place to put.

This is some of the boards we created:

Notes to each other – For example, I write a note to Nati and after he reads it, he either archives it because there’s nothing to add or he moves it to the next column “To discuss” so we’ll remember to talk about it the next time we have a meeting on that topic. This is in place of WhatsApp – that way the message doesn’t get lost and we aren’t disrupting each other. And that way, WhatsApp remains the place to discuss time-sensitive things.

To discuss – This column is where we put things we want to talk about. For example, I need Nati’s help with my time management and so I put that in this column.

To do – All our tasks are supposed to be in Asana but since Asana is a very heavy website and a cumbersome app (read more below), sometimes new tasks go in here before they’re moved into Asana.

Other things – This is stuff to keep in mind.

There are a few more boards and we’re still figuring out how best to work with Trello but in general we try to keep it as empty as possible. Because it’s ideally only a short stop in our work flow and if things are there forever, it’s probably a problem.

One of the things I love about Trello is that it works incredibly smoothly. The syncing is basically instantaneous, the app and web version load extremely quickly and dragging-dropping is smooth as anything. After the syncing problems with Keep and the loading issues with Asana, these benefits truly please me.

Google Calendar

google-calendarOne of the things we try hard to do is plan our work days in advance. We give ourselves a half hour at the end of the day to plan the following day. No, we don’t always go 100% according to our plan, but it’s an opportunity to think about everything we have on our plate and to prioritize well. It also means that even if things don’t go according to plan, we still have in mind what our priorities are. And in the cases that we do go according to plan, it’s very satisfying!

And in case you’re wondering, we give ourselves a half hour opening session at the beginning of every day to discuss anything of importance, an hour lunch break and a half hour closing session at the end of the day (to organize the following day).

Google Drive

google-driveGoogle Drive is in some ways the god of online tools. Often when working on huge amounts of content with a team, this will happen in a shared Google spreadsheet. I use Dropbox for most of my files (will discuss Dropbox below) but Google Drive is the magical place of collaboration. We have worked on projects using Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets and Google Slides.

The main drawback of Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets is that they are truly lacking compared to Microsoft Word and Excel. Word’s documents are way more attractive and both Word and Excel carry way more functionality than Google Drive. I see Google copying Microsoft over time but that is happening really slowly.


dropboxDropbox is the way I keep my entire computer backed up. I pay an annual fee for 1TB of storage space and I have all my photos from my phone automatically upload to my account.

The thing I love the most about Dropbox is the sharing of content (as opposed to collaboration). When I need to send someone a bunch of photos, instead of attaching them to an email, I create a share link to the folder in Dropbox and send that to them.

I am aware of the fact that Google Drive works in a similar fashion (and costs the same, last I checked) but I have been using Dropbox for a while and love it so am not changing right now.


togglThis is an amazing tool for timing yourself.

I try to time myself throughout my work day. Because of the nature of my work, I only need one task per client/project, which keeps things simple. I also have a task called “Admin” where I time anything that is not billable but is work. That includes: working on leads, business development, accounting, marketing and the opening and closing meetings of the day.

And why Toggl? It’s simple as anything and just does what we need it to do. Recently we created a shared workspace where we can time ourselves on shared projects and we’re pretty happy with that so far. I also love the email I get at midnight every Saturday night which shows me what I worked on the past week.

And why time yourself? Because then you know what you’re doing with your life :) and you can price things more accurately as time goes on.

Yes, it’s often really hard timing yourself, both emotionally and technically. Sometimes it stresses me out and doesn’t let me get into a work groove. Sometimes I feel self conscious about how long something is taking and I just want to do it without thinking about that. Sometimes I make a mistake and time myself on the wrong “task” and then need to try to figure out how long to remove from that task and add to the right one.

But I still believe it’s important, especially if you have your own business, and I guess the way to get past the emotional obstacles is to try to take the data with a grain of salt.


asanaOh, Asana… It’s the talk of the world.

I was so resistant to use it. I really hated it at first because it wasn’t useful to me and so I found myself still keeping notes in a notebook on the side. It was so frustrating.

