I think I will end this part of my journal here with this thought. Of course, I would like to punctuate this with some emotion to trigger the thought machine to take on a new direction.
It’s amazing to me how we grow up and somehow, we still manage to stay the same. We age some and we grow some. If we’re lucky, we learn some. Hopefully, we can change some and improve some too. I am thinking about the things I see throughout my day. I am thinking about people who honk their horns on the expressway. I’m thinking of people who refuse to allow the car beside them to merge ahead of them simply because they want to be the one who gets there first. It’s amazing to me the way we take on arguments with people we don’t know or people we will never see again. It equally amazes me how we completely surrender our sanity.
It is amazing that on average, we spend somewhere around 1/3 of our life working for a living. I have read that approximately 90,000 hours of our life is spent at work. Somehow, I think I might be above average, which is fine because as I mentioned early in this project, I am working to gain a sense of optionality so that when I choose to retire, or then again, when I choose to do anything, I want to have the freedom to choose the best possible options. So, to put this simply, if I am going to spend 90,000 hours of my life at work, then it only makes sense that I make those hours work for me too.
I used to try and count how many times I boarded the train in my life. I tried to figure out how many days I’ve spent on the job. I used to try and figure out the hours of my commute but the math seemed endless. I’d try to figure out the difference between occupied time and free time but the result was unfortunate. So, again, if I am going to spend those hours attached to a job then it only makes better business sense to understand that I earned the right to be compensated.
I used to think about the hours I’ve spent on training myself to become a better professional. I think about all that I have learned in the skilled trades and all the tricks to help my day move quickly. We teach skills. We teach plans and strategies. We teach people how to find the bathroom or where to go to buy a good lunch. We learn how to work and how to live but at no point did anyone teach us how to be happy. There are no classes for this. I suppose these lessons come with time. Perhaps after we bang our heads against the same wall over and over, eventually we get the hint and we stop. Or do we?
It is amazing to me how people argue. It is amazing the way people fight with each other over silly matters. In reality, we’re really fighting with ourselves. But still, we rant and we rave. We argue. But why?
Why does the workplace have to be an unhappy atmosphere?
Is it us?
Is it them?
It can’t be “Them” so to speak because there is no “Them.” This is only a predicament in the mind. And by “Them” I mean the people who make our job unpleasant. By “Them” I mean the unhappy supervisor or the coworker who looks to stir the pot and cause trouble. None of this is essential to our success, especially since success comes from within. But still, we always notice what other people do or say.
The question is why do we pay more attention to what other people do, think, get or say instead of focusing on our own business?
I have watched jealousy lead people to the unemployment line. I have seen bragging and boastfulness eventually backfire and oh, it’s true – how the mighty have fallen. I have seen the underhanded politics in the boardrooms and the slander brigades work to fuel the cancel cultures of today. Meanwhile, this has nothing to do with work or work culture. This has nothing to do with the 85% of people who are unhappy at their jobs. This has nothing to do with the 15% of people that are satisfied with their careers. In short, this is personal. Our mind is the dilemma. Not anyone or anything else. Since we are the square root of our own equation, everything starts and ends with us.
I am someone who had to adjust my focus. Depression is never easy. However, add anxiety, add workplace stress and add the social triggers, add the challenges of an everyday life, add the difficulties of interacting with people and combine this with a poor focus, combine this with a defeated mindset and broken spirit and you will find an accurate description of who I used to be.
I needed to change. However, change was not easy for me. I needed to switch my focus but my focus was habitually caught on a life that I was trained to live. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I found a new focus. I found my inspiration to fuel my motivation. And to be clear, I am still a work in progress, which I am grateful for.
For a short while, I worked early mornings as a start-up engineer. This meant that I was the first to enter a large commercial office building in the morning. My job was to make rounds of the building’s equipment, start the heating or cooling and be sure that all systems were operating. My day began with a train that left the station around 4:00AM. I’d find a seat and close my eyes until I was in the city and at my job site by 5:00AM.
Each morning, I saw a man who worked for a bank on the 11th floor of the same high-rise building. This man showed up earlier than anyone else in his company. He never complained. Not once. No matter what the weather was or if he was having a hard time, this man never called out. He hardly ever took vacations. He was at work every morning by 5:00AM and he did this with a smile too.
I always noticed this man. I would offer my friendly “Good morning” and hold the door for him. Meanwhile, this man made sure the coffee pots were ready. He made sure the mailroom was in order and all things were ready for the regular office hours.
To be clear, I was not as happy as this person. I complained more. I argued more. I found myself in pointless discussions that grew heated by the minute. There were people who were likable and people who weren’t. Meanwhile, the man on the 11th floor would come in each day at the same time and never miss a day.
I began to admire him. He was always friendly. He always said hello. He never complained or gave excuses. On the other hand, I complained about the other people I worked with who forgot to lock a door, which is not literally true, but figuratively speaking, this is only to expose the silly trivialities that we fight over.
I consider myself to be lucky. I am fortunate that both of my legs work. I have two arms that seem pretty functional. My back hurts sometimes and my knees are killing me by the end of the day. Other than this, I am extremely lucky. My hearing could be better. Then again, it could be worse too. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be but I am blessed with sight.
The man on the 11th floor came to work each day and his body was not as fortunate as mine. He had Muscular Dystrophy which made it difficult for him to function. Walking was a challenge. He struggled to lift things but yet, he managed to do his job. His speech was challenged and his physical ability may have been challenged but aside from this, I watched this man arrive at work without complaint each and every day. And I thought to myself, “Who am I to complain?”
