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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Jumping into a Meandering River

You can try to plan your life with calculated precision of surgical instruments; life, however, has its own plan – own compass, as it navigates, making own tracks – with uneven, sometimes noisy music.

As Americans, we try to control destiny – more than any other culture that I know. In our quest to extend life, I have heard that we piss away more vitamins than most nations can afford to consume. I know some who have colorful, little plastic containers that indicate which day, what vitamins have to be consumed. If there was an over-the-counter “happiness vitamin”, I am certain, some would gleefully consume it.

But happiness doesn’t come in the form of a pill. Happiness, rarely, is an outcome of a strategic plan.

Reality, most of the time, is difficult. There are bills to pay, insurance to buy, obstacles to overcome; life, for most of us, is a lot more complicated than making the decision of which color shoes to wear.  Making these decisions can be often stressful and burdensome. Often, small decisions change the direction of our lives.

Recently, I faced a decision that feels as if my kidneys have been churned in a meat grinder and put back in my body. I realize, these decisions impact me and all my loved ones – and others who love them – maybe forever.

I stand at a cross-road; darkness engulfs me. There is no wrong path – neither is there a right path. I have no visibility towards the path ahead of me. I try to guess, do calculations in my mind: is it better to turn left, or right? Or should I look back? Should I just stand still and not make a decision; let life take its meandering course? My South-Asian upbringing, which is influenced heavily with a deep sense of pre-determination, kicks in: whatever happens, will happen for a reason.

I come to the conclusion that, life’s too short to live through uncertainty and darkness; and to give up to the curse of pre-destination.

Some twenty six years ago, I faced such a decision, when I left my mother and sister alone, in a far away wretched land, to seek my own destiny. I believed, at that time, that if I didn’t achieve something higher, I would be unhappy; as a result,  if I couldn’t be happy, I couldn’t possibly be the source of the happiness of others.

Today, as I again face that moment, I feel like I have to make a decision without knowing where I am headed. I have to live vulnerably.

All I know, there has to be a brighter place than where I am; I have the gift of two beautiful, innocent human beings, who need for me to make a decision. I have to stop analyzing – and move forward. I have to again, go looking for happiness.

Let the meandering river take its course; let the storms destroy everything in it’s path. I cannot let the storm paralyze my thinking; I know I may have to swim upstream for a while, in this tumultuous river – holding on to my angels – to get somewhere, where the sun will shine again and there will again be sparkles in their eyes.

I pray for the courage to make the decision to jump into my meandering river of life.

Simple Decisions in a Complicated World

There are so many decisions in one’s life that are made alone. You ask others – a friend, relative, coach, partner or a neighbor – to weigh in; but when the decision has to be truly executed – it is your name that’s etched on paper.

Having migrated to the US as a student, I was suddenly face-to-face with life decisions, during a very early stage of my life. Whether to move to an apartment from the dormitories, which roommates to pick, location of an apartment or what furniture one may need – are all simple, yet building-block decisions in one’s life. Growing up, my parents like many others, made most decisions; I was not necessarily prepared to have a “judgment call” on topics like these.

When you are nineteen or twenty, you don’t always understand the gravity of these decisions; there is a need to make a decision– so you make it; sometimes your roommate turns out to be a person who doesn’t share the chores or pay the bills on time – another time, the furniture you buy (from a garage sale) just collapses within a couple of weeks. However simple or mundane, the outcome of such decisions sometimes makes you the person who you are.

I have a childhood friend, who is paralyzed in front of the frozen food section, picking the brand of yogurt that he may want. To me it’s a simple decision; to my friend it’s complicated.  It requires one to make a choice – and to live with that choice – maybe for a day – or maybe a lifetime.

As one grows older, and realizes that the number of decisions we make, during our lifetime, may be growing smaller by the day; however, they may actually have greater impact on more people – and we may have to live with them for a very long time – if not, forever; now, it takes on a whole new dynamic of thinking.  

Today, when decisions have to made, I think of all the different stakeholders in the process – how will my decision affect all of them; I worry about the different outcomes, think of counterpoints – and strategies to balance the potential negative outcomes. I am not certain if the process is complicated – or I make it more so.

Few years ago, at a life-intersection, I had the opportunity to pick from three very exciting career opportunities. Each role was interesting and held the merit on its own. One would allow me to be an entrepreneur in a foreign land – another one would allow me the helm of a multi-billion dollar division of major US corporation; all with handsome packages – required relocation to a different city – and sometimes to different region, altogether.

After talking to a series of people and getting the pros and cons from friends and family, I came to the conclusion that whatever the outcome, the decision has to answer the following:

  1. Is the decision right? Does it feel right for where I want to go in life? Does it feel ethically and morally justified? 
  2. Is the decision fair to everyone involved? To my family, their needs? To my own aspirations?
  3. Is the decision beautiful? Elegant in nature or contrived to fit the needs of a certain time? Does it feel like I am trying to force it – or is it flowing naturally?

I realize that not all decisions require such philosophical pondering; however, there does come times, when it’s important to give the decision-making a due process. I have also found that when I use these guidelines, and, at least one of these criteria is negative, it’s much better to not make the decision.

Not making a decision, often, is a major decision.

Sometimes we get caught in a “false choice” of trying to rationalize that some criteria are met – so we should go ahead with the decision. I have found that, in the long run, with rationalization, I have regretted making those decisions.

I try to imagine where my decision-making skills originated; are they genetically pre-ordained– or did I learn them over time, through many different experiences? One is never certain if Gladwell’s “thin slicing” of decision-making (Blink) is innate or learnt over time.

It’s easy to digress and think how to help my teenager to make the right decisions every time.

The best I can do is to teach her to understand right/wrong in our world view, understand fairness – to consider others around her, and, finally, appreciate the beauty and flow of a river – natural and serene. I also want her to understand the contrast of difficult, contrived decision – that creates conflict, chaos and heartache.

Ultimately, she has to learn from her own mistakes and build her own decision framework. However much I try to protect her from her own circumstances, if I don’t let her graduate into decision-making, she can only make more mistakes.

After all the pondering, some decisions still go wrong – or not exactly as we intended. Like a complex, multivariate, calculation, life takes its own twists and turns and we are left wondering where things exactly went wrong. That’s the time faith comes to our rescue – whatever has happened, has happened for the best.

One can only make decisions about tomorrow. So, we move forward. Learn from our decisions and ardently hope and pray that the decisions we make tomorrow, are slightly better than the one’s made, the day before.