Book Notes #15: “The Finnish Way” By Katja Pantzar

A thoughtful introduction to Finnish culture and principles. I knew very little about Finland and its culture, and I read this book based because it was recommended by Kindle. I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books lately. So this one fits right in.

The Finnish Way
By Katja Pantzar

Here are my main takeaways. I like that each chapter has a bulleted list of takeaways, too.

  • Sisu
    The unofficial motto of Finland is “Sisu, sauna, and Sibelius.” Sauna is self-explanatory in that Finland has many saunas, and that’s where you go to relax and connect with others. Sibelius is the name of a famous composer (and music notation software).

    Sisu is Finnish fortitude or resilience. It’s having a stiff upper lip and rolling with the punches. It’s the gritty and minimalist way of life.

    Pantzar spends a significant amount of time in search of a definition of what seems to be an ineffable concept that is at the heart of the Finnish ethos.

    Daily examples of sisu include taking the stairs, fix things instead of buying new things, cycle/walk to work/school.

    Sisu is a way of life to actively transform the challenges that come our way into opportunities…Sisu is an ancient Finnish construct relating to mental toughness, fortitude, and resilience…It’s the ability to endure significant stress, while taking action against seemingly impossible odds.

  • The Sea is a Pharmacy 
    Pantzar moved from Canada to Finland (where her ancestors are from) and describes her exhilarating experience going for a dip in the ice cold water. Apparently swimming in cold water serves as a sort of “shock therapy” that can provide relief and healing. It can relieve stress.

    Cold water may even help with depression. The more you do it, the more tolerance you gain for the cold. She seems to yearn now for an icy bath instead of an evening drink.

    She even goes for a 15-to-30 second cold shower occasionally. There are historical examples of this practice: The Romans used to take cold baths and then go into warm baths.

    As my stamina and sisu grow, I develop a better resistance to cold and it no longer feels so painful during those first seconds of immersion. There’s also a ‘no pain, no gain’ mind-set that I adopt, for I have discovered that those first initial seconds of extreme discomfort will be rewarded by a fantastic feeling of bliss.

    A dip of about thirty seconds to one minute in water that’s on average 4 degrees Celsius during the winter months causes what’s known as a ‘hormone storm,’ as many of the so-called happy hormones are pushed into action…The happy hormones include endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers; serotonin, dopamine; and oxytocin.

  • Social saunas
    Finns go to saunas to be with other people. It’s been said that you can’t really get to know a Finnish person until you’re in the sauna with them. And it’s totally natural and expected to be naked together in sauna (with your own gender).Of course, many goto saunas to be alone and find peace. The sauna serves as a “natural digital detox zone — phones aren’t allowed and don’t belong in the hot steam.” It’s common practice to dip in cold water and then relax in a sauna.


  • Nature therapy
    Finns like to be outdoors. Going for a hike, run, bike is common practice. When you walk outside, you feel better and soak up the elements. A short walk can lower blood pressure and help your muscles relax.

    When you stand in the forest and look up at the trees, your own problems seem small…

    For Finns, the forest is akin to a church or temple.

  • Baby boxes
    The Finnish government sends expecting mothers a baby box which has a range of items such as sleeping bags, cloth diapers, and so on. Mothers even park their babies in strollers bundled up in the cold outside. Perhaps it’s a way of building sisu at a young age.


  • Movement as medicine
    I quite liked Pantzar’s commentary on the topic liike on lääke or movement as medicine, as well as hyötyliikunta or incidental exercise. Obviously, physical exercise has many health benefits and it’s an important part of the Finnish culture.

    Incidental exercise is like cleaning the house (and getting your steps in) or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. You can systemically build in movement into your daily routines.

    As everyone knows, sitting is the new smoking.

  • Nordic Minimalism

    Less is more. Finnish design puts an emphasis on minimalism and functionalism. Get out of the way so and use what you need.A couple Finnish inventions are the dish-drying cupboard and pedestrian reflector.

    There’s a national Cleaning Day where Finns clean out their homes and give away/recycle belongings. The key is to focus less on possessions and more on experiences


  •  Quotables

    A called concept called “everyman’s rights” (jokamiehen oikeus) means that everyone can walk, ski, or cycle in the countryside so long as they don’t harm the natural environment or landowner’s property.


    I ladle water from a bucket over the heated rocks of the sauna’s stove to create löyly, the hot steam that rises when the water hits the sauna stove’s rocks.


