So you are worried about something. You are frequently worried about something.  But whatever worries you changes from day to day. Well, here is a post about worrying, worrying as an activity, about what’s good and bad about worrying.

As negative as it sounds, worrying itself is not negative.  Being worried can make us better off.  When we are worried our intellect sharpens, worries make us focus on problems, confront issues, win battles and move on with life. As an entrepreneur who over the course of 25 years founded four startups worth over half a billion and blew up one, I was never worry free.  Indeed my start ups always felt to me as a string of endless worries, of failures, that somehow miraculously one day, were highly valuable.  In all of them I had near death experiences.  In all of them, thanks to worrying, I found ways out of them. Because worrying as in “I have identified a problem” is a positive trait.  Worrying as in “I am deciding on the best strategy to cope with adversity” is a positive trait. But many times we worry about issues in life that truly don’t deserve our focus, that are not real problems we should worry about.  That are not true challenges. That are bogus.

That is why some people are more “worriers” than “warriors”. And indeed there is medical evidence for this, genetic evidence.   Research shows that some genes code for worrying behaviors (worriers) while others for learning from adversity (warriors). Warriors see challenges as learning opportunities.  Worriers on the other hand don’t fight true problems– they lie in the battlefield of their mind, waiting for an enemy who doesn’t show up.  And instead of rejoicing when real evidence shows them that they are trouble free, on they go, to find something else to worry about. They are the hypochondriacs of life.  And they exist.  On a good day they become lawyers and turn their handicap into income, billing others by the hour for their worries. But most are not that lucky, and worry in vain. And we understand them because even the most optimistic among us has something in common with those “worriers”. We have all worried about issues that just did not deserve our attention. The key question is how frequently does this happen to us.

So how can we distinguish the worrier in us from the warrior in us? Here’s an idea.  Start a diary of your worries.  Every day write a note to self in some type of social media, about “the worry of the day”.  Write it in a circle with only one member: yourself. Tell yourself what upsets you that day. Something like: today I am worried about… blank.  And build a collection of worries. A timeline of worries.

And then, at some point in the future, go back to these worries.  And see what you were worried about last month, or last year.  By then you will be able to judge if worrying made sense. If it helped you.  If you worried about something worthy of your angst. If you had a fear or a phobia.  If you were a warrior, or a worrier. And if you were a worrier, use this diary to learn to fine tune your worries to their likelihood of true damage to your life in the future. Learn to pick opponents who deserve your anxiety.

I know, I fight ghosts sometimes, we all do. And we will go on worrying about some harmless issues. Still, it would be good to have a “worries tag cloud” after a year.  To be able to study what made us lose sleep, and use that cloud to avoid sleepless nights in the future.

This article was also published in LinkedIn. You can follow Martin by clicking below

Americans reward their kids into good behavior, Spaniards punish them, French ridicule them, British ignore them, Germans scare them, Chinese humiliate them, and Argentines, well you just have to go and see how Argentines just let kids do whatever they want 🙂

Once in Baqueira, a ski resort in Spain I had a ski instructor who kept criticizing whatever I did. Not a word of praise no matter how hard I tried to improve. In the middle of the lesson after he told me that “all my years of ski lessons were futile and I hadn’t learned anything”, I looked at him in the face and told him “you are fired”.

He could not believe me. I stared at him and said “I hired you to learn, not to get trashed, please go, I would rather ski with my family”. And he left. And I had a good day of skiing.

I don’t believe that learning should be demoralizing: criticism should always be balanced with praise.

As a person who lived in USA and Spain I should add that US instructors are generally uplifting. Unfortunately a lot of teachers in Spain believe that praise spoils the student. As a result many in Spain are demoralized.

First, an anecdote.

When I moved from the United States to Spain and created Jazztel in 1998, I opted to offer health insurance to my employees—a very North American concept. I asked them if they would prefer that Jazztel pay for a private health insurance plan, or instead, that I give them that money directly. It wasn’t substantial, something like 60 euros (75 dollars) a month. It surprised me to learn that hardly anyone chose the private health insurance plan, that few were interested in private health care, that they were remarkably content with the public health system and that they preferred to earn 60 euros more a month.

