Two Shots of Happy, Two Shots of Sad and a Sweet Aftertaste: My 2014

My New Year’s Resolution last year, “Imma Do Me” (http://wp.me/p3iFDA-2y), may have sounded goofy or dismissive of resolutions, but it was the principle that guided me through all that I did in 2014.

My resolve was to accelerate my drive toward gathering the building blocks of a happy and impactful life, to take a huge step toward my definition of living the dream, to come from a place of yes and experience it all, to live with no regrets, to make choices that reflect my hopes not my fears, to do it my way, to make myself vulnerable and to be unapologetic for being me. Simply put, to just go for it.

And go for it, I did. It turned out, 2014 was the year with the highest highs, the lowest lows, and everything in between:

Wrote my very first letter of resignation

Thought it was the end of an era

Realized how much my colleagues meant to me, how much I loved them

Got teary-eyed…

 

Got the offer for a cool new gig

Felt proud

Felt energized

Danced, drank Champaign, and walked the streets of New York with a bounce in my step…

 

Travelled alone through the romantic cities of Europe

Discovered the meaning of happiness

Laughed, drank wine, ate cheese, met people, barely slept, drank coffee, drank more wine

Had the best trip of my life…

 

Started to work at a major cancer centre, saw a lot of very sick people every day 

Held the door for them, smiled at them, cried with them

Felt helpless, wondered if my work made any real impact

Realized it did, felt meaning in the work I do…

 

Fell in love with an old friend, thought my heart had finally found its home

Found out it was never meant to be, he had never felt the way I did

Felt like a fool, got angry, hated myself 

Gave up on him, but not on my quest for a magical eternal love…

 

Lost my Baba, my beloved grandpa whom I adored 

Realized how loved he was, how much his passing saddened everyone

Dreamt he was alive, realized he wasn’t, cried, missed him

Found solace in knowing he knew just how much I loved him…

 

Started Crossfit, felt the pain, felt the high

Competed…didn’t come last! 

Started running

Found out to my surprise, I actually like it…

 

Started painting

Sucked at it

Felt comfort in it so kept doing it

Didn’t get any better at it…

 

Met people who inspired me

They were honest, emphatic, altruistic, optimistic, fun and passionate about life

Met a few bad apples, they were ugly, selfish, rotten

Met still others who were just…meh…

 

Got rid of things, material possessions

Decided to exchange things for experiences

Felt lighter

Felt free…

 

Finally started to work on my dream project

Met fellow dreamers, the dream got bigger

Met fellow get-it-done-ers 

The dream started to look possible

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Clap along…

… If you know what happiness is to you

Well, Pharrell Williams might sing his hit song “Happy” as if everyone is just going to start clapping along. And for those who do, like the survivors of Philippines flood, then I’m envious.

While I consider myself a generally happy person, I spent my entire adulthood trying to figure out what happiness is to me, and never quite figured it out, never quite put the pieces of the puzzle together.

I finally figured it out, I think… In Amsterdam, during the first leg of what was one of the best trips of my life.

I had been in Amsterdam for almost a week with a couple day trips here and there. But on a cold Thursday afternoon I put aside my camera. I put aside my phone. I put aside my map. I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t trying to find the perfect angle to capture a great photo, or the most adventurous or productive route to a destination, or the most highly recommended restaurant/bar on Trip Advisor or Foursquare. I was just walking. Slowly. Very slowly. In fact, if I was in front of me I would get annoyed and try to pass me by.

And that’s when I fell in love with Amsterdam. That’s when I truly saw it, felt it, experienced it. I saw people siting outside having a glass of beer in the cold. I saw people eating sandwiches together by their door steps. I saw people laughing with their friends. I saw people at pubs, enjoying themselves not particularly because of fine food, or the cool music, or a trendy ambiance. Not because the sun was out. But because they were with their friends, with people they truly cared about. They weren’t out to put on a show or pick up or impress clients.  They were out, because it was 6 pm after work and they wanted to spend time with those they loved. I felt instantaneously happy. I felt happy because the people around me were finding happiness in the simple things in life.

