The Value of a ME-Cation: March 30 2014

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I just booked a one-week trip to Napa Valley.

Just the thought of getting away, on my own, to a place that’s beautiful and filled with possibilities – makes me happy!

I have written about my Me-cations before; I try to go away, for a few days, to explore, connect with myself, and more importantly to really NOT do anything significant. It’s almost a meditative time off. There is something about being alone for a few days – thinking, reflecting, contemplating and adjusting to our journeys.

Most of the vacations I have taken in my life, with parents, friends or immediate family – were a set of compromises. They were also happy – to observe the happiness in someone else’s eyes! I remember driving my mother to visit her Alma Mater in Stillwater, OK  ! I remember every hot and sweaty vacation in Orlando to see Mickey or Minny with my two princesses. Memorable family trips – but to please someone else!

The key characteristic of a ME-cation, is that you get to plan (or not plan) the whole thing. You don’t have to carry anyone’s luggage or eat at restaurants you don’t like, or go to see museums or art galleries if you choose to do so. For those few days and hours, you get to do things that make YOU  happy – just YOU!

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My first such Me-cation was at Provincetown in Cape Cod.  I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast, a bit away from the busy town; every morning, I woke early for a run in the misty roads of this charming New England resort town, with white picket fences and a beautiful shoreline. After a hot shower, I enjoyed a hot, home-made, breakfast– a hot cup of English Breakfast – and read the New York Times, cover-to-cover. I only talked to people, when I felt liked it.

Later in the morning, I rented a bike and explored the streets and surrounds of this charming town; I stopped and took pictures of interesting points; I rode up to see one of Provincetown’s seven beautiful lighthouses – sat there and just listened to the waves – in abandon.

Later in the afternoon, after a light, goat cheese salad and a glass of white wine, I read one of my favorite hardcover books…. and fall asleep to take a two-hour uninterrupted nap.

The most important thing about this journey is that, most of the time, I am alone; but none of the time am I lonely.

I was alone in Provincetown – but never lonely; I was with myself. And around me were lots of people who I have never met (and unlikely to meet again). What gave me peace, was to know that no one here had an agenda – or expected anything, in particular, from me.

There is something very cathartic of freeing oneself from all the expectations that we often have created for ourselves. As we grow in life, our families, children, and even (some of ) our friends, start expecting us to do certain things – or behave in certain ways.

When you go away on a ME-cation, you leave those expectations behind and decide to really explore within yourself – to test and see, if you really like who you have become.

Over the last three years, I have zip-lined in the rainforests of Costa Rica, experienced the markets of Cartagena and walked the white sandy beaches of different shores, searching for lighthouses.  Sometimes, with a non-demanding friend – and sometimes, just by myself.

I recommend this concept of Me-cation to all of my busy friends and family, whom I observe getting close to exhaustion. But, I don’t think we need to get to that point, of a burn-out, to go on one of these. Instead, I recommend, once a year, to put aside a few days – just for yourself – to get away from all your chores and expectations; and do something that you really want to do.

You deserve it.

Some of us get into this mode of feeling guilty for taking this time off – for ourselves; sometimes it’s the environment that we live in that creates that un-natural pressure or guilt.

People who truly love you, will understand and encourage, your need to re-connect with yourself. In fact, every time I went on a me-cation, my focus and care for my two beautiful princesses only grew deeper. Nowadays, my eighteen-year old asks me when I am going away for a few days again!

I feel privileged to be able, to make this time for myself and the ability to get away… for a few days….to almost become a child….but without the worries of the everyday world. All that’s needed to make this happen, is planning.

I look forward to my Napa vacation with a few friends next; I want to go see the balloon fiesta in Albuquerque and maybe make it to Santa Fe again, this fall. So many places to see, so many opportunities to re-connect and re-charge.

Almost as soon as I come back from one me-cation, I start thinking about the next one;  living life, one vacation to the next. That’s what life’s all about….. :)

The Peace of No Ringtones: Jan 5 2014

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We haven’t together been to a family-movie for quite some time; there’s always that conflict of schedules, and to complicate matters, there are rarely movies that a eighteen and an eight-year old want to sit through together, for ninety minutes.

Saving Mr. Banks, the tear-jerking, funny and soulful Disney movie, is an occasion to cherish with my two lovely daughters; just as important: for those two hours, I turn my cell-phone off.

As a parent, it often feels that it’s impossible to turn-off your mobile phone!

You feel this nagging need of being wired – knowing – and most importantly availing information about your children.

