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.  

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Fear in a Father-Daughter Conversation: Feb 2017

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We find a great place in Delray for Dinner!

 

This is not the typical dinner conversation a father has with his twenty-one year old daughter on a Saturday evening.

Usually, when together, we talk about her friends, her classes, and her work. Within a few hours, we learn about each other’s worlds, and participate in our growth as a parent and a child. As my first born, she has taught me how to be a father. I experiment with her – bounce off politics, religion and familiar topics. Sometimes we roleplay in adversity and joy.

She knows that my optimism about America, borders on grandstanding; I have always been vocal about my aspirations about this nation. She knows, if one works hard and is willing to give our best, we can achieve everything possible, in this country.  I don’t compromise on this particular strain of feelings, and it’s been a consistent thread of our dialog, for life.

On this pleasant February evening, as the sun is setting, we walk west on the pretty bridge on Atlantic Avenue in Delray, and approach downtown, in search of a nice place for dinner.

I gently ask her if she has heard about Muhammad Ali’s son being subjected to harassment at Orlando Airport security for his last name and his religion. ” No Daddy, I haven’t heard of it”, she answers.

We go on to discuss that if she is stopped by the police, or any security personnel, how should she react. With a last name like Mahmood, this is more likely to happen now, than not. Most important is not to be surprised by the event – but rather to expect it.

If you expect the worst in life, and prepare for it, there are only two possible outcomes – either you’re prepared and deal with the calamity – or you’re pleasantly surprised (that the calamity never took place)!

I want her to be prepared; I don’t want her to be sad, confused or dismayed.  We discuss that if a cop stops and asks her whether she is legally in this country, she needs to be respectful and not get mad or respond angrily that she was born in Toledo, Ohio. We acknowledge that due process and the law-of -the land will ultimately protect her, but it could be nerve-wrecking and a complete waste of time.

We talk about the two Indian immigrants who were shot and (one) killed at a bar in Olathe, KS, this past week. She is stunned to hear the news; we discuss about being more aware, and not going out when I am visiting one of my plants in Middle America during the next few years.

The word, immigrant, has become such a flash point of discussion, in the land built by, with and for immigrants.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

When Daiyaan’s grandfather came to this country, back in the late 1950s,  foreign scholars often carried a “temporary white” card, so that,  they could ride the front of the bus, or drink from a “whites only” water fountain. That was only sixty some odd years ago. Things may not be perfect today, but they are a lot better than those times.

In my thirty plus years, I have seen tremendous progress in this nation, the attitude of it’s people and habits.

I saw Barack Obama get elected twice – never thought, a minority with a strange sounding middle name, would be elected as the leader (anywhere in the world).

However, now we know, even after all that, it’s not possible to let our guards down. We need to still teach our children to be aware, that there are people here (and many other modern industrialized places) where people judge you by the color of your skin, or what you wear, or how you speak, or what your last name is.

On this beautiful evening, it’s just sad that, instead sharing our joy and colorful experiences, I am scaring her into reality.

In her twenty-one years, I have never had to inject fear in our conversation to have her submit; it feels like one of those movie characters of the sixties, who taught their children, not to look into the eyes of the policemen, and to address them as “sir”.

I find my behavior and teaching method deplorable, shameful and very “un-American.”

But as a father, my first responsibility to her, is to teach her to survive, which requires moderation and modulation.

I am not proud of myself; just being pragmatic. I thought I was too liberal, too progressive for all this.

I never thought that I would need to speak to my children about the fear of being different.

I know this will come to an end one day. It doesn’t matter if its four years, or eight years. As a parent, however, you are often driven by a singular motive – wanting to see that your children are safe, happy and taken care of.

She calms me down gently, “Daddy, I know; don’t worry, I will be fine”.

I know you will be fine, Daiyaan. But I can’t be.