But we knew we needed a project management system and Nati thought Asana was a good one, and so we persisted through my resistance. In concrete terms that meant that we spent many hours and tons of thought on figuring out how to make Asana work for us.

And we succeeded!

I don’t even know where to start talking about Asana. I guess, the best place to start is by saying that we pronounce it differently than everyone else. I pronounce it the way I learned to pronounce it in yoga class, putting the emphasis on the first syllable. But, it seems that since it’s an American product, the accent is actually put on the second syllable. We refuse to cave in on this. Sorry.

It’s during the opening session of our day (which periodically is longer than the normal half an hour) that we move tasks from Trello to Asana and organize Asana. We have understood over time that a project management system only works if you go over everything written there on a regular basis, around once a month. We have a “Project” per project and we love using the assignments, deadline and tags. I love the calendar view. In the list view we love the ability to create sections by putting a colon after the title of a task.

We’re trying out the new boards option (copied from Trello) and so far we don’t love it as much as Trello, mainly because you can’t see a long task name (which is really important to us) and it’s very spacious with big font which means you can’t see a lot of info in your screen at once.

The main drawbacks of Asana have nothing to do with the functionality and everything to do with the user-experience. Namely, the web version loads so slowly that it’s almost funny (we take turns laughing/crying about how long my PC takes to load and how long Asana takes to load). And the app is so annoying to work that I often opt to use Keep or Trello and then move things to Asana later.

I’ve now decided to give the app more of a chance and am playing around with it more but from what I know, here are the issues I have with it (the app):

  1. You can’t choose the default workspace or project that the app opens up to. The default for me is the workspace I need the least and the tasks is “My Tasks” which is also something I need less. I don’t see a way to change these settings.
  2. You can’t share from the browser to Asana – This is a huge drawback for us. We often need to share first to Trello and then later move things to Asana.
  3. It’s too hard to add a new task to the right place – with the correct project, assignee, etc.
  4. You can’t start editing a task simply by tapping on the text; you need to tap the tiny little edit button first.
  5. You need to tap “Save” to save your edits but since the “Save” button is passe, I am concerned I’m going to lose my changes.
  6. Switching between projects is a basic need for us but in the app you need to tap twice just to get to a complete list of projects.

K, I’m trying to say that we love Asana, not hate it. I guess the point is that it’s so amazing that the drawbacks still aren’t enough to keep us away.


insightlyThis is our shiny new CRM (contact relationship management). I’ve been searching for a CRM that does what I need for so long. And managing contacts is one of the biggest challenges in a business. There are so many categories of people – service providers, potential clients, colleagues and many more – and it is so hard to keep on top of people according to your needs. And so we were pretty (hesitantly) excited when Nati happened upon Insightly. First, it has a nice user interface. Phew. Also, the free version offers a lot of functionality.

The entry types that we use are Contacts, Organizations, Leads and Opportunities. We don’t use Tasks and Projects because we need all action items to be in Asana.

The things we love so far are:

  1. Email tracking – While emailing a contact, we often BCC an Insightly email address which sends the email to our account and connects it with the relevant contacts there. <3
  2. The Gmail addon – With this addon you can hover over a name in your Gmail inbox and see if that person is in Insightly yet. If they aren’t, you can add them from the addon. There are some drawbacks but mostly it’s amazing.
  3. Tags – We use it to track different types of contacts. We’re just sorry that tags aren’t cross-sectional between, for example, Contacts and Organizations.
  4. Links – This is really beautiful. You can link between anything and anything and write something about the connection in a small field.

The main drawback we’ve found so far is that the tags aren’t cross-sectional and the search doesn’t read tags or the entry descriptions. I think it only reads the entry names.


yomanThe other thing I use is paper. I use a paper daily planner – a yoman – and a notebook. The yoman I use for the overall plan of my days and stuff I need to remember to take care of that isn’t necessarily work-related. And my notebook I use for taking notes during meetings and for brainstorming.

Why don’t I just use Google Calendar for meetings? I find it too difficult to have a feel for my day – including outside work – with a digital calendar. And as for the notebook, the notes from there get transferred into one of the online apps the first chance I get.

