Laziness in Perspective – a management lesson (comic included)

* 2 min read

A few months ago our program manager said to me:

“You are lazy…No! No! You are lazy and don’t want to read your email.”

He said these statements out loud in a condescending voice while I was walking to my next workstation. I sat down and looked at him talking and forcing his argument on me, which was that I had to read every single email sent to me. I listened to him with a smile on my face. He finished, turned around, and walked back to his cubical.

A co-worker came out of his cubical, looked at me, and asked me what had just happened.

I said, “Apparently his wife gave him hard time last night, and he took it out on me.

“No seriously…what happened?” the co-worker replied.

I replied that we were arguing about an email that was sent about three months ago. It was one of those cc emails. I didn’t read it. He heard me asking our deputy program manager about our latest movement policy inside the Iraqi fortified Green Zone. He got upset and blamed me for not having a high sense of “situational awareness”.

The policy didn’t apply to us at the time I got the email. It was prior to our new housing location movement. Plus, we work in an environment where policies being updated on a regular basis. It is very hard mentally to keep track of all these policies. If I need to reference a policy I will go look up the most recent one.

In the past decade of my work experience, I have learned management lessons; many of them are “what not to do, if I was a manager”. That bad conversations will be remembered more easily than the good ones is a valuable lesson of management.

Some managers think that talking in a condescending way, screaming, threatening, or even bullying, are proper management techniques – a way to assert their authority.

This was a turn-off for me. I lost respect for that manager. In the end, our program manager who managed a multi-million dollar U.S. government contract couldn’t even manage his own eating habits. He was sent home to America recently for health issues.

At this point, the blog had ended. I sent it to a friend of mine who works at a different company, which has another multi-million dollar contract with the U.S. government, for his blessing and opinion before I publish it. His response was:

I like this one… maybe because it helps me realize that other bosses are idiots too – not just mine – and it gives me hope that my idiot boss might develop some form of serious health crisis….. hopefully it will be kidney stones.”

His response inspired me with a few extra writing points. Many managers are proud for their years of experience or their certifications in management. But they still continue to fail to manage their personal habits, which could be a possible future blog about these issues for me:

  • Transfer their negative emotions from meeting to meeting.
  • Mute their employee’s viewpoints.

The irony is that companies continue to offer “corporate ethic” training. Yet many employees remain silent to protect their jobs. I could’ve easily responded back at my program manager with insult. I was able to manage my personal emotions. Plus the story inspired me to make the following comic about the situation.

laziness in perspective

 

* Please, you are more than welcome to comment your thoughts below!

Living with the curse of wanting it all

* 2 min reading

“Against our deepest wishes, we become suddenly, inexplicably, committed to a path we have avoided, a line of thought we’d had no interest in.” – Zachary Lazar

Kalba bron it kalba”, my father said to me many times in Assyrian, when I didn’t do my homework. Often yelling: “You’re a dog son of a dog” was accompanied occasionally with a few random slaps. It was his parenting method of forcing me to read. Verbal and physical insults were normal Iraqi parenting styles. Resulting in me becoming one of the top three students in my Iraqi high school.

Some believe the destiny of a child is influenced by a determined parent. My father wasn’t like Andre Agassi’s father who helped instill a love for tennis in his son. I grew up in the historic but forgotten city of Basra, in Iraq. Wars were the only opportunity given to me as a child. I wasn’t raised in a peaceful country, in a wealthy family, or with parents who exposed their kids to many skills to ignite passion in them.

I was deprived from opportunities in life. Being born in Iraq was my first major setback. I was starving for anything and everything. The curse of ‘missing it all’ gnawed on me.

Living in America opened the door of opportunity for learning and doing. It was an individual renaissance. What I missed in my childhood, America offered – the blessing of ‘having it all’.

I wanted to learn the English, Italian and Greek languages. I wanted to play tennis, chess, piano, and guitar. I wanted to be a programmer. I wanted to finish my master’s degree in computer science, and obtain a black belt in martial art. I still want to own an Internet business, be a photographer, be a body builder, travel, be famous, socialize with friends, go out with lots of beautiful women, have a family, and support my parents…Yes…I want it all.