I am still mad, upset and just simply pissed. I want my America back where fear is not what I teach my children, but I teach them courage – to be the grand person they deserve to be.

daddydaiyaan-lunch-feb-2017
The conversation continues the next day

Unicorns, Stars and Stripes: Recovering From the Shock of November 9 2016

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About ten days ago, on the eve of US Elections, I went to bed with severe anxiety.

I had lots going through my mind; will the economy collapse, like it did in 2002 and 2007/8 and will I have to lay people off – or conversely, get laid-off myself; will marriage equality be reversed and I won’t be able to get married next year; will my daughter’s rights to choose, in their reproductive years, be snatched away by a lopsided supreme court; will there be public humiliation of my Muslim friends or family in the hands of a McCarthy style tribunal in days to come; how will they treat me – since I carry a Muslim name – but now an atheist, cohabitating with another atheist, and raising two daughters with no religious preference.

All of these heady, very personal thoughts coagulated into bizarre, dystopian dreams and a sleepless night. I woke up with a headache the next morning. My eleven-year old daughter, who had gone to bed at 8 pm last night, woke up confused and asked me, “Daddy, is it true – Hillary lost? What happened? ”

We hugged for a few minutes. The first thing I told her, “it’s going to be ok, baby. We are going to be ok. America is a great country. I have experienced America for 31 year and I know what it’s made of” Even as my heart was heavy with uncertainty, I was doing my fatherly thing, re-assuring her that life is not about to change dramatically.

I went to work like a mechanical drone, back-to-back meetings, and flew to Los Angeles that night for work. For about 7 days, I couldn’t bring myself to watch my comfortable NBC news with Lester Holt.  I felt the mourning of liberal friends on social media – it was a similar howling I had once before, from my family, on the day of my fathers death – somewhat bizarre, yet excruciating in expression. They needed to get their feelings out in the open.

The weekend after the elections, my sister came to visit from Canada, and it was easy to forget everything by wandering around beautiful Boston; she was also shocked. We tried to keep our political discourse to a minimum, and tried to take in the sunshine and fall colors surrounding us.

All throughout the week, I kept racking my brain to think, how could I be so way off in my projections – how did I completely misunderstand the American “way of thinking.”

During the Gore vs. Bush or Kerry vs. Bush elections, there were clear signs; I was actually very doubtful that a biracial man with a Muslim name would ever be President of the United States. But this time, I felt a level of certainty, that I had never felt before.

Early in my life, I lived 15 years in the rural hinterlands of Missouri, the Industrial rustbelt of Ohio, farmlands of Wisconsin and western hills of the mining country of Pennsylvania. I distinctly remember, how I always felt like an outsider there; I could feel people stare at us, as soon as we entered a restaurant – or some folks just moved a few feet away, as you walked by, at the grocery store.

It was only after I moved to Denver, and in Florida, that I felt as if I belonged there. A short tenure in Texas reminded me of the Midwest again – but then I quickly escaped to Massachusetts – the bluest of the blue states!

And of course, there were the 8 years of Obama, the unimaginable passage of Marriage Equality, the possibility of tilting of the Supreme Court.

Altogether, time and space has played a trick on my mind!

I had started to believe in this utopian fantasy of equality and morality. I felt, as if in my lifetime, I would see the transformation of America into an imaginary land of equity and equality.

While things have dramatically improved over thirty years and America, since last week, I have come to accept that there is still ways to go. The better way to think, there will always be the opportunity to improve here.

People may say it’s economic anxiety of the working class poor that drove our election results. But it’s not JUST economics. It’s definitely not one-dimensional. There is race, there is bigotry, there is misogyny, there is homophobia. It’s all kind of mixed together. In a lot of ways, it’s Malcom Gladwells Revisionist History: we voted for a black man twice, we have done our share. It’s time to swing the pendulum back for a while.

As I speak to Shania and Daiyaan today, I remind them of a day in Missouri, thirty years ago a particular landlord told me on the phone, that they didn’t have rentals available – but asked my friend with an American name/accent to come look at an open unit on the same day. I also remind them that when their grandfather, an International scholar, had a “temporary white” card so he could sit in the front of a bus, or drink from “white only” water fountains. That was only sixty years ago.

