No Phone, No Phone

There was a time when the first thing I did in the morning, even before opening my eyes, was instinctively reach for the phone on the dresser by my bed. Even before my groping fingers made contact with the smooth class of the display, I hated myself. I knew it was an addiction, but I didn’t know how to end it.

One day I read a book about Feng Shui, and the part that stuck with me the most was how to arrange your bedroom for better sleep “energy”, and more specifically about not having electronics in the room. I didn’t have a TV in my room or any electronics besides my phone, so I decided that it was an easy enough task to leave it outside.

In the first few following days, I went through some classic withdrawal symptoms. At the first glimmer of consciousness, my hand would reach out for its usual comfort, and at being denied its fix, my brain would go into a small panic. I would frantically search for another distraction, but there would be none within reach, so I would endure the few seconds or minutes of pain until I walked into the living room and fetched my phone.

After a few weeks, I started getting used to this pain and grew into it like an athlete grows into their workout routine. The weeks turned into months and it become not only normal, but highly agitating to have the phone in the room, like an unwelcome, nagging guest. I enjoyed the peaceful interval between waking up to the quiet morning and seeing the notifications on my phone.

This has been my routine for a few years now, and a few weeks ago I noticed myself naturally avoiding the phone for even longer periods after I wake up. Instead of going from bed to the phone, I go from bed to the shower, then to the closet to get dressed, then to the kitchen for breakfast, then to the couch to put on my shoes, and I finally grab my phone as I walk out the door to check my messages as I walk to my car. It’s become something of an unwritten policy that I don’t check my phone before I leave the apartment.

Of course, there are exceptions. I will check my phone after I get up if I’m waiting on a critical bit of news. But these are the exceptions, and even during those times, the impulse to reach for the phone is gone. I’m free.

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It Sucks to Suck

We recently hired a 20-year-old intern who has many young and trendy catchphrases including, “it sucks to suck.” It’s most appropriate to use this phrase when something hasn’t gone according to plan, or in other words, “sucks.”

Last year and through January the mood in the office was jubilant and rising alongside the sales numbers. We showed our various upwards-trending charts to mentors and friends who in turn heaped praises on us. We revisited the charts frequently in internal meetings and cited the growing numbers on an almost daily basis, using this evidence to boost our confidence that we were spending our time on something worthwhile.

Then February came and went. It was the first month where the numbers dropped. We scrambled to find the explanation, calling meetings and digging up data. We avoided talking about revenue and sales. We stopped talking about month-over-month growth. Instead, we started talking more about deeper numbers, like the number of seconds it takes the web page to load, or the percentage of time that the web service is up.

In a way, I believe that we matured because tracking the details is what mature companies do. I also like to believe that we learned our lesson about following the revenue numbers too closely. Yes, revenue is important because without it a company will close its doors, but when declining metrics start to affect morale, that’s when I believe that the numbers have started to control us instead of the other way around.

Things don’t always go as planned. I believe that the companies that survive are the ones that can adapt to facts on the ground without a feeling of failure creeping in and lowering morale. Nobody’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. “It sucks to suck,” but we all suck and it’s okay.

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No Regrets

Life in Lebanon still isn’t easy. There are still all the regular things to complain about. On top of that, I still am not stable in my “job.” I’m still at the business that I started with my friends and it’s risky to say the least. If you stopped reading here, you’d think that I’m not happy, but the truth is that there is the more to it. The social life that I have here is more fulfilling than anything I had before. Whereas I used to struggle with loneliness in Seattle, I now have so many incredible friends that I am typically double-booked every single day of the week. For the first time in my life, my schedule is so packed that the next time I’m available to grab coffee with you is next week — maybe. Why? Monday I’m at an Arabic speech club. Tuesday I’m visiting my aunts and going to a friend’s party. Wednesday I’m meeting a friend. Thursday I’m going to another club and dinner afterwards. Friday I have friends coming over. Saturday I’m having brunch with friends and then dinner and a party with other friends. Sunday I’m having breakfast with grandma and then meeting some more people. There’s something magical about Lebanon that makes sure you’re always surrounded by great people. I’m not saying everyone in this country is great, but somehow I always find myself around the great ones.