At the beginning of team-meetings, I often ask my colleagues to mute their cell phones and ask them to refrain from answering, unless it’s a family emergency.

During a date, sometimes, I forewarn the other party, that I do check my phone during an intimate dinner or while watching a play – just because I have kids! My notification comes like the warning from the Surgeon General on a packet of contraband nicotine.

In this world of wired anxiety, our minds often race to juggle quadratic challenges like work, childcare, healthcare and entertainment – all in one swoop, we feel the need and urgency to remain informed – to feel that we are constantly in the loop of things.

If we look back fifteen or so years, mobile phones were rare and bulky – and you had to wait to get all your news until you got to work or home – you didn’t start solving your problems at red-lights.

All this mobility and constancy, may have given us more up-to-date information – and in some cases, ability to solve some urgent problems quickly; however, coupled with our own inability to know when it’s urgent to solve problems, and when it’s ok to wait, I argue, it has also notched up our anxiety levels on unimportant things.

What you don’t know, really can’t hurt you.

Why do we need to know every movement of our children (or parents) or other loved ones on a constant basis; what is the value of this “new” need we have created for ourselves?

In some instances, this anxiety over receiving information, borders the comical.

On my recent visit to Bangladesh, I have lunch or breakfast with some of my “VIP” friends; invariably, they carry multiple cell-phones, chargers and other PDAs, in their expensive leather carriers, as if during a foggy 8:30 am breakfast meeting, over coffee, somehow some massively urgent phone-deal will emerge. One such person tells me, he has one cell phone exclusively for his boss and another one just for his wife – I am relieved to hear that his third cell phone is for common connections like myself!

Looking at the growth projections of mobility technology worldwide, I am convinced the ship for simpler times, when cell phones were rare, has sailed long ago. We might as well, get accustomed to constant mobility-anxiety in our lives.

The question remains, when to turn that cell phone off – or when to hit that “ignore” button during a seemingly involved and often important conversation of life.

I have a rule with my children – if it’s urgent, call me on my mobile twice. I will know that it’s critical to take the call if possible, or call you back  if I see two missed calls.

Maybe one day our smart phones will be smart enough to classify and we can choose separate ring-tones for calls as “critical/urgent”, “important but can wait” and “calls from Mom to check on your weather pattern!”

Just like any other Disney movie, Saving Mr. Banks, ends on a happy-joyous note; we stroll out of the dark theatre discussing the parallels and nuances of the plot and contemplate who wants to have what, for a late lunch.

I don’t turn my cell phone on for another thirty or so minutes, enjoying the peace with the most important people in my life.

There is a certain peace in this ringtone-free world; it maybe temporary and short, but I enjoy the giggling of my girls and the sound of the rain-drops on my windshield for just a few more minutes.

You learn to make the best of whatever time is afforded to you, without the interruptions of the outside world.

The Rhythm of Routines: November 28 2013

The Atlantic is calm as a lake today; it’s a beautiful, sunny and crisp morning; hot milky-tea in hand, with a few mint chocolate Milano cookies, I am thankful for so many routines in my life.
The girls are still sleeping; soon Shania will wake up, and fill up my life with her sparkling laughter and giggles; she will ask me, “Can I ask you a question?” and I will smile and exclaim, “But that is a question!” She will dunk a Milano in my lukewarm tea and spill a drop on the furniture. We will cuddle together on the sofa with a warm blanket, and read a story or watch a cartoon.
These are our simple routines.

Brunch at J marks with Shania
Breakfast at the Jukebox diner where Daiyaan never finishes her bagel; Sunday morning service at Unity followed by brunch with friends at J.Marks, where Shania hides the sweet potato fries from me; A Beach Roll or a Pretty Face Roll at 9 Face Sushi Café followed by handmade ice-cream at Razzleberry’s; a walk on the beach on a warm day.Shania does her Kumon at the dining table; Daiyaan lies on the sofa with the red blanket covering her – even on a warm day.