Drawbacks? None. Physical notebooks are wonderful!

One more thing…

Nothing works unless you work on making it work. All these tools are only working for us because we have spent (and in some cases continue to spend) hours and a lot of thought on how we need to use them in order for them to work best for us.

Also, all of these tools only work if you go into them and reorganize them periodically.

Both of these tasks might sound like a waste of time – and yes, they’re timed under “Admin” (see Toggl) which is not billable – but having a working system is golden. It means you can arrive at your workday, have a real handle on what’s going on and focus on the tasks that are the top priority. Of course, as mentioned above, the plan doesn’t always work out as well as you’d hope – there are many dynamic factors including emotions involved – but I believe that our days are more productive and way more organized because of how we manage ourselves.

People I admire: Casey Neistat

Maybe a blog post every other day makes more sense than daily blogging…

Anyway, as I give some thought towards getting back into my personal blog, I’ve made a short list of themes I could write about, hoping the added structure will help keep me going.

Here are the themes:

  1. How I work – entrepreneurship and work
  2. Ideology & philosophy – what rules I live by and what I (don’t) believe in
  3. Health – mental and physical
  4. People I admire and why

So let’s begin with Casey Neistat in the theme of people I admire and why.

Casey Neistat…

I kept hearing his weird name from my sisters and nephew who are obsessed with him. One of said sisters is 40 years old and is one of Casey’s biggest fans along with thousands of teenagers. But now that I’m totally into him too – I’m currently in the process of watching all 500-ish of his daily vlogs – I can safely say that he is amazing and worth watching no matter your age.

So, Casey is the first person I’m going to talk about for one very good reason: He is the person inspiring me to get back into my personal writing. Here are the main reasons I love his videos and respect him very much:

He’s principled

He has his principles and seems to stick to them. Here are a few I’ve noticed:

No matter all the opportunities he gets and the challenges of being recognized all over NYC (and often beyond as well), he (almost) never puts people down. He has talked about “bullying” a few times and strongly opposes it. He did one video where he spoke up against the people who bully him in the comments of his videos but I can’t seem to find it right now.

Second, he seems to know what he’s comfortable sharing and he never shares more than that. Namely, he doesn’t get too personal. For example, although his family is in his vlog, I feel like I know almost nothing about their relationships.

He works hard. In a way this isn’t a principle because it seems to be in his blood but it still is inspiring to see someone consistently work so hard. For example, it took him anywhere between 2-7 hours to edit each daily vlog. That’s insane.

He’s amazing at what he does

He is an unbelievable videographer and editor and he is extremely eloquent and well-thought out. It’s actually daunting how talented he is but no one should compare themselves to Casey Neistat because he’s sort of a machine reincarnated as a human (watch him live his life for a bit and I think you might agree). Anyway, he’s unbelievably talented at what he does.

He is inspiring

I have a lot of emotional ups and downs. When I’m down I could feel fearful, sad, tired, hopeless, etc. And I often find that watching a few of Casey’s videos improves my mood. I don’t know why exactly… I think it has something to do with him being very upbeat and creative. But whatever the reason, I find his videos to be helpful to me on an emotional level and I appreciate that so much.

Here is one of Casey’s videos. See what you think:

Daily blog? Hmmm

If I actually end up daily blogging, this will be Blog #1.

It isn’t so sudden and it definitely isn’t out of nowhere, but it sure is extreme for me to even consider daily blogging when I am in the midst of juggling so many other things.

And of course it’s over Shabbat (Saturday) that I think of these insane new projects, let alone take them seriously. It’s the one day of the week that I don’t work. With all my daily responsibilities fallen to the wayside, my creative juices are rejuvinated and, at the time, these great ideas to take over the world (in ways other than those I’m already implementing) seem like good uses of said juices.

It makes sense I’m drawn to this idea because I miss my personal writing, something that gets little attention since my writing career took off. That’s the irony. I always wrote, about whatever was going on in my life – I wrote about nutrition when I was a dietitian, about Judaism when I was struggling with my place in the religious world and about dating when I returned to Jerusalem and hoped to revolutionize the dating system (hint: I failed).

