The Tillerson Tragedy

How does a person rise to the top of a large company and then behave like Tillerson in this article? How does one become a CEO while being so tone deaf? How does one lose all ability when moving from a company to government?

Tillerson rose through all those different levels, to become CEO of Exxon for 10 years. Almost surely, every time, he had to have been selected over another person, because of his personal characteristics, or the business results he delivered. How could he such a poor manager at State? How could he not realize the impact of his actions or non actions? Could Exxon have been making an error, every time, by continuing to promote Tillerson?

Humans are truly unknowable if they are able to behave like this. Human processes are so error prone, if they could deliver this result.

What a sad state of affairs! For Tillerson to go down in history as the worst US Secretary of State. For his tenure to be an unmitigated disaster. All citizens of the USA, and people of the world deserve better!




Thanksgiving Day Observations


Yesterday seemed like a good day to think about what I’m grateful for. These would be adversity, family and my puppy (dog).

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”

Adversity grounds and challenges us. One aspect of adversity is that it is nothing more than missing future expectations. We lost the round in the debate tournament, and won’t go on to the elimination rounds. The contract went to the other team. The offer extended was turned down. The meeting didn’t go as planned. At this point, we can resist and feel sorry about the adverse circumstances, still desiring the missing future. Or we can accept, and see what information this holds. How can I improve my performance in the debate round? Why did we lose the contract? What was missing in our offer? Why did the meeting go off track?

As we think about these reasons, we challenge ourselves for the answers. This requires examination of the evidence, creativity in coming up with solutions, and the drive to change our behavior for next time. These hard but necessary steps keep us motivated, help us grow and change for the better. All due to adversity, and so I am thankful for its “sweet uses.”

I’m thankful for my family. My immediate family that supports and loves me. My extended family that I only see from time to time, and talk to, infrequently, but still has warm feelings towards me. My friends with whom I have shared experiences and have common past. They infuse my life with richness and joy, and I am thankful for their presence.

Finally, my new puppy. Always happy to see me with his wagging tail, a welcoming sniff, and numerous licks of affection. Ready to offer his belly for a belly rub. Curious about every sound, smell and new individual he meets. He is full of life, and he reminds me to appreciate every day.

Thanks to adversity, my family and my puppy, for enriching my life by adding experiences and joy to all the moments of daily life!

A Futile Endeavor


“I love my children so much, but I am not with them most of the day. They go to school and I see them for a few hours every morning and evening. How do I protect them? How do I ensure that they do not suffer, they are not hurt?” I asked the resident Monk.

It was the last evening of a week long Zen meditation retreat. We had been meditating daily for hours, in the morning, afternoon and evening. Now we had the opportunity to ask questions, and my question was about my children.

The Monk looked at me and smiled. “I can see you love your children, and you want to protect them. But it is a futile endeavor.”

“What do you mean?” I asked bewildered, “How can I not protect them?”

“You cannot be with them forever. You already know that,” he responded. “They have their own journey through life. They will be happy and sad and hurt and joyful, and you cannot prevent their suffering. But there is something you can do,” he added.

“What is that?” I asked, still confused.

“There is only one person you are with 24 hours a day. Do you know who that is?” he asked.

I pondered his question for a moment, and then I got it. “The only person I am with, 24 hours a day, is myself.”

“Very good,” he responded. “You are the only person you can affect in this world. You cannot change someone else. You cannot protect someone else. But through the example of your life, you can show your children, how to live. How to be happy. How to deal with disappointment. How to love. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I replied. It was all, suddenly, very clear to me.

I am reminded again of these words, today, the first day of 2017, when we think of our resolutions.

We cannot change our children.

We cannot change our spouses.

We cannot change our parents.

We cannot change our friends.

These are all futile endeavors.

We can only change ourselves, the person we are with, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Grab the opportunity with both hands. Change yourself this year!



What To Do When Feeling Stuck?

The feeling of being stuck, with no escape

Stuck, with no escape

photo credit: Pozzo di San Patrizio via photopin (license)

Just over the last few weeks, in several conversations, the same theme has emerged:

“I feel I did the wrong course. What I want to do is different from what I’ve studied.”

“I have anxiety and I cannot sleep. I wish things were different.”

“I am in this job, and cannot quit. Because how do I find something comparable?”

” I wish I could lose 50 pounds. But it is so hard to lose weight.”

These are the times when we find ourselves “stuck”, when change is hard and feels impossible. We wish we were somewhere else, a different place, a different time, in a different relationship, a different body. That we had done something different in the past, so we wouldn’t be here today. That only if we could make someone do what we want them to do, our life would be so much better. That only if we had something – a new status, a new possession, a new development in a relationship, a new job, we would feel OK.

