Some people lose themselves in the world. Anastasia Ashman turned herself into a tour guide to help people find themselves.
A Berkeley native, Ashman’s life has taken her around the world, from the development hell of Hollywood to the ruling circles of Malaysia to the ancient streets of Istanbul. Now she’s back in the Bay Area, recently taken up residence with her husband in Russian Hill, and she’s able to say, “We didn’t come here knowing that much about what’s going on in San Francisco. We came here with the intention of finding out and treating it like a foreign country.”
Foreign country? To a woman who grew up across the Bay?
It’s a disconnect between location and identity that is intentional on her part, and she’s turned it into an entrepreneurial opportunity aimed at helping other people live life to the fullest regardless of – but not indifferent to – their location. All they need is an online connection and stories to tell.
Stories are central to understanding her. In the 1990s, she had a burgeoning career in Los Angeles as a script reader. “A dubious achievement is that I actually became Chuck Norris’s favorite script reader,” she remembers, “because I would always say, ‘Why do we have to do this? We’ve seen this already!’” Desiring travel, she headed to Malaysia, where she gravitated to some of the highest social circles and spent her time writing and producing for the Malaysian Institute of Science. She was learning lots about living abroad, such as the difficulty of making an educational multimedia show about dinosaurs in a country where she was forbidden to mention the theory of evolution (“As far as I know, it’s still showing there, five times a day in three languages”), but the experience was also feeding an interest of hers in identity and culture.
While there, she and other expats served as extras on the filming of The King and I, in which they wore period English costumes – corsets, bloomers, hoop skirts – in the serious heat and humidity of Malaysia. “At one point we were herded into a room for lunch. All the local extras were there, and they were mostly wearing very little with too much skin showing,” she says. “They were uncomfortable because they had too much skin showing, and we were uncomfortable because we were dying in this heat. Some of the Europeans just stopped in their tracks when they saw the locals. I remember thinking this was so socially awkward.
“I also thought, I didn’t belong in either of those groups,” she says. “I was suspended between these two groups of people, yet understanding where they were coming from better than either of those two groups.”
While in Malaysia, she found a “lifeline” via the internet revolution, and she was able to take part in discussions with people around the world. When she returned to the United States, she landed a job in New York at Internet World magazine, where she got an education in the opportunities and the craziness of the online business world. She took that knowledge with her on the next step of her global odyssey, when she married a Turkish man who ran an internet accelerator company and moved to Istanbul. It was there, in the heart of the East-West intersection, that she put together her ideas of identity and travel and turned it into a book of essays with other expatriot women, Tales of the Expat Harem, which she co-edited with Jennifer Eaton Gökmen.
The book became a best-seller in Turkey and quickly developed a following around the world, providing Ashman with a global audience interested in having “a platform online where people can find you and where you can develop yourself,” she says. And when she talks about developing herself, she often harkens back to projects and stories from her life that she is able to revisit now and rework them into potential books or multimedia productions.
“Sometimes when you work on these creative projects and you don’t bring it to fruition, you question whether it was worth your time and energy, but some of these things just take time,” Ashman says. “If you do other things and come back to it, you find that its time will come.”
This spring, Ashman is launching a new project under her Global Niche brand to serve fellow global nomads. Calling it a “content packaging program inspired by the content marketing movement,” Ashman says it will be a service to help people mine their own stories and entrepreneurial ideas and bring them to fruition.
These days, she and her husband spend much of their time working across the dining room table from each other, tapping away at their computers. Before Ashman heads down the street to Nick’s Crispy Tacos for lunch, she will already have Skyped with people in multiple time zones, fed her Twitter account (Forbes.com labeled her as one of the top 20 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter in 2010), video-conferenced with her Global Niche partner back in Istanbul, and worked with a Silicon Valley TEDx Women Entrepreneurs group.
After lunch, there’s no letup in the work, but that pace seems to suit her fine.
She’s a “creative entrepreneur for the global soul”
In spring 2012, Global Niche will be releasing a six-week “content packaging” program with a self-study guide to assist other entrepreneurs
Next on Her Plate
Developing a production about a Byzantine princess who inspired the emperor to build the Hagia Sophia
www.anastasiaashman.com Twitter: @anastasiaashman