Goodbye, Craft Beer Girl! Hello, sober coworking entrepreneur Snezhana Kuzmina

 

For the next two instalments of our Friends of FloLab series with photographer Tara Shupe, we meet the original FOFs, the FloLab co-founders, as they interview each other.

This week Snezhana is interviewed by Emma, and opens up about her journey from acknowledging her alcohol abuse, to a new found purpose in the coworking world.

Where are you from and how did you come to be living in the Netherlands?

I'm originally from Russia but I moved to the UK when I was 8 and grew up in Bristol. I really wanted to go into filmmaking for a long time and so went to New York when I was 18 to study.

Then I changed paths and went into film Academia instead. I went to King's College London, did my BA and graduated with a first. Already in the 2nd year of my BA, I decided that I was gonna go to the University of Amsterdam for my Masters, and I stuck to that plan. I ended up doing a two-year Research Masters in Media Studies. So that was how I came to the Netherlands. That was 5 years ago. Now I live in The Hague with my partner Norbert.

How do you find living in the Netherlands?

Very calm. It's a very calm structured society which for a very anxious person like me, that's great. I didn't always know this about myself but I find places like Spain horrendously stressful. I love how everything just works in the Netherlands, everything is pretty much worked out. There's a famous Dutch architect from Rotterdam called Rem Koolhaas who said that basically the Netherlands is done. It's just maintenance now.

I found it hard to go from being quite successful in the school environment to then not knowing what I wanted to. I think many in my generation (millennials) struggle to find themselves, find what to do, and what their strengths are.

What did you do after university?

The thing about doing Humanities Academia is - we kind of joke that it doesn't give you any job skills. But it does gives you skills; they give a lot of great, proper training. But it's training on how to be an academic. You're trained on how to teach, how to present, how to write your papers for journals and things like that. They even tell you how to write a CV for academic jobs. So, it was vocational training. But if you don't want to go into that vocation, you're kind of left a little bit stranded afterwards.

I didn't really know what I wanted to do so, it's kind of been a journey. I found it hard to go from being quite successful in the school environment to then not knowing what I wanted to. I think many in my generation (millennials) struggle to find themselves, find what to do, and what their strengths are.

After I studied film and media, it was kind of natural to move into marketing roles. I've done bits of social media, marketing, copywriting and also tried studying advertising. I was really lucky to do an internship in social media management, where I also got trained in art direction. Usually, art directors have a graphic design background, so I felt very lucky to be able to be taken under the wing of this art director at the place where I was working. That was really cool.

Then since about a year ago, I've been freelancing as a social media strategist and VA, if you will.

How has the transition from working in employment to working for yourself been?

Even just a year ago, I still didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I did one month of sales for a brewery last April which was a horrendous experience just because the sales life is not for me! Having to travel every day, having to work for somebody else and not really having any kind of control over your life because you're trying to structure your day around other people's time constantly, I just really felt how unhappy and miserable it was making me.

So, I learned that I like to be in one place, I like to know what my hours are, but then within those hours, I like to have control with my own time which led me to freelance.

Let's talk a little about the FloLab project, how do you recall meeting your business partner Emma?

I was working in an ‘Mc-job’ as I call it, you know a job that pays the bills but you have zero passion for. It was a helpdesk job for a tech firm in The Hague. I remember Emma joining in the Autumn and that she was really bubbly. We ultimately bonded over two of our passions; Skincare and Instagram. You helped me out with some skincare products for my acne and I helped you out with Instagram tips for your business.

It wasn't until February time, at the end of our work Christmas night out at 6 am in the morning that I discovered you like techno. And then I was like, "Damn, this girl's for me!". It was a fun, unexpected turn!

How did the friendship turn into a business partnership?

How it came about is very vivid for me because it was really perfect timing. I had just started freelancing and I was already feeling the strain of trying to work from home and how difficult that was. I had started eyeing up some co-working spaces. I actually tried out this little, teeny weensy thing that had opened up and it was a hundred a month or something. Which for me at the time, was too expensive.

I remember we were in Kaapse in Rotterdam, at the brewery with our friend Charlotte and you had come in so excited with this notion of opening a coworking space. It was a very simple idea. We were not looking to make money from it, we just wanted to rent a space, find some other people to share it with so that we could find somewhere to work.

And then the more that we talked about this idea, we realised we needed to have a pretty unique perspective. I suffer from insomnia which mainly drives me crazy but sometimes it serves up some of my best ideas. I was lying in bed then had a total ‘aha moment’ thinking about your wellness coaching business and that we should offer a space that supports wellness. That's where our USP came from.

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Work Well

So, that is where the core of FloLab is. It is a co-working space at its core, but it has this unique perspective in that you can incorporate your healing and your self-care into your everyday working life. You don't have to carve out an hour in the evening, away from the kids or whatever, to make this be part of your life. "I can work in a space that can assist me with my burnout, that can assist me with my meditation". All those things that you are constantly told that you should be doing to be healthy, we want to make it easier. Make it part of your workday.

You mentioned ‘incorporating your healing into your workday’, would you like to share about your own ‘healing journey’?