I have advantages that I take for granted and yet this man has physical challenges. He has a right to complain but rather than complain, he’d smile and say “Hello.” He’d rather go to work and give himself the right to produce.
I think about this man in comparison to myself. I think about him and my friend Kareem who worked on the 27th floor. I think about Kareem’s challenges and how he was happy to come to work every day. Kareem’s challenges made learning difficult. He struggled with technical items. He was known for some mistakes but unless you’ve had Kareem deliver a letter to you from the mailroom, then you’ve never received mail the way Kareem would deliver it.
I saw my friend each and every morning. We bought our breakfast from the same place. Kareem never paid. And he always said thank you. In fact, his last words to me before the pandemic shutdown were, “Thank you for always taking care of me.” Kareem passed away during the Covid pandemic. I was told that he died in his sleep. Although I never had the chance to say goodbye, I know that Kareem’s smile will always be a part of me.
My friend on the 11th floor and Kareem taught me a few things. They taught me to reevaluate my life. I had to take a closer look at myself and realize my part in my own insanity
Lastly, I will share this with you and be forewarned, this too is extremely personal. This story does not take place on the job. Instead, this story takes place in Disney World, which is literally supposed to be the happiest place on earth.
Somewhere back in the year 2006, I was on the verge of a divorce. My daughter was two years old. Her mother and I were not fit for each other anymore and the fighting seemed endless. Neither she nor I were able to find a common bond or at least a middle ground. So as a last effort, we decided to take a trip to Disney.
For some unknown reason, the mother of my child chose to invite another couple with their child who was around the same age as my daughter. The problem with this was I did not like this other couple. They were not my kind of people. I found them annoying at best. I was uncomfortable around them and always on guard for their sarcasm. I had to be fake around them and put on a show. Not to mention this trip was supposed to save our marriage. Instead, this seemed like a step to ruin it.
Perhaps our fate was sealed and so it was. We argued and we fought. The other couple did not like the hotel so they complained. The entire trip was unenjoyable. We were in the happiest place on earth yet, I was miserable.
We walked all through Disney with the other couple until finally, on the last day, we went our way and the other couple went theirs. We chose to go see where Mickey Mouse lived. We saw Goofy’s house. We saw where Donald Duck lived and where Minnie and Daisy Duck lived too. Afterwards, there was a lightness to our moods. We were getting along so well. In fact, we waited in a line for 45 minutes to take a picture with Mickey and Minnie and Goofy too.
After this, we went out to receive our pictures but the man behind the counter apologized with bad news. I can’t find your pictures, he said. “I don’t know where they are.” I explained that we waited in line for 45 minutes. There was no way that we were going to wait in line again. “Not to worry, sir,” said the Disney employee. “We will get you to the front of the line.”
“As a matter of fact,” said the man behind the counter. “I am going to put you in front of the princess line with Cinderella.”
He put us in front of the line for Cinderella, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and even Winnie the Pooh. We were led around the back to the special VIP quarters. We were waiting in a room with beautiful pictures of Disney royalty. I had never seen anything like this before.
Suddenly, a woman approached with her little boy. He was smiling with a smile that reached from ear to ear. He was happy as ever, beautiful too.
I asked the woman , “Did they mess up on your pictures too?”
“No,” smiled the woman.
“Why do you ask?”
“They messed up on our pictures and put us in front of the line,” I explained.
“Oh, no” said the woman.
“We don’t wait in lines at any of the theme parks.”
This is when I noticed the little boy’s t-shirt.
“Make a Wish.”
As I noticed this, his mother told me, “It was his dream wish to come to Disney.”
This little boy who never did much, never stayed up late or ever cheated on a math test was sick. He had cancer. I had to turn around because I looked at my child and my life and stopped for a moment. I said to myself, “Who the hell do I think I am?”
After our turn with the pictures, we returned to the man behind the counter. I pulled him very close to me. I asked him about the little boy. A stern expression as serious as the cancer which threatened the life of the little boy took over the man from Disney’s face. He nodded at me, as if to say yes.
I am a firm believer in paying back for the lessons I have learned. These three people taught me that I was looking at my life all wrong. They taught me that being miserable is no way to live. In fact, these lessons cost them their lives. In which case, I owe them a piece of my own.
Arguing is pointless. There is so much to do and only so much time that we have to do it. We have to rewire our thinking and find our focus. We have to be more like Kareem or the man on the 11th floor. But me, I want to be more like the little boy whose smile went from ear to ear, even in the face of death. I want to be unafraid and eager. I want to live. I want to spend every waking hour of my life making a difference and being a productive part of my life instead of bitching or complaining. I want to teach people to live and to care and that above all, live your life to the fullest. There is no time to be part of the 85% of people that are unhappy. Now is the time to be happy.
I will end this series here with hope that I was able to open your eyes the same as my eyes were opened. I hope that this finds you well and that somehow your spirit is lifted. My hope for you is that you find your direction now. Don’t spend 90,000 hours of your life, miserable, discontent or depressed. Do not quit on yourself. Be happy. Live, love, laugh and learn. Build something. Do something. Replace thought with action. Do, be and go.
This is the intention of my book.
Note to the young boy:
I don’t know where you are now. I don’t know what happened. All I know is that you taught me a lesson and with all my heart, I will pay this forward.
This book is heartily dedicated to the angels who left us too early, to the people we love and to those who influenced us from the stars in heaven. This is to my young cancer warriors and to a special boy whom I had the chance to meet. You taught me to live, love, laugh and learn.
I will always remember.
I will never surrender.
Until we meet again~