I am a luxury women. Are you?

Everyone has their own private kind of luxury. Sometimes it’s enough to notice what kind of things are bothering us. You don’t need to have everything in order to be happy. I didn’t read about it in self help book — I experienced it.

Luxury was not my word. Now, after almost 20 years of work I can finally take a break — I have more than enough of luxury. Way more than I thought I would have when I was 20.

When I was 19 I saw Beverly Hills for the first time.

For a person raised in a shabby housing district in Soviet Union it wasn’t a shock. Beverly Hills was too unreal. It was as if I was suddenly teleported into some other reality. Or as if I became a character in a movie. I didn’t feel like Cinderella. She was full of hope. I felt like something she cleans the floor with. Like a rug. Like a sponge. I KNEW that I would never have even a chance to stand next to houses like that, not to mention owning one. I felt that luxury was not my destiny.

I was wrong.

Now I’m basically swimming in luxury. Now, because it was only recently that I realized what luxury means. It took me a while, but better late than never.

There are many totally luxurious things in my life, but three of them are very special:

1. The luxury of saying “NO”

One of the worst things that I can imagine experiencing is being stroked by a hand that I wouldn’t even want to shake.

The reason why I have a company specializing in exposing lies is not that I despise lying (I know anatomy of lies well enough not to despise it) but… that the purpose of my life is authenticity. I’m terrible at pretending. Ever since my childhood I was always nudged to stop making faces.

However, the faces I make are only my reaction to reality — I don’t have any button that could turn them off. They just appear when I talk to somebody I don’t respect or when I hear views that I consider idiotic.

Political and social correctness are not my strengths.

I belive that people should be good and empathetic — but not “correct”.

I believe in empathy but I don’t believe in pretending.

Do you know what working in an advertising agency meant for a person with views like mine? Preparing someone else’s presentations, defending views that I don’t believe in… I was suffering.

I was constantly having problems with my stomach, eyesight and spine — I was somatizing everything.

Finally, I quit and established my own company.

All my ailments disappeared immediately. They really did.

It would be perfect to finish this story with: “and she lived happily ever after…”

But no.

After the magic came the crisis. Economic crisis.

Suddenly you’re without stable income and with diminishing research budgets. And you have to fight giants who can afford giving discounts, while you can’t.

You end up working not with the people you want and doing not the things that you would like to do. So I started suffering again. Once more my stomach started giving me a hard time.

There was one particular moment when I felt something has changed in me. Klaudyna, my deputy, came to me with a new brief from the customer for whom we had finished a project a few months earlier.

“Hey, Julia, do you remember how horrible it was the last time? They treated us like subcontractors. Can we afford NOT doing this?”

“Not only we can afford not doing this. We mustn’t do this!”

This is a truly luxurious situation — when you have enough not to have to be on your knees. When you can say NO when you feel like saying NO. When you work only with people who love working with you.

2. The luxury of being impractical

I’m anxious when I have to drive a car. I prefer when someone else is behind the wheel. However, I can’t live without a car either. My friend Jerzy once said: “Your car is like your purse — you can find everything in it.”

It’s true. I have all kinds of things there.

Spare shoes (a pair of running shoes, a pair of high heels, a pair of platform shoes — for times when I don’t have enough strength for high heels — and a pair of ballet flats).

A coat.

A scarf.

A cap.

A hat for more elegant occasions (I know, I’m not Queen Elisabeth, but you never know…).

2 x Harvard Business Review, 2 x ThinkTank — something to read in case of boredom.

A bag with boxing equipment.

Some chocolate and waffles, in case I was hungry, and a couple of bottles of water.

I really have everything there!

It’s my home, my purse, my personal space.


Every year I’m away for at least 6 months.

I never drive my car outside of Warsaw, so I drive only 7–8 thousand km a year.

As every sensible person can calculate, it’s not the best business, especially when taking into account the cost of car insurance and its everyday maintenance.

Therefore everyone is trying to persuade me to sell it.

Ready to make that decision, I shared with sadness with my dearest friend — Piotr Voelkel. I told him that I was going to start taking cabs, since it’s such a wise and practical solution.

“But you hate waiting! Plus, you’re always late. So why the cabs?”

“Because it’s more practical. I’m going to save a few thousand a year.”

“Do you live meal to meal? Do you have to save money in order to be able to keep this car? Do you have to cut on spending in order to pay insurance?”

“No, of course not.”

“Well, then you don’t have to be so practical all the time. I know how much you like this car. Your comfort is a luxury of yours. Since you work, you can afford some impractical things. So be a woman of luxury finally and take care of yourself, not only of your bank account balance.”

