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.

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I Like Where I am : February 2018

Last week, preparing for a routine colonoscopy (one of those uncomfortable things one has to experience after turning 50), in the early haze of mild anesthesia, my mind wanders. For a change, there is only a light angst, making me think, what will happen to my children, if something happens to my physical self.

The curse of a single parent, with no “back-up” parents, is that you worry incessantly, in your hypothetical absence, what will happen to your minor children. You understand that one is constantly vulnerable to changes in health or external circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you stop worrying. You buy extra life-insurance, you draw up a detailed estate plan, you have conversations with your loved ones, asking them if they will look after your children, and provide them with guidance. But there is always this lingering concern, at the back of your mind.

Moments before my last such hallucinogenic state, I remember wondering exactly what an 8 year old Shania may have done, if I somehow managed to escape during a routine check-up.

But today, Shania is a teenager, and Daiyaan is over 22 and working, paying bills and making her way through this world.

When I observe them together, fighting, arguing, doing sisterly things together – but at night, leaning on each other, when watching their favorite TV show, somehow I accept that, they will be ok, if something happens to me. It’s not going to be easy; but it’s also not impossible. I have also collected enough “together” memories, to leave them Facebook reminders, and digital moments that will spark joy, love, excitement and other emotions, that we commingle to build a life.

With this sense of relative “relief” comes a sort of satisfaction; a deep breath.

As the fog settles, the mind explores. I start imagining, what if something unexpected does happen during routine procedure. At this point, I am looking for bright spots. I think about my smiling mother.

This is the first time, since her passing a couple of years ago, I am in this state of mild cognitive disrepair and I get into an imaginary conversation with her; joking, cajoling, asking me how I have been and how the girls are doing. She asks me what I had for breakfast and if I had brought her back some “Baklava” from the US. We play cards, she makes those facial gestures or little noises, that only she could do. My father, joins us, quietly, smiling – not saying much – thirty years of silence has made him even quieter in my sub-conscious.

This entire haze-filled imaginary interaction, somehow makes me relaxed and fills my heart with an unanticipated calm and joy. To believe that, one has loved ones, on many dimensions, and that escaping from one dimension to the other, may not be as ominous as most organized religions want you to believe.

I want to live forever in my current dimension, no question. But I am also neither concerned, nor sad, about going to the other dimension(s), when that inevitability arrives. A sense of relief, and calm settles in and I float along.

The nurse asks me how I am feeling and if I am ready to put my clothes back on. Outside, in the waiting room, my guardian, Daiyaan awaits to take me home. She flew from Florida to Boston last night to accompany me back from the hospital to home. We discuss lunch, what I want to eat, and the rest of the day. For this day, our roles have reversed and she has become my parent.

On a cold, wintry day, I roll down the car window and let the happy fog of anesthesia slip out, as I take a fresh breath of air. For now, I will remain in this dimension and continue collecting memories with all these amazing, loving people around me.

Today, I like where I am.

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.  

Serendipity, Happenstance and Toast with Guacamole


I do believe in serendipity and happenstance.

And I believe that things happen for a reason. At that happening moment, often, we don’t realize what that reason maybe; over time, we understand why this just needed to happen.

Also, I see, that the series of experiences I have had, were just preparing me for this moment of time.  

Today, I closed on my first holiday-home (and possible final home) in Oakland Park, Florida. For seven months, I have been following the construction of this home; cinderblock by cinderblock, windows, doors, electric wires and tile work. As if, I am preparing for a child to be born. 

When you talk about serendipity or happenstance, on this same date, I arrived in the US, some 32 years ago. Maybe the date is just a coincidence.  

I started my new life in this new country, bursting with desire and ambition. Even after so many years, my heart and mind are just as excited by possibilities of love, friendship, a great meal, or a bottle of wine.  

This morning, Shania, my twelve year old and I drive to sign the paperwork at the closing office; all the way, I keep thinking of the first home I bought on Merrimack Lane in Toledo, some 24 years ago. I remember the night before the closing of my first home; my mom and I kept talking about the concept of buying a “home”. She was worried that if I bought a home in the US, I would never return to Bangladesh. She was right.  

