A Spy in Kiev?
From my book How to Be Cross Eyed: Thriving Despite Your Physical Imperfection — a mémoire and lifehacking manifesto
I had given up my aspiration of becoming a pseudo-Berliner, moved out of my flat near Alexanderplatz and embarked towards the slavic east. I only had a few days left on my schengen visa so I didn’t linger long in Poland. As the night bus crossed the Ukrainian border it bumped noisily over a piece of cold metal that let out an eerie metallic groan into the dark. I was now a denizen of the wild, wild east.
Kiev was a very different place than the grungy, multicultural hipster shangri-la that is Berlin. Kiev is a striking juxtaposition of decay and elegance. Walking around downtown Kiev you feel like you’ve walked onto the set of a hip hop music video shoot, I’ve never seen so many new luxury cars in one place outside of an auto show! Alongside the Porsches, Bentleys, Ferraris, AMG Mercedes Benzs and Range Rovers old rusty, city buses with faded paint chug wearily over the potholed city streets. Beautiful Eastern Orthodox cathedrals contrast with grey rectangular soviet block style apartments.
A sight worth traveling all the way to that cold and soulful country is a very elegant woman, dressed like she walked right out of the pages of a fashion magazine, wearing high heels striding with indifferent confidence across the jagged sidewalk cracked and warped from winter after winter of freezing and thawing ice.
I selected an extremely affordable hostel to stay in that looked decent on the internet located in a building overlooking Kiev’s independence square which you probably remember from the Euromaidan revolution on the news years ago. At the hostel I met a cool Ukrainian guy who spoke passable English and turned out to be a ballroom dancer, he invited me to join him for lunch, he told me about his country, we joked about girls and then he asked me to pay for his meal which I happily did. Even though I was tired from my long day of travel, I put on my nice shoes and ventured out into the evening to socialize, I visited a nearby English language meetup.
I returned to the hostel and slid tiredly into my bunk in the dormitory room where I had unwisely elected to sleep to save a little money instead of in a private room. I was awakened a little while later when some Ukrainian guys entered the room, one was the guy I’d had lunch with. A totally incomprehensible to me argument ensued between the two, they shouted louder and louder at each other, as they got angrier I thought to myself they’re about to fight! And sure enough it escalated into a raucous brawl right there in the small dormitory, they exchanged blows and crashed into the flimsy bunk beds. The diminutive, 90 pound hostel receptionist girl burst into the room, threw the lights on and began yelling hysterically and foolishly trying to pull the brawling men apart. The yelling continued for a while and eventually the guys relaxed a bit and retreated to opposite sides of the room. Welcome to Ukraine!
My first two weeks there were resplendent European summer, as the days advanced the soul chilling Slavic winter that defeated Napoleon and Hitler rapidly set in. It was so cold I started crying one day while walking down the street. The first time I’d cried in quite a while come to think of it. I found the people a little cold as well, anyone who lived through the soviet times is perma-grumpy, most young people I found quite friendly though.
The cost of living was the best value I’ve ever found, the cost of accommodation, dinning, entertainment and transportation is so low that sometimes I felt like I was just robbing people. The private room I rented was $150 a month. Unlimited access to a coworking space was less than $70 monthly. Cover at a swanky nightclub was $7. A healthy lunch special at a decent restaurant was $4. A 10 minute taxi ride was less than $2.
The cafe scene was pretty good; one of the first cafes in Kiev that became my home office away from home was quite the stark contrast to the hipster cafes in Berlin where I hung out. It was appointed in a very sheik, modern style, two ice queen baristas worked there at all times, even though I was often the only customer for hours and hours. They refused to laugh at my little jokes and attempts at Russian and dutifully served me the dark nectar. In front of the cafe sat a dusty Bentley Flying Spur for at least 3 weeks, I never saw it move and I never saw its owner.
The food selection is surprisingly good, it seems like there’s a sushi restaurant on nearly every corner where you can grub on suspiciously cheap sushi. I even managed to find my favorite food, coconuts there.
The internet was really fast! Better than in Berlin, Barcelona, Warsaw, Bucharest and Belgrade. This made a big difference in my productivity.
The one thing that sucks about Kiev is that the taxi services and public transit is pretty ghetto. If there’s one — I’m not even going to call it a profession — group of people working in a specific type of job that I hate categorically, it has to be taxi drivers. There’s an app called Uklon that provides obscenely cheap taxi service around Kiev. It’s kind of like Uber, if Uber was ran by Stalin and all the employees were drunk all the time! Every city bus I took looked like it had been in a war or two.
