Hi #BeautifulAndCapable! Today I want to share with you how growing up I discovered my identity, was rejected and abused for who I was and felt really lonely. My hope is that as you virtually walk the journey with me, you’ll know how much I understand the desire women feel for a safe place, which is the purpose for which I created Anna Balkan Designer Jewelry Gallery. I want to share how I felt insecure and worthless but discovered that actually, I am already perfect. And so are you! You are a perfect woman!
How I felt insecure growing up
As we’re raised by our loving parents, we’re told how we can be anything we want and if we dedicate ourselves to school and extracurricular activities, we will be able to get into great schools, and our future will be forged in gold.
Or some version of that sentiment.
Growing up in Ukraine, I always believed in my ability to learn. My dreams of the future were brightly colored with thoughts of being a doctor or a teacher, or some profession that would be both fun and noble.
I studied hard, and school came easy to me. I was a steady A- student, and I was always just one mistake away from the perfect score.
And I was completely ok with that.
Both of my parents were engineers, and, although it was probably in my genes, I was not fully open to being an engineer. Little did I know that it was never my choice but my inheritance and destiny.
Last year of high school flew by, and preparation for placement testing began.
It was going to be a difficult summer of taking placement tests as the competition for the spots in only 3 colleges in my city was very stiff.
The college system was a bit different at that time. We could not apply to schools outside of our city of residence. The school was not only free if you made excellent grades, but you were also actually paid a monthly subsidy as if you were working. No, I’m not kidding! I got paid to go to school as long as I did well.
The higher the grades, the higher the “salary.”
Before you could apply to college, you had to first make it into the last 2 years of high school. The total schooling was 10 years, but not for everyone.
Students with mediocre grades were exited out of school only after 8 years and could only apply to technical “blue-collar” schools or placed in a lower-tier workforce jobs.
The remaining 20% of top students were left to gain the last two years of knowledge and permitted to apply to college.
As you can see, by the ripe age of 16, the year of my high school graduation, I was already no stranger to rejection, competition, and understanding that not everyone is meant to be what they want
Sometimes, poor choices or the lack of discipline can be that final cut to set you on a different course for life.
School and my grades were my only hope for the future. I did my best to focus all my time on school. But I was never prepared for what was to come next.
There was a dirty little secret - something that was well-known but not written in press or in school applications. Something that was needed to be in place to diversify and control the growth of professional “white collar” workforce.
To be exact – JEW QUOTAS.
You see, Jew was a nationality that was written in your passport on a 5th line, and you could not escape that no matter where you went.
Passports were a must-present item at any juncture of your life.
And my lack would have it – the 5th paragraph in my passport was shouting to the world: “JEW.”
I was a Jew in Soviet Ukraine before the crush of the USSR. So, I was a Jew in Communist Russia.
Every college had its own Jew quotas.
The competition being 100+ people for 1 spot for medical school, 40+ for 1 spot if you wanted to become a teacher, and 15+ for 1 spot if you set your goals on engineering. Now, I had to mix in the Jew quotas.
Forget about a medical school – only 2 Jews a year were allowed…
So, with a lot of encouragement from my parents and very little comprehension as to why I set my sight on something a bit more manageable: engineering.
The placement testing process was lengthy and took me through many steps. The testing most of the subjects I had learned in all my years of schooling was tough. Math, Physics, Essay writing, etc. Every test I took was graded. The cumulative grade defined my placement (or failure).
Math was a breeze, especially considering the professor who knew my family and was not trying to fail me. High grade – check! Essay writing – a breeze! I loved reading, and writing came naturally. High grade – check! My future looked bright. The last test was physics – my favorite school subject. I was guaranteed to score high. At least, I thought so…
The room was filled with students quietly hunched over their papers. Every time a student finished their test and stepped up to the professor’s desk to get graded on a spot – a new student would arrive and take a questionnaire and make their way to the seat.
My heart was playing a loud marching beat as I stood outside of the door, clenching my passport and waiting for my name to be called.
Finally, it was my turn to get through this and be set free from all the stress of testing. I was ready to pass the last test and enjoy what was left of that warm Summer.
I scanned my paper and smiled, easy! I knew all the questions and was prepared, I saw no surprises and let my pen fly fast filling up the answers.
I was done so fast, that even I could not believe how few students were done during that time. Proudly, I raised my hand and was allowed to approach the professor’s desk. I stood there barely breathing, so close to being DONE!
He glanced at my paper and smiled knowing how well I did, he was excited to flip through pages, so he gave me a “great job” nod.
