My Best Is Yet to Come: Nov 16 2019

I just came back from an amazing vacation with my sister and her husband; they were traveling for work and I accompanied them to Israel, specifically, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.


Maybe it’s because everyone had scared me about airport security, or maybe my knowledge base of this particular country was limited, or a combination of both – had created very low anticipation for this journey.

Islamic section in Jerusalem
Christian Quarters
Visiting the Wailing Wall on Sabbath

For six days, I had one of my best life vacations! The town of Jerusalem, steeped in the history of 4000+ years of monotheistic religions, was gritty and experiential. On the other hand, Tel Aviv with a young, crisp, artsy, foodie modernity, as if a crafted Malibu experience with a generous dose of  culture and ethnic flair, made it all very heady.

During a sunny Segway mobile adventure of the Tel Aviv coastline, I realized something crucial that sometimes I don’t often give attention: while this is truly an amazing time in my life, The Best of My Life is Yet to Arrive.

The world around me is changing and all my experiences from the past, I believe, have prepared me for this journey – to embrace the change and become a part of it.

Couple of  weeks ago, I attended two back-to-back conferences, SOCAP (Social Capital) in San Francisco and Capital Days in Miami. Young entrepreneurs, from all over the US (and some from overseas) are changing how capital is being deployed and used for the good. Major institutional investors, pension funds and large bureaucratic corporations (that have become so big that they can neither innovate nor create an incubation experience) are taking notice and trying to join this wave. Women and minority entrepreneurs (mostly millennials) are playing a significantly large role in this change.

My interactions with a dozen entrepreneurs over the last two weeks describes how the concept of “tech” is changing. Technology is at the center of all new moves, and to say that this particular startup is “tech”, and that startup is not tech is, no longer valid. Similarly The tech Mecca of San Francisco and Boston are shifting to other smaller metropolis’s like Denver, Austin, Atlanta, and Miami and even smaller cities like Charlotte or Nashville. This is a true game changer for what work means for us and our next generations. I know I want to participate in and contribute to this change, in some form, as I move forward.

On a personal front, 2019 has been a reinvention year for me and my family. We uprooted from Boston and settled back in Florida, to be close as a family unit. Consolidating two households into one, and finding a challenging school that suits Shania’s future growth, has also been a big focus, as she readies for high school. Daiyaan’s stepping into true adulthood (and taking on debt) to buy a home has also been an awesome experience. Cleaning up from the past, we have finally sold our maternal home in Bangladesh. I ended a four-year personal relationship which probably should’ve ended two years ago. Many of these steps were not just necessary, but the natural progression in starting a new chapter in my life.

Bali Swing Jan 2019
Aruba Spring Break March 2019

Sailing in Maine June 2019

I had the most amazing vacations this year. Starting in Bali in January, Aruba in March with Friends, NYC in May with my sister, solo week in beautiful Maine in June, Istanbul in July with Shania, Sonoma for a couple of days in October and capping it all with the dream vacation to Israel last week. During all of all these trips, I have loved, laughed, learned and truly lived.

Sunset and Tea on the Bosphorous Jul 2019

This year I have finally started to feel centered, doing more of the things I love, with people I love. Most of my life, I have tried to meet others expectations, or some societal standard of doing this or that. David Brooks in his new book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest For a Moral Life (Random House, 2019)”, talks about being useful and purposeful. Finally, I feel I am starting to live a life that is more of what I believe in. I am privileged to have two beautiful souls on my journey, who understand my need and love me unconditionally. They give me purpose every day. As they grow older, I am re-defining and re-shaping my own future as well. It’s not just about providing a livelihood, or paying bills anymore. It’s about doing more of what I love, and being useful.

My two amazing daughters!

Whether I live one more day, or another hundred years, it doesn’t matter. I know that every day going forward will be different, experiential and something I believe in.

I am confident that my best days are yet to come.

