Archive for the ‘Lessons learned’ Category



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Without doubt, The Fifth Mountain is my most favorite book of all time! And, the best one from Paulo Coelho. This is the 4th time that I’ve read this book. Actually, to-date, I’ve read it a total of 3.5 times. This book NEVER fails to inspire me. I’ve read it at various points in my life. From the time I was trying to find my own path to the time when I struggled on my chosen path, all the way to the current time when I am continuing with my journey. Elijah‘s story has been an inspiration, and has helped me make sense of my life experiences. I love the fact that even though he’s a prophet, he still faces doubt and confusion, and questions his own beliefs. As a young prophet, he goes through the divine training and comes a full circle at the end. This human characteristic makes him my favorite character of all times. The story and the writing is simple. The book’s title cover, format, size, and fonts help the reader move with the flow of the story. I have so many lines and, at times, multiple paragraphs marked in this book. It’s one of those books that you hold on to.. for reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading!

I had thought about listing down my favorite quotes from this book. However, there’s just too many of them to put here. At some places, I’ve marked multiple consecutive paragraphs! If I list all of them, I’ll actually have to put nearly the whole book here!

Anyway, here are a few of the quotes:

  1. ELIJAH REMEMBERED. She had come to ask him to make some trays. While Elijah was doing as she asked, he heard her say that her work was a way of expressing the presence of God. “From the way you make the trays, I can see that you have the same feeling,” she had continued. “Because you smile as you work.”
  2. Everything in life demands training.” “Even being a prophet?” “Even to understand angels. We so want to talk with them that we don’t listen to what they’re saying. It’s not easy to listen: in our prayers we always try to say where we have erred, and what we should like to happen to us. But the Lord already knows all of this, and sometimes asks us only to hear what the Universe is telling us. And to be patient.”
  3. “Even if it comes to pass, I have doubted myself. I am no longer worthy of my task,” answered Elijah. “Every man hath the right to doubt his task, and to forsake it from time to time; but what he must not do is forget it. Whoever doubteth not himself is unworthy–for in his unquestioning belief in his ability, he commiteth the sin of pride. Blessed are they who go through moments of indecision.”
  4. “The Lord needeth thee to rebuild Israel,” said the angel. “Thou wilt tread thy land when thou hast learned to rebuild.”
Prophet Elijah in the Desert

Prophet Elijah in the Desert

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My most favorite book, without doubt, is Paulo Coelho‘s “The Fifth Mountain“. This book is quite close to my heart as it has been a companion (and a guide) on my life’s journey over the past decade or so. One of my most favorite quotes/excerpts comes from this book (mentioned below). I’ve marked a sentence in bold. This is the sentence that has stuck with me since I read it the very first time.

“Do you remember the woman who used to make bread?” he asked himself.

ELIJAH REMEMBERED. She had come to ask him to make some trays. While Elijah was doing as she asked, he heard her say that her work was a way of expressing the presence of God.

“From the way you make the trays, I can see that you have the same feeling,” she had continued. “Because you smile as you work.

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Before writing something about the book, some background about how this book entered my life. In Jul 2013, I attended the PMI Leadership Institute Meeting – Asia Pacific (PMI LIM-AP) in Singapore. As always the LIM proved to be an exciting and inspiring event. The keynote address at the LIM was delivered by David Lim.

David LimDavid Lim is a Singaporean mountaineer and motivational speaker who led the first Singapore Mount Everest Expedition in 1998. His keynote address was about leadership lessons from Mount Everest. Yes, it was quite an insightful keynote! He also gave all the participants a complimentary copy of his book titled ‘How Leaders Lead: 71 lessons in leading yourself and others‘. He was gracious enough to sign my copy of the book! 🙂 Soon after I returned from the LIM, I started reading this book and found it an easy read.

David has successfully distilled the leadership lessons learned as a mountaineer. The book is divided into 6 sections:

  1. Leadership
  2. Goal Setting & Vision
  3. Self Leadership
  4. Resilience & Change
  5. Teamwork
  6. Life Balance & Ethics

Each section contains a selection of blog/magazine articles written by David. At the beginning of each article, a picture/cartoon is also included. I always like this approach as these visual aids depict the core message of the article in an effective way. The arrangement of material is clear, logical, and easy to follow. The language is simple and David’s style is conversational. This maybe due to the fact that most of the articles were originally blogposts. I also like the fonts used as they help make the material easy to read. Short & independent articles make it easy even for the busy readers to manage reading some parts of the book every day.

Somehow, the article that made me stop and reflect the most was the one about Internal Programming. It helped me gain perspective on a few things related to my professional life, especially David’s comment about ‘towards’ vs. ‘away’ mindset. The article that I liked was about Resilience Awareness. The notion of sustainable optimism, adversity quotient, and three components to human capacity (i.e. required, existing, accessed) was new to me. David makes another thought-provoking statement about Teamwork being an individual skill (rather than a group skill)! Many articles have food for thought and references to relevant research work. David also makes references about useful tools such as Work Preference Profiling Tool (from Team Management System) and Team Performance Profile which encourage the reader to find out more about them.

From among the 6 sections, my most favorite was the one about Life Balance & Ethics. Following articles from this section made me think about life, in general.

  • Having a Sense of Being
  • The Importance of Doing Absolutely Nothing
  • The Whys and Whats of Life

What could be improved?

The grammatical and spelling errors (along with punctuation issues at some places). I found it difficult to read many articles due to these issues. Small issue, perhaps, but one that negatively affects the flow of reading. I hope a revised edition with an improved proofreading is in the pipelines.

