Upgrades of Life. March 2018

Late last year, I upgraded my IPhone and my car; same brands, just newer versions and different models; The IPhone X is a delight to switch from my news, to texting, and then to music, and my phone battery doesn’t die; the Audi Q5 overhead sunroof, along with Audi Pre-sense, which tells me about approaching traffic, and with Appleplay, makes my morning commute more productive and long distance driving definitely more enjoyable.

Some upgrades, in accessories, are definitely good.

When you leave your birth land, to find a my new country, is that a good upgrade?

When one leaves a boss who is described as, the bear from the movie The Revenant, scratching your eyeballs out every morning, is that an upgrade?

When one moves on, from high-school friends, who don’t really understand or empathize, to build your own new community, is that an upgrade?

Our lives are full of choices; sort of “forks in the road”. I have written in the past, of being at an intersection or crossroads – with decisions to be made. Not every decision, is an upgrade. On the other hand, if one is willing to do the hard work of research, and is committed to the investment, one can choose to make that turn in the fork, an improvement.

I made a choice, some thirty years ago, to leave my loving, warm family, and move thousands of miles away, to a whole different land – and start fresh. Many of my friends stayed behind and made their lives in Bangladesh – and then others have gone to Europe or Australia. No one ever is in the position to judge, why or how someone makes that decision to leave home – and one cannot consider these decisions upgrades or downgrades – who am I to say that my life in the US is an upgrade from my friends who chose to live in Bangladesh, or, for that matter, move to Australia. What’s most important is that they are happy and content wherever they have chosen to live.

Even since moving to the US, I have lived in some 11 homes, in 8 states in 33 years. Once, my young daughter came from school and asked if we were in the witness protection program! At least twice during these times, in Denver and Fort Lauderdale, I felt that I found my home and was going to live there forever. Then life changed; an amazing career move led me to Florida, where I thought we had built permanence. Then disease struck our family and we had to make a drastic move out of Florida.

I always wanted to live in a real city, coffee shops and crazy restaurants in every corner. I wanted a walkability score of 90+, coupled with heady intellectualism. When we moved to Cambridge, we found all that and more. Museums, a vibrant cultural scene, beautiful green spaces, and access to a coastal town, Ogunquit or Provincetown, in 90 or so minutes. I meet the most curious and intriguing people here; our dinner conversations are often about Blockchain and artificial intelligence, and the number of new fusion restaurants here are beyond my count. From late April to late October, Cambridge is a wonderful place to live. However, I also crave those blue waters of Florida, palm trees and that afternoon drizzle, soothes my soul.

January 2017, on my 50th birthday, I finally decided that however many days I have, I want some Florida in my life. So, I took the plunge and decided to build something which I could eventually call my home, at least for a portion of my life. Sometimes, in life, upgrades are necessary, and then other times, you know you gave up something good, that you just want back, even if it’s for a portion of your life.

There are other decisions, that are quite easily made, even if someone makes them for you! No regrets about leaving that annoying boss who makes you cringe every day, or puts their feet up on the desk while talking to a customer in their office. No regrets about letting friends go, when they bring you down more than they lift you up – however long that friendship maybe. In my experience, work or friends, if they are not willing to listen, or be “additive” in your life – should be upgraded quickly – without regret.

After a long day of dueling decisions, argumentative employees, fighting crazy traffic, when you return home and your twelve year old asks you, what’s the highlight of your day Daddy?, and you respond, without hesitation, dinner with you, honey!… that’s when you know, that some things in life are best just the way they are, without upgrades.

Beautiful sunrise by my new home in Oakland Park. Not upgradable

The Sunrise Last at the beach by my home in Florida. Not Upgradeable.

Lived, Loved…

I am looking for a third word. That word, that descriptor, that simple verb, that will encapsulate and finalize my life when I am gone.  It’s as if, at my life celebration, there will be three words that may emblazon cocktail napkins; will be part of the vocabulary that people will use that late afternoon. I know the first two words: 

Lived, Loved, …… 

What’s the third word? Adventured… Dreamt… Climbed? 

None of these truly captures the essence of everything I believe in, or want to be remembered by. 

My goal is to not leave any debris behind, when I leave. But, if I were to have an epitaph somewhere, or a brick that had my name on it at a school park, what three words would I like to be remembered by? Drank wine (too many words)? Boated? Maybe it’s Devoured?  