The hype about the women is pretty deserved…
They are elegant, speak English well and are surprisingly punctual. The Ukraininkas restored some of my faith in the fairer sex that Colombianas destroyed. If you like skinny, doll faced girls you won’t regret visiting Ukraine. There’s an overpopulation of women in Kiev, even among young people, women noticeably outnumber the men, I don’t exactly understand why this is but living in the center it was obvious just walking down the street.
The attorney who would be a mother. I was invited by a group of attorneys to a language exchange that they hosted at their office. It was a smaller group that I attended weekly and we actually got to know each other. Irena, was the most attractive of the group; on the surface she seemed like a quintessential modern European woman; a young attorney, educated, stylish, well traveled, witty and a fluent English speaker. One week the topic of discussion I proposed was what would you do if you had all the money in the world and didn’t need to work? Irena responded that she would be a mother, that she really valued family and if she wasn’t pursuing the career that she was passionate about she would rather be a mom.
The Ukraine takes the brunt of a lot of jokes about mail order brides and sleazy marriage services. While I was there I actually met very few expats who matched the stereotype of frumpy old American men geoarbitraging their sexual marketplace value to try to find desperate, sexy young Ukrainian brides. I think it’s absurd that some men pay thousands of dollars for such introduction services when you could really accomplish the same thing by just getting on a plane and cold approaching women here.
My first time in Ukraine I failed to get laid. It’s still a pretty conservative culture and not the place to go for a weekend to party and casually hook up with hot Ukrainian girls unless you want to pay for it. You’ll probably need to take a girl on two or three dates (or more) to actually seal the deal.
While I was there I did make an attempt to learn Russian, but it turns out that it’s not a language like Spanish that you learn by just spending a couple hours a week socializing and listening to podcasts. I think Russian or Ukrainian would take at least a 10 hour weekly commitment, which was kind of hard to justify considering how many of my young Ukrainian friends prefered to try to speak English.
If it wasn’t for the bipolar weather and the above mentioned shitty transportation services, Kiev would be an almost ideal lifestyle city for me. There’s actually a lot going on; during the waning summer days, there was frequent parades and festivals around the center and almost every night of the week I could find events and meetups to go to.
For once I felt like I’d found a place before the digital nomad blogerrarati made it cool! If you’ve got an adventurous streak, don’t let a little civil war/Russian invasion scare you away from experiencing a really charming country.
The story of how I met the disciple of the most hated man in the world there in Kiev is illustrative of how to not spend money on personal development.
When I first arrived other than the guy who needed lunch money and got in the fight I knew nobody. Time to network with my secret society.
I started by requesting to join the local Real Social Dynamics wingman Facebook group. As I’ve explained in a previous chapter my lifehack to forming meaningful relationships fast is devoting my time socializing in high affinity groups with deep shared values; RSD trained pickup artists are actually one of the best such groups. In the Facebook group a cool looking local guy had posted that he was offering free introductory pickup artist bootcamps, which is like infield dating coaching. I’ve never taken a bootcamp but I’ve always been interested.
He had posted a couple of indicators that he knew what he was doing, and it was a novel application of the freemium model so I thought why not? What do I have to lose?
I contacted him and made what I thought was a generous offer of buying him dinner and then we could go out at night and do the free coaching.
I thought if he turned out to be a really effective coach I might purchase one of his coaching packages, if he sucked then at least I would have explored the city some and have had a stimulating conversation over a succulent meal.
I met him and he had gravitas, swagger and style. I picked his brain about the nuances of seducing the local girls. He spoke three languages fluently. We talked about meditation, fitness, Entrepreneurship, Biohacking, supplementation and Colombia. Overall a pretty impressive guy.
Interestingly, he had worked directly with, at the time, the official most hated man in the world. Weirdly the most hated man in the world is not some tyrannical dictator or murderous narco boss but was a douchebaggey pickup artist guru that had pissed off a bunch of feminists and the politically correct mainstream media. My new friend had coached with him and had the photos to prove it. He really emphasized how much of an influence this guy was on him.
I was a bit disappointed when he announced a change of plans that we were not going to be doing the free bootcamp that night. He was instead going to pickup a girl who he knew that night and sleep with her. He offered to drop me off where I was staying. We took his car which was a pretty nice car in that country and we did indeed pickup a cute girl from a decrepit old apartment building who giggled at my poor attempts at their language.
The next day we met up again to discuss smart drugs which he was really interested in (who isn’t!) and hung out in his nice apartment. Then he pitched me; he had a weekend bootcamp program that was $600. We would…
Do coaching at nightlife spots.
Talk to girls during the daytime.