When I left Seattle and took “the plunge” to move here, the biggest question on my mind was whether I’d regret it. I can now say, especially in moments like this when I’m grateful for all the beautiful people in my life, that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

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How to set Amazon Alexa Location to Beirut, Lebanon

I was finally able to set Amazon Alexa’s location to Beirut so that I can ask it for the weather. Here are the settings in the iPhone app.

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Two Years in Lebanon

Christmas of last year, or last week, marked two years that I left my life in the US and moved to Lebanon. Even though my life is full of adventure every single day and I’m enjoying it, I still feel in limbo. It’s like I took a leap of faith two years ago and I’m still flying, wondering when and where I will land. Will my attempts to create a business pay off and I will talk about the whole experience as a great success that I had planned all along? Or will I find a good job and talk about how I had grown tremendously as a person and gained immense experience? Or will I have trouble finding a job and rue the day I gave up stability and a comfortable life? Or will this simply be my reality for a long time to come? I don’t know what to make of the fact that two years later I’m still asking myself the same questions, waiting to find out. I thought I’d have answers by now.

Then again, that’s just who I am. Every time I had certainty, I set my sights on something bigger and more uncertain. They say, “life is a journey, not a destination.” If that’s true, then I’ll never have answers because I’ll always be journeying towards some unknown. There are no guarantees and that’s what makes life so much fun. You have to learn to embrace the unknown. Leave your comfort zone and make your life interesting.

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Political Activism: Stay Positive

An older gentleman told me that he didn’t support the recent civil society movement because he saw them hold up a poster of Nasrallah accusing him of corruption. He said that he’s not a member of any party, including Hezbollah, but he’s with “the resistance” because it protects him from Israel. He supports diversity in the Parliament and is supportive of Sabaa’s candidates Jumana Haddad and Paula Yacoubian and wished there were more of them because they’re doing a good job fighting corruption.

This reinforced my believe that a political movement should focus on a positive message. Its goal is to bring people together, not to alienate them. The new party should be a party that is for everyone and make members of other parties feel included and wanted. Too often I see the new parties hold rallies to attack the other parties and alienate their members. It’s better to focus on the positive.

We have a shared common goal to build a prosperous Lebanon without sectarianism where all Lebanese are united and equal under the law. Whichever party can instill this hope will be victorious.

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The Tale of the Parking Lot

The building where I’m living has 18 apartments and a measly 16 parking spaces. To make matters worse, several tenants park multiple cars. One is known to have 4 cars. There is no assigned parking so everyone is left to their own devices. It’s easy then to imagine that every inch of the lot is crammed and often the cars are blocking each other, sometimes 2 cars deep. It’s a frustrating sight for someone who comes home after a long day of work and is looking for some peace and quiet. There is no street parking outside the building so it takes about 15 minutes of driving around cramped neighborhood streets to find somewhere else to stash the car, hoping to find it again in the morning with no scratches.

One day I found a sign that read “Reserved Parking for 2nd Floor East” over one of the spaces. It seems that tenants are starting to take matters into their own hands and a general solution must be found before it descends into a land grab.

I rang the doorbell of the head of the HOA of our building and brought up the topic. He said that the city regulations stipulate that each building must have enough parking before it’s built but somebody must have been bribed. Also, usually each apartment deed includes a parking space but that’s not the case for us. Officially and on paper, our parking lot is a common area just like the elevator and stairs, so every space belongs to everyone at the same time. We can’t paint lines and give out numbers because there isn’t enough room. We can build another floor of parking but it would cost $2,000 per tenant which is far beyond their means. They had raised heaven and hell when the HOA asked them to pay $200 to build a well to fix their water issues. It’s a poor neighborhood.

He agreed with me that nobody should be putting up signs and reserving spaces, but he’s going to let the 2nd floor person deal with the wrath of the tenants instead of facing the issue as the head of HOA. When I suggested that we call for a meeting and discuss it collectively, he said that he wants to call a meeting to resign because he’s stick of his thankless job. He then vehemently railed for about 30-minutes about the water well being dry and tenants calling him about water outages and tenants not paying money that they owe. I urged him not to resign because I’m not ready to run for HOA and my gut tells me that we won’t find other willing candidates who want to be called at 2 AM about a water or electric outage.

Once again, it seems we’re suffering from a problem (parking) that’s a result of a bigger problem (building code violation) that’s the result of a bigger problem (government corruption).┬áThe HOA should be calling regular meetings to discuss problems. Any problem can be solved if we work together and it starts at the lowest levels.

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