But since I began writing – read: website content management, editing, proofreading, translating, event calendar management, etc. – for a living, I find that I do almost no personal writing.

This is because all my writing energy goes to my work. This is something I didn’t expect when I worked towards a writing career, but I try not to feel down about it because writing for a living was my dream!

(P.S. Dreams are never the same in reality as they are in our minds.)

Anyway, the other issue I have with my personal writing is that almost every topic I decide to write about turns out to be too personal once I get into it – either for me or someone else – and then it gets really complicated and then I give up. It is such a huge challenge to write from a personal place without writing in a way that’s too personal.

This makes me think of two people.

First, is a woman. A poet. She came to read her poetry to a group of elderly people in the day center where I worked while I lived in Vancouver. She got up in front of the clients and shocked us all (well, those of us who could hear well enough) with a a piece about passively lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling… While her husband had sex with her.

In retrospect, who cares that it was in front of elderly people – I’m sure they had plenty of sex in their lives. But Lord, wasn’t that a little more exposure than she wanted? Apparently not.

The other person I think of is Casey Neistat, the super famous YouTuber who daily vlogged for around 500 days (almost completely) straight. His daily vlogging warrants its own blog post because he is so incredibly inspiring and talented and inspiring (yes, repeatedly purposely) but my point here is that he made a video about his life and thoughts for around 500 days straight and never put anything in that was more personal than he felt comfortable with (I didn’t ask him but I can just tell). His wife and two kids are in there but I’ve never seen him and his wife hug or kiss. I know almost nothing about their relationship. He stopped putting his baby’s face in the vlogs after a certain point. And no personal conversations made it into the videos.

On the one hand I felt the lacking and yearned to see or hear something more personal. But on the other hand, I would think that it was because he was so strict with his own guidelines that he was able to keep it up. There was no question – those personal things weren’t going in. And so he worked around that in an extremely artistic and still interesting manner.

Anyway, I know I have a lot I’d like to share and I’m going to try getting back into that. At the very least I’m going to try to blog a little more. And at the very most I hope to get into blogging daily. Let’s see who will win – less or more. :) Stay tuned.

The BS of “Follow Your Passion”

“Follow your passion.”


This idea of following one’s passion has never sat right with me. Today it’s particularly stressing me out and so I’ve given it some thought and upon a certain amount of introspection, I’ve decided that there are two parts of this idea that are faulty.

1. The singularity of it

This idea that is supposedly so freeing is, in fact, extremely restraining, namely because it makes the terrible and silly assumption that we only have one passion. It’s very nice and good to focus on one of your passions for a short or extended period of time, maybe even for your whole life, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things you’re passionate about. It’s just that we need to make a decision about what to focus on or else we’ll never get anything done. That’s all.

2. The damn word

Also, the word “passion” irks me. Maybe that’s because it gives the impression that the subject of your passion should cause you great feelings of meaning and enthusiasm on a constant basis when, in fact, that thing, when broken down, is as mundane as anything else in life. Not to mention the important fact that the reasons we are driven to focus on certain things is not only “passion.” For me, for example, it’s also out of trying to find something that works with my personality as a highly sensitive, highly questioning person.

Yes, there might very well be moments of passion but it is far from the only factor in our decisions to do what we do.

The new way to say it?

Point being, I think instead people should say:

“Follow one of the things you feel drawn to if you feel and believe that’s the right thing for you right now.”


Photo source

Why Men Don’t Shake My Hand

Watching the movie Suffragettes made me into a feminist. Of course I always believed in women having completely equal rights and security as men but I never gave it much thought. But watching that movie brought me to the horrifying understanding of the alternative, which isn’t a fantasy. It is how it was in the past, with women working for substantially lower wages, working harder, dying from diseases they developed from terrible work conditions, having no protection against rape by husbands, having no rights on their kids, etc. etc. Horrifying.

