It's a wrap! November 2018
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Paris
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Oh. Wow. NOVEMBER! A lot has happened this month.

Besides me going to Paris to join one of Jim Haynes’ legendary Sunday suppers, I’ve also managed to start working on an event series myself. Together with Kate Sagovsky from Moving Dust, we’re planning a series of 12 live performances to spark an honest, soothing conversation between people of all ages and cultural backgrounds, but more on that later!

I spent parts of the month transcribing interviews for the book I’m currently working on. While I don’t have a name for it just yet, I’ve been collecting stories of people who organize dinners and brunch clubs to bring people together in their communities.

As much as I’ve always loved the internet for bringing like-minded people together, over time I’ve become very aware of how important it is to also gather people who don’t have the same opinion. It’s become increasingly important to create gatherings for strangers of diverse backgrounds to talk and exchange thoughts and experiences. Speaking to people such as Timo Santala, the founder of the Restaurant Day, the tireless idealist Joe Edelman, who loves to play with how people make a connection, Maciej Chmara, who together with his wife ran the Mobile Hospitality where they hosted people despite being just visitors in different cities, and others has inspired me greatly. So far, I have 14 interviews of which I’ve already transcribed six, and given I’ve always been most productive in the winter months, I’m pretty excited about how this project is evolving.

For this particular book, I’m actually not so sure if Kickstarter’s the best way to launch it, so instead I’ll be looking for a publishing house to help me shape the final product. I believe this might be interesting to a publishing house that focuses on coffee table books, city building books, and similar. If you know someone who knows someone, you know where to find me! And should your lead get to something, I promise you a seat at one of the live performances I’ve mentioned above.

On a personal note, in 2019 I’m planning to move into more hands-on community building by running events and offline initiatives. I’d love to get involved with conferences to bring people together, in team building initiatives. I’d also like to work on more customer-focused experiences, such as the LifeStartFest I got to program earlier today. Maybe, I’d even like to become more political and get involved in the European election next year. If you know someone who needs someone, I’m currently looking for new projects starting on the 14th of January. Please don’t hesitate to introduce us via hello@mkanokova.com.

It’s not just future outlook I want to talk about in this monthly summary...

In this past month, I got to collaborate on the launch of the Virgin Galactic Unite LifeStart Challenge that gives UK students the chance to submit to an idea competition and win a trip to the Virgin Galactic Space Port in Mojave, California and up to £1000 in cash. The Challenge is open until the 10th of December, 2018.

Last but not least, and potentially of interest to all freelancers, I’ve launched a new Skillshare class explaining how to frame side projects and use social media to spread the word about them.

Anyway, thank you for reading until the end of this report and please do get in touch if you know of any projects I can get involved with starting in January!

My very first Thanksgiving. In Paris. In the company of an 85-year-old man.
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On Sunday, I hopped on a plane to Paris to join a Sunday gathering at Jim Haynes’ atelier where I would also stay for two nights. It’s not that I knew James. As a matter of fact, I had not heard about him until I googled “Conversation Salons” and stumbled upon a video posted on the Guardian just a few weeks prior to my visit. I knew he was the sort of person I really needed to interview for the book I’m currently working on. Yet, I must admit, this was the first time I flew somewhere for an in-person interview.

When I arrived at the atelier on a dreamy Parisian street, I entered the door code, pushed the heavy gate open, and found myself in a leafy backyard with beautiful brick buildings with large windows. I quickly found the door I was looking for and when I knocked, I pushed it open and fell straight into the kitchen. A woman who immediately introduced herself as Mary and a man called Michael welcomed me warmly, even though they didn’t quite know who I was. Jim, the man I came to visit, was tucked under a blanket in the corner enjoying the slightly ridiculous scene I caused. Both Mary and Jim were cooking in what must have been 20l pots.

Jim, who just turned 85, has been hosting Sunday dinners for the past 40 years. Every Sunday, and even if he wasn’t in town, he’d arrange for the dinner to happen. Over the years, it’s become a regular gathering of expats, tourists, and locals who’d mingle and enjoy home cooked meals and as many glasses of wine as they wished to drink.