And he even guaranteed that I would get laid on the bootcamp. Guaranteed!
I didn’t go for it for a few reasons…
- $600 was a lot of money in that country. It seemed pretty steep for a weekend of coaching. Yes, world class dating coaches, like the most hated man in world charge thousands of dollars for a weekend of such coaching but they also have a proven coaching methodology, tons of credibility and ample evidence of their expertise. My new friend had very little.
- He didn’t get into a lot of specifics about what the coaching would entail other than that I would definitely get laid. His pitch was long on benefits but very short on features.
- But more importantly he was dishonest; he didn’t do the free bootcamp we discussed or reschedule it. How was I to know that he wasn’t going to just take my money and pay a local working girl to sleep with me?
I”ll add that this guy followed a lot of popular personal development and entrepreneurship content and it showed…
- He threw around a lot of the platitudes and parlance that are common in the online personal development sphere.
- He actually had a pretty good hook; offering the free bootcamp, then showing me the nice car, the pretty girl and the nice apartment.
- I can see how through a different cultural filter, he might think it was acceptable to bait-switch me like that but I really didn’t want to pay $600 to sleep with a hooker even if it was packaged with some great coaching!
- Not to mention, in that country I could sleep with about 10 hookers for $600. It just wasn’t a good deal!
As you can see from this story I’m really skeptical about spending money on the types of offerings that are so common in the personal development world…
- Coaching packages
- Weekend retreats
- Mastermind groups
- Social dynamics boot camps
- “Infoproducts” — Those downloadable PDFs and video courses on how to make money online, pickup chicks or whatever
The past 10 years of my personal development has been quite fruitful.
- I make pretty good money doing what I love.
- I have financial freedom.
- I have abundance with relationships.
- I went from single and sexually frustrated to having a rowdy sex life and eventually got married.
- I make new friends pretty easily. I stay in touch with old friends. I enjoy time spent with my wife and family. I’m loved in every way.
- I’ve lived abroad as a digital nomad for 6 years. Tasting and savoring myriad cultures.
I bet I’m within the top 10% or 5% of the most happy people in my demographic because I live very consistently with the three values I hold most dear: freedom, adventure and novelty. I’ve grown up to be what I always wanted to be: an adventuring philosopher. So it’s pretty fair to say that the time and resources I’ve spent on personal development have yielded a successful result.
How to meaningfully spend money on personal development?
As I mentioned in the first chapter, there’s this phenomena of sunk cost motivation. You spend money on a course, a coach or a product and you’ll likely be a lot more motivated to follow through, take action and get your money’s worth out of it. But keep in mind that you don’t actually have to spend that much money to get the sunk cost motivation to kick in for you. Start by just buying books (like this one) about the personal development and health related topics that interest you instead of watching free youtube videos, podcasts or downloading ebooks. You’ll notice you’re a bit more motivated to finish them, really understand the content and take action. When that starts paying some modest dividends, hire an affordable life coach to keep you motivated (like me!) or reinvest in your health; buy some good organic food or Nootropics supplements that will further motivate you throughout the day or get a gym membership. As you’ve optimized your results and behavior from one personal development investment, then you might want to increase what you invest in the next thing.
For example, about a year and a half ago, I got a really good entrepreneurial idea for a digital gold cryptocurrency marketplace website. I bought an $11 domain name and started building the website using free open source tools and I got distracted, lost motivation and just let the site sit half finished. Then I revisited the idea but this time I spent several hundred dollars on premium software licenses, design work and the premium domain name Marketplace.Gold for the website. Now I was really motivated to work on the damn thing! Go check out the site, it’s a fully functioning realization of my initial concept. I didn’t need to hire an entrepreneurship coach that charged $5000, I just needed to sink a couple hundred bucks into it to light a fire under my butt.
Civil War in Ukraine
I was there during the end of the civil war that you probably heard about on the news, a lot of people are flabbergasted that I would visit a country for three months during a civil war, if anything it just made my time there more interesting. Ukraine is a big country, the second largest in Europe actually (next to Russia), and I was a long way from the conflict zone in Kiev, so it’s not like I was in danger of being shelled.
The news headlines would have you convinced that this country is totally fucked but I found the young Ukrainians to have an admirable mindset of optimism, work ethic, stoicism and healthy distrust of the government. That bodes well for the country.