Since I saw that movie I’ve become much more sensitive and conscious of potentially being treated differently because I’m a woman. I currently live in a very male-dominated world – working in a coworking space where I’m often the only woman and a lot of my friends today are wonderful men.

And one thing I seem to notice is that many men shake hands with each other but not with me. Like, within the same 30 seconds two men might shake hands and then nod at me.

I don’t know how to feel about this. I have felt a little annoyed by it but I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing. Men and women are different and no matter what we do, I’m pretty sure there will always be that awkward tension between the two sexes (well, besides with gays which is a different story, of course) and although I do prefer to shake hands in most cases, there is something nice about having that little bit of distance.

At the same time, it’s just a hand shake. If the person is religious then that’s completely different but there are many non-religious (or at least not outwardly religious) men who have that extra distance and that is a little strange to me.

What do you think about it?

Photo source

Do I Have a Mental Illness?

In my last post I mentioned the term “mental illness” and it’s been making me uncomfortable since the moment I typed it down.

Mental illness. Am I “mentally ill”? That sounds so terrible. I imagine myself not as the girl sitting in my work hub at 9:30 on a Sunday morning shmoozing with my colleagues, listening to a new playlist from a friend and checking my Facebook, but someone who does strange things, can’t easily communicate with others and can barely scrape by because their mental illness prevents them from functioning normally.


I need to ask my shiny new psychiatrist what she diagnosed me with but I’d think it’s some kind of generalized anxiety disorder or minor to moderate depression but even so I asked my social worker friend if what I have, whatever it is exactly, is a mental illness. She wrote:

Good question. I think whatever is in the DSM is considered a mental illness but there is a spectrum and anxiety is on the lower side, not as severe. Actually there are 2 axis and this is on axis 1 which is less severe.

The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For example, Jerusalem syndrome, “the mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem” is in there.

jerusalem syndrome wikimediaHmmm… Is Jerusalem syndrome axis 1 or 2, I wonder…

Anyway, I have two connected issues with using the term mental illness in regards to myself. First, yes, I suffer and it’s painful what I go through. But I don’t think I compare to people who have full-fledged depression or other mental illnesses which render them heart-breakingly low functioning. So when I use that term, I feel like I’m misrepresenting all those people who are struggling and suffering in more intense ways than I am.

Second, yes, I’m worried about the stigma. Even if technically generalized anxiety disorder (yeah, I’m diagnosing myself until my next appointment with my doctor), is in the DSM, I’m fully functioning and I have a lot of happy, productive times.

There’s another issue I have which is that the moment I write something down, it partially stops being true. It’s like how when we go to the doctor we suddenly don’t have the symptom anymore? Same but with my writing. They say writing is therapeutic but it can’t be that it’s curing me, can it?

No, I don’t think it is, but at the same time, I feel like a fake saying I’m suffering from any mental illness, even axis 1 ones which are less severe.

Point being, let’s take the terminology with a grain of salt, shall we? You’re welcome to weigh in on this if you have thoughts on it.


Photo source

To Share Or Not To Share

It’s been a hard last few months. My grandmother died on Hanukkah, in December 2015, and unlike my grandmother who was sure she knew where we go when we die, I don’t know. And not knowing what has happened to her, where she is now, has made it very hard for me to acclimate to her being gone.

That and a few other things I’m dealing with have all taken their toll on me with the current culmination being anxiety attacks which I’ve been suffering from periodically for a few months now.

The attacks mainly happen when I’m with my loved ones. The first one was with my parents and little sister when I had them over for dinner. I sat there having a lovely time and then I just couldn’t shake the fact that this is all so fleeting. And then I started feeling like I was going outside of myself, hearing myself and seeing the scene from the outside. And I got very scared.

Until that point I’d never experienced anxiety like that. I’ve performed in front of audiences and felt so terrified that my foot was shaking too much to press the piano pedals. I’ve felt depressed and left Israel and moved to Vancouver, a place I’d never been, adding that to the list of scariest things I’ve ever done. I’ve taken exams which were too hard for me and organized events which made me feel very vulnerable. Once when feeling very connected to the man I was dating, I cried from deep sadness over the fact that one day I’d have to be parted from him.