It reminded me of some of my other happy moments in life:

…  like riding a bike with my sister as a kid, with the sun shining on our face…

… like volunteering with the UN/NGOs in Bam, Iran, after an earthquake that had affected an entire town, where I lived in a trailer in a desert with limited to no amenities, during a scorching summer. No I was not happy to see people suffer. Nor did my happiness come from the gratification of helping others, because I didn’t.  My happiness came from seeing people who had lost so much in their lives, who had experienced so much pain, still enjoying the simple things in life like an afternoon tea or finding a shelter for their neighbour…

… like having the best sleep of my life (as an insomniac) in a tent, in the Sahara desert,  surrounded by camels, desert mice, snakes and beetles, and waking up early to watch the sunrise…

… like walking to McDonald’s to get a McFlurry during a heat wave in Toronto…

… like walking through a pile of crunchy yellow fall leaves, making a mess, listening to the leaves breaking apart under my feet, and having my mom watch me do it, and smile.

And that’s when I realized, that to me, happiness, or at least a huge part of it, is simplicity. Appreciating the simple things in life.

The simple things in life, are always there. Much like the sun is always there. But I can’t feel its yellow rays shine on my face sometimes  because of the clouds that I have gathered around myself, like the stress of being great at my job, taking the perfect picture, wearing the coolest shoes, having the perfect weather for my vacation, drinking the best dry white wine… all of those are clouds that I need to push away to see the sun that makes me happy, the sun that exudes energy, heat, and life.

That’s when I realized, that when I stop seeking perfection, perfection finds me, in the form of simplicity, purity, and happiness.

That’s when I found out what happiness is to me.

 

 

Ignorance is bliss (???)

Tengo Preguntas 

Yes or No? 

If your best friend finds out that your husband, the love of your life and father of your three beloved children is having an affair, would you want him/her to tell you?  

If big data could tell you the number of criminals, sex offenders or gun owners in your neighbourhood, would you want to know? 

If a robotic swab or a light could highlight to you the bacterial cultures on your phone, wallet, keyboard, door knob, bathroom, pillow, at any given time, would you want to know?

If giant screens, much like the ones you could see on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, could give you regular updates on number of births and deaths, by cause of death, per country across the globe, would you look at it?  

If a fortune-teller could predict the critical milestones in your life and the life of your loved ones, would you want to know? 

If a fly on the wall could tell you what your friends, colleagues, family, or people on the street, say about you behind your back, would you ask the fly to tell you? 

First, answer these questions based on the assumption that all the predictions and information are 100% accurate.

Now, imagine, there is a 10% chance that they could be wrong. What if it goes up to 50%? 70%?

 

Life and Death

OK, what if it is about your health? What if your genome analysis, could outline your genetic predispositions to various illnesses, would you send a sample of your spit/hair?

What if you were an otherwise seemingly healthy young woman and a genetic test (BRCA 1/2 gene) told you your risk of having breast cancer is 45-65% (compared to risk of 12% for the general population) and your risk of having ovarian cancer is 11-17% (compared to risk of 1.4% for the general population (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/BRCA).

What if a blood test could tell you with 90% accuracy if you or your loved ones will develop Alzheimer’s disease within three years? (http://www.businessinsider.com/a-new-blood-test-predicts-alzheimers-with-90-accuracy-2014-3). Would you take it? What if you knew there was (at least not until further notice) no cure for Alzheimer’s? (http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2014/03/12/can-a-new-test-to-identify-the-likelihood-of-alzheimers-lead-to-better-treatment/)

 

My Decision Tree: 

Here’s my position: I like to make informed decisions about my life and take actions that will enable me to live a healthy, happy, and productive life, to experience all that nature and people have to offer, and to be a value-add member of my society.

In the decision tree below, I’ve come up with a series of decisions that would help me determine whether or not I would answer yes or no to the questions above, whether ignorance would be bliss.