The hospitality of this man, and also his assistant, Christian, knows no boundaries. Upon my initial email request, more or less the same one I have sent to everyone who I ever emailed wanting to feature them in one of my books, this has been the first time someone asked me to come in person. “Given the subject matter, we believe you should come to Paris.” And given Jim’s age, I knew I should and also would love to. For a small contribution, they also offered for me to stay at the atelier.

Knowing about the dinners, I thought the space would be large and would have tables of some sort. Yet I quickly learned that the two-story building was the actual space on which these dinners would happen. Downstairs and within the maybe 35-square-meter kitchen (without a dishwasher!), the gatherings took place. Often, up to 90 people would gather there in the winters and during summers, thanks to the backyard, it can be up to 120 guests.

The dinners start every Sunday at 8pm. Forty years ago, these gatherings started as (flea) markets initiated to help support the creative community. There, one of Jim’s friends, a dancer, offered to cook. The event grew in popularity. It was Jim’s ask to always bring someone he didn’t know that made the community grow organically. From a retired dominatrix to a conductor or a young poet, you’d never know who you would get to meet on Sundays. The crowd is indeed quite eclectic.

Jim’s always had a thing for gathering people; he’s one of the founding figures of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the cofounder of the International Drama Conference, and the creator of the Wet Dream Film Festival, which pretty much is what you think it is. :)

Once the crowds started pouring through the door and a queue would build to snatch some of the incredible Thanksgiving dinner, I felt incredibly grateful for the possibility to move freely between the countries in Europe and stuff my face with a few slices of turkey, a proper American filling, brussels sprouts, carrots, pecan pie, and of course, a piece of pumpkin pie with cream served by Paul, who’s been in charge of cutting the festive turkey for the past eight years. I felt grateful for the opportunity to connect with people outside my age group and my social bubble in a city far away from home.

Often, they start cooking on Thursdays. Jim has always had someone cook. When Cathy, the first chef of Jim’s dinners, couldn’t make it as she had to go to a rehearsal, she organized someone to cook instead of her and that’s when Jim knew this was a thing to stay. Somehow, he’s always had people who offered to take on the task, gather friends to help, and cook up a meal for the people who’ve requested to join the meal via email or telephone.

For Jim, it’s always been about connecting people. During the communist time, he’d publish books filled with names, addresses, and telephone numbers of people living in countries, such as Romania, Czechoslovakia, or Poland, you could call up in case you were visiting and wanted to meet someone local.

Even though the format’s different, the spirit in all his work is sort of the same; people who join on Sundays are a curious crowd with a lust for exploration. One of the guests, David, recited parts of Shakespeare to me. Leslie, a woman in her 60s who’s left the USA for the first time, laughed so wholeheartedly I forgot to ask her how she felt about her first international trip to a country where she didn’t speak the language. You really never know who you get to talk to here on a Sunday, yet when you ask Jim, he’ll say many marriages, friendships, and babies have been a result, and one baby who is now in her 40s was even conceived upstairs in one of the rooms.

I admire Jim for his dedication to show up each week. For his hospitality to welcome a complete stranger in his house and have me stay for two nights to conduct an interview. I admire Jim for the community he’s created. And I really do wish for more spaces where I’d get to talk to such an eclectic crowd more regularly.

The past few weeks working on this new book has been a journey; I got to think about dinners as theatre performances, dinners as platforms for political activism, dinners to inspire meaningful conversations, and also dinners to give you the platform to peak outside your bubble and speak to a poet from Nepal who somehow also happens to be here, on a Sunday, at Jim’s party.

Many have asked me what the angle or format of this new book is going to be, and even though I’ve already conducted 14 interviews, I still don’t quite know what I want to make out of it. A how to guide? A coffee table book on gatherings? A collection of short stories about how I got to experience these events and what I admire and love about the people who host them?

What would you say you’d be interested in? Or is this not a topic you care about at all?