Everything Will Change In A Year: April 20, 2019

I saw a quote this morning that made me think: “Look around you, and enjoy, be grateful; in a year, everything will be different.”

Last Weekend, April 13, A beautiful day in Ogunquit, ME

As I look back a year, with or without the help of social media, so many things have changed, for me. Especially, in the lives of my children. But also, in my own life.

Last Spring, I was a pensive from the roller-coaster feeling from my constantly changing role at work; I was also in pendulum motion, from my home that I love, in Florida, to the cold of Boston. I had a feeling that this Boston chapter of my life, has to come to a close soon. And, by Fall, my role ended; allowing me to seek what I have wanted all along.

This Spring, I am ready to move to Florida, permanently.

Some things have become more certain, and other, more dispensable things, people or feelings, have dissipated. There is no lingering nostalgia about losing these feelings, which didn’t serve me.

My children have made tremendous strides in a year.

After a re-defining 2018, Daiyaan graduated college in 2018 and found her professional footing, bought her “dream” Jeep (that she has named Natasha, after the singer Natasha Bedingfeld) and now wants to buy her first home this Summer/Fall. She is starting to put down her own roots, in a place she loves. She has chosen a healthy lifestyle of balance. She took her first ever solo trip, and conquered Puerto Rico; she has grown up.

Last Spring, Shania, competed to become her Middle School Vice President and won! She has switched from softball to golf and today, loves basketball as her main school sports; instead of acting in plays, now she is co-directing, for the second year, a school play! She was accepted to attend the prestigious Dana Hall school in Wellesley, MA, but instead, is heading to be with family and joining the pre-law program at her new choice school in Florida.

As their lives unfold, and I see these two beautiful women take their next steps, I enjoy listening to their musings, and life interactions. The new friends they make, and the relationships those fray over time. I tell them my stories, from that particular time in my life that maybe relevant to their experience.

Even though I was raised as a teenager in a different continent, in a completely different era, with no electronic gadgets, or Google, to help answer my questions, the struggles of all awkward teenagers, or young people defining their dreams, are still the same.

Whether you are 13, 23 or 52, Constantly, we search for belonging, love and certainty; it’s tough to accept that none of these feelings are constant, and just to maintain an equilibrium, is a lot of work!

This morning, five of my close friends (same age group), are in deep pain: one from a broken hip (from a fall), another from domestic abuse, and one more, with cancer. Two of my best childhood friends lost their mothers in the last weeks – I knew these loving moms – I have eaten meals with them at their dining tables; having lost my own mom a few years ago, I know that big hole in their hearts are not healing soon.

I pray that my friends have the courage and support to bear the pain they are feeling today. When you experience pain, the depth, the excruciating nature of it, numbs us. There is nothing anyone can say or do, to make you feel differently.

Like last year, I know with certainty, this year, there will be those moments of joy, and sadness. You know there will be a Spring of hope, and the still of Summer.

I know, that whatever incremental, or disruptive changes we are experiencing, pain or happiness, it too shall pass.

It fatigues me to think that, the pain and frustration of the political turmoil we experience today in the US (and resultantly, the world) will only sharpen in the next twelve months.

In my adult life, I have seen and experienced progress, and I don’t give up hope, but I choose to take a long view on history. While things are not perfect, I see progress in health, well-being and innumerable sources of joy.

This weekend, in my little microcosm, I am again, taking a good look at everything and everyone around me.

Acknowledging and accepting that change is continuous and constant – I will do my best to appreciate all those gifts that I have in my life today. I am grateful to the Universe for the love, beauty, health and contentment that I am experiencing today.

I know, everything will change in a year.

Hanging out with Daiyaan and Shania @Portsmouth, NH

The Pull of Contradictions (Dotana): November 2011

It’s easy to love one thing, people, nation, religion or race; it’s a lot more difficult to
love different types of things or people, which may contradict each other.

