10th Anniversary Dreams Campaign 10 Question Series - Nataly Kogan

One of the ways we are celebrating our 10th Anniversary Dreams Campaign is through a 10 Question Series. The Dreams Campaign was created on the belief that girls who dream, become women with vision and through this campaign we hope to connect the SEGA girls with people and organizations around the world through their shared dreams. Our goal is to show each girl at SEGA the endless possibilities that come from investing in girls' education.

We are excited for you to read our 10 Question Series with Nataly Kogan, the founder of Happier.com, a global technology that has helped more than 1 million people become happier and healthier.

Nataly Kogan Photo.jpg

What did you aspire for at an early age?

I loved to improve myself, at an early age, in all sorts of ways. I remember wanting to create ways for other people to improve their own lives as well, even before I knew what that meant. I’ve always been this huge fan of helping people improve their lives and also connecting people from very different cultures, so they can learn from each other.

What inspired those dreams?

I think my being a refugee was an enormous transformative moment for me, that set my whole life and career path in motion. I was 13 when my parents and I left the former Soviet Union. It was a really difficult journey. When we arrived in America, we lived in the projects and on food stamps and so I really had to learn how to learn. I had to ask myself questions like “What is this new culture? What am I going to learn? Who can I be? What’s my sense of meaning?”

What is the most difficult decision you’ve had to make to pursue your dream?

When I started Happier, I had to give up a very well-paying, steady job. I had to take a huge financial risk. The second huge risk I had to take was just putting my name and my reputation in front of it and saying “This is my company, this is my mission.” It is a lot of responsibility.

What’s one thing you would tell your younger self?

One of the things I would say is “Follow your gut feeling more.” I come from a very very loving family that really relies on intellect and being analytical, and so I was very rational and analytical about my career. Not until recently did I really realize that I never actually paused for most of my life to ask myself “What gives me the greatest meaning? What brings me the greatest joy when I do it?” The other thing I would say is “explore more things earlier on, and don’t feel like you have to commit right away.” If I look back on my career, one of the things I wish I had done earlier was explore different fields earlier on, when there was lower risk of doing that.

Who is someone you look up to / admire?

I have to say my parents. They are both (outside of being amazing parents) incredible humans. They had a really hard life in Russia, and in emigrating, leaving everything behind, and being refugees. And yet they are people who really live their life, and everyday they just try to do the best they can, and everyday, they try to get the most out of life. I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve learned from my parents to just do the best with what you have.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

I’d have to go with one piece of advice that I received somewhat recently in the last few years and that has really changed a lot for me in how I live my life and do my work. It is “You’re a being, not a doing.” All of us live in a world where we do a lot. We all want to get a lot done. But I’ve learned that we have to separate what we do from who we are. If you remember that you are a being, not a doing, that means that when you fail at something, you can be more compassionate about it, and research shows that when you are compassionate when you fail, you are more motivated to work harder. It’s the advice I give to my daughter who is 14, the advice I give on big stages to lots of people: to remember in a world that’s so focused on achievement that you are a being, not a doing.

Who was your best teacher/helper on your journey?

There are a couple professors I remember from college, one in particular: Gil Skillman. He was my economics professor and we basically disagreed on everything. On everything. He was really formative in my college years, to teach me to think and to disagree with people, including people I love. That’s one of the things I think we are missing as adults - we don’t have teachers when we grow up. Just because you are not in high school or college doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff to learn. I’ve had and have some really great yoga teachers and teachers in life, and I’m 42. They help me navigate my life as a parent, as an entrepreneur. I advocate for everyone to have a teacher, always.

How did your environment/friends shape/support your dreams?

I think environments are really powerful. My best friend from college, Laura (who came from El Salvador and was also an immigrant) and I are still very close friends and it’s been 20 years now. Laura is someone who’s been with me through this journey, and I think that’s really special. As well as my husband Avi, who I met in college. And I pick those two because they have been my pillars, along with my parents, as I’ve gone through a lot of change and a lot of challenge. I think it’s really essential to have a few people in life who know your true self. At the end of the day, all the stuff we do on the outside (achievements, companies, etc), some of them work and some of them don’t, and to have people love you for who you are, for your being and not your doing, it’s essential.

Was there ever a time you felt uncertain about your dream?

Always. To create something meaningful, to create something from scratch, to create something new, it’s really scary. And you never know if it’s going to work: you have doubt. So what I focus more on is what do I do with my doubt: do I let it paralyze me, or do I seek support, do I learn something from it? I do the latter. So when do I have doubt? Always. It’s there for the ride.

What is a piece of advice you have for the SEGA girls?

They are just so awesome. One is remember that you have a lot of opportunity to do something that’s meaningful, something that will really make a difference. Opportunity doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed success; but opportunity means you get to try. So cherish any opportunity you are given to do what is meaningful to you. Another is don't be so hard on yourself. It is very easy to be very hard on yourself when you are smart, and you have opportunities other people don’t have. I met a lot of them when we were there, and they work so so hard. So SEGA Girls, focus on your strengths and what you are really great at, and continually become better at that, and don’t beat yourself up over your weaknesses.

Nataly Kogan is the founder of Happier.com, a global technology that has helped more than 1 million people become happier and healthier.

Matthew Plourde