Then, he took my passport to validate that I was indeed myself, and in my excitement, I did not notice his glance onto the 5th line and a brief frown that crossed his face.
He began the grading and everything became silent.
B-, C, C…
Where I was so sure it was a hard A, he loudly announced to the audience in the room my low scores.
He was not only wrong; he was being cruel, and my young mind went into overdrive.
I pushed all my fears aside and had my voice risen to a loud and steady level: “You are wrong! You’re failing me because you saw my nationality.”
Yes, I spoke up for myself!
Blood rushed to my face and I felt powerful.
Also, I knew there was nothing to lose, and if I didn’t fight right then for what was right, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
I was seated by his desk as he was grading my paper and decided to hold my ground. So, I stood up from my chair and met his gaze with a study unwavering determination of someone who had put it all on the line.
He knew right there that I was not going to be quiet and as students around us paused their test and were staring at this new dramatic development, he relented a bit and changed my Cs to Bs.
But the fight was not over, as a random question was fired at me like a lightning round in some bizarre game show of life.
He requested me to write down in front of the entire classroom an obscure formula of capillary pressure or such.
I must have been crazy, but my photographic memory immediately recalled the formula in its perfect entirety.
The game was over and he could do nothing more to knock me down from my path.
Fat and crooked final B was written in ink on my final test, and I knew that I made the cut.
Why am I telling this story here? No matter what I tried to hide my true power as a strong female and pretend to be invisible, time after time I was called upon to step out of my comfort zone into my true power.
And each time I did it, no matter how painful and terrifying it felt, I met my challenges with resolve and was then another step closer to my greater purpose and a better life.
You can hide away and keep invisible most of your life, but you will be placed on a pedestal of destiny over and over again and you will be tested and pushed out of your hiding. Step into your power. Do it. Pursue your purpose. You deserve a better life!
Because none of us are meant to hide away our gifts from this world and we all must allow others to see who we are and what we’re capable of.
Maybe it is truly symbolic that after the majority of my life of being invisible, I now create jewelry to help women who wear it to walk in their power.
I want the colors, textures, and shapes of my jewelry to be your personal power amulet, a beacon for your real self to stay true and shine in the world!
Why I always felt like something was wrong with me
I spend a lot of time talking to women in my store, Anna Balkan Designer Jewelry Gallery in Historic Norcross. I love getting to know my customers and making them feel like they’re shopping at their sister’s closet.
One thing, which is pretty much a common occurrence, is always such a shock to me to witness. I would be talking to an incredibly stunning and confident woman. She would try a necklace on. She would immediately look excited and empowered. Then, she’d turn to a mirror and lights up: “Wow, I love it!” But not even a moment later: “I hate my wrinkles!” or “My neck is so ugly!”
How in the world can a small shard of glass such as mirror destroy our powers of projecting beauty and confidence?
And these women actually see themselves in some sort of distorted way that none of us on the outside notice.
Why do we ALL do this?
Why do WE judge ourselves that harsh?
And why does any of that really matter?
We are not our skin and we are not our hair. We are not the camouflage we put on our form. As a matter of fact, who we are is a much deeper question many philosophers and scholars struggle with, and religions attempt to define that for us.
But one thing for sure: we are not skin-deep.
But somewhere in our minds, there is a picture of a perfect self-image none of us can ever attain and we constantly compare ourselves to that unattainable image.
I am not alone in my self-judgment and insecurities about my self-image.
At a young age, the only voice in my head was my mother’s voice, and somehow I do not recall positive words of encouragement but only critical observations about me: “You are too pale, too freckly. You gained weight, you are too skinny...”
It’s easy to point a finger and say that our mothers messed us up. But it is not their fault. They do not have a manual to follow when raising us. They are humans with their own ideas and their own imperfections. They want nothing but happiness for us and doing their best to give us all they can. Sometimes, they indivertibly pass on to us their own issues.
I am a mother now, too, and I catch myself often saying things to my daughter that is the outer form-focused: “You look great in this top, your face is so pretty, your hair looks great…”
None of these things are meant to create a deep scar of insecurity and rather come from a place of love, and yet I feel I am indivisibly shifting her focus to the external beauty and creating “this is good” and “this is bad” self-image.
With that, the days I do not comment on her hair, she may begin feeling like it does not look good. Do you see how we as children can pick out something so innocent and nurse it to some absurd unattainable idea and spend years blaming our mothers for the scars they left us with?
I think it is time for us to take the reins in our own hands and look at ourselves from the inner place of love and acceptance. We must own our thinking.
