For most of us who grew up in a capitalistic society, it is hard to fathom what it could be like growing up in socialism, especially in a society that tends to look at socialism in a negative way, ignoring any positive aspects of it. It is always fascinating to hear the stories of those who have lived in both of these societies. So, we sat down with Katarina Van Derham, an entertainment professional, and CEO who grew up in a socialistic society and now owns a business in a capitalistic society, to pick her brain on the topic.
Katarina, can you tell us about your childhood growing up in socialism? What was it like?
Growing up in Socialism in the 70s and 80s in Slovakia (then Czechoslovakia) for a child was paradise. My parents never had to worry about not being able to provide for me and my brother. Schools were free. Healthcare was free. And we appreciated the food because some of it (such as oranges) we would only get around Christmas. Each family would get 2 kilos only. Anything Western that we could get access to on the black market was very exciting, because, as we all know, anything taboo is very thrilling. People would hold onto their jobs pretty much for their whole life and would dedicate their spare time to their families. There was no real stress, there was financial security, and we had enough time to explore the Eastern bloc, as we weren’t allowed to travel to the West. This system worked very well for people without ambitions. I must say that I had the most beautiful childhood that anyone could ask for, but I don’t know if I would have been able to say that once I was an adult since socialism was over in our country when I was 14. For the next decade, the country tried to figure out how to transition to become capitalistic. And many, I mean very many, people including prominent members of the government have taken advantage of the unknown. And some people became rich overnight. through unethical means. To flip the way a country works takes at least one generation. So, as I didn’t see a positive change happening any time soon, at age 22, which was 8 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I decided to invade the deepest Capitalistic jungle, America. I chose to relocate to California because of the obvious reasons: the weather and the entertainment industry. 21 years of reprogramming my mind from socialism to capitalism, I’m still in CA owning a business, which I still struggle with.
What made you want to come to the US?
I was fascinated with the Hollywood entertainment industry. I am an artist myself, and I have always appreciated the stories and visuals that this industry can create. In my eyes, nothing topped Hollywood productions. The industry seemed very open-minded to me, and I always felt somewhat misunderstood back home. (haven’t we all). I wanted to go to a place where I could feel more accepted and judged less. I didn’t know what to expect at all, and I made no real plans except to stay in CA for a couple of years to save up money and then go back to Slovakia and open up a hair salon. But once I was in CA, I decided on a different path.
After your move to California, how was the culture different? Did you experience a culture shock?
I definitely experienced a culture shock. Seeing women driving in their cars with hot rollers in their hair left me in awe. Aren’t they embarrassed to drive like that? Seeing women in the grocery store in sweatpants made me ask myself, “What ladies would go to the store so sloppy?” “Wait, and a dog in a car? And a woman behind the wheel? And nobody is laughing?” I don’t think I was ready for my mind to open up as much as was required for me to live here. But as time went by, I adjusted. Seeing so many single people over 30 living with roommates was another shock. People having so many pictures of their family framed on a dresser was one thing I really appreciated right away. The diplomatic way of saying things was very refreshing to me, and I really wanted to learn how to say things differently rather than bluntly.
Please tell us about your journey to becoming a business owner.
In America, I literally started from the floor. First, I cleaned homes, which gave me a great lesson about American culture. Eventually, when my English improved, I wanted to work in the restaurant industry because I had heard that you could make good money from tips. (In Slovakia, tipping didn’t really exist.) Once I was a waitress, one customer encouraged me to become a model. While I didn’t think I could ever be a model based on the European standards, once I started to pay attention to that industry in CA, I noticed that there was a whole field for commercial models, which was for girls like me. Once in the entertainment industry, I realized my potential in visual arts. And, eventually, in my mid-thirties, when blogging and social media started to become popular, I decided to start my own digital media business to take blogging to the next level.
How does it feel to run a business in a society that’s all about the money?
I absolutely love the opportunities in the capitalistic system because you really get a chance to grow into your full potential. It is not an easy thing to run a business, though. The hardest thing is to find good employees that will last a long time. As an owner of a small business, when I try to grow my business into a bigger business, I struggle because it’s hard to recruit the right people. In socialism, people would hold onto the same job until they were retired, so early in their career, they would become very good at what they do and would have all the knowledge necessary to complete their job. While in capitalism, sometimes you don’t even get a chance for people to learn all they need to, as they don’t dedicate enough time to become great at their craft before their job is over. Then, there is the whole side of people being sue-happy. Many people seem to want things easily and feel entitled to other people’s money. The amount of extortion is mind-blowing here in the US. Sometimes, I used to feel as if I had to walk on eggshells in my own company. And even today, I must think twice before I say anything just to avoid any potential legal issues.
Often, I find myself having a very socialistic vision of the quality of products. (We had a few things, but they were very well made.) But unfortunately, the overall American mindset is a preference to buy something that is more affordable versus something with better quality. I often run into the reality that it’s all about the money and nobody wants to help just because they want to help. When I travel to some other countries, I often see that businesses don’t sacrifice the quality and their mission over profits. And I like that. However, when you do business in America, you don’t have a choice, and you have to make it, for the most part, about the money. Otherwise, you will get run over by millions of money-hungry people.
Ultimately, we all seek freedom in life, in general, including in the job or business we do or own. I love owning my own business because I get to grow as a person in the direction I want. I have my own vision and that takes priority. I love the ability to make money while I’m sleeping, as the owner of a digital media company. And I love having my home office, which is a tremendous advantage, especially these days when the traffic in Los Angeles is unbearable.
As I mentioned earlier in the interview, for a child, growing up in socialism is a paradise, and I really don’t know what it’s like to be an adult living in that system, but I do know one thing. I really love living as an adult in Capitalism where I have the opportunity to make it as far in life as I want.
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