Later, I was given the chance to check out the Spanish public health care system for myself, partly due to my mountain biking injuries and also because of my children’s various accidents. I saw firsthand that it was really very good and very free. Especially coming from the US where health care costs some 600 euros (750 dollars) per month and, you have to pay for additional things that are included as insured here in Spain.

Now, let’s “fast forward” to 2012.

We have a bankrupt Spain being bailed out by the EU day-to-day. A bankrupt health care system and with massive defaults, but still with good quality medicine and full of new hospitals freshly equipped with the latest “bubble” models from when we still had credit. All this accompanied by a great debate over the topic of copays and the plan to charge 710 euros (890 dollars) a year to illegal immigrants. Seeing the situation and being an entrepreneur, it occurred to me to make a business out of this tragedy.

Or let’s just say: make the tragedy less tragic by constructing a business to help it.

Spain is the fourth largest tourist destination in the world. We receive almost 60 million tourists per year and almost all of them come from countries where medicine is more expensive. Why don’t we sell our medical services—that are so good and so cheap—to our tourists? Why don’t we launch medical tourism to a larger scale? Why don’t we transform public health care into an export-oriented industry?

How do you do this? The government could launch a big publicity campaign in which they offer medical insurance to foreigners and allow them access to public health care for 100 euros per month. And for those foreigners who travel here without an insurance plan, they would be charged 40 euros (50 dollars) each time they wanted medical attention and not be seen for free as they are now. North American friends that had health problems in Menorca, for example, couldn’t believe it when after receiving medical treatment, were released without being charged. They were willing to pay 100 euros for a consultation; 40 euros would seem like a bargain. Foreigners don’t expect it, but they receive free medical treatment in Spain.

From here we can start to promote medical tourism. Come get yourself treated with the Spanish national health system! We are the longest-living of all big countries in the world!

If the government ensured that one million of the 60 million tourists pay this medical tourism insurance, it could obtain 1.2 billion euros (1.5 billion dollars) a year. To North Americans, being able to come to Spain and while here, go to the doctor for free, all for an insurance premium of 1,200 euros annually, would be very beneficial. The Germans pay 300 euros a month for insurance. And we won’t even speak of the uninsured people in many countries who have money but not enough to afford insurance in their country. In Argentina, for example, insurance that provides the same quality of service as Spanish health care costs about 300 euros per month. I know that getting a million customers isn’t easy, but the market has 60 million. Later we will have to determine the costs of treating these patients, but I find it possible to make a profit. Especially when there is so much infrastructure already in place.

I think the Spanish government has a possibility to finance a part of the health of its people with medical tourism, and that this opportunity should at least be studied. I know many Spanish people think that health care should be free for everyone, but it isn’t—we pay for it ourselves and we can find more customers overseas. It’s time to be creative and sell medical insurance to foreigners with the Spanish national health system.

It was agonizing being a Jew in Spain when Israel invaded Lebanon, when it attacked Gaza and when it shot the Turkish boat. I was against those three acts, as I felt that Israel was over reacting and responding with much more violence than it had received. Still I had a feeling that the tremendous anger of many in Spain was too targeted towards Israel and Jews in general, that it had an antisemitic undertone.

Now that I see how Spain doesn’t react in any comparable way to the massive killings of Syrian civilians by Bashar Al Assad, in a war that has already left over 25K dead, I am coming to the conclusion that I was right, many in Spain are just antisemitic.

It is not that Israel does not commit injustices, it does. And it is estimated that around 1000 people died in the Gaza attack and around 1300 in Lebanon and that is way too many, especially since most were civilians. So I want to make it clear that I opposed those wars.