At the beautiful ripe age of fifty, why am I thinking of an epitaph. It’s not that I have a death wish, or have recently diagnosed a debilitating disease.  

I am at a good place where, whether its one day or another seven seven thousand days (~20 years), I want to look back and say I did these three things well and those are the best descriptors of my short time on earth.

I believe that what we say, think or write down, ultimately has a higher likelihood of happening. Hence, I must choose carefully and select that third word that will determine my destiny for the rest of my days. 

I believe that words are everything. 

Words are powerful. What you say, is critical and important. 

 Words can start or break relationships or wars; words can also soothe your soul and change a persons life. I have been told that words of affirmation have helped people think of their careers; in one instance, a young project manager at a place I worked, came in and resigned because he had read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which I had given to him as a holiday gift, where Coelho talks about being a Shepard or a Baker. At his exit interview, he told me he didn’t want to be the baker, or in his case, a project manager – he wanted to be the Shepard, and fly jets around the world. He went on to become a pilot.

 Hence, one of the first thing I teach my children, and at work, that we must choose our words carefully. Be selective. When it comes to verbalizing our thoughts, almost always… Less is More. 

In today’s environment, where blustering twitter feeds, insults and promulgations, some of our ephemeral leaders are bombastic and freely throwing words around, that mean nothing; they command attention for thirty seconds, and somehow take up empty space, like that extra sweater in your closet that you haven’t worn for years.

In this verbose environment, words are even more important and require even more careful introspection. Words cannot be just thrown out and expected to be forgotten. In the world of ether, whether it’s a hurtful text, or a drunken insult, it’s out there, forever.  

I would love to have the word Inspired. But that sounds self-promoting; I wouldn’t mind, Laughed. I could live (or in this case, die with that!).  Friends have suggested Cared ! I love it. 

Have you thought about your 3 words? 

I am open to suggestions.  

An Election of No Choice: March 2016

Daiyaan, my twenty year old, is getting ready to vote for the first time in 2016; recently, she texts and asks why and how I am voting in the primaries, and I am delighted to help her with her thinking; her best friend Kimmy, is voting for Bernie Sanders and Daiyaan and I have already discussed Hillary Clinton.

I can tell that Daiyaan is not satisfied with her choice and wants more from her candidate. Welcome to adulthood, my beautiful daughter. I certainly wish we had a “lovable” candidate the first time you are ready to vote.

I have boiled my entire election choice in 2016 down to a simple litmus-test; who will protect my civil liberties and those of my children?

Typically, one looks at US elections from 3 vantage points:

  1. Who will protect my pocketbook (who will protect me from higher taxes)?
  2. Who will be a strong world-leader (who will be respected)?
  3. Who will ensure our freedom (protect Social and Civil liberties)?

If the thought was to just make a ton of tax-free money, I would migrate to Saudi Arabia or Singapore; but I chose to live in America because of its ability to re-invent and re-shape itself, over and over again. I chose the US simply to be the best I could be; to choose my own freedom, and define my own identify, on my terms. I have done the best I could – with what was available to me.

If I wanted Socialistic taxation structures (and extreme winters), I would move to Canada or Sweden. I like the balance of creativity, entrepreneurship and hard-work based independence that the US offers. At this mid-life juncture, I have accomplished what I wanted (and more); now it’s really about the future – and most importantly, the future of my two daughters.

Future cycles of elections are all about protecting their rights, liberties – to choose – to be women – to be educated and successful on their own merit and fill their lives with joy.

It’s not because Hillary Clinton is a woman.

I agree she is a flawed-imperfect candidate. However, given my choices – she is much better than anyone I have seen on the Republican side. Also, under a Democratic President, I feel my personal civil liberties and those of my children, are more likely to be protected, and possibly enhanced.

If you have a daughter, I am not sure, how you tell her that she should make 70 cents-on-the-dollar of what your son may make; or that she doesn’t have a right to choose what happens to her body, or to decide when to have children and that the state she lives in, controls this.

Under the Democratic Presidency of Barack Obama, my personal and professional goals have been enhanced; unemployment is significantly lowered  (<5%), the US Stock-markets are stable/growing and we have climbed out of a really bad recession. I don’t think the world is any safer (or more risky) than what it was when he took over – or for that matter – twenty or even fifty years ago. I was 4 year old when Bangladesh fought a bloody civil war – I have accepted that there is evil in the world, and it manifests itself in terrorists (US or elsewhere); how we stand up to them is the key.

