I was born 1976 in Tuzla, Yugoslavia. The fact that I was born in the 70s made me lucky enough to enjoy the most prosperous time of “Juga” as we called it. Sports, economy and culture were thriving. Yet, when I turned 15 the country I was born in disappeared, leaving me with Bosnia, which was only a sixth of a land that I loved. Soon after that, the life I had had also disappeared as the war in Bosnia started. Like most of the kids at the time, I finished my high school under shelling.
Right after high school I fled Bosnia and came to Munich as a refugee; one who could only say two words in German: “Nachrichten” (news) and “Scheiße” (I’ll let you guess at that one). But those words turned out to be quite powerful. I was able to say “Nachrichten Scheiße!” which was not grammatically correct, but came in handy at the time. Coming to Germany was a big deal to me. I can recall standing in a Karstadt department store in Munich Schwabing seriously considering buying a pair of Nikes that cost 100 DM (German marks). After all, I had arrived to Germany with 120 DM in my pocket, and I still had 110 DM left, I reasoned. During the years under siege in Tuzla, sneakers, among other things from the very bottom of the pyramid of needs, were scarce.
My aunts Seka Alma and Tetka Dina, who already lived in Munich, helped me start, but life was difficult. My first job was lugging sacks of potatoes in the local grocery. The job was waiting outside in the rain and snow for the vegetable truck to arrive and unloading it before the bakery truck arrived at 7:00 AM. Very quickly, however, I made the biggest and most important career step of my life – I was promoted to work at the cash register!!! Thanks to my new job I gained some time to reflect on my life.
I never felt like a foreigner here in Germany. It turned out that Germans listened to the same music, watched the same movies and read the same books. Because I wanted to have a rich life again and because I had majored in math, I “designed” an equation:
Good life = Bad life + X
The first value of X was speaking German. While selling potatoes I got a chance to try out the new words that I learned in the evening. After nine months of speaking and practicing I made it through the exams: math, physics, chemistry and German and got accepted at Technische Universität Munich to study architecture, which was my next value of X. My studies helped me make my first German friends, who are still my closest, twenty-five years later. Yet, for a long time I regretted studying architecture, because I changed my perspective so often. Every time I thought: “If only I had studied this, instead of that…” I regretted it until I realized that the dual perspective of design and engineering that you acquire as an architect was the enabler for the continuous change. I worked as an architect, interior designer, virtual reality modeler, yacht designer, UX & UI designer, 3D artist, CAD instructor, startup founder, software developer, business analyst, agile coach and strategy consultant. Meanwhile, my life got much better so I altered my equation to:
Outcome = Current situation + X
I have spent my whole life with thinking like this and made it through good and bad times by setting myself new outcomes, reflecting on where I was and constantly feeding the X.
Now I want to share this equation with you on these pages; I would like you to enjoy them like a piece of music, reading them from the beginning to the very end. I imagine you putting this book aside and reflecting on what is really important to you, both in your work and personal life. I want to help you set goals that really matter, categorize them and choose the right technique to focus and reach them. I imagine you trying things out first, allowing failure to happen, reflecting and making sure that you have goals worth your time. I want to encourage you to meet the deadlines and think big while marching in small steps.
But first, I want to tell you a story.
The story of white sweathers
It was probably in first or maybe second grade. Anyway, it was in art class. A popular school task in long-gone Yugoslavia, that at that time was looking forward to the upcoming Olympic Games in Sarajevo, was to paint colorful sweater patterns. It was the 80s and colorful Norwegian designs were very popular.
My art teacher went one step further. She made us draw the patterns and asked us to convince our mothers and grandmothers to knit them. Her idea of fun did not stop with the kids. She wanted to keep whole families busy.
“Dear children, you have forty-five minutes. Grab your pens and off you go. I want to see beautiful sweater patterns.”
She made herself comfortable in her armchair behind the over-sized desk that dominated the room. I cannot compare with anywhere else, because I only went to school in socialist Yugoslavia, but schools created awe in pupils. Later in my school days it became more relaxed, just as the whole country became more liberal in the economic heyday of the 80s. But that did not help me with the blank sheet of paper lying in front of me. I looked around. The children drew eagerly in the silence of the classroom. All the kids were bent over their designs except Mario, who nudged me from behind.
“Hey…” he said in a giggling voice, “I have an idea. Let’s leave the sheets plain white, and say that we just want simple white sweaters…”
I liked him, he was so funny. And I thought it was a great idea. From then it seemed like we waited forever and we could hardly control ourselves. While the other children were busy creating their colorful patterns, we spent the rest of the hour suppressing our laughter. But soon there was nothing more to laugh about. The teacher got up, walked back and forth in the classroom and praised our classmates’ scribbles. Her good mood lasted until she saw our “designs”:
She ripped the sheets out of our hands and hurried to the blackboard to tear our abstract art apart in front of the whole class.
“Dear children, you will soon see what happens if you ignore assignments this way!”
Over the next few days, she called my parents in and explained to them that nothing could become of their child and that she would punish this impossible behavior rigorously. This incident was reflected in my grade and made me unpopular with my art teacher.
What happened to the other patterns I don’t know, but Mario and I got our white sweaters a few days later. He got one from his mom, I got one from my grandma. This is one of my first memories.
Speaking of memories, I have some more…