However, the blessing didn’t allow me to have an insane or total commitment to one single passion. I got confused with so many options suddenly available to me. My true calling was lost. My chances of being a successful singular obsessor, like Walter Isaacson described Bill Gates, were diminished by the distraction of the fairy-tale of having everything.

I didn’t want to sacrifice one option over another, and I had already lost 17 years of my life. I didn’t want to miss anything anymore. It became my ongoing effort to experience one passion after another. My passion is only limited by being afraid of losing out on other opportunities.

This short-lived passion that makes me listen to a single song during my entire hour of workout, is the same passion that makes me want to try many things at lease once in life. I have caught the American disease. It sounds like something only a new drug would cure: take two “Have it all”, and call me in the morning!

It is fascinating to experience diverse interests. I am not sure if I choose my obsession or if it forcefully chooses me. But, thanks to my father who instilled in me my passion for reading, I am near accomplishing my goal of reading 100 books this year.

 

* Please share your thoughts!

Kalsu…Worst day of my life

* 1 min reading

Dec 31 of 2009/10, New Year’s Eve, was one of the worst memories of my life. I spent about five hours in a bunker.

I worked during all 2009 in a town, approximately 25 miles (40 km) south of Baghdad, mostly made up of slums, old houses, unpaved mud streets, and was full of Shi’a and Sunni insurgents called al-Iskandariya. Forward Operating Base Kalsu (FOB Kalsu) was near a highway that connected the city to Baghdad. It was my last assignment with the U.S. Army as a linguist contractor.

It was a normal working day. I had left work early to go to the gym then went to rest in my room before going to dinner. The army unit was preparing the wood for the fireplace in front of the brigade command center. I was walking to the dining facility (DFAC) and thinking about my trip in early January. I was so excited to meet my girlfriend in Dubai and see my family in Chicago. It was a quiet evening. Stars were barely visible in sky.

DSC01571

It was about six o’clock in the evening, Baghdad time, when the gate of hell in heaven opened on us. The terrorists started a wave of rocket assaults on FOB Kalsu. The attack forced many army soldiers, and civilian contractors to run to nearby bunkers. We stayed put there from 6pm until about 11pm.

Shoulder to shoulder inside those small concrete bunkers, we were protecting ourselves from coward terrorists. Many people prayed what could have been their last prayer. I looked at the sky smiled and said: “So, this is it?…Will it end here…tonight?…Born in Iraq…Died in Iraq!”

Those five hours were an eternity of time. The painful sound of every landing rocket made death closer and closer to hear, feel, and see. I could have died in a massacre, but it was Maktoob for us to live and see the light of New Year’s Day 2010.

 

* Please share your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

A Travel Principle I will only violate for Brazil

* 1 min reading.

I will not visit any country as a tourist that requires a visa for an American passport holder except for Brazil. I will visit countries that grant visas upon arrival at the airport.

Let me start with last part first. Why is Brazil an exception? Well, it has been my dream to visit the statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro.

As for the first part, “requires a visa”, I refuse to accept the process of obtaining a visa by downloading an application, filling it out, getting a money order, and then mail all the required documents to an embassy in Washington D.C. in order to obtain a visa on my American passport. My rejection to the process is a symbolic one.

Passports

 

Why do I refuse to do that?

The process of applying online reminds me of my old days. I consider it to be a modern extension of a degrading and humiliating process.

The principle is not based on one bad experience, or against a specific country’s visa policy. It is my decision to deny those countries the pleasure of participating in their tourist economy – a pay back time from my old days. They didn’t respect me when I was holding an Iraqi Passport. Now, they respect me because I am holding an American passport, and want my money.

This is from a dark part of my life. It is bitterness expressed by an anger of 5 years of humiliation and disrespect by the majority of countries around the world to Iraqi passport holders. Because Saddam was in power, Iraqis had to travel to Jordan in order to apply for a visa to any country – Baghdad had no foreign embassies after the 1991 war.

