“Stick to what’s true to you.”

An evening on individuality with Dafina Toncheva

Our latest Chat with Dafina Toncheva started off a bit differently than others. Rather than beginning with a glimpse into Dafina’s early career, we took it back even further – to her childhood years.

Transformation starts at an early age.
Dafina’s childhood and teenage years were shaped by the political instability and financial hardships of Eastern Europe. She was born and raised in a town surrounded by peanut farms in Bulgaria and during the Chat, she reflected back on the 4am drives to her grandparent’s tobacco farms where she picked leaves before the sun rose. Her grandmother would often say, “If you don’t want to make a living with your hands, you need to invest in your head.” By age 15, Dafina became a successful entrepreneur by creating a roasted peanut distribution company. Her brother became the first employee, and within a year, she had made more money than most of the professional adults in her community had earned in the same year.

Through this transformative experience, she set out to apply to colleges in the United States. After several bus trips to the capital of Bulgaria and the local library that carried one SAT book, she scored near-perfect SAT scores and applied to the 50 schools in the U.S. that gave full financial aid. Her sites were set on Harvard University and that’s where she landed.

Believe that you deserve it.
Dafina navigates the world by gravitating toward people who support, promote, and believe in her. She stays away from people who are negative or show discriminatory behavior. In fact, she views this type of behavior as a drawback of those individuals and their values, and remembers not to take it personally. She constantly strives to be less worried about hurting other people’s feelings, which gets in the way of being effective and accomplishing goals.

There will always be naysayers. Stick to what’s true to you.
Dafina shared some of the nontraditional choices she has made over the years — all of which were choices that were best for her, even though they were viewed as unconventional. “There will always be people that disagree. Ultimately, you need to make a choice and even if it’s unpopular, you’ll end up being happier with yourself at the end of the day, so do what feels most comfortable for you.” What’s right for you isn’t always right for everyone else.

On Parenting…
As a mom to a 2.5-year-old boy, Dafina recognizes that the challenges of her son’s life are different than her own growing up (i.e. extremely competitive landscape, high expectations, and pressures on performance), but she is dedicated to teaching him to appreciate the value and benefit of hard work. She plans to do her best to prepare him to be self-reliant and to hand difficult situations with confidence.

Reflection is important.
This one is simple. She highly recommends regularly reflecting on your emotions, sharing your feelings, and creating space to be questioned. This can be done independently on through therapy.

Fail 10 times a day.
Fail so that you can challenge yourself and put yourself in situations where you’re not quite sure and perhaps a little afraid. Although you may be seeing it as a failure, it’s more than likely to be a big growth opportunity.

View all photos from the chat here.