I know this is too simplified, and I know when such complex decisions such as matters of love and life are at hand, a simple a decision tree may not suffice. I also know that sometimes we have the decision made for us, unfortunately, given lack of equality. For example the test might be too expensive  for us to afford or simply not available to us. Or maybe we don’t even know that we can obtain the information in the first place. Or maybe the cost of taking actions (emotional, financial or otherwise) is too high for us.

My intention is not oversimplify, but to give insight as to how (I think) I would start to make such decisions, and maybe help you answer the questions above.

What do you think? Is ignorance bliss? Would you wanna know?

Ignorance is Bliss???

PS. Curious to find out my answers to the questions above? Stay tuned for upcoming blogs in which I will answer some of them. 

 

Scientists of the World, Unite

Last week, Michelle Obama did an “ew!” skit on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where she called potato chips “ew” and suggested kale chips as healthy alternatives due to being “high in omega 3 fatty acids”.

OK… But 1 serving of kale chips, depending on where you buy them or how you make them, can have up to 130 calories, 25% of your daily recommended sodium intake, and 13% of your daily recommended fat intake, and only about 5g of protein. And umm, ya, they are not filling.

Also last week, the government of Ontario introduced legislation that would require large chain restaurants to put calories on their menus and menu boards (http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/ontario-law-to-force-calorie-count-on-fast-food-menus-1.2549382), signalling caloric intake  as an important determinant of healthy eating.

Furthermore, MyFitnessPal, one of the most commonly recommended apps by doctors, dieticians and other experts helps you count and budget calories. According to MyFitnessPal, my recommended daily caloric intake, given my age, height, and weight, and “sedentary” lifestyle (as I have an office job and only exercise 3-4 times a week!!!), is about 1200. I mean, I eat breakfast and already 500 is gone!

Then there is the work of Jonathan Bailor (http://thecaloriemythbook.com)  through collaborations with “top scientists for over 10 years, analyzing over 1300 studies, and garnering endorsements by top doctors from Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, Yale, and UCLA” , on “The Calorie Myth” where he rejects the “miserably incorrect “calories in, calories out” misconception, and shows us how to use the very same science to understand the real ways that the body responds to calories and physical activity”. Not without multiple product endorsements on the book’s website however, including T-Shirts. How those specific T-Shirts help you be healthy and lose weight I’m not quite sure of. To his credit, he does have endorsements of non-branded produce such as broccoli on his website also.

Then there is the recent emergence of “non-diet” crazes. “No, it’s not a diet, it’s a life style”, say the developers, marketers and endorsers of such “non-diets” as gluten-free, low-carb, high-protein, paleo-style, etc.

Then the organic preachers, who justify spending exponentially higher prices for food and produce to go organic. Last week, I boiled and taste tested organic free-run brown eggs and non-organic non-free-run white eggs. According to my taste buds, they were identical. But the former cost at least 1.5 times more than the latter. I’m also still trying to figure out how eggs can be free-run. I mean I didn’t think eggs had legs to run.

My CrossFit and Pilates studios hold nutrition workshops on a regular basis, when they try to tell me what I should or should not eat, what supplements I should take in the morning, at night, before working out, after working out, and when I’m feeling sick. When I ask them for scientific evidence, they can’t show me. When I tell them, I can’t afford it, they say, it’s your body, you need to take care of it, or just buy this product not the whole thing, etc. No offence to my instructors or studios by the way. I really do love them and highly recommend them.

Then there is the whole notion of pharmacogenetics which refers to “genetic differences in metabolic pathways which can affect individual responses to drugs, both in terms of therapeutic effect as well as adverse effects”, which in his book, The Creative Destruction of Medicine, Eric Topol talks extensively about. I imagine we can extrapolate this concept to foods and differences in how we metabolize them depending on our DNA. So Kale, might have a very different effect on you than me.

Joel Stein’s Awesome Column on “DNA of Champions” in last week’s Time magazine (http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2165473,00.html) talked about genes that predict athleticism, such as  AcTN3, which helps to generate speed on the track, the INSIG2, which helps make strength training effective, and DRD2, which helps with responding positively to rewards and learning from mistakes. In absence of a genetic test, I think I probably do not have AcTN3 or INSIG2 but likely do have DRD2: I remember my trainer telling me a few years ago, when I had put on only 2 pounds of muscle after a 3-month strict workout and high-protein diet regiment, that I would probably never have the muscular arms I have always fantasized about. Ouch!!!