I think I met a spy in Kiev
I was sitting at a cafe with my genial french roommate. An American guy who heard us speaking English approached us and offered some pretty unoriginal advice about which countries to try to pickup chicks in. He said he was a journalist and we chatted for a few minutes, I invited him to join us for sushi. He spoke Russian fluently and was very knowledgeable about the geopolitics of the former Soviet Union. My roommate kind of hit it off with him and we hung out a couple of times. What makes me suspect that he was a spy was that he knew a lot about what was going on in that part of the world yet looking on his Twitter and online I really couldn’t find much papertrail of his work as a journalist. He was constantly regaling us with stories of his misadventures and close calls around the former USSR. He also mentioned that his ex-wife worked for the Russian FSB internal security services, this is like a slightly nicer modern version of the KGB.
He actually invited us to join him in driving out east to Donbass to cover the front and interview some soldiers. In retrospect I kind of wish I had accompanied him because then I could say that I’ve been to war but the weather was so bloody dreadful that weekend that I declined the offer.
I’ve heard before that spies and professional drug dealers really don’t like to be photographed, especially in this casual era of social media sharing and photo tagging. As a pickup artist, I frequently used what I call the camera phone opener. It’s socially acceptable to ask total strangers in bars to take a photo of you and your friends with your smartphone. If you want to capture the attention of a cute girl for a few minutes, just walk up hand her your smartphone and ask her to take a couple photos of you and your buddy being silly — then you start chatting with the girl. Anyways, one night me and the maybe-a-spy were carousing in a bar, I used the camera phone opener and sure enough my freelance journalist friend made sure not to be captured in the candid photo with the girls we were chatting with.
If he was a spy, he wasn’t Quantico’s best and brightest, I suspect that freelance journalist to spy is a horizontal career transition tantamount to a stripper becoming a hooker. And no I’m not friends with him on Facebook or elsewhere so good luck finding him CIA/MI5!
I returned to Kiev in 2016, a year that almost all Americans were enraptured by the political showdown between the presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I publicly supported Trump for the reasons that most people did and there in Kiev I had the opportunity to participate in a debate with an ardent Hillary supporter for 90 minutes on Ukrainian TV. At the time supporting Trump was a great way to be ostracized by friends and family, it was and still is a very polarizing political stance. Apparently, the debate organizers had a quite difficult time finding someone who would stand up for Trump.
The debate was announced in the Kievan newspapers where my name was printed and my image displayed. The whole episode showed me just how intoxicating politics can be. I was approached by strangers in cafes and restaurants, congratulated and reproached, got into shouting matches in bars and attractive Ukrainian reporters were suddenly very interested in my opinions — it was a rush! I can just imagine that the power and celebrity which comes with the job of actually being a politician is a hundred times more enthralling (and addictive!)
A few days before the debate another American guy contacted me privately on Facebook warning me that the debate wouldn’t be a fair fight, my opponent and the moderator were both virulent leftists and that the crowd would be hostile. This might be a really bad decision I thought to myself, but it’s important to stand up for what you believe in, even if you take a little verbal abuse publicly. So I prepared myself further reading up on the issues and platforms, polished my rhetoric and even got some public speaking coaching from a guy at Toastmasters.
I took my proprietary smart drug formula Caballo before the debate to give my verbal intelligence an extra edge. Upon entering the crowded debate venue I made an effort to mingle and introduce myself to everyone, even to the group of frumpy American feminists there to support Hillary. The debate was fun and both my opponent and the biased moderator were pretty fair to me. I also appreciate that such political debate is even allowed in Ukraine, unfortunately a lot of countries in the world do not even allow this sort of debate in the public space.
You can watch the debate and judge for yourself if I won. I had at least a few audience members and commenters tell me that I’d changed their minds about who they would be voting for. I’d do it again!
A few months after that it was the climatic election night. I was of the mind (and still am) that it was a watershed historic election that would either pound the last nail into the coffin of western civilization or give my country a fighting chance to regain or finally realize greatness. The wifi in my flat went out that night so I couldn’t stay up and watch the results come in. I awoke feeling like a kid on Christmas morning, I trudged through the snowy streets to a nearby cafe to check the internet and see if my guy had won. After all those long months of that emotionally draining election cycle it was incredibly enthralling to finally see that he had indeed won!
About a decade prior, I actually began my personal development journey reading some of Donald Trump’s business books, which are really about mindset. Reading those books, I remember thinking this guy should be president! And after my own 10 year grueling journey rife with disappointment and failure it was tremendously encouraging seeing that dream realized there in frigid Kiev.
- As a foreigner in a foreign land, get connected to others in your secret society.
- Invest in your personal growth but you don’t need to spend a fortune to get sunk cost motivation working for you.
- Stand up for what you believe in. Debate it in the public space but carefully prepare and research your arguments.
- Spies don’t like to be photographed.