That the present moment is not OK.

I am familiar with these feelings. I have struggled too with this thinking. The feeling of being wronged, being misunderstood, being in a place where I don’t want to be, or think I deserve to be.

My words below are the opposite of a recommendation for passivity. Instead they are a clarion call for action with compassion and courage, for beginning, and beginning again and again, not giving up.

Imagine, yourself, “stuck.”

Recognize you are suffering. That you are worthy of compassion, sympathy, love and caring, just like you would help a friend who came to you with such a problem.

Accept the situation you are in. The present cannot be any different, because we can’t go back and change the past.

The future, however, doesn’t have to be the same as the present. That, you, yourself, decide your destiny. Change lies in your hards, and you need the courage to start and move, even if it seems impossible.

Most importantly, to make a change, even if it is a small beginning. To be consistent with this change, even if you fail and have to start again. The biggest danger is to stop because you did not see any results. Your responsibility is just for action, without negativity or blame for failing, with kindness and compassion for yourself.

Don’t let others get you down with criticism or find fault in your progress. You have the responsibility to act, no matter what.

Finally, every day is a new start, a new opportunity. Make the most of it. Just begin again.



Show Up and Own It

Ergs ready for competition

Getting Ready for the Peninsula Indoor Rowing Championship


The Peninsula Indoor Rowing Championship took place last weekend at Canada College. All the prep work was done by parents and rowers from Stanford Rowing Center on Saturday, Feb 6.

A task list was circulated by the coach, and parents and rowers signed up for different tasks – loading the ergs, unloading and arranging the ergs, testing the ergs, etc. However, no one was directly in charge to issue orders and allocate work.

With this uncertainty on what to do next, some parents and rowers jumped right in and started doing something, even if they didn’t know exactly what to do. They saw someone working and said, “Can I give you a hand with what you are doing?” Other parents and rowers stood around, averted their eyes, and checked their phones.

Why would someone volunteer and show up at an event, and then not be fully engaged in the work? In no particular order, here is my effort to understand this behavior. I thought about this as I drove home after the prep work was completed:

  1. They didn’t really want to do work, but wanted to say that they had volunteered. They wanted to be seen as a volunteer.
  2. There was something more important going on in their life at that time – school, family, work, etc., but since they had committed to showing up, they did so. But their mind was elsewhere.
  3. They didn’t feel comfortable breaking the ice and introducing themselves to someone they didn’t know. Or asking a more experienced person what to do. Because of social anxiety, they retreated to their phones.
  4. The tasks they wanted to do were already being done by other parents/rowers. They didn’t want to do open tasks, and no one was there to tell them what to do.

Nonetheless, all the work got done on Saturday. Sunday was again managed by volunteers, and it was a spectacularly successful event, on-time and well organized.

To organize and run a successful event, doesn’t require everyone to be 100% committed. Even varying levels of engagement are enough, as long as a core group is fully engaged.

But it sure is more fun, if you Show Up and Own It!









Habit vs. To-do

A human being sitting in Meditation


For a long time, I struggled with creating a meditation habit. I would meditate consecutively for a week, at different times during the day. Then I’d miss a day of meditation due to a change in my routine. Perhaps it was a late evening, or travel, or a day that wasn’t great. The one day missed would turn into two, and then three, and I’d struggle to create a chain of days meditated.

I had read that 21 days was a myth, and that creating a habit takes much longer. I had also read about the parts of a habit – the cue, reward, routine. I also knew all the benefits of meditation. Despite knowing all this intellectually, I still struggled with the practice of meditating daily.

On some days, I would meditate in the morning, just after I woke up. On other days, I would meditate before going to bed. I had set a reminder alarm, yet I would ignore the notification when it popped up on my phone.

If I missed my morning slot, I would run through my other daily activities, and then try to check off my daily meditation at the end of the day, before going to bed. There were days when I was so tired that sitting was easy to skip. On other days, if I didn’t have the 20 minutes I thought I “should” sit for, I would convince myself that I should miss it, since I wasn’t doing it right. It was a daily struggle.

Then I read a post (perhaps here – I don’t remember), that helped me make sense of my struggle. Instead of a creating a habit with an automatic trigger, I had put meditation on my daily to-do list – as in I have to meditate sometime today. As the day went on, my desire to sit was overcome by the daily schedule, or by tiredness, and it didn’t happen.

But by not seeing meditation as a to-do daily list item, instead as a commitment to a habit, meant I had a different sense of urgency when the notification appeared on my phone. I knew I had to drop everything and do it right now. A small tweak in thinking, but it had a big impact on me.

So – 25 consecutive days and counting…..