As a child, it’s difficult to grasp the symbolism of a game of tug-of-war during a friend’s birthday. We pull, laugh and fall on the ground as the rope keeps moving in one direction or another.

On a trip back to Bangladesh, like a game of tug-of-war, I feel a tug at my heart.

The warmth and affection, from friends and family,  is addictive. When you are “visiting”,everyone loves you for these precious moments. They visit you, invite you to join them for a meal, shower you with gifts, and offer you unsolicited advice – in no particular order.

While sitting in my mother’s living room, thousands of miles away from home, I feel
the craving to play with Shania, my six-year old, in our pool or go on a sunset boat ride with Daiyaan and get a salty kiss from the Atlantic! I want to be here and there at the same time.

The classic immigrant dilemma: I want my two worlds to commingle.

At the end, though, how we sort through these contradictory urges, makes us human.

Is it, by taking the path of least resistance? Or, is it by making the most difficult path?

Many immigrants, face a trigger-decision at one point or another; give up your career goals or the interest of your children’s education, to fulfill your wish to be with and take care of an aging parent? Or – abandon the parent, to achieve your life-long goals and to ensure the future safety and security of your children?

When the heart is involved, I think it’s difficult to think about all of the options and consequences with a clear mind or perfect heart. Sometimes there is a triggering event that forces one to make a choice – a tragedy, disaster or some pinnacle event. It’s easy that way – blame it on the circumstances! “Ja hoi, bhalor jonnoi hoi (Whatever happens, happens for the best).”

Last Year, I wrote about making decisions with “No Regrets”. (https://zainmahmood.wordpress.com/decisions-with-no-regrets/)

Sorting out a dotana however, is not always that simple. There are (at least) two options to
consider.

  1. Give-in and let pre-determination, “whatever happens, happens for a reason”, take over.  Let destiny choose its course, look for divine intervention to sort out the dilemma. And pray hard.
  2. Seek an “elegant” solution that meets most of yours, and other stakeholders’ needs.

Neither path is perfect – rarely is there a guarantee of blissful happiness.

The deterministic path makes some nervous – mostly those who believe that outcomes can be managed, maneuvered.

The elegant choice path requires working hard, prioritizing, making choices and acting on those choices.

Having tried both paths, my personal inclination is to try the latter first, and if no
headway, succumb to the former! This path, if all fails, gives me the excuse, that at least, “I tried”.

In college, I knew studying Engineering was the more practical option – but passionately loved Economics as a field to study. The solution was to pursue a major in Engineering and a minor in Economics. The practical outcome-based decision overruled my heart. Clearly, that decision has served me well for twenty years!

However, not all decisions in life turn out that simple, or with a pleasant outcome.  Sometimes, one finds themselves making the decisions on which path would lead to a “lesser negative” outcome. Recently, a friend shared his personal experience of disconnecting life-support to one of his parents after many months of coma; everyone looked at him to make that decision. Even today, he wakes up in the middle of the night, crying and perspiring.

After everything is said and done, there are no perfect decisions.  As we grow older, we confront our decisions with courage and some level of moral intensity – or with a deep belief that God (or some Universal Energy) will aid and abet us in sorting out the outcome – the only choice we really have is to prepare to live with the consequences of that particular decision.

When things go haywire, we can choose to be a victim or, own up to our decision and live
the best we can, under the changed circumstances. Second guessing ourselves, “could’ve,
should’ve, would’ve, done this or that” is rarely of much use. Instead, let’s accept the new reality, learn from the experience and try to make the best, again, whenever the situation calls for it.

On a dusty Dhaka evening, outside the airport, I put my bags on a trolley, kiss my mother’s
forehead and tell her that we will see each other soon. There is lingering anxiety and questions in the air; in silence, our eyes ask each other, when will I see you again, are you going to be all-right in this alone world. I see tears in her eyes and turn away because I don’t want her to notice mine. I can hear her saying from the back, “Bhalo Thako, Baba
(Stay well).”