    Finnish holds a reputation of being a hard language to learn… it lacks articles such as “a” and “the,” and it’s totally genderless – there is no “he” or “she” — instead hän refers to men and women, another nod to equality.



Book Notes #14: “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown

This is the book I needed to read at this moment in my life. Because I feel like I’m living according to its principles. It may even be that I feel a little guilty, and I’m looking for reassurance. ‘

Maybe it’s my own confirmation bias. I wanted to hear I was living as an essentialist.

These days I spend most of my days reading, composing, writing, practicing, meditating. I’m in a creative zone because that’s where I’m happiest. I have very few meetings. I’m not doing traditional corporate work.

The message of this book is focus on what’s essential. Don’t get caught up in the random stuff that doesn’t matter. Yeah, that sounds basic. But it’s such a great and minimalist principle that you can adhere.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
By Greg McKeown

Here are my main takeaways from the book.

  • Less But Better
    This book was published years before “quiet quitting” became a phenomenon. But the book begins with a story about someone who works at a corporate job who feels burned out. He turns to a mentor who gave this advice:

    Stay, but do what you would as a consultant and nothing else. And don’t tell anyone.

    I read this as a type of quiet quitting. Push back on the random stuff that people ask you to do at the office. The worker decides not to go to every meeting that he’s invited to. This gave him space to do actual work, to have some freedom. And his performance started to increase overall. Sometimes when you pull back, you can start to achieve greater things. There are very few things that are consequential.

    The author Greg McKeown defines essentialism a few different ways. But I like how he boils it down to “less but better.”

    Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter…Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

  • Design Your Life
    You can design your life so that there is less stuff. You can adopt a minimalist approach and focus on the consequential tasks. When you start to ask yourself, “Does this matter?” you’ll start to see just how trivial everything is. McKeown posits that essentialism is actually a systemic approach to life so that you can focus more on execution of the essential activities and tasks.

    If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will…

  • The Paradox of Success
    When you become successful and more well known in your area, it starts to create more opportunities.

    I can relate to this phenomenon. I’m a musician and record producer, and I hear from several artists/managers/labels every week about the possibility of working together.

    While well intentioned, these invitations also are demands for my time and energy. And lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, so I just went underground: I deactivated my social media accounts. I even didn’t respond to emails for a while, and it’s a big deal for me!

    But I realized that if I take on these projects, I will get spread thinner and will be distracted from the essential projects that I want to focus on. I have had to learn how to say no.

    Success can distract us from focusing on the essential things that produce success in the first place.

  • A single priority
    I didn’t know the history of the word priority. What’s your priority? Your single priority? What is essential?

    The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular…Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start taking about priorities.

  • The 3 E’s
    Many of us have overstuffed closets. We only wear a small percentage of what’s in there. The essentialist framework to purging your closet is 1. Explore/evaluate, 2. Eliminate, 3. Execute.It takes discipline to pursue less. Trade-offs are an important part of life.

    Actually, essentialists explore more than non-essentialists because of their high curiosity. They are looking for their next big opportunity.

    Essentialism is about creating a system for handling the closet of our lives…Remember, when we forfeit our right to choose, someone else will choose for us…

    If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.

  • Stop celebrating busyness
    I’ve written about this. People want to talk about how busy or tired they are, as if that’s a badge of honor. “Look how hard I’m working.”I tend to go to the other extreme: “I’m extremely unbusy and have no meetings on my calendar.”

    This usually shocks people, but it’s true. I’m going through a stretch in my life where I’m in a creative zone, and I earn via passive income. McKeown mentions how sleep is seen as a new status symbol among successful entrepreneurs.

    What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?

    While other people are complaining (read: bragging) about how busy they are, you will just be smiling sympathetically, unable to relate…to live as an Essentialist in our too-many-things-all-the-time society is an act of quiet revolution.

  • Leveraged Work
    Do the work that is going to have a high pay off. Evaluate whether what you’re doing right now is going to matter in a week or a year. This is why I’m more selective about the creative projects that I take on. Is this something that I want to spend the next 2 to 3 years of my life working on?

    Think of what Warren Buffet who says, “Our investment philosophy borders on lethargy.” Remarkably, 90% of his wealth is attributed to just 10 investments.Once you make the big, essential decision, then the little things fall into place.

    A few weeks ago, I finally had some space in my calendar. I thought to myself, “What do I want to do next?” Do I want to write a book or record a guitar album? I thought about it for a few days, and then I made my decision. I set a deadline, and in a couple months I recorded a guitar album. During those months, I practiced, changed my strings (for the first time in years), and got to it!