None of us are alone in self-image judgment, but we could be united in the power of changing it by taking ownership of our inner beauty and accessing it with power and confidence every day.
How does is any of that relate to what I do?
I believe that the jewelry you wear can tell the world about you in a few seconds and should be truly a reflection of your inner power and beauty.
In my store, we help you find that perfect piece that looks perfect with your complexion and becomes that message to the world of how you see yourself from the inside out.
The moment you wear the jewelry I create with love, you will feel its magnetism. Once you put it on, it lights up your face because it is perfect for the perfect YOU.
People will see it on you and notice YOU, not your wrinkles or blemishes.
Yes, my unique jewelry has that much power. Jewelry with color is magical.
High-profile men and men in politics are known to hire image-consultants to select that one perfect tie that will speak louder than their voice and convey the message of who they are.
To me, jewelry is the exact same thing. It’s our power amplifier to the entire world!
You are beautiful and you are perfect just the way we are. I want you to remember this truth when you wear my jewelry.
What I’m really scared of...
I have to admit to you something. As an immigrant in America with no job skills, no home, and no English, I was really vulnerable. These days, I often wake up in cold sweat fearing that I forgot English.
And there’s something else, too. I was 4 years into my American Dream journey, a newbie in the corporate world of technology consulting, and I had to lead without having any actual authority. In meetings, I was often talked down to for my young age and Russian accent. I felt so insecure and so hurt.
I was yearning to be seen, known, and understood.
Today, the way I design my precious jewelry and organize Anna Balkan Designer Jewelry Gallery is all centered on the idea of making my customers feel seen, known, and understood.
I keep telling women: “Get to know the designer behind your jewelry, get to understand what energy these hands that create it put into the very jewelry you wear.”
Frankly, for years, you’d google me and find very little information about my personal story. I always understood YOU. I always knew how I wanted to help you feel empowered in that meeting when you’re being talked down to. I always knew I wanted you to feel perfect and beautiful wearing my jewelry.
But you couldn’t find any of the information that would help you understand who I am and why you should select my jewelry.
Please forgive me for holding back.
In March 2019, I committed to sharing my story online through blogs and videos.
For years, I spoke about my path of adversity, struggle, and survival in small settings, with my friends and very few customers.
Arriving alone to America, at a young age of 20, with only $100 to my name, and speaking not a word of English, I went through homelessness and loneliness.
I’ve been repeatedly asked to write about my experiences or record a video or do a speaking engagement. All those ideas sounded great, but that little voice in my own head (who now speaks in English, by the way!) has been whispering to me: “You cannot be a good writer – your English is not that great and you struggle with articles; you cannot speak in front of the crowd because you will get nervous and forget words and everyone will laugh at you; your smile is ugly, all you see is your gums and wrinkles around your mouth…”
That voice is terribly unkind and I do not know why I listen to it, but here I am terrified how I look on camera or in photos.
I spent years perfecting my ideas of what is wrong with me and why I should stay invisible. I felt that if I spoke publicly, people would laugh.
I remember my first few years in the corporate world, I would have said something with my heavy accent and no one seem to hear me or understand, but someone else would repeat it practically word-for-word, especially if it was a guy, all of a sudden it was the next best idea!
If I could hit my forehead in public each time that happened, I would have a permanent bump on it!
The way I sounded then, and to some degree now, was perceived as if I were of lower intelligence. That is something all non-native English speakers and immigrants wrestle with. Can you relate?
Whatever your own reason for hiding and holding back, please try to understand it, call it out loud and hear yourself acknowledging it, so you can finally see it for what it is – a leash that is holding you back.
Your leash is made of smoke and is not forged in steel.
You can break it and free yourself from it, no longer allowing it to hold you back.
Can I tell you how terrified I am to step out of my own insecurities and use the power of English words to share who I am with you right now through my writing?
I am the designer behind your jewelry. You deserve to know my story.
You deserve to know that you are a perfect woman!
Right now is the time to let you see and understand what you already feel about my art. You deserve to hear that you are not alone with your fears and insecurities. I am with you. I was empowered, and I want to empower YOU.
I want you to know that you are perfect already. All my jewelry is here to do is help your perfection and your beauty shine.
Anna Balkan Designer Jewelry Gallery was created to make the jewelry-shopping experience very intimate and very real. I created a new format for my store, where each case of jewelry is uniquely unified by a specific “color story” that directly relates to your individual complexion.
We use Winter, Summer, Autumn, and Spring complexion definitions. It comes from color theory and understanding of the balance of colors/textures/form.