Oh, god, yeah. I mean, my own personal journey while creating FloLab has been really transformative. Specifically in relation to alcohol abuse. For years I masked my anxiety with alcohol. I first had a realisation that I had a problem with alcohol when I was 24; I'm 29 now. I did have a very close friend point me in that direction, and it was scary to realise that it's not under control. Particularly because my father was an alcoholic. My mum was really scared that could be a risk for me too. The statistics show if you are female and you have an alcoholic parent you are 50% more likely to develop an addiction. It doesn't have to be alcohol, but some kind of addiction. And then if you start drinking alcohol before the age of, I think 14, the likelihood increases.

So with my Russian heritage combined with growing up in the UK adolescent drinking culture, my identity was very much "I'm a ladette. This is my form of feminism”. Drinking was very tied in with rejection of the feminine as some kind of empowerment (like, “I’m a strong woman cos I can drink like the boys”). So, yeah, I don't think I was always an anxious person, but alcohol abuse from the age of 13 had clearly shaken up some shit in my brain.

that’s what alcoholism really is for most people. It’s not a drunk on the street it’s: can you have one? Maybe once you can, but the next time can you do it? And the next time?

When did you first quit alcohol?

At 24 I had a break for 5 months, but the way that the addiction works is you think after 5 months that because you didn't struggle, because you didn't have cravings, that means there's not really a problem, but that's not really true. So I ended up going back to it. You start off with just a glass here or there but after a few months, you are back to where you started.

Then last September I quit again, and there wasn't any big dramatic thing like an intervention or hitting rock bottom or anything - or even all that shame like last time. I just got really tired. Really tired of trying to moderate. And that's what alcoholism really is for most people. It's not a drunk on the street it's: can you have one? Maybe once you can, but the next time can you do it? And the next time? You would have to chop my hands off to stop me getting a second or third and so on on a regular basis. It was really, just, tiring.

How did you quitting alcohol ‘for good’ change you?

The problem with quitting alcohol was that in the 2 years before I started FloLab, I had turned myself into this social media craft beer girl. And I grew a following on Instagram; 4,000 people in the craft beer world.

So, what FloLab really enabled me to do was actually change my self-perception. Because my image of myself was so built into being a good-time-girl, that's chill with the boys, likes beer, likes action movies, like, again, all this internalized misogyny. And by embracing a business that was so focused on being healthy, being clearheaded and being kind to yourself, I was able to see myself differently. And although we don't directly market to women, there were so many fantastic, strong and incredible women in our community that have really influenced me. Like just seeing all these examples of women coming through their battles and finding their strength like Cindy, Nadja and you. I think that's where I could find the strength. So, I've now been sober for 8 months. Honestly, I don't think FloLab would exist if I was still drinking. Yeah, I just don't think I would've been able to carry it through had I continued sabotaging myself every weekend.

If someone is reading this blog and resonating with what you describe, sick of allowing their alcoholism or other addictions to sabotage their lives... If they are thinking of making a positive change in that area, what advice would you offer them?

I mean, I wouldn't say that everybody has to go teetotal, for the record. I'm not one of those evangelical sober people that think alcohol is evil. Alcohol is an inanimate object. But if you feel like there's an issue, there's probably an issue. If you don't think something's wrong, there probably isn't (I mean, obviously some people are in denial), but if you have that doubt then it's probably worth exploring. And it's, at the very least, maybe worth exploring for a month of sobriety.

My best advice is, if you need to quit, just to be upfront about it. Tell people. When I first quit when I was 24, I almost immediately moved to a new country, started a new course, a new life and was meeting a lot of new people. And so, I was getting a lot of questions of like, "Why don't you drink?" and I just said, "Because I have a problem with alcohol." And then people didn't pry. They're like, "Oh, okay" and leave you alone. Or even better, they can be quite impressed with you. I was like, "I think I'm getting addicted so I need to stop", and then they don't actually judge you. They're like, "Oh, fair enough." Unfortunately, if you say your health or something vague, then people love to break it down. Because, just like with veganism or whatever, some people see your choice as a statement of a "holier than thou" attitude, and they start thinking that you're judging them even if you're not. But if you just say the honest truth, then those people tend to leave you alone.

You're obviously biased when it comes to FloLab because you are one of the co-creators of it, but what would you say are the benefits of becoming a member of a co-working space, or even becoming a member of FloLab?

I think membership of a coworking space, in general, is beneficial because the whole idea of the coworking movement was to combine the benefits of working for yourself but having the structure of an office. And as much as freelancers talk about wanting their freedom, too much freedom can be a bad thing. So having a place to support you and get some structure in your day is going to do wonders for your work and for your health.

All those things that you are constantly told that you should be doing to be healthy, make it easier. Make it part of your workday.

But for FloLab specifically - I mean, it's not new to have a meditation room in a co-working space; that exists. I think what is different about us is how personal it is. I think we try to stay true to the roots of what the co-working movement was; by the people, for the people, you know? We're not a big corporation trying to get a buck. We're just two chicks opening this to find like-minded people.

I love it when we sit downstairs to all have lunch together and then two people who have never met before, like one's a yoga teacher and one's a coach, will suddenly start a conversation. Next thing you know, one's recommending them a room, and suddenly they're participating in a workshop together... It's that kind of interaction and growth that we both hoped for. And we don't really have to do anything. It's just happening. So, I think of course the community is absolutely what makes this place - also where are you going to find something this cute right in the centre of The Hague? Haha!

Snezhana can be contacted for freelance social media strategy and VA assistance via email to snezhana@snidge.online or follow her on Instagram @snidge.

 
Emma Smillie