The Shape of Confidence: The stoic fairytale of Lena Ajamian and her journey from Siberia to San Francisco.
Accountant, Enigma, Dynamo, 33 years old.
“Challenge yourself, life's too short to allow it to be boring.”
“Siberia is a tough place.” Indeed, Siberia is a place of extreme temperatures and vastness, but it is also a place of exceptional beauty. There are legends about the endurance of Siberian residents, and after meeting Lena I believe them. The people who settled the region are known for their independent spirit, and their descendents have an inborn mettle capable of meeting challenges head on. This is the harsh landscape that shaped Lena’s early years. “The cold was piercing. Everyday I would wait in line for bread or milk and lose the feeling in my hands and feet. Most everyone was poor and food shortages weren’t uncommon, but we managed.”
Alluring curves, emerald eyes, and fiery red hair with a spirit to match; Lena is a bit of an enigma. Steadfast and resilient, with the stoic demeanor of a numbers detective, she disarms your expectations with a witty adventurous spirit. Lena consumes new hobbies at an alarming rate; motorcycle riding is her latest venture and she arrives at the photoshoot on her Ducati Monster. Growing up in Siberia, where riding a bicycle was both impractical and a luxury, the art of balancing on two wheels doesn’t come naturally. But Lena’s determination is honed to a razor edge that cuts through doubt and excuses. “I learned English in one year, I got my Masters in one year, but I have been riding well over a year and I still don't feel like I have full control.” Frustrated that she occasionally tips the motorcycle over when coming to a stop, Lena becomes even more dogged, “I keep on going, one day I will prove to myself that I am a good rider, and the challenge will be over, and I will learn how to drive a Mac Truck, or play an upright bass.” For Lena there will always be another talent to master, another skill to learn, another adventure to explore. She has a vitality that doesn’t allow stagnancy to grow in her character.
“She would call me stupid..."
“I was a willful and stubborn kid, I would never cry, even if I was being punished.” Lena was saddled with the same teacher for the first three years of her schooling. A severe woman that did not appreciate the strong will of young Lena, she did everything she could to break the headstrong child’s spirit. “She would call me stupid, and give me bad grades.” But Lena refused to show any weakness and in turn, her resolve was forged in a very profound way. By the tender age of ten, Lena realized that her willpower was stronger than whatever her teacher could dish out and so when she graduated to the 4th grade and was free from her, Lena was able to prove herself by making excellent grades. “I think that's where my drive for education came from, I wanted to prove to myself that I was smart.”
Unable to speak English, Lena and her family moved to the United States when she was thirteen. “I knew two words, one was a swear word, and the other was pencil,” Now she speaks, “...Russian, English and accounting.” Lena received her undergrad from UC Berkeley, the economy was tough and jobs were scarce and she began perusing the Craigslist job listings to see where her future would take her. Noticing that there were a lot of listings under the accounting category, Lena decided it would be “...a safe bet” to get her Masters in Accounting. “I knew absolutely nothing about accounting, but I figured it was another challenge, and that was exciting in itself.” Many of us could aspire to this attitude of enjoying the challenge of the unknown, instead of agonizing over whether or not our career choices are going to be fulfilling. Unable to afford to take the 2.5 years to complete the program Lena entered into the accelerated program with 30 other fearless people. She was one of four to graduate on time. “That year was hell, all I did was go to school and study at home. My husband wasn’t thrilled by the intense schedule, but he supported me fully.”
"...I figured it was another challenge, and that was exciting in itself.”
Condensing two and half years of schooling into one is remarkable, but to also take on an internship and land a job before the year is done, borders on madness. “I had over six internship interviews in one week, with a few really good offers.” Lena chose a tax internship at a CPA firm because she liked the team that interviewed her, nevermind that she was getting her Master’s in accounting, not tax. The language of tax extensions, trusts, and returns is different from that of accountancy, so Lena was learning a whole new face to the numbers game in addition to her academic load. With typical Lena badassery, she had a job offer before the internship ended. “After two years I realized that I don't enjoy doing taxes as much as I do accounting, so good thing I have a degree in that. I now work for a fantastic Swedish firm.”
There is a romantic side lurking in Lena, with a heart of dance, and a memory of fairytales. Her favorite place is Mont Saint-Michel, a French castle dedicated in the year 708, it “...is pretty much the epitome of the magical castles of my childhood imagination. I can easily imagine a Queen living in there.” I think a part of her adoration of Mont Saint-Michel is that it was never penetrated, it stands as a symbol of beauty and strength. And what’s a fairytale without dancing? Lena taught Salsa dancing when she was in college and revelled in its rhythm long after. She met her husband as a guest at a Salsa dance party, and although he didn’t know how to Salsa at the time, he had learned by the time of their wedding dance. Lena’s story reads like a modern fairytale, from the evil queen (teacher), to the prince in shining armor, but with a heroine that can take care of herself, and look amazing doing it. Create your adventure, master your challenges and
"...leave the naysayers in the dust and keep on going.”
Lena's favorite Les Lunes: The Deauville Jumpsuit