But the number of casualties in Syria is shocking in comparison and nobody in Spain has done any demonstrating comparable to the massive protests against Israel. Because it was incredible how much Spaniards went to the streets to protest against Israel on each of those three events. I had to hear people call me “genocidal” just because I am Jewish, call all Jews Nazis and other attacks. My children were harassed at school over these incidents as if all Jews were part of them. Still I thought that I had to be understanding because Israel was committing injustices.

But now that I see how little people care about Bashar Al Assad killings I am coming to the conclusion that if Israel kills it’s huge news in Spain, now, if an Arab dictator does commit something that is closer to the definition of genocide however, there are no massive demonstrations in Spain. But if Israel boards a Turkish ship it is front page news and material for huge demonstrations. Not that Spaniards are physically violent because they generally are not, but they are extremely vocal in their dislike of Israel. A Spaniard will say horrible things about Israel and about Jews and it will feel normal. Indeed in Spanish of Spain (not of Latin America) calling somebody Jewish is an insult.

I love Spain but if there is one thing that it is hard in this country is to be Jewish, something that only 1 person in 2000 is. There is tremendous prejudice. Spain is a country in which most have opinions about Jews but most have never met a Jew in person. I wish more went to Israel and then see that while Israel it is clearly a country that has to improve a great deal is is light years ahead of its neighbors.

For the record I have visited Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

Here’s an article I wrote in Spanish about the challenges of being Jewish in Spain

Here I emphasize that there is a great deal of cultural prejudice in Spain and it is not at all only a Jewish problem.

Here is the report of the Observatory for Antisemitism in Spain for the year 2011.. And here is their web site.

Here is a survey of Antisemitism in Europe that ranks Spain very poorly.

We are in Sagaponack, NY. Nina, Leo and Mia went to see the Southampton 4th of July parade. I am sick in bed with a bad summer flu.  I stayed in bed watching a Game of Thrones marathon. I am on Season 2 Episode 4. I almost never watch TV but I do enjoy TV series.  I watch them mostly during flights off my iPad. And now because I am sick and can’t stop coughing I watch them in bed.  By now, I have probably watched over 10 hours of Game of Thrones over the last 3 days. 

Game of Thrones has a great deal of sex and people talk about that, but sex is nothing compared to the amount of violence it depicts. A violence that it is at the limit of what I can stomach, as when they kill a baby off a woman’s arm. But the story is good and I am hooked. At this point anything that makes me forget my flu is welcome. Still, I suffer as I watch the most violent scenes. When I watch these horrors, I remember the child in myself saying, this is just a movie, this is just a movie.  But then, during a break I read the news. The real news.  And I see this.  A very Game of Thrones real life story going on right now in Syria as Bashar Al Assad tries to stay on his throne and goes on a killing rampage. Reuters reports.

Video clips showed rotting corpses lying in dried pools of blood in dark hallways, their faces covered with flies. One showed a woman and her child prone in a living room. The activist narrating the video said they had been stabbed.

A third video displayed pieces of charred flesh which activists said were severed genitals.

“There was more here yesterday,” said a man wearing plastic gloves.” “But the dogs were taking them.”

So now my defenses stopped working.  I think about what is going on in Syria, a country I visited in 2003 and found it quite attractive.  Here are my pictures of that trip. I can’t imagine how those who appear in them are doing now in this horrible civil war.  Why would Bashar al Assad, a man who trained to be an ophtalmologist in London and his wife Asma al-Assad who was born and raised in the UK and has a degree in computer science go on murder rampages to stay in power?

There is still a lot of Game of Thrones around us. The middle ages are still here.


Do read this post that I have in Google+. It’s about humanity and how peaceful it is now compared to other times in our history. Concretely it’s about the declining rate of casualties of war and armed conflict over time since WWII. The rate of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants has been falling drastically. Then rejoice. Then read the comments and see the widespread skepticism about this good news. People just can’t believe that we are now living in remarkably peaceful times compared to what we have gone through. That the probability of a random human being of dying in war is lower than ever.