But the feelings I had that evening were of a different caliber and one of my first thoughts was: Give me a pill for this. NOW. (Something I’ve since done – maybe more on that later.)

“So that’s the difference between being really stressed and an actual anxiety attack,” I’ve said many times since then when trying to describe to people what a terrible thing this is, realizing I had no idea (and still don’t) what others are going through when they suffer from any kind of anxiety, depression or other mental illness.

An anxiety attack is a whole other ball game. Not to mention the terrible fact that it is a game-changer, potentially affecting my decisions, inhibiting me and making me fearful to go out into the world and do what I want to do.

And to think of all the people suffering in this and other ways…

I’ve since had a few other attacks, almost always while with loved ones. I think we all need that thing that comforts us in this world – religion, spirituality, faith, or something of the sort – and since I don’t really have that, I start getting overwhelmed when with the people I love and find that I needed to remove myself from the situation in order to calm down.

The thing is that although the attacks are new, the underlying thoughts and feelings are not. As a child I remember lying in bed and being hit by the illogical nature of the vast universe. My inability to process the information sent a surge of fear pulsing through my body and I needed to force myself to think of something else. When relatives would die, I didn’t understand how people could just continue on like this was OK. (My aunt recently told me she thought all humans should go on strike. Stop everything and say to the Heavens, “We are not continuing on until You explain to us what this is all about.”)

While teachers taught us about math and literature and Torah, I didn’t understand why any of it mattered and how people could so often act as though they understood anything about anything.

And it has all always boiled down to the most basic of questions:

Does any of this matter? Does any of this make sense?

Not that I really want you to know any of this…

I think one of the reasons I have barely written anything personal over the last few years is because on the one hand what can I write if not the really personal stuff? But on the other hand, there are repercussions to sharing such personal experiences.

And so, if you don’t mind, I’d like to outline the main reasons I hesitate talking about my emotional issues, dark thoughts and ensuing medical care and the reasons I just might do it anyway (oh, I think I’m doing it already).

Maybe see this sort of as our contract for me to write about these personal topics and for you to read them with care.

Why I don’t want to share this with you

First, I feel badly talking about disturbing facts about reality (the aforementioned death and suffering among others) because if you aren’t thinking about them then why bring them up? It’ll only upset you.

Second, the amount and complexity of thoughts and feelings going on in my (well, our) head is way more than is possible to really process and get down on paper and so writing or talking always falls short of reality.

Third, there is the worrisome issue of what people will think. This makes me feel vulnerable.

Fourth, sometimes it’s good to talk about these things and sometimes it’s too much. Some of the good people who will read my pieces will want to talk about it. Though touching, this can be very draining and I may not always be up to it.

Fifth, I don’t want sympathy or advice and, again, I know that some well-meaning people might try to give those to me.

Sixth, I hope this doesn’t negatively impact my professional life. I am building up a business and although I think people shouldn’t have to be perfect in the professional sphere, just like we shouldn’t have to be perfect in the personal one, still, I wouldn’t want my openness to affect people’s perceptions of me on a professional level. And on a personal level? Well, it does impacts me and for some reason I’m OK with that right now.

Why I might share this with you anyway

And yet with all those concerns voiced, I still really do want to write about this. I believe it’s a good thing to do and here are some reasons why:

First, for years I’ve been watching videos and reading articles about the taboo of mental illness and how detrimental that is to those who suffer from it and so really I want to jump at the opportunity to help break the taboo, now that I have the chance.

Second, others who are suffering might feel more understood and less alone if they can relate to what I write.

Third, I hate when people idealize other people’s lives. I am prone to that too and it drives me crazy how often we wistfully gaze at others and wish our lives could be more like theirs. I love the idea of bursting people’s (mine and others’) bubbles.

And fourth, I believe that the source of my anxiety – namely, ongoing dark thoughts about the world – are the most important difficult truths about our existence, so how could we not talk about them? That’s ludicrous.

So, will I do it?


