From Epilepsy to the Stars: The Space Industry, Wait for Me!

Alexandra Gladyshevskaya

CEO and co-founder of SPOKK Insurance

Alexandra Gladyshevskaya, the CEO and co-founder of SPOKK Insurance, an insurance startup on a mission to protect digital natives from the risks they have in their lives, and a former Deputy to the General Manager of the Ukrainian office of American International Group, one of the world’s biggest insurance companies.

June 24, 2023. This morning, I endured a difficult call with investors, which revealed the bitter reality that our much-anticipated investments will not materialize. The carefully constructed scheme to attract financing is now crumbling like the ancient Tower of Babel. Yet, amidst this disheartening setback, I find solace in my stoic calmness. This may be a chance.

I promised myself I would only tell this story once I decided.

When Investments Fall, Betelgeuse Rises

 Around 1993. I am 4 years old. I live my happy childhood, as far as possible, in the 90s, in Zhytomyr, in the homeland of Serhii Pavlovich Korolev, the father of rocket engineering. Mom and Dad take me to the space museum for the first time.

I don't remember much, but the sense of magic only space can give is etched in my memory. Oh, Mother, if you only knew what kind of "misery" you have done to me. I love you infinitely!

The 2006 year. I am an applicant. I am entering 4 universities with 5 faculties: political science, surveying, publishing, economics, and aerospace engineering.

Yes, I was a versatile person or a person who cannot decide what she wants in this life. Among all possible options, I choose the Faculty of Aviation and Space Systems at KPI. I studied diligently and cheerfully. It was still the most thrilling time of my life. Unfortunately, it ended shortly. At the end of the first semester, I discovered teacher corruption, and my rebellious temperament and hypertrophied sense of justice drove me to leave KPI.

I am transferring to another university to the faculty of Japanese philology, which I have been doing for the next 5 years. Interesting fact: I am writing a research paper on non-normative Japanese vocabulary. My rebel triumphs.

2009: Adversity and Perseverance

A visit to the neurologist's office in 2009 delivered a life-altering diagnosis. The doctor's words reverberated, "Alexandra, you have epilepsy. It is a condition you must learn to live with." And so, I embarked on this challenging journey, navigating the complexities of doctors' visits, medications, seizures, and the perpetual search for effective treatments. This routine continued for countless years, intertwining my life with the world of medical professionals and constant uncertainty.

2011: The Quest for Employment 

The year 2011 brought forth a desperate pursuit—finding suitable employment. Yet, the harsh reality confronted me. How many vacancies were available in Ukraine for a Japanese language philologist like me? It felt like an impossible endeavour, akin to venturing into the third quadrant of a coordinate plane. In the depths of my desperation, I clung to the first job opportunity—a position as an employee in the reinsurance department.

A running joke among insurance industry professionals claims that none of us willingly chose this path; rather, life caught us in its inescapable web of circumstances.

2014: Climbing the Corporate Ladder and Chasing Dreams

Swiftly ascending the corporate ladder, 2014 opened new doors for me. I received a prestigious invitation to join a company that promised young insurance professionals a life of success and fulfillment. I adorned myself in my finest suit dress, heels, and makeup, exuding confidence as I embarked on my first day at American International Group (AIG). I thought Tony Robbins would write a book on me when I was driving to the office. I was extremely pleased with myself.

January 2016: A Thirst for Space Amidst Corporate Pressures

As the days wore on, I began to feel the weight of those heels, those suits, and the suffocating embrace of corporate life. Yet, the thirst for space persisted within me, an unyielding force akin to a tightly compressed spring, ceaselessly reminding me of my dreams. And so, I found myself crafting an email, pouring my heart onto the screen. "Dear team, My name is Oleksandra Gladyshevska. I am currently seeking employment in an aerospace company. Please find my attached CV..." Addressed to [email protected], I hit send. The response I received was brief, "Thank you, but we don't have any positions available for you."

May 2016: Breaking Free from Corporate Shackles and Pursuing New Dreams

Leaving AIG behind became an inevitable decision. My heels had been worn down to the point of drawing blood, and the oppressive nature of the corporation gripped my throat, forcing me to yearn for a different narrative. At 27, I no longer desired to be a character within the pages of Tony Robbins' book. Instead, I yearned for the renowned biographer, Walter Isaacson, to pen my story. And so, I embarked on a new venture—creating my first business. But did I finally summon the courage to chase my space-related dreams and bring them to fruition? Alas, I fell short. Call me a coward or perhaps a risk manager. I ended up establishing an insurance brokerage. However, even this endeavour held an element of faith—a leap into the unknown.