    The overwhelming reality is: we live in a world where almost everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.

  • The Courage to Say No (And set boundaries)
    This is something I needed to hear. I like to help people and take on projects. But lately I’ve been feeling unfulfilled with some of the projects I’ve been involved with.The giant, epic projects are the ones that get me going. I like to swing for the fences and level up.

    Without courage, the disciplined pursuit of less is just lip service…
    We’re scared of rocking the boat, stirring things up, burning bridges…
    We are worried about damaging the relationship…
    The only way out of this trap is to l earn to say no firmly, resolutely, and yet gracefully.

    There are multiple (and elegant) ways to say no and you don’t have to actually say the “no” word. Make sure to remember: “Their problem is not your problem.”

  • Find your routine
    Yet another self-help book that talks about the importance of routine. But there’s obvious power and logic to creating a routine. There is an examination of Michael Phelps and his intense routine.
    I liked this quote: “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition,” said W. H. Auden.

    McKeown ends the book with clarity: “‘What is essential?’ Eliminate everything else.”

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Ferns

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Ferns

I recently went to Ferns of the World, which is part of Georgia State University’s Native Plant Botanical Garden. You can get lost in a forest of ferns. The place made me feel like I was in the tropics.

There are plenty of small signs that explain more about the different ferns.

Of course, I started reading about ferns after the excursion. Here’s what I found.

1. Did you know that ferns are actually not a plant, but an “angiosperm” (a flowering plant)?

2. The word “fern” comes from the Latin word for “feather” or “pinion,” which is why some species of fern look like feathers or wings.

3. The world’s largest fern is the California sword fern, which can grow up to 30 feet tall!

4. The longest-living known fern is the epiphytic bladder-senna fern, which has been known to live for more than 200 years.

5. Ferns can be carnivorous! They catch insects with tiny hairs called trichomes that trap them and then digest them in their underground roots.

6. There are over 12,000 different types of ferns in all.

7. Ferns have been around since before dinosaurs roamed the earth—they are at least 400 million years old.

How Carla Dirlikov Canales Crushes 4+ Careers (Singer, Entrepreneur, Lecturer, Envoy)

How Carla Dirlikov Canales Crushes 4+ Careers (Singer, Entrepreneur, Lecturer, Envoy)

Meet Carla Dirlikov Canales. She’s a multi-careerist based in the United States. We connected earlier this year when a mutual friend introduced us. Carla is an acclaimed singer and passionate about cultural diplomacy, something that resonates deeply with me. Carla’s journey is fascinating.

Carla’s Careers

  • Classical Singer
  • Cultural Entrepreneur; Founder & Director The Canales Project
  • Fellow at Harvard University; Senior Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
  • Guest Lecturer, Harvard University Center for Public Leadership 2023
  • Arts Envoy for the US State Dept
  • Senior Advisor & Envoy for Cultural Exchange at the National Endowment for the Arts

On her motivations for having many careers

I have a burning curiosity which drives me to learn new things, particularly related to how we communicate. This has fueled my interest in music as a tool for communication, in languages and linguistics, and in cultural diplomacy as well as policy.

On how long she’s had these careers

I’ve been a classical singer for 20 years, and have worked for the State Dept for 18 years. My time in academia started in 2021 as a Fellow at Harvard, and I’ve been leading an NGO which I founded, The Canales Project, since 2016. My most recent role at the NEA started earlier this year.

Advice to aspiring multi-careerists

Do it! There’s nothing to lose. If you find it’s too complicated or that something leaves you unsatisfied, you can just pivot or stop and try something else. There is no downside. The upside is that all you do will make you better at everything else you are doing!

On overcoming obstacles

There really are no setbacks other than managing the perception of others. Many people can’t wrap their minds around the idea of someone with multiple titles. It’s hard to put this in a box or category; hard to define. By default they may look at me as a dilettante. I work hard to prove myself rather than convince them of anything.

On how multiple careers are beneficial

Of course! My time as a singer informs what I want to

On personal time

I keep to a schedule and make it a priority to have time with my husband and my family and friends. That’s super important to me! I also build in time for creativity. It’s something I need: time to just think, read, go for a walk, write, and listen to music.


On what she wishes she had learned earlier

I wish I had invested in more business training early on. Many of the biggest tools I have which help me manage all I do I acquired later in life through the Harvard Business School Online offerings.

On what to read

I’ve definitely benefited from the Harvard Business School online courses. I’m a pretty avid reader, and use an Audible subscription. A tip that has been helpful to me is reading at 3x speed, which is possible on that platform.