For a few weeks I have been yearning to tell you about my crazy experience when I had an anxiety attack on a train ride from Amsterdam to Berlin a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I’ll finish working on it now and publish it. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

One final thing

I’m still the Deena you know (and love:).

It’s not that I walk around with no sense of meaning or purpose. On the contrary. I am often very excited about the work I do. I love the people in my life who enrich my world in the most beautiful ways. I get passionate and I get into a flow which can make my days go quickly in the most exciting sense.

But there is also this added dimension which is a big struggle. It is a major part of what defines the way I see things and the choices I make. It may not be all of who I am, but it definitely is a part of me.

9 Philosophies from an Entrepreneur in the Wind

Entrepreneurship is very important to me. It is this lifestyle that opens up the opportunity for me to develop the ideas I have, work with the people I want to and influence the things that really matter to me.

But it’s also a very difficult lifestyle. I am often trying to figure out not only how to put one foot in front of the other, but which direction to put that foot in. I am forever competing with self doubt in a lifestyle that demands constant decision-making, a balance between ideas and practicality and, of course, all this with the infamous uncertain and unknown future staring right back at me.

I’d like to share some of the philosophies that, when actually practiced, give me the strength to get through the day-to-day life as the woman roaming the streets of Jerusalem, consciously (and self-consciously) offering narrowly-defined services, dreaming of an innovative business with a colleague and almost always juggling too many things at once.

I hope you find this list useful.

Sometimes we're playing and only five people are listening and that's OK. (The Marakia on Koresh St. Tuesday jazz nights)

1. The impostor syndrome isn’t only bad (most things aren’t only bad)

Many of us are walking around life sure we’re about to be found out as the frauds that we are. We feel like we don’t know enough and we aren’t professional enough and we marvel at the fact that people take us seriously at all.

But recently I saw a new way to look at the impostor syndrome which made me realize the upside of this painful phenomenon. Namely, that if we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing, it is a sign that we’re pushing our limits and trying new things. So, maybe we’re feeling like a newbie because we really are always learning and trying new things, which is a good thing!

Here is the animated gif which I love that inspired this thought:

I have no idea what I'm doing (Source)
I have no idea what I’m doing (Source)

2. Be really forgiving of people

While working on building up my own thing, there is little space for pettiness. It’s a world of imperfect people and being suspicious or feeling resentment towards them for making mistakes or being inconsiderate, dooms me to a life of tab-keeping. It takes too much energy and people really aren’t usually that bad.

Of course that doesn’t mean we’re never going to get upset and that there aren’t times when it’s important to get upset. But I often experience first hand the benefits of letting things slide and moving on.

Dance like everyone/nobody is looking (the Boogie)
The Boogie

3. Keeping self-absorption to a minimum

Working for myself, being my own manager and having to make decisions constantly, are all things which bring up a lot of feelings about myself. I am so aware of the responsibility I hold all on my own that my successes and my mistakes hit home very hard.

And I find it best not to dwell.

I love how my latest blog post came out? Yay! Next. I made a big mistake with my taxes last year? Oy veis mir! Learnt my lesson big-time. Moving on. I think I came off sounding a little stupid in that meeting? Ugh. Anyway… That excellent piece my colleague wrote was based on my idea? Clearly I do know what I’m doing! Woo hoo! MOVING THE FUCK ON.

Because, like in #2, we could spend our entire lives keeping tabs, trying unsuccessfully to figure out if we’re the bee’s knees or impostors indeed, and that’s a waste of a lot of perfectly good energy.

The First Station, Jerusalem
The First Station

4. Be happy for (and learn from) others

I grew up being taught to “fargin”  people their achievements and successes. Only in my adulthood did I find out that fargin is a Yiddish word, not an English one (and it is also a popular Hebrew word – לפרגן). It means to be generous of spirit and to feel truly joyful for people and their accomplishments and good fortune.

For some reason it scares me when others do good work, as though it is a sign that I missed my own boat of success. But I’m aware of the fact that this is a narrow-minded view of the world and so I think it’s good practice to show support to people in their work and celebrate their successes with them. And, of course, we can always use their successes as learning opportunities for ourselves.

