Surrender: Now, Here

jumping out of an airplaneRaised with western ideology, the concept of surrender is typically associated with defeat, giving up. In work or private life, the art of surrender, can have a different affect; a much deeper, reflective and calming outcome.

I am in a critical meeting with a group of people at work; there is round-robin criticism, about the things we coulda…shoulda…woulda….done.  Why customer pricing wasn’t adjusted, why raw materials were not purchased from different vendors – the list continues.

At some point, you have two options:

  • Raise your hand and say, STOP. Enough bullying. I did the best I could
  • Surrender…accept that, yes, we could have done more, but this is where we are nowI have practiced both; depending on the circumstances, both techniques work with different degrees of complexity.

In my previous blog, The Twisted World of Bullying, I have spoken about how to deal with a bully – how to deal with individuals that like to harass; in their mind, you are someone they can control. Today, I want to get your thoughts going on the act of sweet surrender.

First, realize, that we control very little. Everything and everybody changes, all the time. Dealing with this change takes dexterity and the ability of being in constant motion. Imagine biking… or swimming in a calm sea.

A few years ago, my life was going through an unprecedented amount of turmoil – the more I was trying to control the outcome, the more it was rupturing. Everyone goes through moments like these. As if, you are driving a car on ice, and the car just keeps spinning. At that moment, the rate of motion is very difficult to calculate. All you feel, is this spinning – almost in slow motion.

The best thing to do, when you know you have started to slide on ice, is to let go – is to surrender to the reality that you cannot control this anymore; you have to believe, gravity and friction will do their job and the car WILL inevitably come to a stop.

When you can look beyond the current moment and think of that future point – where the car will have stopped – and everything important is still ok – you will have surrendered.

This difficult act of just letting go – where all your training, resistance, and willpower has absolutely no impact – is something to be aware.

As an adult, you have likely experienced this emotion at some point in your life. It may have been during the illness or death of a loved one; or during the betrayal of a friendship or relationship; or even a natural or man-made calamity; e.g. an earthquake, mudslide, or even a terrorist attack.

As I get older, I am learning to accept that very little is within my span of control, which helps me to surrender completely. In recent turmoil or conflicts, I keep asking myself, have I done my best to resolve this issue; if the answer is positive, I realize that the Universe is telling me that it’s time to surrender.

Surrender is acceptance; acceptance of a reality that change is all-encompassing.

In a spiritual sense, it’s surrendering to God or Nature. You know everything will be ok; it will work out. At some point, you just have to let it go. Let the chips fall where they may. You will make the best of the hand that is being dealt to you.

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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.

(Sometimes) You Have to be a Jerk to Get Attention: March 12 2013

One of those “Aha!” moments at a business negotiation class: the irrational negotiator, often (not always) gets the better deal!

Imagine two race car drivers, who are heading towards each other, in high speed, where, if neither party veers off-course, both are destined to mutually assured destruction. No rational person would allow such an outcome! However, one of those race-car drivers will turn/veer allowing the other one to continue and win his course.

In this predicament, we even discussed the possibility of having a spare steering wheel during the race, that can be thrown out of the window, signaling to the other race-car driver that you have absolutely no control of the car; hence forcing him to veer off-course!

Look at the nations of North Korea or Iran today; the war-signals they are sending to the United States, is very similar behaving irrationally, akin to throwing the steering wheel out of the car!! History will tell one day, if they are bluffing or just acting desperate.

Sometimes, we are faced with such a conundrum at work – to behave irrational – so that people can’t take you for granted or be “predictable” on a day-to-day basis.
Once, at a negotiating meeting, with a senior-leader at a multi-billion dollar corporation, he threw a 30 page document across a long mahagony table, letting me know that he doesn’t care!! Definitely was a theatrical and dramatic move that got my attention.

In business life, often the dramatic, chaotic, noisy bullies get more attention than do the sober, rational, pleasant people. As leaders, we must always be aware of this situation and take measures so that bullies don’t rule the world. Once, one of my VPs would habitually start off every meeting with a negative statement. After cringing at his tirade a few times, he had to be confronted that this is unacceptable behavior and neither I, nor his peers appreciated this model.