The practical matters of personal finance for freelancers

Here are parts of my weekly newsletter I write for fellow freelancers: you can subscribe to my newsletter to get the full articles to your mailbox.

First of all, I have two separate bank accounts. I have a business account with a traditional German bank, which is where I receive all incoming payments and use for all business expenses. Then, I also have a private account. My personal account is with N26, which I absolutely love and would recommend any day! (If you consider signing up, please use my referral code – monikak3108 – which will give us both a €15 bonus.)

Recently, N26 introduced an incredible new feature and I couldn’t be happier! Customers can now create sub-accounts called spaces that enable them to assign a purpose to each. (mint.com does this in the US). One can also set a saving goal and see one’s progress. In the past couple of months, I’ve gamified how I use spaces, which is something I thought I’d share.

Next to my main account, I have the following sub-accounts:

A freelancer fund I’m aiming to save up the equivalent of how much I need for three months. My plan is to get to that goal and once I do, I’ll start paying towards my investment fund.

An investment fund where I plan to save up €2.000 and once I have that, get back to the book on investing my friend Clemens Bomsdorf wrote.

A holiday fund. I’ve set a goal of €3.000, which I know is enough money to cover flights, accommodation, and all my expenses to leave on a vacation for one month.

A relationship fund where I put money aside whenever someone pays for something I could have also paid for myself.

And a monthly savings account. I mentioned in Work Trips and Road Trips that I keep track of how much I spend every day. Whenever I spend less than €30 in a day, I move the difference into this space for me to see at the end of the month how much I put aside. On the first of each month, I move all the money from this space and also what’s left on my main account to one of the saving spaces. (Which at this point is my FreelancerFund or as my friend Theresa Lachner would call it, My Fuck You Fund). Btw. And if I haven’t mentioned it anywhere else, it’s a saving space you create to build up a safe blanket so that when you face a dry month, you don’t panic about it.

The advantage of me freelancing is that I earn money from different sources. I find this quite handy because it makes allocating money to my sub-accounts much more fun. I do that as follows:

I transfer 45% of everything I’ve earned from my business account to my private account. I’m keeping 55% on my business account to cover all my business expenses, taxes, and health insurance. On my private account, I split the money as follows:

I transfer…

40% of what I earn from my main client I keep as spending money.

5% of what I earn from my main client I immediately transfer to the FreelancerFund. In case I have another somewhat larger project going on, I move all of the 45% I earn with them to the FreelancerFund as well.

45% of all earnings I make from my books, my webinars on Skillshare, my photos I sell on EyeEm, and from small one-off projects I move to the HolidayFund.

If you feel like you too might want to consider creating multiple income streams, I’ve recently published three Skillshare classes to help with that:

Watch editing and monetizing your smartphone photos to learn more about how I monetise the pictures I take on the go.

If you’d like to set up a project but don’t know quite know how, I’ve put together a step by step class to help you come up with side projects to eventually monetize them.

And given we’re talking about monetization, you might also want to check out my class on Kickstarter and how to use the platform to finance creative projects.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out.

New Skillshare class: Brand yourself on social media through side projects

Have you ever asked yourself how to use social media effectively?

This class is for you..

  • if you’d like to learn how to make the most out of social media

  • if you’d like to know how to brand your business as a freelancer

  • if you’d like to know how to create a side income

  • ... or if you want to build your reputation to eventually find a more suitable job.

In this class, I’ll deconstruct what it means to create. I’ll explain

  • how to frame creative projects

  • gain the self-confidence to create and publish

  • ... and will also talk about how to use social media in a meaningful way.

I’ve decided to create this class to help you utilize social media and unlock its full potential. You don’t need to be a creative to benefit from this class. 

It’s now live on Skillshare: https://skl.sh/2zraT5R

It’s a wrap! October 2018
Norn.co
London
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What’s a conversation you’d love to have and with whom?

Every time I started working on a new book, I’d start by asking myself just that; what would I love to know and who do I want to have a discussion with? Then I’d reach out to those people and have the sort of conversations I was craving.