My rating

3.5 out of 5 (especially for the references to many areas worth exploring in detail)

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Years ago, a teacher shared this quote:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

He attributed it to Voltaire. I googled it again today and found out that it is usually mis-attributed to Voltaire. It is actually a phrase from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s biography of Voltaire.

This quote has stuck with me from the day I first heard it. There are times during discussions when I become impatient about the other participant’s opinion/views about something. On such occasions, I remember this quote and it gives me perspective. It isn’t easy to apply the message from this quote in one’s life, especially during a heated discussion. However, it is possible to learn to apply it through practice. That’s all I intend to do 🙂

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It’s the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 incident today. A tragedy for all of us who believe in humanity, peace and universal brotherhood. So many people lost their lives. So many families suffered. This is one incident that will live with all of us for a long, long time.

I vividly remember the time when I heard about the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks. I was at work late in the evening when one of my clients from the U.S. told me about the planes attacking the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. He also told me about the fall of the first tower. And the fall of the second tower.  One of our senior managers was also in the office so I told him about the incident. This was before the widespread use of mobile phones and high bandwidth internet connections in Pakistan. However, we did have access to CNN which was the source of latest information for many people. My colleague called home to confirm the news. One of our clients lived somewhere around Washington DC, so I sent him a message to confirm if he and his family were safe and sound. Thankfully, they were.

The years following the 9/11 incident have been shadowed by it. World politics changed. The way many people viewed at each other changed. The world economic condition was also affected. As a technology company, working mainly for U.S. based clients, we also suffered.

I remember my first visit to U.K. in 2003. At the Heathrow Airport, I was one of the very few passengers asked to open the hand luggage for inspection. Another Indian gentleman was also asked to do the same. I still wonder if it was because of my nationality.

My first visit to the U.S. was supposed to be in August 2001. There were some changes and the visit did not materialize. I visited the U.S. for the first time in 2008. That’s when I had the opportunity to visit New York City. I was staying in Downtown Manhattan and Ground Zero was not too far away so I walked to the the site. Apparently, some construction activities were going on at that time and the boundaries were covered. I stood there for sometime and watched the site.

Then, I visited St. Paul’s Chapel and attended the Prayer for Peace which is held everyday between 12:30pm and 12:45pm. I felt at peace remembering and praying for the people who lost their lives and the ones who worked effortlessly, day and night, during the days following the incident. At St. Paul’s Chapel, the people participating in the prayer for peace received prayer cards containing prayers from various religions. That was a beautiful gesture reflecting the global effort for world peace. Yes, there are people in this world, people of different races, colors, ethnicity, nationalities, having diverse religious and political beliefs, who still believe in humanity and peace for all. As long as this is true, there is still hope for humanity.

I was also fortunate to meet with Gary Marlon Suson, the official Ground Zero photographer for the Uniformed Firefighter’s Association (FDNY). He was there for his book “REQUIEM: Images of Ground Zero“. I bought the book and still have it. The proceeds (at least some part of it) from the book are donated to 9/11 charities.

I have been to the U.S. a few times since my first visit. What have I learnt? That the people living in the U.S. are also human beings with diverse backgrounds. Labeling all of them as “Usurpers” and stereotyping them is as unfair as labeling all Pakistanis or Muslims as “terrorists“. I learnt that most of the people in the world believe in goodness toward their fellow human beings. That traveling to various countries and interacting with the people there is the best way to get firsthand knowledge about them. I have visited churches, synagogues, and temples, and have seen people praying just like Muslims do in their mosques. Traveling with an open mind is one the best gifts one can give to oneself, and to others. Seeing people as human beings helps one get over the many stereotypes that divide us. It also enables one to appreciate the beauty of diversity.

Today, I am reminded of the John Lennon song “Imagine“. What better way to end this post than to share this beautiful song!

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This post has been overdue for 4.5 months. Another victim of my procrastination. Anyway, as they say, better late than never.

I was returning home from the U.S. in March this year. While waiting in the immigration line at the local airport, I was witness to the display of leadership in real time. It was early morning (sometime between 5am and 6am) and passengers from multiple flights were waiting in long immigration lines at the airport. Somehow, there weren’t enough officers on duty, and the ones who were at their seats were not quick enough. To make matters worse, some porters and other officials were getting the documents of people they knew, or were bribed by, processed while the rest of the passengers waited endlessly. As is common in this part of the world, people were complaining among each other but not creating any visible ruckus to stop this injustice against themselves. I was also one of these passengers. Without doubt, there were over 100 people in those lines. There was one gentleman who was standing in front of me. Finally, he had had enough. He started talking loudly, demanding that the officers be posted to their assigned slots and that the people breaking the line be not entertained by the officers. That was a big risk that he took. He could’ve been taught a lesson by the officials by not processing his documents and making him suffer for speaking up. But, he took the risk. Not only that, he also asked the people standing in the line why they weren’t speaking up (for their right). Gradually, other passengers joined him in voicing their concerns and, soon enough, an official was posted to the empty slot and the line started moving quickly.

While being a witness of the unfolding event I couldn’t help but think this is leadership. I had just returned after attending a leadership development program where we had various sessions on leadership. But this single incident showed me what true leadership is. To stand for what’s right, to speak up when you are at a risk of losing everything, to have the courage to say something everybody wants to say but doesn’t, to be the first one who stands up for what they believe in, and to use the power of people to achieve something that benefits everyone. This is true leadership. I could not be that leader but that gentleman, without even realizing, became the leader everyone wants to be.

..leaders do the right thing.

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