I wish, like that childhood party game, every tug-of-war life decision, was simple, scar-free, and didn’t involve getting hurt or hurting someone else. We could laugh, scream, pull harder and worst, fall on the ground; after the game, there was always lemonade, a nice frosted cake with ice-cream and maybe another game of hide-and-go seek.

The Boxes We Build: Fall 2010

Every day we make choices. Choices about, what we eat, wear, drive – who we associate with, where to work, or live. As we make these decisions, we create boxes for ourselves which may sometimes start to define who we are and where we ultimately land. We become the product of our own decisions.

Three years ago, we decided to move to South Florida. It was pre-dominated by my professional needs; my family packed, for the sixth time, and moved to a new city – new work – new schools – new friends.

Today, we have become Floridians; we love the three and hundred and fifty days of sunshine – love to go to formal restaurants in shorts, wear Tommy Bahama shirts, drive a convertible, enjoy outdoor living, cooking and swimming, when we can. The furniture, artwork and plants around our house have blended with this tropical environment. If I could, I would be out cruising the inter-coastal waterways, all day.

To compound it all, I have now started to drive like a South Floridian. My polite Denver driving etiquette on I-25 has given way to this sheer pleasure of weaving on I-95. Shania, our five-year old, who was born in Denver, is now a Florida child and would prefer to go to school in flip-flops, if she had a choice.

This is what our environment does to us. In New York, you look and behave like a New Yorker, in London you are a cool, reserved, Londoner, in Dhaka – a truly relaxed Dhakaiyah – and in South Florida – you take on that “do-not-care-yet-utterly-enjoying-life” person.

In life, many choices are originally ours. However, our environment also sways our choices.

One tries to make those “bigger” choices carefully (what we do, or where we live). But truly, if you don’t have a job and someone is offering you a stable-steady job in Columbus, Nebraska – it’s hardly a choice. Often, I notice, people choose to live close to their extended families. But, in fact, they don’t have that choice. Their families may have lived somewhere for years and the child/sibling makes a secondary decision to follow (vs. choose).

I have met a handful of people who purposefully choose to move to a specific town, e.g. a University town, or a mountain city, that they love or want to enjoy in their lifestyle. These, highly rational beings, are both fortunate (to afford to make the move independent of their financial conditions) and brave. Most people have difficulty making such a decision beyond emotional connections or financial need.

Ultimately, the outcome of these series of deliberate or accidental decisions, turns into “Life”.

Recently, I was trying to explain this to my fifteen year old teenager; where she is going to high-school, may not be her choice; however, who she befriends and how she does in school, will most likely pre-determine if she goes to college and where, what she chooses as a profession – maybe even whom she will choose as a partner in life. Messing up on a standardized test, at this juncture in her life, could really mess up her path in life. After this long monologue – she rolled her eyes and said, “I know, I know”.

I saw an art exhibit, where after putting together a whole bunch of boxes, the artist put himself in the exhibit. He would periodically move around the exhibit and change it. Symbolically, he lived in the exhibit he had created. In simple terms, our life is very much like that.

As I reach the proverbial midlife, I look around the box I have created for myself; there is so much to be thankful for. It may not be the “perfect” box – but I like what I have. My box now defines me more, than I define it. And that’s ok.

Once in a while, the indomitable spirit kicks in – I may feel like just picking up and going camping in the Amazon or trekking through a desert. Not sure how or what that adds or subtracts from the box.

At the end of the day, viewing the crimson sunset on water, on a warm September evening, surrounded by loved ones and friends, on this corner of Paradise, is where I want to come back to. Racquetball on Saturdays, playing Texas Hold’em with friends, a great new movie at the theatre, or a rib-eye on the grill,  or the sheer pleasure of watching CNBC in the morning, now defines me.

It’s my box; I built it; I hope to have the courage, strength and perseverance to hold on to it.