Musings on ….

My journey of rediscovery continues as I continue to put myself in unfamiliar situations and test personal limits. In the same vein, I set intention in 2016 to stick with circumstances that are not ideal, paths that are difficult. This chapter continues and has started to yield interesting insights.

Reclaim your story

Nadya (my oldest childhood friend) was there as I lived out a fairly troubled childhood and watched me suffer along several dimensions as an adult because sometimes our demons are all we know and they scare everyone else away. She reminded me that I am not the product of my past and have the choice to be whoever I want to be. That didn’t resonate with me until I discovered forms of therapy (NLP, Lifespan Integration, EMDR) that helped me understand the nature of our memories.

2017-04-11_1606Every time we recall or relive a memory, our mind alters it, adding a translucent layer of our present vantage point to the picture from long ago. Layers upon layers until the story in our minds is as much about who we choose to be every day as much as who we were when that mental postcard was captured. A violent event can become increasingly less damaging in our memory if we relive it from the position of safety and empowerment in the present.

It is incredibly liberating to know that our past is not static, etched in stone, that our experience of time is not linear but rather circular. The present informs the past as much as the past informs the present and we can use this cycle to be exactly who we want to be.

While we can’t re-write the facts of events that have transpired, we can absolutely reframe the meaning we made of them, and in doing so reclaim ourselves. Knowing this has given me renewed vigor to explore the story of my life, the good, the bad and the ugly – to dwell on all of it (contrary to shitty advice) because in it lie the deepest truths of who I am and who I want to be.

Hush now, let it go

On my dad’s living room wall was a painting of a lost war ship, moment before the ocean swallowed it. I suspect all of us know what it means to be that ship. Scary as fuck!

We build large structures around us. We fortify. We amass wealth so the foundations can be stronger, the walls higher. We latch on to our communities. Safety in numbers. We insure our lives against the ravages of the ocean with pedigree, Linked In profiles, powerful friends, religious dogma, political affiliations.

All fine investments to make. Except for one debilitating flaw.

We’re trapped inside our forts, holed up, waiting to be swallowed up. We do jobs we don’t like, put up with people that take our light away, follow norms we don’t believe in, live in passive or active fear.

For a moment, let’s not be afraid. Let’s confront the baseline nature of life. We’re all in a dinghy a lot more frail than the lost war ship. The ocean we skim is infinite in all dimensions, and infinitely unpredictable. Any of us is one wrong turn away from heart breaking loss, long term disability, unemployment and homelessness, life long suffering, humiliation and abandonment. And many of us have gotten that call and lived through the horrors of drowning. The calmness we may be experiencing in our lives is only because of us in a small way. Let’s chalk up the rest to just a good weather day and not our silly little forts.

Let’s find gratitude for the sun that shines upon us, be humble for the prosperity we receive, step out of the controlled environments we’ve worked so hard to create and invest our time in the people and activities that bring meaning to our lives.


Two apartments, 23 years and 4000 miles apart, my journey the thread that connects them.

Last week

I look around my new home, my first owned home in the US – a beautiful 1900 sq foot space warm in the glow of old wood floors, red brick and reassuringly strong beams, tucked away in a converted paper mill in one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods. Jazz floats in through the windows, probably from the corner bar. 2015-06-28 20.40.16-1 I feel grateful to be here. And thankful to myself and my pillars (Amee and Mariya) for making it into this movie scene except it’s not a movie and I’m not acting. It’s as real as the decades of consistent effort it’s taken to get here. My mind wanders to a little girl, my younger self.


When I first entered our new, much humbler home, a tiny apartment awkwardly stacked on top of a busy bazaar with a greasy food-poisoning-guaranteed restaurant right below it, all I was saw was how small and cozy it would be. I didn’t compare it with the homes we’d grown up in, bungalows with manicured gardens lined with jasmine, servants and cars. I heard whispers that our lives were changing for the worse because Abu had died and we had no money, but I didn’t understand why that was such a bad thing. Nothing changed. We were still us, whether we lived in a mansion or a shack. My 13th birthday altered that perspective – more than a little bit. It was a mistake to invite my school friends over. The disdain in their faces, the wrinkled noses at the smell of re-fried food from the restaurant below, the averted gazes at school the next day, the quiet but unmistakable distance in the coming weeks and months, all indicated that my entire worth was summed up in where I lived. Except, here’s the thing – I come from a family of crazy people, optimistic and entirely self driven and self defined. 2013-10-06 16.17.35 I remember feeling no anger towards them but knowing that their understanding of the world and of others was superficial and uninformed. That little home gave me focus, helped me connect with what’s important (i.e. my own development) and who’s important (i.e. those that see you independent of your context).


Among the art galleries, startups, venture capital offices and hip restaurants of Pioneer Square, there are two homeless shelters. My friends comment on that being a little scary. It probably is. But yesterday morning, as I got ready for work, I saw one of those homeless guys walk out of the shelter, dressed up in a collared shirt, walking towards downtown Seattle. On my drive over, I wondered if he was going for an interview. What kind of job would he get? Would that job be a stepping stone to something else? What did he aspire to achieve? Would he get there? Did he identify with himself as a homeless man? Did it bother him that that’s all other people saw?

I read Maya Angelou’s poem when I got to work. It’s been my prayer since 1992 and it was my prayer for the man that lives in the homeless shelter.

Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever To fear,
yoked eternally To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change

Mid-life Wakefulness

Breaking up

Recently, I quit my job. If you know me at all, you’ll realize this is a self-amputation of sorts. I’ve derived tremendous personal value from my work and it has represented the largest percentage of my time and mind share for over two decades. Not only my days but my entire personality has been organized around my work. To remove it with one surgical cut has been one of the two hardest things I’ve done to date. Ironically, the other hardest thing was to leave home 13 years ago for the work I’ve just walked out of.