2017: Dreams Shared at Insurance Gatherings and an Unyielding Passion

During evening meetings with fellow insurance colleagues at conferences, I faced a common question—what were my plans for the business? My honest response echoed with determination:

"I want to grow a company, eventually selling it for a substantial sum. Part of the proceeds will be invested in Pivdenmash, while the rest will contribute to funding epilepsy treatments. I dream of enabling individuals like myself to venture into space."

2018: An MRI Revelation and the Complexity of Life's Challenges

I'm already used to doing MRIs. It became such a common procedure that I did not expect any special results or news. And this time, too, nothing special, until I read to the last page because the most important things are always written on the last page. I'm an insurance guy; trust me, I know. A cyst in the right temporal part of the brain. The first word that comes to mind is "Fu*k!". Remember, I'm an expert on profanity. I can think using such words.

The neurosurgeon embarked on a lengthy explanation detailing the nature of the cyst, its effects on epilepsy, and the reality that I would continue living with this condition. And so, I persevere.

January 20, 2019: A Symbol of Unyielding Desire etched on my Arm

This marked a significant occasion—the third occurrence of a crucial decision. After much contemplation and deliberation, I made my choice. It had been meticulously drawn on my hand, residing there for an extended period. I tested its endurance, ensuring that I wouldn't grow weary of its presence day after day. Finally, my decision was made.

I adored my Arm with a tattoo placed where needles typically penetrate the skin. It depicted the vast expanse of space—the constellation Orion, with its star Betelgeuse shining brightly. This permanent marking serves as a constant reminder of my true aspirations.

May 30, 2020: Shared Awe and Unlikely Revelations

Seated around the table with my beloved family, our attention was captivated by the television screen. A countdown began: 10, 9, 8, 7... I clasped my hands tightly, offering silent prayers to the heavens. Yes, even as a staunch atheist, I found myself praying to a higher power for the successful launch of the Crew Dragon 2 mission rocket. And it happened!

Overwhelmed by emotions, I felt akin to a supernova—much like the Betelgeuse star etched upon my hand. At that very moment, a message arrived from a friend, humorously proclaiming their unexpected arousal triggered by rocket launches. To my friend, I assured them that they were not alone in experiencing such a unique sensation.

2019-2023: A Whirlwind of Startup Ventures, Investments, and Unpredictable Paths

These years spun by in a whirlwind of activity—startups and investments weaving through the fabric of my life. I ventured into the world of startups in Ukraine and the US, witnessing the chaos of war alongside my entrepreneurial pursuits. And to what field did I devote my startup endeavours, you may ask? Bingo! Insurance once again claimed my attention. Serhiy Pavlovich, I unwittingly betrayed my dreams yet again. And with every misstep, the spectre of Tony Robbins loomed on the horizon, casting an uncanny influence. Regardless, this tumultuous journey stands as one of the most thrilling experiences one can undertake—a blend of Columbus-like exploration, a faddist reminiscent of a Lisbon bar, a touch of Kurt Cobain's grunge, and the pioneering spirit of Neil Armstrong. Within this mix lies cringe-worthy moments, battles with depression, and the pursuit of eternal glory. Although the latter remains far from guaranteed.

June 24, 2023, Noon: Embracing the Prospect of New Beginnings

Yes, this moment holds promise—a chance to halt the chaos, fix this stage of life, and embark on a new chapter. Resolute in my decision, I declare my foray into the aerospace industry. Cosmos, I solemnly swear not to betray you once more. No matter the thorns that may lie in wait, I am resolved to ascend towards the stars.

June 24, 2023, Evening: Life's Last Argument and the Determination to Prevail

Ironically, just as I believed the strength of my decision could withstand any test, life threw one final argument my way—a letter from radiology revealing the results of yet another MRI. Once again, nothing extraordinary, no groundbreaking news. And, predictably, the last page carried the most significant revelation—a recurring cyst. But it matters not, for I have already made the most pivotal life decision.

My ambitions quickly spread among friends and acquaintances connected to the aerospace industry. My daughter expressed her pride, exclaiming, "Mom, I'm proud of you." My husband lovingly chimed in, "Kitten, I wholeheartedly support you. Your success is assured." A colleague, offering a colourful euphemism, remarked, "Making such a decision requires the primary sexual characteristics of a man."

The path ahead remains uncertain, filled with both anticipation and trepidation. But one thing is certain—no one can live my life for me. There is no demo version of life, only a single existence to be truly lived.

And so, within my diary, I inscribed, "Trust yourself."

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