Office Jerks

Sometimes, you just have to hold your hand up and say STOP. This behavior is unacceptable! Most of the time, this boundary-setting works; sometimes it creates a bit more chaos at first, but eventually the babble-rouser leaves or simmers down.
In my recent personal history, I have also experienced a similar outcome with individuals who want to raise hell, creating chaos in my life. They come attacking you like a jailed cat – if you don’t listen to their threats – they will create massive chaos and destruction in your lives and the ones you love.

In every instance, personal or professional, I have found that the last thing you want to do is pay too much attention to noise-makers; also you don’t want to be the completely predictable, “dull & boring” (D&B) bosses or partners. Not sure if it’s just our animal instincts, but people react and respond sometimes – when there is measured unpredictability! You don’t have to be a (complete) jerk – neither do you have to be a (really) nice guy; you have to find a delicate balance of both.

In a recent personal crisis, I took the helm of the situation, calmed everybody down – made difficult decisions and most importantly, shouldered the responsibilities of life alone – without help from anyone. At one point, my nicety was taken as a sign of weakness – and some people wanted me to take more responsibility and/or have just taken me for granted.

I have found, just by a “gentle” push back – majority of these situations can be corrected. At the end, there are fewer jerks you have to take on one-on-one in a confrontation. In that case, come prepared with examples, situations and your worst-day, bad-anxiety behavior. Hopefully, that rarely happens to you.

However much we try to remain leveled, and do the right, rational and fair thing – the world sometimes needs boundary-setting. As we try our best to accommodate every one else’s best interest, it’s also very important that we are treated fairly by others.

Celebrating Life in Long Hand: January 25, 2013

Holiday Cards
The Gifts of 2012 Holiday cards on our wall!

This weekend, one of the last rituals of a festive holiday season was, taking down the wonderful holiday cards we have received this season. Altogether, there were 44 stories on our wall, telling us about newborns, weddings, cancer recoveries, pet tragedies and many other interesting anecdotes. Some cards were shining photographs of friends and family, smiling and posing in uncomfortable poses with unusual costumes – and there were those that displayed genuine smiles with wonderful gestures – maybe at a Thanksgiving dinner, a karate chop, or a day on the beach!

Receiving and sending holiday cards, has been a family tradition for my family, from when I was a little child. I remember my parents sending out UNICEF cards and handwriting those cards to friends in far-away lands. I have always been mesmerized by the act of generosity when we received amazingly colorful cards from four continents.

In recent times, friends often send one page essays of highlights from the previous year. I learn of new dog additions – or piano recitals, college graduations, unique bike rides and many other interesting and unique aspects of many families, in a quick snapshot. Once, I received a CD with pictures of a family’s annual highlights, embedded with their favorite musical tunes! Love the creativity!

Even in this age of electronic agility, I am always amazed by how much, this small gesture of sending of a holiday greeting card, still moves me. It makes me sit and think about the year. The year of links connected, or disconnected; of relationships built – or ended. It makes me grateful for the amazing gift of friendships that I celebrate in my life.

This year, after holiday cards arrived, I actually re-connected with two colleagues from different past work lives, with a quick phone call. It is always great to hear their voices and learn about where they live now or what new adventure they are embarking on.

Recently, I saw an electronic posting where someone wrote, one’s age maybe celebrated by the number of friends we have – not the years we live! By the list of friends and family, that we either sent cards to – or received cards from – I feel incredibly blessed!

At work, I always urge my up-and-coming leaders to write hand-written thank-you notes to customers and colleagues – for some generosity that they have experienced that particular week.

Every Friday, make it a practice, to take thirty minutes of your working day to sit back and reflect on your past week – think of all the gifts you have received – close your eyes and thank that person and write them a note – nothing major, just a plain, simple ‘thank you’.