2015-02-16 20.45.20 good

5. Always on the lookout for excellent people

Work relationships are intense and important and one of the benefits of independence is having more control over who we work with. Namely, I want to be with professional, kind and idealistic people who I truly respect, trust, enjoy, admire and can relate to.

This might sound like a lot to ask for and sometimes I feel like my pickiness might hold me back, but I also realize that this is of utmost importance to me. And when I do meet people who fit my criteria, it is often exhilarating and with (relative) confidence we can move forward together.

2015-02-04 14.35.42

6. Doing things I enjoy

Sometimes I could spend an entire week trudging through annoying work. But this isn’t the reason I’m where I’m at and at those times, I like to ask myself, “What could I choose to do with my time right now that I’d enjoy?” and I try to do that work instead.

When we stop for a moment and make sure to spend time on things we enjoy, that means we can still be productive but also create something which wants to be created and and it will inspire us to continue on.

Hummus Abu-Yoyo
Hummus Abu-Yoyo

7. My support network only goes so far

I have a wonderful support network of colleagues, friends and family. I rely on these people often and often heavily, but I have understood over time that the buck stops somewhere. In every situation, at some point we must stop talking, take control, believe in our abilities to make good decisions and move on.

Mount Scopus
Mount Scopus

8. Finding inspiration

As many people close to me know, I am in a near-constant state of asking “Why?” Why am I doing what I’m doing? Does it even matter? What does anything matter? Is this where I want to be putting my time? How do I make that decision?

To say the least, this is a strenuous place to be and I’m always looking for ways to either answer the questions, quiet the questions or give a constructive place for them. This is very personal and each person needs to find their own sources of strength and inspiration but here are a few ways in which I inspire myself:

a. I remind myself why I do what I do by going to the events I help advertise and by meeting the people behind them. Because when I sit at a dance festival in the outdoor market of Jerusalem and am moved to tears by the performances, or when I talk to the couple behind the new pop-up exhibitions in Jerusalem, I get a peek into the reasons behind my work.

b. I listen to talks and read pieces which touch upon the philosophical and psychological issues I deal with. For example, Krista Tippett’s interviews on “On Being” with deep thinkers from around the world (like this one with David Steindl-Rast where they talk about what gratitude really is) give me the opportunity to find insight into the issues that often sit in my subconscious and not feel alone with my questions.

c. I talk to people who either can relate to my internal process helping me understand and appreciate them more or can offer me different perspectives on them, helping me evolve over time. For example, it is one particular friend who has helped me respect my questioning and understand how it contributes to the work I do, taking mine and my colleague’s ideas to deeper, more innovative places.

d. I remind myself that this is not the last dance but instead just one movement in the composition of my life. Everything has worked up to this point and is continuing to work up to some future unknown point.

Independence Park, downtown Jerusalem
Independence Park

9. My personality isn’t a hindrance

Sometimes I get upset at myself, for certain personality traits I possess, and I think that they hold me back. For example, my constant questioning of “Why?” mentioned in #8 has often infuriated me since it makes me lack the carefree spirit which I have idealized in other entrepreneurs as their way to move forwards without always looking back or thinking too much.

But I am reminded, also via the tools I mentioned in #8, that who I am is the reason I do what I do, not the thing that gets in the way. For example, my sensitivity and awareness towards others, though tiring and intense, often allow me to connect with people in wonderful and inspiring ways.

I think that when we’re upset about certain things about ourselves, it’s a good idea to stop for a moment to ask ourselves how these traits might also contribute towards our goals, hopes and dreams, not only holding us back. Because the more we respect who we are, the more we can tap into our unique selves and create our own unique work.

2015-05-10 11.21.33
The Israel Museum

How about you?

If I had written this list a few months ago, it would probably look different. It’ll probably look different in a few months from now too since the things I’m dealing with change and I’m always looking for new ways to deal with the challenges and continue to grow. What helps you stay strong, persevere and carry on?

Curious what I do? Join Things to do in Jerusalem to get a taste.