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These mundane, routine activities are so simple and authentic, and yet so meaningful.
On this typical Thanksgiving day, I am thankful for these repetitive activities in my life. I realize, tomorrow these will morph into something else; but today, they provide continuity and a little piece of heaven .
For today, along with the sunshine, and the blue Atlantic, I embrace these routines.
I heard from a childhood friend last night, where she said that her college-going children are back at home for the holidays; the home is noisy and messy and she is loving it! One of the nicest part of the holidays are when your empty homes fill up again, with those familiar sounds and smells! Those familiar faces – changed, yet same for a few days – trying to re-enact, as close as we can, those moments from the past.
Now I understand, why during every conversation, my mother brings up all her nostalgia and ruefully asks If I remember the day I fell down in our neighbor’s Lilly pond or when our new kitten Koala climbed up a curtain some forty years ago ! She searches for those moments of routine from the past.
When tumult engulfs us, we crave these routines; we try to get to “steady state” by finding or re-creating routines. As if, these little repetitions somehow give a rhythm to our lives.
Recently, I moved from one condo to another, and remember the grueling few days of moving boxes and glassware from one room to another. Every moment of the move, I kept craving these repetitive ritualistic moments. One way to get through a difficult time, is to look back at those memories of routine happiness, and try to remember those times that were relatively more stable or pleasant.
As our lives change over the years, one of the joyful and exhilarating experience is the formation of habits and then subtle changes that occur over time.
When Shania tries something new or decides to not follow the norm, instead of opposing or changing of routine – I try to understand that this change is a normal part of life; the routine is not as critical– but her presence in my life. In any form, shape or routine, Shania and Daiyaan are the most important repetitions that I love in my daily life.
One day, this too will change; just as Daiyaan moved away from home to college and created her own routines in her new life – one day, Shania will do the same.
Until then, I want to enjoy this subtle rhythm of slow mornings, with lazy blankets, milky-tea with cookies and a deep embrace that lasts forever.

Sushi at 9 Face

When Good Things Happen: November 9 2013

The last four weeks have been some of the most tumultuous times in my life.

After struggling for three years, with dissolving the institution of marriage, the divorce finalized.

I moved from one home to another.

I was offered another “once in a lifetime” chance to join a world-class team to take an organization from “good to great” – the kind of opportunity most people dream about.

Heading  into these four weeks, I was nervous, anxious, worried; I stayed up late thinking about all the possibilities of things going wrong. My analytical mind concocted up linear algorithms of disaster, trauma and tragedy!

Finally, the nail-biting stormy, triple effect night passed, and none of those disasters materialized; this morning, as the sunlight shines down from heaven, I feel stronger, motivated and relieved. The feeling isn’t euphoric – it’s just a “deep breath” moment.

When the lights come down from heaven

I have regained my confidence in the energy of the Universe; good things do happen, when you keep your intentions pure and clean and when you choose to do the right and beautiful thing.

Your expectations do become your experience.

All through my journey, I am grateful for the moral compass of my two beautiful daughters. Every decision I make, every step I take, I have made their safety and  well-being as the center-piece. This centering allows me to think clearly – even if my heart is wondering or my brain is analyzing and criticizing.

I am also grateful for a wonderful, supportive community of friends and family who watch me struggle – never interfering– but keep telling me over and over – “This too shall passyou are making the right decisions”.

Just before the three events took place, I went away to Key West for two days and just walked the streets or sat by the pool trying to re-focus my energy. When quandary overwhelmed me, I called a friend asking for his guidance – specially on this emerging new role; his answer was clear, “Dude, you have trained yourself for this role all your life – why are you thinking so much? Do you think Shania will be happy if you aren’t happy? “  It gave me the clarity of thought at that moment to stop being a worrier!

I remember the evening before the court proceedings, I texted a few friends about being a nervous wreck; they left their work early, and met up for a glass of wine and helped me divert my attention to other things in life.

I Skyped my sister on weekends and unburdened my emerging feelings and anxiety. She patiently listened and encouraged me to keep moving forward and staying focused on the day after – the day when all this drama will be over.

At the end of the day, as I look out to what the Universe has gifted me; my health, my two awesome daughters,  wonderful – supportive friends and family and a truly wonderful career that has availed me possibilities to learn, grow, travel and work with some amazingly talented people. I have re-connected with my spiritual side and found peace in boating, writing, reading, wine and food.

I have so many things to be grateful for.

I watch the Atlantic this morning – the surf on the azure blue sea and wonder about the changing scenery – the clouds appear and disappear in a moment’s notice; as if the sea and the sky are teaching me that same lesson.

Good things do happen, when there are good intentions.

The skies do clear up and the ocean does regain its blue; just have to keep believing in the immense possibilities of the future.

This Rain Too Shall Pass: October 19 2013

I stand on the upper deck of a massive ship – as if the rain can’t touch me. There is a subtle moon hovering over the ocean.  A short distance away, I can see the dark clouds and the halo of the rain approaching, as we move forward in the dark watersRain_ot_ocean_beach

I can smell the rain from far away; I sense it’s velocity from a mile away.