Having written many such cards myself, I have often seen thank you cards, my thank-you cards posted on people’s bulletin boards. The power of a simple “thank you” is immeasurable. People do care, when they receive a hand-written thank you note.

In this world of electronic gimmickry, people send electronic thank-you cards on the guise of being eco-conscious or just simple, efficient. Nothing wrong with that; however, let me say, there is something cathartic of writing a small note and closing that small envelope and maybe putting a stamp on it. It’s just a bit of a sacrifice – of time and of emotion – that goes a long way to express gratitude – holiday season or not.

This season, the Mahmood family holiday card has pictures of my beautiful princesses – well poised for a Cinderella Ball – embracing and smiling – as one often does for cameras. Everything that one goes through in a year, the anguish, the loss, the pain – cannot be summarized in a small card. It also does not suit the occasion.  We don’t have a long essay to share. Our comments are borrowed from a dear friend’s gift: “To Believe, is to Know that Every Day is a New Beginning”. Shania and I personally label the envelopes and seal/stamp them, almost as a family ritual, the day after Thanksgiving.

In 2013, we wish all our friends with new beginnings – wherever they are. We wish everyone well – good health and happiness. In November of 2013, when it’s time again, I hope to keep up is this “old-fashioned” ritual of writing a small note to all my friends, telling them of achievements and setbacks that make our journey complex – yet a meaningful curve in our meandering river of life.

When the Toothpaste is Out of the Tube

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Recently, a student at my daughter’s high school, enquired about a particularly sad and strange incidence that was swooning over our family; Daiyaan quickly texted me, how disappointed she was that someone knew – and were asking her about the incidence. Also, that she (Daiyaan) just didn’t want to talk about it!

Accidents happen; sometimes, things that you don’t want to deal with, engulf you. In the larger storyline of life, the incidence itself, may or may not be significant; the question remains, how you deal with it, and what do you do going forward.

In our Twitter infested and FaceBook encumbered lives, everyone seems to know everything. Do you hide from the reality? Or do you confront it,  and move forward.

One of the lessons I have learned in business, once characterized as one of those Buffet Rules:  “When you put something down on paper, assume that the world knows .” In essence, put as little as possible down on paper (or electronic media).

Often, business leaders are concerned about sharing information that may/not be classified “confidential” with employees or customers.

Most things, we think are ‘confidential’ – everyone usually knows or have a good estimation; they may not know the exact details, but they have a good idea of what’s going on.I have always advocated business leaders to communicate clearly, with relevant facts, and be On Point.

Remember, “Less is More” when it comes to communication. Stick to the point and communicate often. Repetition can be useful in certain circumstances. Repeating the truth is a good thing – repeating otherwise only deepens the suspicion towards leadership and dilutes your personal brand.

Often, as leaders, we simply cannot respond to questions; there was a time, during an assignment, when significant HR issues were engulfing us every day.  Speculation, innuendo and rumor were floating all around us.  As leaders, both for legal and ethical reasons, we just cannot respond to questions about individuals or their behaviors. Staying silent is one of the more difficult challenges a leader faces during a crisis. When people ask me questions about sensitive matters, instead of hiding, I simply say that I cannot talk about individuals or confidential business topics. Usually, they stop asking.

In a very similar tone, when it comes to personal topics, I have found it useful to use the same tactic of staying on point and sticking to “facts” as the best way to get a message across. Often, people will call and ask me this/that and I change the topic of conversation, or just tell people that it’s really not appropriate to talk about this particular topic. Once, I had to tell a badgering “well wisher” that it was none of their business!

I have found, in crisis mode, most of your friends will not even bother you by asking what’s going on and will wait for you to share – whenever you are ready. This crisis may actually turn out to be a good test to see who are your true friends.

When Daiyaan wrote me the other day, about how to respond to this person, I asked her to smile back and just say, “you know, how sad and difficult it is”. This way, she has not shared any more information, and in a polite way, refused to engage in a conversation that need not be had.

When the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to put it back in the tube; try to brush to your heart’s content. Just stop squeezing the tube further!