If you’ve been reading these monthly reports for what’s now been exactly four years, you might have noticed I’ve had an obsession with “conversations” and how technology is impacting the way we communicate and spend time together. For my upcoming book project, I’ve reached out to people who gather friends and strangers to ask them more about how they see their role as a host and how they orchestrate gatherings that leave an impression; gatherings people ponder about even days or weeks after.

This new project has been filling me up with joy, in addition to a new client I’ve started working with: Norn.

To me, Norn is one of the most exciting ventures I’ve come across in recent years, and at least since I started working with Kickstarter. As conversation hubs, Norn’s aiming at bringing people together to help them facilitate meaningful conversations.

Together, we’re refining their customer journey and experience and also reworking their messaging. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend following them on Instagram.

Along these lines, yet slightly extended in their sense, I’d also like to recommend the following articles written by my friend Joe Edelman, who I consider one of the most inspiring philosophers of modern times:

Five Question Rethinking Civilisation

Non-Goal Drives

As for LifeStart, we’ll soon be launching new challenges on the platform after closing a challenge with Virgin Money Giving and Sony Pictures. I’ve managed to hire a couple of students to help us create interesting content for students. We’re still looking should you know a student who’s based in the UK looking for part-time work, and is a great storyteller.

I’m also in the process of launching a new Skillshare class on how to use social media as a creative, which should launch within the next couple of weeks.

What city dwellers can learn from young people who’ve moved to the countryside
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How do you feel about living in a city versus what do you associate with living in the countryside? For years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much longer it might take until people start fleeing cities. Paying rent has become such a widely discussed topic, so it would only make sense for people to just give up on it. Yet, of course, it seems crazy to just give up on the friends we’ve found and start from scratch all over again. And, it especially might seem crazy to you that I’m bringing up this topic, given it’s not too long since I myself exchanged Vienna for Berlin, one of the cities with the most rapidly rising rents.

Personally, I’m not planning to leave Berlin anytime soon. I fully acknowledge the move has bumped up my monthly fixed costs by €500, which has clearly also impacted my priorities and how I’m spending my time. I acknowledge it and feel fortunate for being able to live the life I do. Regardless of whether it means I’m now more conscious of money than I previously had to be. However, despite all that, the topic of moving to the countryside remains an interesting one.

When I came across the recently published book City Quitters, I didn’t hesitate getting it even for just a second. I was curious. I understood why people would move away, but as someone who loves living in the city, yet also someone who grew up in the countryside and hated it, I wanted to understand how people ‘actually’ made it work.

Over two hundred pages later, I believe to have found a shared pattern and what many of the people who are happier living in villages seem to have in common. It’s how they practice intention.

It’s obvious paying less rent gives people the necessary time to be intentional. They consciously create the environments they want to live in. They are the ones who make things happen. The ones who initiate. The ones who gather, craft, and make. They host book club potlucks, they organize regular food share gatherings, they teach themselves about the traits unique to their environment and pass on the knowledge to visitors, but also locals. By doing all these things, they build communities and with that, a sense of belonging.

By being the ones who create, who proactively think about how to make their environment better, they feel happie

In a city, there’s so much to choose from. Initiating gatherings, and especially doing so regularly, might feel like a constraint. Which is why not that many do. Planning to meet up with one busy friend often feels like a hassle already. Organizing a group that’s larger, and given everyone’s busy with their careers and their millions of other commitments, creating regularity and gathering people is quite the task. If someone dares to do that, one can’t do it and only care partially. Not if a gathering should be remembered as meaningful.

Since moving back to Berlin, I’ve been thinking a lot about gatherings and organizing activities. This email might have been an unfinished thought, yet one I wanted to share, given it’s what I’m thinking about a lot lately and especially because of the book project I’m currently working on. I know it’s early on a Wednesday morning, yet I’d love to leave you with the prompt to think about something you’d love to see happen in your community. Then take the first step to making it happen.

How Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek Made Me Get a Dog
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When you hear about the book 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, what does it make you think of? Beaches? Traveling the world? Remote working?