She sat with me through the signing of papers, insurance and documents. At the end she asked me, “Bujhcho, shobkichu?” (Did you understand everything?)  

Today, my strong Shania sits with me, quietly, for more than hour, while we go through some 30 signatures, deeds, titles, insurance….all of it. Later, she acknowledges, it was really boring, but she didn’t bring her headphones to the closing because she thought it was impolite. I am grateful she is here; I believe she is here for a reason more than, just that I asked her to be there. Just like my mother, twenty-four years ago, she is is providing me strength and support to nurture my dreams along.  

We get home and Daiyaan arrives; we unpack boxes and put things away. We are sleeping on air mattresses tonight, just like camping. Sheets are unfolded. New dishes are put in the new dishwasher; new towels are hung up. All to the girls’ favorite music – dancing, joyful and bright.  

In the evening, my friends Toby and Ray, bring champagne. We toast in our new glasses, nibble on tapas, listen to good music and break out into utter goofiness. I feel like I have been designing and planning for this day, all my life.  

The goal tomorrow is to make breakfast for my girls, at our new home.  

Multi-grain bread with Guacamole, sunny-side up eggs on toast, and a sprinkling of Sriracha. Orange juice, hot tea or coffee.  

This is a great day for my family. 32 years from landing in this beautiful place, to 24 years from learning to buy a new home, I am here today because I have been preparing for this day. This is no coincidence. This was meant to be; Guacamole toast for my princesses, and a hot cup of red-rose tea for me.  

Our First Drinks at our New Home

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.

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 Unexpected Expectations of Uncertainty

I look at the sketch closely; it’s a small 6X6, vibrant, colorful work of a famous painter. I hear the story of a sick sister who is selling her brothers own work, to pay for chemotherapy.

I ask a friend about this work of art; this prolific collector, plants the seeds of uncertainty in my mind; is this authentic? Is this a genuine work of the same master? Apparently, the same master’s daughter had sold some work, a few years ago (after his death), which were not authentic. 

Why would someone make up such an elaborate story for a relatively small sum of money? What if the story is completely made up?

I spend one evening thinking about this quandary.

There are so many situations, where we seek a level of certainty, which just isn’t available. In retrospect, the most important things in life have the least amount certainty.

As I go to work every morning, there is very little certainty that I will return home that day; I have so little surety that I will see my loved ones in the same form and shape that I left them this morning.

We have no guarantee on our vital organs. We have all heard stories of people going in to check out a headache and finding some debilitating disease lurking in their system.

As children, we seek the certainty of the love of our parents; however, we hear of small babies abandoned in trash cans or sold for money. As adults, we seek permanence in our relationships with a ring or encircling fire. However, modern statistics only re-affirms the fragility of this “venerable” institution.

The science of “management”, invented in the US, tends to lead us to control and manage outcomes in uncertain environments. In a previous role, during a capital appropriations process, the CFO of the company asked me to predict how this investment would fare in a repeat 9/11 type scenario. I thought the question defied logic, since, the world would be at a different stage, if something that catastrophic re-occurs. Today, as I work with new leaders, we talk about making “good” decisions, based on all the facts that are available to us at a particular juncture, but leaving room to moderate our course of action as the environments change.

Every morning, as I pass by the small piece of work that put me in an irrational quandary, I am more mesmerized by the emotions I experienced while acquiring the piece, than the work itself.

At the end of the day, my “much better” half, who generally has a clearer view in any difficult scenario, helps me reach the conclusion that there is not much I can do, to provide any more certainty in my quest. If the piece is a “fake” we will still enjoy it as much as I would enjoy it if it’s “real”. Above all, by acquiring this piece, we hopefully have helped someone who needs treatment.

In an effort to acquire a level of certainty, it is easy to miss the bigger picture. Instead of seeking some level of “surety”, It’s more important to enjoy life as it is dealt to us – certain only of the people and environment that surrounds us at that very moment. 

If we are privileged to live the next moment, we will enjoy it with the only certainty that things may change without notice, soon.