Updated: Jul 7, 2020
| This is the 191st story of Our Life Logs |
People around me see a beautiful picture of my life. They see a young entrepreneur who owns a nice flat and went to Dubai for her honeymoon. They see a happy girl who has it all together. I want to show those people the picture of a determined girl who desperately longed for a better life while pinching pennies so hard that they screamed! And when they see that, they’ll understand my life hasn’t been all that romantic or magical, rather, it’s been an uphill crawl—and I’m still going! So, maybe that actually is the most beautiful picture of all.
My story began in 1991 in Ukraine, the year it became independent of the Soviet Union. The first 10 years of my life were very tough as my people learned how to stand on our own as a country. During the transition, our society became unstable and poverty littered the neighborhoods. Overtime, it did improve. Unfortunately, my family never got over the hardship.
We lived in a one-room flat of 30 square meters with my parents. We could usually afford food, but not many luxuries. At times, we were so low on cash that we couldn’t even afford toilet paper. Even though we lived in poverty, even though it must have been so hard to raise a child on so little, I can’t claim I had a lousy childhood. Yes, we were very poor, but we were also very happy. Sometimes, my parents had money for cottage cheese, but not for sour cream, and vice versa—but when they had money for both…life was wonderful! The combination of cottage cheese, sour cream, and sugar was the best sweet I could dream of at that time.
How did all that change? No, not by a rich husband or a legacy. I discovered that with hard work, support, and a little luck, your dreams can come true.
I started by working at the age of 17 while I was in my first year of college. During my five years at the university, I worked as a promoter, housekeeper, food service worker, call center operator, a group president, and I also helped tutor my friends. All that wasn’t easy. My usual day consisted of waking up at 6 am, going to class and studying at the university for six to eight hours, working for six hours, studying at home for three to five hours, and then with what little time I had left, I would sleep. Then I’d wake up and do it all over again. It’s a mystery how I found the time to find a boyfriend and spend time with friends with such a schedule!
While I was in college, I had the opportunity to be a part of a Work and Travel program in 2011. Through it, I could see the many sights of the USA for four months during summer break. I wanted so badly to go, and I asked my parents for help to afford it. It was a tough decision for them, not only because it was scary to let their child travel to across the world, but also because it cost a lot of money. But they knew how important this trip was to me, so they borrowed a significant part of it from friends and relatives. I’ll be forever grateful for their support and humility. What I got to experience was brilliant!
During those four months in the US, I was surrounded with incredible things that can only be found in the US. From their exciting attractions to their many types of M&Ms (even now, Ukraine doesn’t have that many M&M colors)!
Since my parents had borrowed so much, I decided to make and bring home some money to pay off the loans—and I also wanted to earn some spending money while I was in the US. So, when there was a possibility, I took 16-hours long shifts and worked for six days instead of five while I was visiting. With the money I made, I was able to visit a lot of great places like Rocky Mountain National Park, Royal Gorge Bridge, The Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Watkins Glen State Park, Washington, DC, and the last stop before departure—New York City. My only regret is that I didn’t spend another $20 to go on the Empire State Building’s observation deck. But I see it now as a good reason (and excuse) to go back to New York someday.
The four months were fantastic, but they had to come to an end, and my reality in Ukraine was waiting for me. Just like before, I jumped back into my crazy work/study schedule for two more years at the university. After receiving my degree in Civil and Industrial Engineering, I dreamed of finding a job in the construction field. I wanted to practice the knowledge I had gained at the university and continue the hustle. But that wasn’t easy.
I tried to get a job for three months with no result. I’ve almost lost faith. I began applying for anything, and I even interviewed for a call center operator job. In came my lucky break. One day before my second interview, I was hired for a job in the construction department of an oil and gas company instead. So, in 2013, I started my career with in engineering. Our dreams really do come true! At least—on paper.
With this job, I bit off more than I could chew. I had to get up at 4:19 am every morning to get ready and catch the bus at 4:37 am for a two-hour commute to work. Once I was there, I’d go into the bathroom each day and cry. I didn’t feel smart or good enough for the job. I was the youngest on the team and didn’t come with any experience. So often I felt I wasn’t contributing anything useful. I felt under qualified, and there was nothing I could do. What kept me going back was the nice paycheck, and the promise of a blossoming career in the field. As I worked this job, I took a few part-time jobs along with it, probably because it wasn’t in my nature to go home and rest.
I got used to the work and regime after a year. That should’ve been a moment of joy and happiness, but it didn’t last. In 2014, a war broke out in the Ukraine and made thousands of people lose money and theirs jobs. The company I worked for had to cut 200 jobs to stay in business—and I was one of the 200. The funny parallel was that I first cried because I had the job, and now I was crying because I’d lost the job.
I had no idea what to do next. I searched for a job for six months with no results. I had felt challenged by the high standards in the company where I was working, and I couldn’t find a job to fulfill my needs in the small city I was living in. I began to feel as if I’d never find a new job.
Then one day at the end of October 2015, I discovered a few freelancing websites where you could make money fulfilling tasks for people from the comfort of your home. I hadn’t heard of such a thing before! I decided to try it out by joining some projects to help make a little money while I searched for a new job in the city.
The first successful job I had was to classify swimsuits by color, size, decorations, and other parameters. It was hard for my family and friends to understand what exactly I was doing. They were amazed that somebody was paying for tasks like that. In the beginning, I couldn’t figure it out either, but I was making money, so that answer didn’t really matter to me.
As new projects and tasks kept coming in, I received more grateful feedback from clients. Eventually, I realized something. I was doing exactly what I liked—helping people and businesses grow. And as a plus, I was doing it from the comfort of my home on my own schedule—THAT was the cherry on top.
Just like many times in my life, with more and more work flooding in, I gave myself too much to do, and spent most of my time working. It felt like I was back on crazy university schedule. Instead of overexerting myself once again, I came up with a better idea. I’d assemble a team of people with the same life philosophy to help allocate the work.
I found an entrepreneurial spirit in me I didn’t even know I had, and I never dreamed I could stand a business like this. It was incredible. But the business also brought challenges. I wanted my clients to receive the best service, while also wanting my team to have a comfortable working environment. I also needed it to be legal and rightful (which is not always easy in Ukraine), and on top of that, I wanted to learn and develop new skills every day while making time for my friends and family.
It’s a lot to juggle, but I think I’m managing it all well.
The conclusion here is not complicated. Don’t be afraid to dream (especially when dreams don’t seem to be realistic) and work as hard as you can to make the dreams come true. I don’t know what’s waiting for me next. But I do know that I need to believe in my strength, not to lose faith, and work hard to make my life more beautiful.
This is the story of Olga Burtsailo
Olga lives in Ukraine with husband, and she works through freelance work. Coming from a poor but happy family, Olga always dreamed of something bigger. She worked hard and meticulously to the point of overworking herself and somewhere along the way, she discovered her entrepreneurial spirit. She also learned not to fear bringing her dreams to reality. Freelancing has opened new opportunities for her – she bought her own flat, traveled more often and started doing other things she couldn’t afford in the past. She loves her new career. Olga doesn’t have much free time, but when she does, she travels and collects pencils. She currently has 100 showpieces of different sizes and colors from all over the world in her collection.
This story first touched our hearts on October 16, 2018.
| Writer: Olga Burtsailo | Editor: Colleen Walker |