America has made tremendous progress. But everything is still not yet equal here.

I also remind my daughters, that I have traveled six continents and there is no other place on earth, where liberty and equality is respected more. Period.

America may not be perfect – but it’s better than any other place on earth.

America will always be a work-in-progress.

Thirty years from now, we will see and experience things, that we can’t imagine today. I am more confident of America than ever before.

We may have to put up with some theatrics and melodrama for 4 to 8 years. But if the government over arches and tries to scale back social progress, I know that there will be significant pushback from those 61 million voters who didn’t vote for that level of social change.

In eight years,  Shania will be ready to cast her first vote; the latest, on that day,  there will be another opportunity to swing the pendulum back. She will have that choice. And I expect to be there, to help her make that decision.

In the meantime, we need to remain engaged. When behaviors make us cringe, we need to speak up. When our civil and human rights are questioned or threatened, we need to understand and claim them back.

America is a continuum. A beautiful continuum where we have a lot to add

How You Do Anything, You Do Everything: February 2015

My Serenity: On the Blue Atlantic (Photo Courtesy of Peter Stringer and Toby Blades)
My Serenity: On the Blue Atlantic (Photo Courtesy of Peter Stringer and Toby Blades)

Yesterday, I heard this quote mentioned in my yoga class; it makes me think about the things I do, almost in a pattern, and how they connect together to form the person that I am.

After a day of tumult at work, I seek refuge in my temple: my bedroom, where the it’s serene, flowing curtains, low-rise furniture, bubbling water-features, calm whites, greys and blues. The smell of mahagony touches my soul; soft cotton is the base for everything.

This desire to calm the space around me, has been a craving for a long time – maybe even a carry-over from quiet Joypahar, where I spent my early formative years.

I fulfill this inner need on most Saturday mornings, when everyone else is asleep.
My routine is to wake early, make myself a cup of milky “cha”, put the diffuser on Lemongrass, a mild meditation music, and wander off into the world of newspapers – searching for what happened around me this week that I missed; this is the time, when I do my best thinking, and planning.

Even during some recent, more difficult times, I never let go of that feeling that, a calm place exists, somewhere. I just have to go find it; sometimes, I may have to re-create it.

Because, I never let it go, invariably I do find it. It may not be in a very expensive home, but it’s wherever I am, at that moment.

At work, when I interview a new team member, characteristics I intently look for are, calmness and rationality. Will I get a rational, mathematical response to the problems we need to solve; or will it always be surrounded by grandiose drama.

I have figured out that I don’t work well with dramatic people. Drama is necessary at times; but I know that I do my best work surrounded by calm and stillness.

On a vacation to Santa Fe and Sedona over the last two months, I realize how much I crave this silence of my surroundings. I feel the clear air and ability to look forward in the amazing blue.

I am reminded of the time I spend on my boat, out on the calm, azure blue, with nothing but the gentle movement of the ocean to accompany me.

I know I am perfectly happy there.

Realizing and accepting that the world around is often going to be stormy and tumultuous, is the other side of this equation.

As long as there is also the ultimate surrender: at some point, I will return to this calm again.

During the last four years, after almost eighteen months of tumult, I started a new chapter in my life; as I have made new friends in this new life, I believe, that my best friends are also those that bring that calm to my life.

Deliberately, one by one, I have let go of friends (and relatives) who bring chaos and confusion to my quiet stillness. Once you “de-tox” your relationships, you find your calm space, very quickly.

No relationship is worth the tumult that creates the inner conflict with who you are.

I am learning to accept who I am. I need that calm of the ocean blue to bring out the best of me.

That is how I Choose to do anything, everything.

One of my favorite places at sunset on Pompano Beach
One of my favorite places at sunset on Pompano Beach

The Value of a ME-Cation: March 30 2014

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….. 🙂

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.