On the stigma of having many careers

For sure, the stigma has to do with folks thinking that one person can’t pursue various interests at a high level. I don’t aim to change people’s perceptions, but just focus on the work and hope that I can provide an example that proves that wrong.

On what to share with others

I believe in taking the time to talk to folks. There’s no shortcut when it comes to getting to know people. Social media can be a great tool to share what I’m up to, but I always like spending time with folks, either on Zoom or in person, to share what I am passionate about.

On sublimating ego

I am lucky that my day job is creative. This year is the first time in my life that I’ve had a full-time day job, and I’m also balancing teaching and my other activities which the NEA is supportive of. It’s been a great fit!

A Day in the Life

  • 6:30 – Wake Up, read NYT, check out TikTok, Insta, Twitter
  • 7:30 – Coffee and writing docs/memos (I get my best writing done first thing!)
  • 8:30 – Walk my dog in the woods, often with my Italian friend which is a chance to practice another language
  • 9:30 to 4:30 – Varies, but usually meetings, Zooms, and time with NEA and Gov colleagues. Sometimes also in person meetings with Embassy folks and/or other artists
  • 5pm – Walk my dog in the woods again, often with another friend
  • 6 to 9 – Usually I have some kind of evening event, perhaps a concert, or a social dinner with friends, or a work related event such as an Embassy event or work dinner. I always try to go with my husband as we have the most fun together.
  • 10 – Bedtime

Where to find Carla


Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, as well as New York Times bestselling author.

Follow Kabir on LinkedInInstagramFacebookTwitterSpotifyYouTube.

7 things to do in Vienna

7 things to do in Vienna

Vienna is one of the great cities of the world. As a musician, I’ve long admired the great Austrian composers like Haydn and Mozart, among others. I learned how their cultivated environment shaped their musical works.

I tried to cram as much as I could into my trip to Vienna. I boiled it down to 7 things you should probably do when you visit.

1. Coffee Shops

It’s essential that you visit some of the well-known coffee shops to better understand Viennese culture. You can read about how this culture may have shaped some of the world’s most intriguing thinkers.

Cafe Schwarzenberg – Busy in the morning, and you may need to make a reservation. Good, strong coffee. Eggs benedict.

Cafe Central – Where Freud used to hang out. Get the Kaiserschmarrn (broken pancakes) and/or pastries.

Demel – Delicious desserts. Get the Kaiserschmarrn here, too. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan dined here.

Cafe Landtmann – My favorite cafe. Delicious Schnitzel and Appel Strudel. Good service and relaxed vibe.

2. Restaurants

Gasthaus zu den 3 Hacken – Traditional Viennese fare (but the beer is from Germany). I went with the Tafelspitz. But there are more adventurous options like calf sweetbreads.

Café Imperial Wien – A friend told me said this restaurant has the best schnitzel in the city, and I don’t think he was wrong. Delicious food, great service – even on a very busy night.

You can stumble into some trendy restaurants and charming eateries in the old town.

3. Museums

Albertina – This may be one of my favorite museums in the world. Breathtaking visual art in a beautiful building. Works by Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso.

Sisi Museum – Learn about Empress Elisabeth, the well known wife of Emperor Franz Joseph, who has been portrayed in books and film.

Imperial Treasury Vienna – Crowns, scepters, regal clothes. Both this museum and the Sisi are in the Hoffburg Palace, so you could see both easily.

Kunsthistorisches Museum – The Hapsburg rulers collected many antiquities over the centuries. A repository of their many treasures. I especially enjoyed the coin collection.

4. Palaces

Schönbrunn Palace – The main summer residence of the Hapsburgs. As much as I enjoyed walking through the opulent rooms, I found the gardens vast and remarkable. Walk all the way to the top of the hill to get a nice view of Vienna’s cityscape.

Belvedere Palace – A gorgeous palace with a tremendous art collection including The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. There was a line of people trying to take selfies while making out in front of it.

5. Jazz Music

Porgy & Bess Jazz & Music Club. The go-to jazz club. I liked the venue but wasn’t really digging the music that particular night. But I’m all for supporting local arts venues.

6. Opera

Vienna State Opera House – Go to a show. And if you can’t swing that, try the daytime tour, where the guide will usher you through all the main rooms.

7. Churches

Amazing architecture: Votivkirche, St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Karlskirche. It’s worth spending some time in all of these places to think, pray, and take in the vast beauty.