We believe that shopping for jewelry should be similar to shopping for clothing, where you focus on colors and styles that look best on you and know what to avoid.
To help your inner beauty shine, in my store, you will feel comfortable once you understand that all of us there are stylists. Yes, every member of my team is a stylist and so am I!
We are more of a tour guide for you to help you choose what will best help you shine. We are all there to demystify jewelry, colors, layering, styling, and make your experience at the store enjoyable and unique.
You absolutely must own at least one piece of jewelry that helps you step out of your fears and insecurities and empowers you to shine.
I am here to help you find that perfect piece.
People always wanted me to change, I was never good enough
As children, we always pretend to be someone else as a part of our games or dreaming of being a princess or an astronaut. As we grow up, we notice that in life, friendships, and love, there will be people that want us to change in order to fit us into their ideals. When life partners are selected, fitting into an idea of someone else’s perfection becomes almost a required role we do our best to perform in.
We either squeeze ourselves in the smallness of someone’s vision for us or stretch every ounce of our being to measure up to another’s expectations for what we should be.
I spent most of my life not measuring up and knowing it very clearly.
From my childhood moments of not being of the right breed and my early dating experiences of not being good enough to even hold hands, to my adult life as an entrepreneur speaking up about changes and sharing ideas and vision that are too big to comprehend.
My name is on the awning of my store in Historic Norcross, and every interaction in my store is a direct reflection on me as a person.
I am not allowed to make mistakes. None of my employees may make a mistake or have a bad day. Nope, it’s all on me. And at times it feels as it’s all my fault!
There are days I just want to stay in and stop being the designer Anna Balkan, the brand. I want to be once again simply me, Anna whom no one knows.
But I push through each time these thoughts creep up because my mission and my purpose in the world are worthy of me living out of my comfort zone.
You know what gets me through each day and helps me stay in my course?
My daughter whom I want to teach to be strong and courageous.
My life partner, who sees me as a perfect woman and wants to change nothing about me, is not scared to lose at a competition with me, because he is not there to compete.
Rather, he’s here to lift me up when I am down.
My employees, who genuinely love working with our customers and honor what I get to create in the universe, see me as a real human, with my faults and strengths, and they know my heart. They remind me almost daily that I should keep on going and keep creating, and that they’ve got my back.
My customers, who believe in me, who spear the word about my store to their friends, who tell me how much what I do matters to them, say that the space I created is very special to them and that I am loved.
I am so grateful for all the people who come into my life and are the messengers for me to be exactly who I am. A mother, a woman, a designer, and a leader.
In the past, so many people wanted me to change. I know exactly what it feels like to not be able to measure up. But now I know that I am perfect just the way I am. And you are perfect just the way you are. Nothing needs to change about you.
How I discovered that you are already a perfect woman
I want to clarify here something very important. None of us is perfectly based on the worldly standards of outer perfection that fits into the measures of beauty in our modern society. I don’t care about any of that. But if I were to consider this, we are all imperfect. We are perfectly imperfect!
We can all unite in our imperfections and appreciate each other for who we are.
My message is this: you’re perfect for your path, your journey, your life, your purpose, and your aspirations. You don’t need to fall into a comparison trap trying to be neither like someone on TV or like the flawless self-image in your head.
Be beautiful by being you.
After many years of believing that I was not pretty, not smart, and damaged in some way, I had finally arrived at this train stop called “Self-acceptance.”
If all I do and say comes from my heart, and if I know my heart to be true and filled with love, then I create exactly what I am meant to create in this world. My purpose and its ripples will be for the betterment, and I firmly believe in it. In that, I am perfect, I am exactly the way I need to be to accomplish my life’s goals. And you are perfect for yours!
What is perfection anyway?
Glossy lips, white teeth, and soft hair? How can you package and mass-manufacture culturally-perceived outer perfection?
Perfection comes from within and it can’t be seen, but can be felt. If you feel your perfection, others will feel it with you. Perfection is in the sincerity of our humanity and our actions toward others. If you find genuine love in your heart and give that love to people around you, you are perfect.
Give love to all the people in your life, walk in your purpose, be beautiful you, and feel your own unique perfection. Nothing needs to change, you’re perfect just the way you are.
My jewelry is as diverse as the community of women I serve, and there’s a perfect piece for every perfect woman at Anna Balkan Jewelry Gallery in Historic Norcross.
When you wear my piece, I want you to remember the most important things: I am with you, you’re not alone, you are perfect right now, and nothing needs to change about you because you’re special, worthy, deserving, strong, and beautiful from the inside out.
The perfect woman!