Another thing I am especially grateful for: we haven’t declared a war on someone else in seven years; we have not militarily intervened in Syria or Libya. In my 3 decades of living here, we have had a propensity to utilize military power to police the world; I just don’t want that responsibility for my children. 

I can’t imagine Daiyaan fighting a war somewhere, for no reason; I don’t want any US parent to feel this level of disconnection toward wars they don’t understand.

If Obama was on the election ticket this year, I would vote him back into office.

However, since that’s not an option, my vote, this cycle – and probably for a few coming cycles, is now locked in the Democratic camp – however imperfect their candidate.

As divided as this nation is, at this point of history, and likely to remain this way in the foreseeable future, my main focus is the US Supreme Court.

I have complete confidence in the SCOTUS to adjudicate sound, solid legal direction based on the constitution . It’s not perfect, but it’s a much better way to upholding/rejecting laws, versus by the fickle public opinion. This is apparent from the Civil Rights laws of the 60s or the Gay-Rights promulgated in the last few years.

I am very much interested in the appointment of feminists to the court. I love both the Justices confirmed during the Obama period. I want more justices who will enhance a woman’s right and equality in this relatively biased society. Men have had their way in the US system of Government for over 300 years. Women need stronger protection and better checks and balances.

I have more confidence in the Democrats to nominate feminists to the Supreme Court.

One major frustration during this election cycle, is the feeling of helplessness from considering my options. In a country as smart as ours, I should be torn between two brilliant minds, competing on ideology, versus theatrics. Why can’t we get Collin Powell or Cheryl Sandberg to run on a ticket? 

Maybe when Shania gets ready to vote in 2024, she will have options of leaders we will love, respect and want to follow; at this point, we don’t really have a choice.

Fractured, or not, this time, Hillary it is.

Madame President, we look forward to you in the White House.

Hillary Window

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.

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!

Recipe for a Soft Landing: June 29 2013

Olympic Stumble

A young man returns from the war and tells his father that he is madly in love with this girl and is getting married; a few years later, when he is getting divorced, he goes to visit his Dad and tell him about the predicament; Dad responds, “I knew this marriage wouldn’t work”. The young man agitatedly says, “if you knew all along this wouldn’t work, why didn’t you say something, when I came to tell you that I was getting married?” The father smiles and says calmly, “even if I told you at that time, you simply wouldn’t listen.”

One of my favorite people told me this story many years ago.

Often, we are so determined to do something, we are so much in love with a project, a person or a pre-condition, that we are unwilling or unable to listen to wisdom or those who may have a better perspective from a distance, of the potential outcome.

This has happened often at work and in my personal life.

Business leaders, in love with a customer or a specific pet-project, pour tremendous energy into something that you can see for yourself, is not going to work out. However, whether they report to you or, vice versa, often, there’s nothing stopping them from their own mistakes.

In personal life, I also see friends and family embark on obvious disasters-in-the-making; as long as they are not (significantly) harming themselves or others, often, you have to let them learn from these mistakes. This is even truer, for those we love and those that are stubborn by nature.

In Bangla, there is a saying, “Keu Dekhe Shikhey, Keu Thekhe Shikhey” (some learn by watching others, while others learn through their own stumbles!)

It hurts us to see our love ones go through these trials and tribulations; specially since we may know the answer to their quests. Only if they asked and listened!

However, to preserve our relationships and not come off as meddling, we may sometimes have to remain silent, bite our lips and let them go off on their own.  This requires tremendous self-control and often the modesty to know that we cannot solve the problems of others – they have to solve it on their own.

When they return after their mistakes, it’s important to avoid the grandstanding, “I knew it”, or “I told you so.”

Most of the time, they realize their own mistakes and are hurting already; as a friend, parent or lover, the most important role we can play is to comfort and solace them in their “loss” and help them build a new path for success (if they ask for your opinion!).

Recently, I watched a (stubborn) friend start on an ambitious journey to do something; anyone, looking from far away, could see that this quest had to turn into a disaster. I had to remain silent; let them go on their journey. At different steps, as the events unfolded, I listened – and learned – but never consented, approved or gave a strong opinion. The journey wasn’t materially expensive – it just cost a bit of time.

If you turn the situation around, I bet, this arises all the time with me!