At times, in life, we are anticipating this momentary, yet tumultuous change; we can feel it coming. Like a slow motion movie, it’s happening right in front of us. We wait,  paralyzed by the motion and unable to change the outcome.

Maybe it’s a loved-one suffering illness – maybe it’s watching the break-up of a relationship – maybe it’s the dissolution of an institution that you have served for many years; maybe it’s just a dogma or an illusion, that’s crumbling in front of our eyes.

Like many, I experience multitudes of change and am just the spectator of this change. I sit here, thinking and worrying, how I can affect this change – how I can come out better or stronger, after the change – how I can make the outcome different from what I foresee. I search my mind for strategies and paths forward.

Often, life doesn’t follow a strategic plan. It just takes over like a un-forecasted storm.

Sometimes, you just have to let that change happen and not try to hold on to what was true in the past. Whether it’s a job, a belief, or a relationship – you have to let the change take place on its own motion.

I am learning to take deep breaths as the change moves toward me. I am learning to tell myself that there isn’t much I can (or should) do, to affect the upcoming tumult.

I am scared of that period of uncertainty, which comes right after the change – when things are vulnerable and in a flux – when boundaries are not set and we wonder what’s going to happen to us, if things don’t settle down. I feel insecure and want to run back to the past.

A good friend reminds me: This Too Shall Pass.

When you have experienced massive changes, like migration from one part of the world to another, or dealt with major corporate upheaval, what you have developed, is a strong intuition to foresee change – to understand the nature of change, and most importantly, the learning that, the easiest path forward is to just embrace the change – versus resisting it.

I remember, when I first came to go college in the US, I experienced a similar loss of environment;  my father had died recently, I had left my loving family behind and adventured out to a foreign land where the sounds and smells were completely different where I grew up.  Change was all around me, engulfing me, overwhelming me;  I managed to learn and grow with that change; eventually, I embraced it and became one with it.

It’s only when I let go and not try to impact the change, that I gave myself the permission to be free.

The wind becomes stronger and I feel the intensity all around me.  It starts with a few large drops and quickly turns into a downpour as I hold on to the wood railing to balance my step; I feel the piercing of the rain on my face and my clothes, as it zips by – touching all over, all encompassing, not waiting, not really caring how I feel. I try to open my eyes but all I see is a glassy glare around me. It’s only when I completely surrender, does my anxiety dissipate.

I know I am standing here, in this sudden rain, for a reason. And the rain doesn’t wash away that reason.

The quick rain passes in a few minutes; but in person, it feels like a long period. You realize you are drenched. But there is a freshness about in the air. I survived the change – I made it through this unpredicted storm. I feel stronger now, than I was a few minutes ago.

Making Way For Tomorrow: Need For Closure and Cleansing: September 2013

People walking away from each other

In my first Sociology class about death and dying, I learned the saying, Funerals Are For the Living – Not for the Dead!

Always wondered why, after a death, there is the need for a funeral and other commemorative occasions that make us celebrate and mourn at the same time.

After my father’s funeral, some 28 years ago, I started to realize why thousands of people needed to say goodbye to him.  My mother howled and my Dadi (paternal grandmother) remained stoic; everyone consoled themselves in their own way.

In addition to the (sometimes) traumatic end of life, there are other endings, that break our hearts and help shape us as people.

In 2009, I wrote an essay Difficulty with Endings about impending changes in my life; both at work and personal life, there are endings that are often traumatic and sad. How we handle these endings, with peace and our heads held up high, is critical to our psyche and how we move forward from that point onward.

I have worked with several folks, who have recently gone through organizational re-structuring or downsizing at blue-chip corporations. Often, these people have worked with these companies for years and never worked anywhere else. This corporate decision, to move them out, is sometimes devastating to them.

Having personally experienced similar changes in my own life, I feel that there is a need to cleanse and provide closure to parting-of-the-ways, to provide an appropriate stepping stone to the future.

Without the right closure or time to heal/cleanse, we often carry around the burden of fear and anger, that eventually affects us from moving forward.

After my last role ended, I quickly cleaned out the closet of all their logo shirts, baseball caps and other memorabilia. I wrote a blog essay (Once In A Lifetime) about my positive experience and then thanked all those who helped me during my tenure. These cleansing steps allowed me to move forward in my thinking about where I want my career to go in the future.