As part of the sanctions against Iraq, almost all countries refused to issue tourist visas for Iraqi citizens; a few countries issued visas under extreme and harsh restrictions. Malta and Cyprus were a few exceptions where Iraqis could obtain a visa very easily.

A period between 1992-1995, I used to stand on the streets by the embassies in order to request an appointment. I needed a visa to leave Iraq during Saddam’s regime. Almost all of Iraqis were given a blanket denial. This was very degrading and humiliating.

Just because a person is born in a specific country, she is cursed or privileged by a passport?

I couldn’t understand their extreme treatment against the Iraqi people. I used to complain and think of it as “double curse”. In Iraq, I had the curse of Saddam. Outside Iraq, I had the curse of being Iraqi.

But, I am the same person. I guess because I am holding a certain country’s passport, it means I deserve more respect, or less? If countries had a specific policy against the Iraqi regime, then the Iraqi people shouldn’t have been subjected to it.

As a first hand witness to 10 years of sanctions, I can state emphatically that they don’t work. Sanctions don’t punish government; it is a blanket punishment against the people. It has a negative counter reaction against those countries that impose them. I am one of those who still carry that past.

Back then, when I had no choice, countries wouldn’t welcome me in. Now I experienced the ease of entry by holding an American Passport, going through the application process reminds me of the old denial. And I just don’t want to re-live it. America might be a place to bury memories, but history isn’t easy to forget.

It is my choice.

 

* Please share your thoughts!

 

Maktoob

This was the last picture I took with my uncle Matthew. It was the last time seeing him like this smiling.

I heard from my family that he got sick. I called Chicago to ask about his health after he was diagnosed with rare ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It was Wednesday night on Nov 12, 2014 around 9:40PM Baghdad local time, 12:40PM Chicago time. My uncle George told me that the disease is in its final stage, and he is still alive but on a respirator until his last breath.

George finished our conversation with a final word: “Maktoob.”

matthew

He said it in Aramaic “Iktoo-ta-la”. I remembered the Arabic translation of it, “Maktoob.”

Maktoob is Arabic word for: “It is written.” It is the “unknown” certainty.

A well-known proverb in Iraq is:

“What is written on your forehead, your eyes will see!”

It means that people are prisoners of their fate. What has been written for Matthew’s final episode from his life script – his death sequence event, will be unfolding in the upcoming days.

Maktoob reminded me about my own script. I always wonder about my life when I see people died in a sinkhole or a bridge collapse. Yet, I survived three deadly wars. I’ve seen the Angel of Death and felt his presence so close in Iraq. One time I was 50 feet away from a mortar attack, a concrete wall in the shape of an upside down letter T saved me. Or another time, someone ambushed us with a few rounds of bullets. Could these be a few climaxes that were “written” to bring some excitement in the movie of my life?

In the early part of my life, I used to attend a Presbyterian church. I heard many Church sermons about God’s omniscience about human life. Many pastors talked about God’s personalized plan for each individual. They said difficulties, sickness, and death are events written for each person in the “Heavenly Book”.

But what puzzled me back then, and still does, is: if everything is written, then what is the point of a prayer that asks to change the course of events? And, could this future be modified? Is everything written for the good of me?

I guess there is an invisible hand in heaven that wrote my fate. It wrote my life script and destiny. Wrote my future. Wrote my ending. And the Angel of Death is waiting for the execution order from God.

I understand many people, including myself, have a hard time accepting “Maktoob”. It is easier to believe that fate is a result of the Universal Randomness.

In “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl writes there is meaning in suffering. I am not sure if there is a meaning in slow death by disease – is it God’s version of the Chinese water torture?

Filling our lungs with air naturally without the aid of a respirator is a blessing many of us take for granted.

One day the Angel, or Randomness, will visit me and take my life, the biggest fear is not knowing how. Can I put in a request for a sudden death?

I want to die quickly.

 

I hacked my university…Twice!

* reading time is 2 +  a laugh.