Still I believe in this news. I am happy that my children do not go through what my grandparents went through living in the time of WWII. I guess that one of the characteristics that distinguishes entrepreneurs who do well, myself included, and the general population is that we are more prone to believe in good news. We love good news. We celebrate good news. Most people seem programmed to like and believe in bad news. I guess a headline that read “Most of humanity woke up today, had a normal day and went to sleep” would not get a lot of attention. But it makes me happy.

In European countries when people reach retirement age they should have a choice of retiring like now or belonging to a new category of people. The working seniors. Working seniors if employed would not collect pensions (only while employed of course) but also their employer would not have to pay any social charges for them. The underlying principle is that people who reached retirement age have already paid their contribution to the pension system they can stop collecting but do not need to contribute if they work. Employers would find it more attractive to keep people or hire people pass retirement age and the pension system would benefit because it does not pay out while the person who could retire still works.

The other big incentive is that because working seniors can at any point quit and collect their pension they would not be part of the forced severance pay system of Europe which is so costly and makes companies not want to hire.

TRIPOLI. With leader of the Libyan Revolution ...

Image via Wikipedia

You probably remember the uproar that was caused by the publication of Danish cartoons that some Muslims found offensive.  Demonstrations around the world were massive.  According to Wikipedia there were over 100 deaths. Now let’s leave aside the controversy over how offensive those cartoons were.  To me the point is that when Muslims want to organize and protest over something that is dear to them, they do.

Presently there are 16 million Muslims in the European Union who are watching their brothers getting massacred in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain and now Libya.  Demonstrators who die for the liberation of their country from cleptodictators who have been violating human rights and stealing for themselves and their own families for decades.  So why not massively demonstrate against them?  Muslims are a political force in Europe.  If Muslims organzed and obtained the support of the rest of society they could very well influence foreign policy in Europe towards democratization of North Africa and the Middle East.  Myself for example, I am a secular Jew, and I gladly would join a demonstration against Muammar Gaddafi.  A demonstration for democracy in Libya.  A demonstration for the end of violence and free elections throughout the region.  But so far demonstrations are very timid.  In London for example yesterday, as their people were getting murdered only 200 went to a demonstration for Libyan liberation.

As the Danish cartoons show it is not lack of organization that is preventing Muslims for demonstrating because that time they were very well organized and even extremely violent.  A violence that goes on even 5 years after the publication.  So what explains this lack of support for Muslim brotherhood?  Could it be that Imams themselves are concerned that these demonstrations in the Arab world are mostly political, secular and in favor of democracy and modernization which they oppose?  I know Muslim friends of mine in Europe are glued to Aljazzera and Twitter as I am on the issue of the Arab revolts.  Why don’t they organize and influence EU foreign policy?

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A lot has been written about how people “go crazy” on social networks. This has led many in government to say that more needs to be done to protect privacy. That many may not become employable as their poor behavior becomes public. Some have even said that people should have the right to erase their life from the internet. The right to be forgotten. Others put a big emphasis on rebuilding privacy around individuals despite the ever increasing popularity of compulsive sharing. The idea of some legislators is that the internet and social networks are bound to destroy somebody’s reputation sooner or later and people need protection from their own disclosures. That social networks show their worst behavior. That people go wild on the internet.

My view on this is quite the contrary. People don’t join social networks to destroy their reputation but to make themselves look good. Social networks have the same effect on people that classrooms have on children. Users behave better and are more honest in them because they are being constantly watched by others and want to impress them. And most social networks have “teachers” who show up in the famous “report abuse” buttons. Social networks have rules and their own etiquette and people live by them.

The fear of alienation and ridicule from peers also acts a great deterrent. Friends who frequently see what you do and think, who you know, who see your location, your pictures, your videos, your tweets, your updates, act as a moderating influence in your life. Before people occasionally knew what you did and chances for poor behavior were greater. Now they are being watched. But because most people want to be liked. They behave better. So you can see my point: living a life being watched makes people, on the average, better and more honest. And that is good.

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