So I made a decision. I decided to be unreasonable and keep the car.

I immediately started feeling like a luxury woman.

Maybe it’s not a luxury car, but it’s definitely the most luxurious bag that I have.

3. The luxury of having enemies

I don’t like it when someone doesn’t like me. It’s not too unique a feature — I guess most people prefer being liked to not being liked.

However, if you are a very direct person you have to come to terms with the fact that being not liked or criticized happens more often than it doesn’t.

So I had to learn how to live with the paradox of preferring to express my views directly, not to pretend and not to lie and being a rather sensitive and touchy person.

But at work…

At work you can’t expect people to suddenly start caring about your pathological fragility if you don’t care about the fragility of others. Work is not a kindergarden — I often said in my office — we’re here to work and not to play in the sandbox of our own emotional problems.

Thus, I was like a toothless shark — menacing on the outside and uselessly defenceless on the inside.

Once I had my conference presentation rejected.

Normally I wouldn’t care about it, but a week before my appearance I had been informed that it had been accepted.

“Yes, we accepted it, but… Later we l found out that it’s yours and we made a joint decision that you shouldn’t appear. There’s too much of you.”

“What do you mean there’s too much of me? Am I too fat or something?”

“Stop it. You know very well what it’s about. You’re constantly present at this conference, you must leave some space for others.”

“But I’m present because people want to hear me — that’s why I’m there.”

“Yes, it’s true. But others also have the right to fight for people to listen to them.”

“Well then let them fight! What does it have to do with throwing me out of the conference after you’ve already accepted my paper?”

“We didn’t know it was you — if we did, we wouldn’t accept it.”

To cut this story short… I was very adamant in stating that I wasn’t going to back off and that I would either appear at the conference or make a public statement on that matter.

So they backed down… and I appeared.

I was very militant… But in truth I felt sad that someone reacted like that to me.

I called Klaudyna. Not to tell her about my success, but simply to spill my guts.

“Can you imagine how much they dislike me???”

“Don’t flatter yourself. It’s US, IZMALKOWA, who they dislike… You’re just our face.”

“Well yeah, but they don’t even conceal disliking me… Can you imagine that they wanted to throw us out of the conference?”

“You’re always seeing things in a negative light. They don’t like us because they’re afraid of us. And they’re afraid of us because they respect us. We’re the smallest of all agencies. We’re so small that we don’t pose any threat to anyone and yet they still go so far to throw us out. I think we should raise a glass of champagne to our enemies. If we piss them off so badly it means we’re great. So instead of complaining, go write this speech and go get them! And at the next status we’re going to drink champagne. Julia, we made it!

Everyone has their own kind of luxury. For many years I had been convinced that luxury is what I had seen in Beverly Hills. With time, however, I learned to ask myself the following questions:

Why do I want to have it?

What need of mine is it going to satisfy?

Do I really want it or do I only think that I should want it?

When we reach the conclusion regarding what is the essence of our desire, it turns out that it’s not so hard to satisfy it

I like the sound of waves and the touch of wind on my face — but I don’t need to have a yacht.

I like living in a beautiful home, but bigger house would only make my hair go gray, not give me the feeling of luxury.

I like having the feeling of professional fulfillment, but a professional title or a fancy office is not going to satisfy this need to a greater extent than being invited by GOOGLE to do a motivational speech.

I like travelling, but I don’t feel the need to stay in 5-star hotels.

I’m just as happy using couchsurfing or staying in rooms rented from the locals.

I like beautiful things and I like having them, but many of them I don’t have.

However, it doesn’t stop me from being happy anymore, because at the end of the day I always remind myself that I’m swimming in luxury anyway.

What I need more than money, jewellery, Channel handbags or a house with a tennis court is the feeling that I don’t need to bend myself, adjust or do anything against myself.

It doesn’t have to be important to everyone, but it is to me.

Swimming in luxury doesn’t mean having everything that can be had, but having the things that you NEED to have.

I need to be able to look myself in the eyes everyday.

I like flying in first class, but I don’t need it.

That’s why during all the 52 times last year when I was walking through business class section in airplanes I thought: “Don’t regret having less space for legs and not eating chocolate ice cream, because it’s very likely that you can be more yourself than all these people. So don’t be greedy.”

My luxury is: working with a team that I love, with clients that I love, doing projects that fascinate me and using methods which I have faith in. My luxury is spending my time only with people whom I love, respect and admire. My luxury is to visit places that give me energy and inspiration. I choose my life, its not imposed on me. I belive I have the most luxurious thing in the world — even without huge house on the beach and a Ferrari in the garage.
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