* disclaimer: Please Do NOT…Do NOT… tell your kid to try this, nor should you try it even if happens to align with your circumstances. I disclaim any responsibility for any adverse effects. And don’t use me as an example.

I hacked my university twice. I finished my undergraduate and graduate from DePaul University without having a High School degree or even a GED.

How many people can make the above claim in America?

images

Hacking might have a negative connotation to many people, but it is a positive thing in Silicon Valley. It is more or less taking advantage of a system. I know a few companies, it’s mainly startups (with weird names) that ask “Tell us about something you hacked before.” as an interview question.

It always reminds me about the story that Ben Mezrich told in this book about Mark Zuckerberg. It’s called “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal” Mark had hacked a few departments in Harvard and obtained tens of thousands of student profiles, then migrated them to Facebook. Remember, Facebook was empty at day one. He needed real profiles to fill Facebook with real people.

Knowing I come from a Middle Eastern background and it is a post-911 era, how would the American Public view me? I am sure many will go as far as labeling me… (Well, you know what I going with this.)

I hadn’t finished high school when I left Iraq in early 1994. I didn’t want to stay in Iraq to finish High School, because it would’ve obligated me to stay another full year. I would’ve only been able to leave after finishing my first semester at a university. Very simply, I wanted to leave at all costs and come to America.

After a year and half waiting in Jordan, I had arrived to Chicago. My uncle took me to Niles North High School, they told me: “You are too old for high school. You should go try to get a GED.

Humm. I tried to study for GED, but didn’t like it. It felt like a waste of time.

Then I did something different. I went Oakton Community College and tried to enroll in some English and Math classes.

It worked.

After two years of Math and English, I started to take classes that would transfer to a university. So far so good, they never asked me for my High School degree. As long as I was paying for my classes, they had no complaints.

The problem came, when I wanted to transfer to DePaul University. They asked me for my High School degree or GED. I didn’t have it. I was worried. I had to sell my story and so attempted my hack.

Well, I know from a long time ago that to sell a lie, you must package it with 90% truth.

I told DePaul that I had my degree (a lie). But I cannot get it from Iraq. I talked about the Iraq war and the destruction of all the government buildings of Iraq, which the American army bombed. I talked about the effect of war and consequences of being a refugee in Jordan. (90% truth)

With a Sad look mixed with Sorry and some Sugar on top…It worked!!!

All I did is I packaged 10% lie with 90% truth and sold it. I hyped the problem injected with a lie and packaged it with a truth.

I sold my package.

This to me is the art of diplomacy.

The problem surfaced again when I tried to enroll in a graduate program. But this time, I was staying at DePaul so it was much easier to convince the administration office. I had already earned my undergrad degree from them.

I find the question of hacking to be dangerously relevant. The next time I am being interviewed for a job and they ask me to talk about a system I tried to hack, I’ll tell them this story and ask them to imagine the following:

You are from the Middle Eastern background and you are at the ticket counter at the airport. They ask whether or not you packed your own bag…

And your answer to them is….What???

You used Ali’s Packing Services!

What do you think man?

Do you really expect an honest answer about my extensive hacking background?

 

* Any comments? write below. I love to read them.

Is it a Nationality or Hyphenated Personality?

* reading time is 2 +  a laugh.

I used to work at 7-11 in Chicago, a customer walked in and said: “Do you speak English?” My reply was: “No sir, English doesn’t speak me!” Another time when I worked for Accenture, I arrived at a new project to discover consultants had been wagering on my background. One of the guys had a bet on me being a mix of Greek and Japanese.

In Iraq, people think I am Lebanese. During the nightclub life in Chicago, I passed my self as an Italian-Sicilian with a nickname “Nino”. I blend very easy in Italy, Spain, and Greece. I tell people, my look comes with geographical advantage. What can I say…I am genetically gifted.

Interestingly, I saw this query when I decided to write this blog, WordPress informed that one of the search terms about me in Google is: “What nationality is Youkhana?”