I fall in love with some story and start following that path. The difficulty is to know about the pitfalls of that journey. One of my thoughts has always been to give my close friends, confidantes and coaches, unbridled permission to critique me – correct me –  so I can avoid stumbling big time.

My best coaches, instead of telling that we are about to falter, ask a series of critical questions: have you considered this angle? Have you looked at this possibility? Do you realize that this may turn into that?

I love it, when people ask me difficult-to-answer questions – those I did not ponder – questions that make me sit back and think!

All of this, applies to our work or personal environment. For this mechanism to work, we need to surround ourselves with diverse folks who have the temperament and courage to ask those questions gently, without malice or mockery.

Everyone stumbles in life; since you cannot avoid the stumble altogether, the goal is to have a “soft landing!” This allows us to pick ourselves up, dust off the dirt that we have gathered, and start back on the next journey, on the next path.

(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


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!

US Elections 2012: The Choice

Shania and I stand out in a line for two hours to see Michelle Obama; it’s yet another hot and sultry day in Florida.  One of the volunteers helps me change my address with a new voter registration ID; button and t-shirt sellers abound. We buy a “Michelle Rocks” button! Every few minutes, a volunteer reminds us of the “airport style” security to get into the auditorium. Bottled water in hand, we wiggle along a snake queue, experiencing this magic of our first- ever, grassroots political rally.

Shania and I wait in Line for the Michelle Obama Rally

I want my seven-year-old to experience this political process; be aware of her rights and exercise these rights diligently. I want her to be involved in civil society. As a child, growing up in a non-secular, non-democratic society – I never enjoyed such a privilege. As a parent I try to enhance their curiosity and respect of the political process.

Someone texts me, “Do you even like the Obamas?”  I am not sure how to answer that question.  I don’t think it’s any longer a choice of whether I like them or not.

I am a registered “independent” voter. The label that I identify the most with, is what the Pew Center names, the New Prosperity Independants – The Purple Voter! According to some polls 11% of the US voters are in this category. We don’t align with the traditional views of conservatives or liberals. Typically, we like economic conservatism with social liberties held intact.  However, Liberals (12% ) or Conservatives (10%) tend to dominate the agenda.  Because, they tend to scream their opinions the loudest.

This 2012 election season, I am left without a choice.

I don’t like the heavy handed economic policies of the Democratic party – this process of economic interference and engineering makes me cringe. All this, “I know how to solve all your economic challenges”, or, “I will take care of you, even if you choose never to work” upsets me.

However, I cringe even harder, when I hear the shrill rhetoric of the right-wing fundamentalists of the Republican party. They are against the woman’s right to chose – they don’t want to find a way to solve the immigration debacle – they don’t want to talk about banning assault weapons – they want to cut educational programs and make a big deal opposing gay marriage!  I wonder when Jeb Bush or Colin Powell will get a say in anything.

I have two daughters; I cannot let their freedoms be overtaken by a group of xenophobic bigots. My vote is no longer for my own future; it’s for my daughters’ future. I look at the party that is most likely to protect their rights – promote compensation parity – promote more of a “salad bowl” policy. I yearn for a structure that is informed, empathetic; an idiotic senatorial candidate who believes that women can shut down their body during rape – seriously!?

While economic freedom is vitally important, I have always believed that what makes the US the freest of nation – the most creative, entrepreneurial and liberal in thinking – are its social freedoms.  Stodgy Europhiles may find the US thinking very laissez faire or simply not sophisticated enough – but this freedom to choose – to create – to lead – to pray (or not) – to change, is what’s most attractive of the American fabric.

I want that fabric of our flag, protected forever – for my daughters.

Watching the First Lady Speak at a Rally in Fort Lauderdale

We take our stand in the theatre waiting for the First Lady to arrive. There’s lots of political rhetoric in the air – lot’s of heavy talk about this or that.  Someone hands Shania a political placard; she takes one and asks for a second one for her teacher. We listen to Mrs. Obama, as if she is a rock star. Shania doesn’t understand much of what she is saying; but I notice, she is smiling and listening. I proudly look at Shania as she holds up her placard.

Today, she may not understand the substance of the conversation underway. But she has found a new way to express herself – connect herself – with the greatest democracy in the world.

Next, I want to take her to a Republican rally.  Just like anything else, the most important thing for Shania is to learn that, she has a choice.

Daiyaan and I on the day I received my citizenship (Photo taken by Wasima Wali)