I picked up the book while sitting at a pool in Bali last year. For years, I heard about it regularly, and given the title and knowing the perks but also the disadvantages of remote work, I was skeptical. Those who read his books know Tim is a great storyteller and an exceptional curator. The 4-Hour Workweek is an easy read that will make you think about your personal situation, regardless of whether you crave to travel the world or not.

Tim has never actually (at least from what I remember) said one should break everything off and roam the world. He’s only made the point one should design the lifestyle one really wants. He asks you to think about what sort of life you want and then asks you to start implementing small changes to get there. For myself, I knew I missed the perks of having a dog, and not only because you don’t ever have to pick up anything from the floor that fell off the kitchen counter. But much more because you feel the seasons. Because people on the street smile at you. Because life slows down. Because there’s a little creature that is – if you’re lucky – incredibly ridiculous and gives you a million reasons to smile.

And so there I was. Following Tim’s advice, I started looking for puppies that were for sale (which is a clear downward spiral to actually getting one). I know many might say at this point, one should always take a dog from an animal shelter. I disagree because one should choose a breed and get the sort of dog for which one is able to provide a good life. Previously, I had spent a fair amount of time around Greyhounds and knew the breed is gentle, quiet, and even though they need to run free every day, they get tired rather quickly.

Greyhounds come in different sizes. My long-time dream was to get a big dog, so a Galgo would’ve been incredible, but I also knew life would be much easier with a small breed. And so I decided on a Whippet.

It was important to me to choose a dog that would be easy to take on public transport and one that others would also feel comfortable handling. Those who have followed my journey for a while know I travel a lot. Being on the road and being flexible has always been key to my business, and I knew I’d have to continue to travel a lot for work in the future. I didn’t want to put a dog from an animal shelter through the pain of seeing me leave so much, and thus decided on a puppy I could socialize to be with other people and also around other dogs.

When I first visited Orion, she was four weeks old. The second she saw me, she threw herself at my feet and didn’t stop licking them until we left. It was definitely love at first sight.

Over the next few weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about the consequences of getting a dog and how I would handle it. My friends all questioned whether I was ready to take on such a responsibility. I just laughed and said that something would be terribly wrong with me if at the age of 31, I wasn’t able to take care of a dog. Especially because I’ve had dogs before and knew what it meant. I must admit, I forgot that training a puppy is million times more work than having an adult dog. Yet that’s a different story.

I knew I wanted Orion to be social around other dogs. I wanted to make sure she’d sleep in her own bed and not mine, as it’s common amongst Whippets. I wanted her to be loved by people so that it wouldn’t be a problem to give her to others whenever I needed to travel. The preparations started...

When I first saw the price tag of Charley Chau beds, I gulped. However, I also knew making sure the dog doesn’t sleep in my bed was more important to me. When I then brought Orion home, she was so excited that she peed in my bedroom, but then she also slept through the night in her own bed without crying even once. Things were off to a good start.

The following months were tough. I won’t lie. I had a hard time getting Orion potty trained. She needed to pee every hour and a half. The doctor, and also her dog trainer in Vienna, said I needed to be patient and it was only when Orion was 11 months old that I brought her to a vet in Berlin who diagnosed her with urinary stones, which made life for her (and me and everyone who took care of her) difficult. She hasn’t peed in the apartment since the issue has been solved.

Before the summer, I had bought a modem powered by battery that enabled me to work online and without having to have it plugged into a socket. We then spent a lot of time in the park. She played with dogs. I worked. Now that she’s a year and a half, I can say that it truly paid off. She’s extraordinarily friendly to other dogs and even aggressive dogs calm down when they’re around her.

People love her too. I’ve been able to build a community of people who’d take care of her whenever I needed to leave for a couple of days or even weeks. She’s not blown away by the idea of me leaving, yet from what I’ve heard, she’s fine after the initial ten minutes. She does build an extremely close connection to the person taking care of her and seems as much in love with them as she seems to be with me. As for myself, I notice how I scroll down her Instagram after a couple of days on the road when I miss being around her. I’m okay not having her around when I travel, and I really struggle when she isn’t around when I’m at home.