If it was that big of a deal, why do it, you might ask. The answer is simple if you’re someone who shares my ailment and infinitely complex if you don’t.

I cannot settle for less. I am hard-wired to demand more of myself and of the world. Complacency means death and I fight it just as you would fight to breathe when you’re under water. At times, I envy the person that slides into life with ease, then spends it eating, shitting, fucking, building a nest, pro-creating, and then slides out with the same simplicity that’s marked her entire life. I see that person on Facebook and wonder how she came to be who she is, what she thinks her purpose is, if she’s actually happy…

I also know viscerally that I am not that person. I was an unwilling arrival in the world. I have struggled to find myself and my path in every life decision. I have never been a part of any herd nor relinquished my reason in favor of conventional wisdom. I have looked for meaning in the smallest of things. This has made every step, small or large, the product of a lot of self-reflection and painful effort.

Work had come to represent complacency. Days blurred into each other, punctuated only by conscious disruptions (like travel or jumping out of a plane or off a mountain). I worked hard but it was work I had done many times before. Creative thinking had been replaced by muscle memory. I had grown accustomed to a fat paycheck and cushy benefits. I was addicted to the prestige and validation I got from others in the workplace and the respect and admiration I got from people outside work about being ‘successful’, for ‘having made it’.

What’s next?

American dream accomplished! The hike up was great. Now what? Who knows 🙂

Not knowing is unfamiliar territory for me. Acknowledging that I don’t know what’s next is even harder than not knowing because it challenges the sense of self I have created for myself. I’m the responsible, always-have-my-shit-together person. And yet here we are.

Beyond this lie random discoveries I’ve made over the last four weeks in no particular structure. In that they mirror the lack of structure I have in my life and my thoughts at this point.

  • Witnessing the silence, stillness and scale of Death Valley in solitude, I was deeply aware of my temporal and spatial insignificance. Then I recognized that the Valley and I were bound together in a profound way, giving each other meaning.
  • Loneliness turns into solitude when you stop resisting it and making ridiculous meaning of it. The only way to do that is to sit with it until you break through. There’s bliss on the other side of it.
  • I’ve been surprised and humbled by the strength of my professional and personal community and how many people have been supportive and helpful in introducing me to others that can provide insight along the way.
  • There are no road signs or Google map instructions or even many other fellow travelers on the path I’m on. Being lost is an inevitable part of the journey of self-discovery. Here’s the catch, the more discomfort I have with being lost, the longer it persists. There’s a recurring theme emerging. Resistance is FUTILE :).
  • Survival instinct is stronger and more reptilian-brain than I thought. I have no real threat to my survival. Yet being unemployed often triggers very fundamental fear within me – what if I never find a job? what if I’m unable to take care of myself? What does that say about me? It takes me a few minutes to process these feelings and recognize them as a ghost of evolutionary self-protection mechanisms. I have to remind myself that I crossed the Survival line a long time ago. Now it’s about Living.
  • Invalidating my angst by reminding myself this is a first-world problem equates to self-abuse. It’s a clever trick aimed at replacing the pain that’s necessary for self-discovery with temporary guilt. I have empathy for people that are struggling with the basics in life. However human experience exists in billions of forms and each one is valid and worthy.
  • Journaling, meditation, working out and happy hour with friendly faces are phenomenal amplifiers for useful thoughts and feelings and cancel out the noise.

Over the last several weeks I’ve spoken with many people from startups and smaller companies and evaluated many products. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • I’m starting to realize how invisible I feel in the absence of other people telling me how awesome I am and how much they appreciate the value I bring to a product or team. This suggests to me that I’ve lost sight of the true source of validation and that’s from within. My own voice has been reduced to a whisper because the voices from outside have lured me away. Even though I’ve been mindful of this trap, somehow and somewhere along the way, I have tangled my sense of worth with others’ perception of my worth. This is even more apparent to me when I speak with people in other companies (who don’t know who I am, what my capabilities are) and we often start from a place of mild skepticism before I get into pitching myself to them.
  • Clearly there’s a concentration of intellect and go-getter mentality in the startup area. That I expected. How testosterone driven the culture is, I did not expect and that’s been an interesting adjustment. I wonder if there’s there’s causation here.
  • I have more empathy than ever before of the harsh judgment that often comes with stereotyping. I find stereotyping is useful when dealing with broad brush strokes. But when dealing with one specific person, curiosity about the individual must override stereotype. I walk into a room with my identity as: Mona. The person I’m sitting across from sees my identity as: Microsoft. Ok, that’s fair. What I expect is questions about me. What I get 50% of the time is a barrage of anti-Microsoft sentiment. I’m not making a statement about the wrongness/rightness of this approach (even though I have a strong opinion on the matter), but commenting on how all of us must do this in all walks of life i.e. opt for laziness and bias over curiosity and meaningful connection. If one of life’s core purposes is to meaningfully connect with other humans, how dangerous can stereotyping be when used in the wrong context.
  • People are the most important and only non-negotiable axis in life for me. Money, products, geography are all interesting but once it’s all said and done, people are the difference that make the difference in my sense of well being every single day.

This stage of my life reminds me of chemistry lab in high school. Each week, we learnt about a new element. That meant putting that element through many tests to understand how it responded – to heat, pressure, light, other elements etc. It is only when I put myself through such experiments that I gain experiential insight into who I am.

Back to the lab for me. Enjoy your week.