On the exercise front, there are the advocates of high-intensity workouts such as CrossFit (which I do and love but have doubts about, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2162262,00.html). There’s the “scientific” 7-minute workout. Then there are daily activity trackers that simply encourage being more active throughout the day.

There are also the hot ladies of ToneItUp, who while inspiring and fun, develop and promote daily workout plans and sell a nutrition plan that would require me to quit work and spend my days in the kitchen cooking and preparing healthy meals.

Don’t even get me started on extended advertising programs such as The Dr. Oz Show and their  marketing of various products and procedures (e.g. the Zerona procedure, for which I still cannot find any independent expert reviews).

You see why I feel so confused?

I am drowning in data but starving for meaningful and applicable information to live a long healthy life and have a rocking body.

I am hence pleading, for scientists of the world, to unite, without any affiliations to moneymaking machines of food, beverage, diet and supplement industries to please tell me how I should go about living healthy and looking great in a way that I can afford financially and time-wise.

Matchmaking

I attended the Toronto StartUp Weekend event a couple of weeks ago. The theme was Tech For Good. It was a great weekend and I was very impressed by Toronto’s own future entrepreneurs presenting their ideas for social entrepreneurship, environmental change and global issues.

It striked me, a lot of ideas, great ideas, were all about matchmaking, or perhaps more accurately, connecting. Here’s what I mean:

I always think about pain points as I go through life, and write them down, as ideas for a new business, product, service, or technology. Sometimes, it can be as trivial as:

“Why isn’t my car’s sun visor automated? Why do I have to manually turn the visor up and down to adjust for the light? I mean c’mon that’s way too much work! #PainPoint!”

Fine, I’m being a little (only a tad bit) melodramatic here. But more often than not, these pain points can be truly, well, a pain in your gluteus maximus muscles (and not in a good way!). And I think, for the most part, these pains arise as a result of lack of, slow or poor connectivity between people, products, services, or information. So next time you go #PaintPoint!!!, ask yourself, which of the below permutations the pain is stemming from, and how you could play matchmaker.

A Matchmaker’s Guide to Address Pain Points: 

Step 1) Identify Pain: This step requires being mindful as you go through life, and erring on the side of being a little melodramatic to identify problems and challenge status quo, while at the same time being solution oriented and happy.

Step 2) Diagnose Pain: Play doctor to identify the etiology of pain. Ask yourself, which of the connections below (in bold) is either non-existent or is suffering.

Step 3) Treat Pain: Think of solutions that connect the categories outlined below (in bold), and what other smart people may have done to address the pain (some examples in italics).

People – People: online dating, social networks, telecommunication, meet-ups, conferences, etc. (e.g. Tinder, Twitter, FaceTime, Reddit’s AMA, shared office spaces, …)

People – Products: new products, packing existing products together, brick & mortar or online retail, shipping, marketing, etc. (e.g. malls, super markets, pop-up shops, Amazon, Polyvore, Netflix, MLS, Next Issue, Airbnb, 3D printers, Foodstory, …)

People – Services: new services, making existing services more accessible, e-concierge services, marketing, etc. (e.g. Wellx, Uber, Khan Academy, Craig’s List, Lux Cleaning , Shake, Creeds, Expedia, …)

People – Information: developing/connecting people to information about themselves, other people, products, or services, etc. (that thing called the World Wide Web, 23&Me, Yelp, Sleep Cycle, …)

Products – Products: getting products to talk to/work with each other through either a physical or wireless connection (e.g. thermostats, Square Reader, bluetooth keyboards, Apple TV, whatever Google will do with Nest, …)

Products –  Services: mainly customer service I think (e.g. Apple’s Genius Bar, …)

Products – Information: products that make data collection and analytics easier (e.g. Fitbit, other sensors/wearables, …)

Service – Service: service/time-based barter economy (e.g. Centre for Social Innovation’s Timebank, …)

Service – Information: service driven by information or information collected as a by-product of service (e.g. crowdsourced power outage tools, analytics tools driven from mobile devices, …)

Information – Information: this is where big data comes from (e.g. ERP platforms, the cloud, …)

And these are just a few examples. Ultimately, the best way to get rid of pain points, is to develop/improve intra-inter connections amongst all the categories, in an integrated, seamless fashion. This is not a matchmaking game of 2.