While easier done at the professional organization, on the personal level there is sometimes envy, anger, rage and many other negative sentiments involved in a break-up. Still, if both parties respect each other and care about each other’s well-being, they are more likely to part ways with mature acceptance.

In personal relationship matters, closure is best when agreed by both parties, to remain civil and supportive to each other – irrespective if your relationship is for 6 months or 16 years.  This requires maturity by both parties to agree on a framework for both sides to come to closure and cleanse.

When I talk to senior executives who are in career transition mode, often I see anger and hurt emotions that cloud their judgment – eventually manifesting in their poisoned speech. I have always advised them to keep their head-up high and not say a word bad about their previous employers. The same holds in personal life; anything bad you say about your partner or spouse reflects poorly on you and your judgment in that relationship.

Similarly, the process of cleansing is just as important to close out a chapter. A friend recently told me that his 6 year relationship broke up a year ago and he hasn’t met someone he likes or is cautious about the next step. We discuss his past and eventually found that he continues to hold a box full of stuff that they had collected together, and that he kept the box in his closet, as memento from the past. Last weekend, after our conversation, he texted me that he had finally thrown everything out in a garbage bag and wants to make a fresh start in his life. He needed to close that chapter out and cleanse. He is now ready to move forward.

I met one individual recently, who had worked at a major corporation for 23 years. When she got her “transition package”, she told me this is the best thing that could’ve happened to her. She said, that she had never had the opportunity to think about her career and has been pulled from job to job. All she wants to do now is work for a non-profit and be happy with what she does!

Not all endings are always that happy. But an end, typically, leads to the opening of new doors and windows of opportunities. Sooner we can bring closure and cleanse our own minds about it, it is more likely that we will move forward quickly and make the rest of our lives more pleasant and happy!

You Can Always Come Home: August 13 2013

Daiyaan at Four

Her crumpled wet towel doesn’t litter the room; her unwashed dishes don’t sit in the sink waiting to be taken care of; the pair of bejeweled flip-flops don’t stand lazily by the front door; for several years, these were some chronic complaints I had, about my teenager.

I whined about, why she just doesn’t like to eat breakfast at home (egg sandwiches at the diner) and rarely adventures outside of her food domain of pizza rolls, hamburgers, sushi, Thai and maybe a bit of pasta without the marinara sauce.  Salads, not really!

About two weeks ago my eighteen-year old first-born, moved out to her new condo, about 25 minutes away in Boca Raton, in anticipation of starting the next step of her life: College/University.

She moved into a spacious unit overlooking a small canal and has her private room with a hallway and bath/shower and a large walk-in closet. She shares a large kitchen, dinette and living space with her new roomie Sarah, already a sophomore in college.

She is learning to spread her wings; learning to live independently – do her own laundry, and change her own sheets. While, in our little home, with the three of us, may have been cramped with her, now feels empty, as if, someone has sucked the wind out.

Some 28 years ago, I left my family home, and migrated a few thousand miles, where I didn’t get to see my family for more than 30 months! I was also spreading my own wings and building my own universe. I missed my family, but rarely looked back. I was conquering a new world altogether.

Today, as my nest empties out, I feel sad, nostalgic, remorseful and yet happy and anxious – all at the same time. I never knew that these feelings could be so contradictory at the same moment.

My morning starts with a text, “Good Morning Daddy, Whatya doing?” and the series continues throughout the day. I learn about the new job she has secured for herself, or what classes she has signed up for, or how sad she is that her BFF friend Markie is moving away to college.

I try to call and listen to her voice at least once a day; once a week, we have dinner or breakfast together and see each other face-to-face. Sometimes, if she is in the area, she will stop by and spend the night in her old room.

When I go into the room at night to kiss the girls good night, and hear two sets of deep breathing, it gives me a certain comfort, and false sense of security – that is hard to explain. I sit on the floor and just listen to that deep breathing for a few minutes.

Tomorrow morning, she will get into her grey Honda Civic and drive off on her own, to her doctor’s appointment or some other errand. All she will leave behind is that short few hours of memory that she was here, and I held her, for as long as I could, until she was truly ready to fly.

Someone once told me,  once you leave home, you can never go back – because you are not the same, and the home is not the same either.

For those of my friends, who have young children, all I say, let those dirty dishes lie in the sink for a few more minutes; take your time, sit next to them, listen to them, smile and hug them a lot. Let them build their own space, on their own time.

Let them know that wherever they go, they can always come back home.

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