For me as a freelancer, it’s been very beneficial to have such a constant in my life. Orion wakes me up every day at 7am and demands food and going outside. She makes me take regular breaks. We spend a lot of time in the park. She even has a very set time when she wants to go to sleep, which is 9pm.

Since I got her, I’ve been feeling so much more connected to my surroundings. When you have a dog, people on the street talk to you. Other dog owners greet you. Suddenly, it’s easier for everyone to recognize you. It feels like people trust you more. You become a part of your neighbourhood. It feels lovely.

On public transport, I’m no longer scrolling through Instagram. I have a dog to pet. I feel like I feel more. Like I connect more. It’s a good feeling.

And sure, of course, there are downsides too. She still struggles being by herself, which doesn’t always make things easy. And when someone comes close to me, she gets incredibly jealous. Not always fun, I admit. Yet, I also know I can train her and she’ll be able to handle these things one day. If I can make a dog walk next to my foot without a leash, teach her how to run next to my bike, make her give me her right paw when I say “Grüß Gott” (which is the Austrian way of saying “Good Day” or “Greet God” to be more precise), then I can most certainly train her to behave in intimate situations and when she’s supposed to be by herself.

Maybe it’s not endless beaches, but picking up poop a few times a day that make me feel like I live a self-determined life, and I sure know and appreciate it every time I’m throwing a ball in the park she might only sometimes bring back to me. Things feel right and for that, I can thank The 4-Hour Workweek and Tim Ferriss. It was a rather unexpected outcome of having read the bible of digital nomads.

Enjoyed the read? It's an adapted version of my latest newsletter. Get the full versions into your mailbox. 

What makes gatherings feel extraordinary?
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What do you consider are some of the elements of a memorable gathering?

Great food?

Interesting thought starters?

A beautiful surrounding?

Mind-blowing conversations?

All of the above?

Yes, probably.

Yet how does one go beyond just having another evening filled with small talk? And how does one go from that to a mind boggling dinner you and everyone else who sat at the table will think about, and possibly reflect on, for days or maybe even weeks?

What does it take to create an evening that doesn’t just help you learn more about yourself, but also helps you discover things about your friends you’d usually not think to ask?

Travis, the founder of Norn, a Berlin and London-based salon for meaningful conversations, told me he found these sort of conversations needed to be “ritualized.” In a way, the moment of a meaningful conversation needed to be elevated to allow for the conversation to unfold. The gatherer or host, however you’d like to call this person, needs to create a space, a platform even, where people feel safe. Then they need to gently guide the conversation without over-facilitating it; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a party of two or a larger group. As a host, it’s one’s task, and even one’s responsibility, to take the lead and create such a space.

The real question is, how do you start asking meaningful questions? How do you create such a platform?

If the (first) question comes out of nowhere – if you just ask – you might overwhelm the person you’re with.

It might make you come across as too forward. Too intense even.

I’ve been experimenting with meaningful questions myself. Last year, I bought a deck of cards with questions that help people self-reflect. They’re wonderful conversation starters when you’re out with a friend and want the conversation to have more substance. The card deck is very useful for group gatherings too.

It might be that it’s the cards that are professionally printed that create such a space. And maybe it’s also the reason why Norn prints a beautiful Conversation Menu to elevate the moment of the meaningful conversation. I know when I tried with a handwritten note featuring interesting questions, it didn’t feel the same way unfortunately.

If you’d like to experiment with such conversations yourself and are looking for good questions, you could get the cards from soheresone (which are the ones I carry around in my bag at all times). Look up Norn’s Instagram or subscribe to their newsletter or wait for the one’s Holstee is currently working on releasing. I’ve found the ones from the School of Life aren’t as good for groups, as they might be for when you want to reflect for yourself. Something that might also be worth elevating as a ritual with a good meal and maybe a glass of wine is an evening of meaningful conversations with yourself. Worth a try, I’d say.

Enjoyed the read? It's an adapted version of my latest newsletter. Get the full versions into your mailbox.