That’s it for now, as my synapses aren’t really connecting effectively right now. #PainPoint!, need a Synapse Matchmaker (coffee? sleep?)!

Let me know what you think!

Sweet Sweet Fantasy Baby

In my last blog I introduced a 4 Question Framework to live an awesome life. And I said, the question of when, i.e. in which era we live our lives, was irrelevant, as we don’t have a choice on when we live our lives. Well, at least not as a general rule, unless we want to and we end up figuring out human cryopreservation and Vanilla Sky can happen in real life.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, that we indeed do have choice over the question of when. I would definitely go back to the future and choose to live in the 31st century. Well, only because my imagination can’t really imagine what the world might look like after that. Hell, I am probably thinking too small and limited anyways. But hey, let’s try anyways.

You live in a beautiful 100 storey building, complete with an urban farm on the roof, where you grow whatever your heart desires. Your building has its own solar and wind energy generator, its own water distillation and recycling capability. Your building is also a little manufacturing plant, with a multipurpose communal 3-D printer where you can print your furniture, tools, dishes, and shoes. You know all your neighbours, because you have time to spend with them. Your loved ones are an elevator ride away. 

You are woken up in the morning by the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Your smart curtains gradually open to let the beautiful sun shine on your face. Your coffee machine and curtain are talking to your blanket and mattress to monitor your sleep phases and make sure you don’t wake up grumpy because your deep sleep is not disturbed. By the way, your blanket can get warmer or colder to adjust to your body and external temperature.  

Once  you are fully awake, your favourite radio station turns on. You won’t hear any news about an ongoing war. Why? Because there are no wars. Because there is equality in the world. There are no countries, no passports. The name of your country, is merely a mailing address. There are no countries because the traditional hierarchical models of government do not exist anymore. Transcontinental networks set the principles and standards to ensure technology interoperability, equal human rights and sound legal systems. Decision-making occurs more and more at the local level, more democratically.

While you’re drinking your coffee, the water in your shower pipes heats up to your desired temperature, without actually running or being wasted. While you’re showering, the water waste goes into a recycling tank that removes the waste and chemicals from the water so that it is suitable for watering your urban farm, if mother nature is not cooperating. You come out the shower, to freshly heated towels that your smart towel hook hands to you. You feel cozy and instantly happy.

Your smart fridge tells you the options you have for breakfast. You order it verbally, and the fridge prepares all the ingredients in a basket, just like a vending machine. Oh, and there is no App for that. Apps are so two-zero-five-zero. Because this all happens in the background, seamlessly, without the need for your activation or manipulation. If you don’t like making your own breakfast, well, there’s a robot for that! Your live-in-robot takes the ingredients from the fridge, makes you an amazing omelette, and serves it on the plates you designed and made by your 3-D printer last month. 

Your job is probably something you have not heard of today. And forget commuting, you work from home. You have virtual meetings (yes, with handshakes) with avatars of your colleagues or clients. There is no need for introductions, your smart contact lens automatically curates everything you need to know about the person and projects it onto a (virtual) screen; their resume, their hobbies, the initiatives they have led or killed. If you know them, you get right down to business. And if not, you get right into small talk: “oh I see you’re an avid golfer”. And that meeting you set up? You don’t need 20 emails back and forth to find a mutually agreeable time. Your calendar is talking to their calendar.