Thinking deep about the question and its implication by the Googler, I am not sure what people are looking for … Thoughts come to my head: Is it a simple question that I should take at face value? What are they looking for? Are they trying to find out my nationality then attach a ready-made default stereotype like an Arab-American? Or maybe not, maybe I am just reading too much into it.

Here let me help with the basic:

I am an Assryain-American-Christian-Iraqi (AACI)

ninosyoukhana

For my first name Ninos check my previous blog (Origin of the name Ninos)

My last name, Youkhana, is John in Aramaic. (Similar the Hebrew language)

But…Where do I go from here? It just gets more and more complicated.

No matter how much they are explained, there are things in life that fall short of our understanding. For example, I could never understand the standup comedian’s feeling at the stage. And I could never understand the feeling of being African American.

So, if a person has not lived as an Assyrian Christian under Saddam’s regime in Iraq, it would be very difficult to understand. Let me assure the reader or the googler that I don’t fit in any stereotypes. And I hope to shed a bit of light with the following.

I mentioned a few statements about me in a previous blog. I said my immigrant personality has been injected with so many hyphenated complex parts like Assyrian-American-Christian-Iraq (AACI) complicated further by wars, religious beliefs, and a Christian minority culture living in polar opposite to an Islamic society of Iraq.

Each part of this hyphenated complexity needs its own blog (or books), But I will try to explain it in simple words.

When I am talking about my personality, I don’t mean it in terms of the Freudian ego, the Eckhart Tolle super-ego, or Sam Harris’ non-existing-illusion of self. Nor, am I talking about a type A or type B from a personality test. I mean it in more or less a woven mix of hyphenated combinations. (Understand now?)

In short:

I am Assyrian in heart. I was born Assyrian – a remnant member of one of the earliest civilizations known to mankind. My people have survived 3,000 years of the rising and falling of kingdoms and empires. Regional wars not only caught Assyrian Christians in middle but also purposely aimed to annihilate them.

As if my hyphenated personality needs more complexity, I am a citizen (yet to be official) of a non-existent nation of Assyria. It is a Nation without borders. They are a minority that spread across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. Assyrian immigrants have flooded the four corners of the world.

I am an American citizen. To identify myself as being a citizen extends much further than the Naturalization Certificate. My love, loyalty, and allegiance to the United State of America goes beyond any level of security clearance I hold. I will be indebted for the rest of my life for what America gave me. There is no other nation ON this planet offers its immigrant citizens what America offers theirs. Not even a Muslim Arab who emigrates to another Muslim Arab Nation, like an Iraqi to Saudi Arabia, or an Egyptian to Kuwait is treated like America treats its immigrants from any nation. (Period) 

I am Christian in beliefs and values. I was raised in an Evangelical church.

I am Iraqi by place of birth. I was born in Iraq – an Islamic society that has completely different religion, values, and culture than Assyrians. Christians were/are being triangulated between Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish Muslims. I was raised in an Islamic society that forced upon us its Islamic practices – Christians must adhere to Islamic fasting practices during the month of Ramadan, such as prohibition of drinking water in public.

To put the above elements in what I could call a calculus of personality equation:

Take the above statements and multiply by: Christian minority living in an Islamic society.

Divide the total by: a nation without borders (Assyria).

Multiply by cultural differences.

The equation will be:

(((Assyrian + American + Christian + Iraqi) * Christian minority living in an Islamic country)/ Assyria) * Cultural differences = Cluster Fuck

Since my awareness of America, I was in love with it. I considered myself born in the wrong place. The majority of Islamic society blames Christians for being Western sympathizers. As a Christian, I was accused of siding with the Americans during the 1991 war against Iraq, and silently, even though America was officially an enemy of Iraq, I was in fact an American supporter. However, when I left Iraq feeling like an American; I found myself entering America and being treated as an Iraqi.

Being raised in Iraq and living the other half of my life in America brought with it a new set of cultural challenges.

I am perfectly ok, but I am in a constant puzzling state of fascination. I am always going to be an Assyrian Christian with American love embedded in my heart.

P.S. If you have more time, I invite you to read: “Three Adjectives that Define Me

 

 

* Any comments? write below. I love to read them.

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