‘It’s Possible To Have It All’: Talking Mental Health With Lina Ugrinovska

Lina Ugrinovska
– Lina Ugrinovska
International Booker at Password Production

Lina Ugrinovska is the international booker at Password Production, a festival, concert and tour promoter as well as booking agency from Macedonia.

Ugrinovska loves her job. So much, in fact, that it almost cost her her mental health.
Pollstar wanted to know, how it could come to that, and how she turned things around by a sheer effort of her own mind.
Ugrinovska had been on a roll, when she first noticed that something wasn’t right. It was 2016, and she had just been chosen as one of IQ Magazine’s top-10 new bosses at the age of 26.
“I was thrilled,” she remembers, “however, this was the period that I realized I was struggling, that I had overworked myself in the last few years. I was working all the time, but didn’t take the time to diagnose myself.”
Many people working in this business characterized by a fast pace, tight deadlines and all sorts of problems occurring at the last minute, will understand how easily and almost unnoticedly this job can take up all of one’s effort and focus.
“It’s the drive, the passion we feel for the industry that is causing the mental health problems, while at the same time causing us not to pay attention to them,” Ugrinovska explained, adding: “But they will come back to bite you eventually, and demand the attention you have been denying them.”
There’s a reason we say “to pay attention” and “to spend time”. Both time and attention are spiritual currencies that, just like physical money, need to be invested into the things we want to turn out great. And while Ugrinovska was investing everything she had into her job, she neglected her own self. It happened automatically, she said, because the love for her job fooled her into believing it was all she needed.
But it wasn’t. In pursuit of a reward that is not to be found in work, Ugrinovska offered everything she had to her professional career, but without reaching the satisfaction of achievement she had experienced constantly when she first started in this business 10 years ago.
“It’s frustrating, and it leads you to thinking you’re not good enough,” she said – a false conclusion that made her work even harder.
Ugrinovska had always been checking emails first thing in the morning, after having just opened her eyes, or taking her phone with her on coffee breaks to read emails under the table. However, she now started doing so frantically. 
“I had a period of two months, during which I kept receiving emails. But I couldn’t even understand what they were saying. I was staring at the screen for five minutes, reading it over and over again. But I wasn’t actually reading anything,” she remembers.
Then came the first mistakes, and the extension of working hours to make up for them. “You keep making mistakes, because you’re not focused, because your brain is not working properly. If you don’t give your body the rest it deserves, it will simply shut down.”
It required a feat of mind to dig herself out of that hole again, and Ugrinovska mustered it.
Part of the solution was to talk about it: It is by talking that we make our thoughts real, and Ugrinovska witnessed first-hand the devastation that can be caused by not acknowledging reality. “Talking about our human side doesn’t make you weaker. Not talking about yourself doesn’t make you a better agent or promoter. It’s funny we would think that,” she said.
The other part of the solution was “being more productive and living healthier. Just because you’re passionate about your job that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have time for yourself, your friends, your family.
“It’s possible to have it all, as long as you remember that you’re not a machine.”
The difference between man and machine, according to Ugrinovska, is that a machine is designed to do one thing, and one thing only. If human beings acted in such a manner, they couldn’t survive.
“Either you’re working mechanically, or you’re working like a human,” she explained. Taking breaks, admitting exhaustion, talking about struggle: according to Ugrinovska, those things are “human nature. You may think it’s not professional, but it’s human.
“When I realized this, I felt it was my responsibility to bring it to the forefront.”
Ugrinovska travels to music industry events around the world to speak about the topic of mental health. “All of my initiatives are about developing the professional as a person, as a human,” she said, adding that “it is possible to reclaim the human element of life, if you really want to come back. However, it’s going to be a long struggle. A 10-day vacation on the beach won’t do the job.”
Instead of going on a holiday to take her mind off the very thing that was demanding her attention, Ugrinovska applied the same discipline that caused her to work hard, to dropping bad work habits and mindless automatisms such as taking her phone with her to coffee breaks or into bed. 
“These habits may sound normal to you in this day and age, but they’re not,” she emphasized.
In a giant effort of self-discipline Ugrinovska would lie in bed after waking up and meditate over the fact that the world wasn’t going to end, if she slept for another hour. Internalizing that understanding was necessary to be able to sleep for another hour in the first place.
“The way you choose to start your day is so important. Just glancing at a subject header of an email on your phone is enough to set your brain off into problem-solving mode. Your body is fragile, it’s not reacting normally in the first minutes after waking up, you’re not strong enough,” she explained.
Eventually, Ugrinovska had retrained her mind in such a way as not to be dragged towards anything work-related until the moment she sat down at her desk with a freshly brewed coffee in her hand. Her performance improved, and therefore her happiness and life did as well.
Ugrinovska explained that nobody had been pushing her to the limit but herself. She didn’t have tyrannical bosses, quite the contrary. “It’s not that someone did something. Only you can create a burnout in you. It was just my temper and my ambition. It sill is, it always will be. That’s why I’m doing this.
“I didn’t think I had a problem. But my mind did, because I was only feeding it one information all the time: Work. If you ate the same food all the time, you’d also get sick of it.”
Another main difference between a human and a machine is emotions, which the latter lacks and the former too often ignores or discards as irrelevant in any job. But, according to Ugrinovska, “you need to be aware of every aspect of what it means to be human. You can use your emotions to take you to the next step of your career. I don’t think you can progress, if you haven’t worked this out. You can become great, but you cannot be the greatest.
“It’s like the difference between 1D and 3D. There’s an entire universe contained in every single person. It’s true for any industry you work in: either your 1D or 3D. It’s the difference between being regular and amazing.”
Getting in touch with one’s emotions was a process that differed from human being to human being, she said. But talking about it could help figuring this process out. Her whole intention is “to have great people working in this industry. People that are actually taking care of themselves, and are therefore able to take care of the artists and the fans.
“I first have to be great myself, before I can be great with other people.”