Your children’s schedule is also way more flexible. They do a lot of their theoretical learning online, on their own time. Then they apply their learnings in group projects. They brainstorm with each other to solve problems, create, develop ideas, build things. They are not students, they are little entrepreneurs, little philanthropists, little artists.  They are way more physically active, because their classroom is out there in the world. And they can totally play on the street. Because the streets are safe. They form meaningful friendships with their neighbours and classmates.

You fall asleep easily, because there are no blue screens, because your home creates the serenity you need in order to fall asleep and works to maintain your circadian rhythm. You fall asleep easily, because you are not stressed, because you are proud of what you accomplished today, because you did something meaningful today, you met someone interesting today, you mediated today, exercised today. You are happy, you are content, you fall asleep with a smile on your face. 

Technology, has become your quiet, obedient, always steps ahead of you, personal assistant. Technology has enabled falling costs of goods, services, and resources. Technology has enabled equality, safety, transparency, peace. Technology has helped our planet earth to take a sigh of relief, to take a deep breath, to blossom. You go back to your roots and appreciate the smaller things in life. Like spending time with your loved ones, gardening with your neighbours, building your community, building the future, traveling, playing. You have time to do what really matters in life: to love, be loved, and make a difference.

This fantasy, was fuelled by movies, books, conferences, tweets, and recent announcements of disruptive technologies and/or business models such as Google’s contact lens and acquisition of Nest, Amazon’s drones, etc. As a start, check out the films “Her” and “Robot and Frank” and talks by Ray Kurzweil, Rodolphe el‐Khoury, and Don Tapscott. If you want more, subscribe to my Twitter account @ABoloorchi as I tweet such sources frequently.

Thanks, and happy fantasizing!

See below for a slideshare presentation:

4 Questions for an Awesome Life

Be It Resolved

Yes, statistically speaking, many of us have already broken our new year’s resolutions, which I’ll refer to here as NYRs. And many of us like to ridicule such resolutions and announce that we no longer want to make them.  But studies have shown that “people with clear and specific goals, written down and shared with others, consistently outperform those who claim to know what they need to do and who thus shun annual goal-setting.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/robasghar/2013/12/31/experts-dont-give-up-on-the-new-year-resolution/)

I think, that in addition to achieving a S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound ) goal as a result of making NYRs, regardless of whether we succeed in them in a given year, NYRs have the added advantage of forcing us to take time to reflect on our past and envision our future, be more mindful and self-aware and try to figure out what life is all about and what it is that we want from it. This obviously is much more of a lengthy process than just figuring out we want to lose x lbs within y months by doing more of x and less of y. It’s a journey. It is the journey of life.

The Framework 

Last year, I spent a lot of time reflecting; I travelled quite a bit, both with friends and alone. I spent money and time to become healthier, started to mediate, did a 360 survey at work, spent more time with people who know me best, met new people with fresh perspective, and admittedly spent a lot of time being a hermit, reading, and reflecting on what I’m going to call Boloorchi’s 4 Questions for an Awesome Life (a la Porter’s 5 Forces for Industry Analysis and Kotter’s 8 Steps for Leading Change, and not as scientific or impressive as Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion):

What: What do I want to be my legacy? What do I want to accomplish over the years in my career and personal life?

Who: Who do I want on my team and with whom do I want to spend my time with in my professional and personal life?

Where: Where do I want to live at various points in my life? Where do I want to visit?

How: How do I want to be remembered? How do I want to conduct myself and live my life?

(Side note: The question of “when” is embedded in all of the above but unfortunately we can’t choose when we live our lives; we can’t choose whether we wish to be born during the renaissance or in the 26th century. I’ll speak more about this in a future blog.) 

After a lot of self-reflection, I have answers to these questions that range from more or less concrete to just a framework or a word-cloud to “still figuring it out”. And I know (hope) that with more self-reflection and growing up, I will have them all answered.

Imma Do Me 

And how will I define success in my life?

When I’m on my death-bed (I know it sounds morbid, #sorrynotsorry), I will have a smile on my face, with my team by my side and say with confidence that I figured out the answers to my 4 Questions and accomplished them all and lived an awesome life.

And then I will sing Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way”…