Back in California: Where is My Life Going?

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I feel like I have more headspace while in sunny SoCal. The 10-hour time difference gives me enough quiet minutes to get my to-do list in order while dadboss is snoring in another hemisphere. I don’t have many friends left here so there are less temptations and I’m not a tourist so there’s no major itinerary to follow besides work-related supplier visits. Books and sunshine are my main distractions. However, having so many tete-a-tetes with your own tete makes the content all the more daunting. This self-reflection, this attempt to answer the everlasting question of should I stay or should I go, this search for the cure of stunted adulthood – it can be overwhelming when you’re one year away from that 4-year reevaluation that just so happens to fall on my 30th year of life.

I love being here and it’s not just for the donuts. I love that my thoughts have room to expand like a soap bubble and pop when they’re done. There is no annoying toddler in the form of Lebanese inconveniences coming in to poke the bubble forcing its premature death. To be fair, that may have more to do with the distance from daily life than it does with the California weather and temperament.

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Am I the only one that thinks, okay, I’ll figure this all out when I’m away for a few weeks? As if being detached from your own reality will give you clarity to work out the kinks in your life plan. You look back at home and think, is this where you want to be/are you maximizing your potential/are you meeting the right person/is this it for me/are you okay with it if it is? It would be wonderful if the answers to those questions came in black & white but it feels like gray comes in more than 50 shades. I’m sorry I used that. Won’t happen again.

When I’m away, Beirut is on my mind and when I’m home, I’m looking abroad. Not in the grass-is-greener way but in the am-I-settling way. Being young and untethered, restless and ambitious, hungry and responsible. All these adjectives lead to one: conflicted.

“Small goals.” After a talk with a friend in London who recently had a break from life to figure out life, he said it. Small goals will take some of the pressure off. Baby steps toward moving forward on a personal level so you feel that even if you’re not on the express train, you’re still not stagnant.

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And it’s about the little things. Reading in the backyard. Getting just the right amount of milk in your coffee. Finding that Yeezus shirt on Amazon. Tacos & dancing nights with your homies. Maybe the future needs to stay in the future since we all don’t know what’s ahead, how to get there, or even where we need to go. Or maybe I’m still jet lagged and a reflection session will hit me in the afternoon. At this point, all I can hope for is another good coffee and a good book to go with it.

From Corporate World to Family Business: A Lebanese Tradition of Transition

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The struggle is real.

There are so many misconceptions tied to the working for dad route. The assumption is that you’re living a cushy lifestyle, able to jet off to Milan for a weekend on a whim, and incessantly receiving special treatment just for being the boss’ offspring. A chunk of the Lebanese youth, including myself, have decided to go for this path professionally and I want to shed some light on the truth of it.

BEFORE I GET ON MY SOAPBOX, SOME BACKGROUND: I work as the creative strategist for our American imports chain, Wesley’s Wholesale. Basically, I’m the advertising/marketing/PR/anything-on-Adobe/all-around-social person of the company.

Why would you want to work for your family?

When I thought about my career path and how I would grow in a corporate structure, I saw myself being able to do the work to make it to the summit. It was not a question of capability, it was more about investing in the future. Climbing the ladder, especially with Lebanon’s salary margin, looked depressing. If I wanted to live according to the standards that I’m used to while growing up, it was hard to imagine how to do that given the limited liquidity a corporate job could offer, even in the long run.

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Your salary is probably SO much higher than what it was at your old job.

Not necessarily. Working to run an expanding business doesn’t automatically equal Rich Kids of Beverly Hills status. There are more costs, more sacrifices, and more spending when you’re trying to keep all the cogs greased. A machine won’t run on prayer alone. However, at the end of the day, you’re busting your butt for your family empire, not partners behind glass doors. You’re not focused on the monthly wage because you’re looking at the bigger picture. This is your livelihood, it’s what puts your sisters through college, it’s what you can build your future-life on.

So you’re guaranteed a top position where you’ll never be fired. How difficult for you.

It’s not like being crowned a duchess. Do not assume that all heirs/heiresses of family empires are undeserving brats. There is immense pressure with such an inheritance. Knowing that suddenly there is a beast that you need to figure out how to tame when you were used to caring for domesticated kittens? It’s overwhelming.

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If you’ve got that position or that’s the road you’re on, it’s because your bosses think you’re worthy and up to the task. They see your potential even if you don’t. If you’re useless, no one’s going to drag a dead horse, not even your parents. They’ll only tolerate you for so long before they chuck your ass out. It’s not personal, it’s business.

What do you even do there? Aren’t you a designer?

I’m a designer with a background in advertising. This comes in handy when expanding a mom & pop, brick & mortar imports empire. I use what I learned via the art of selling in order to improve our model and approach. Branding, in-store customer experience, public relations, brand equity – so much of design thinking is part of running a retail business.

In essence, being part of management is like working for a start-up and your job title doesn’t encompass all that you do. You have to wear many hats and learn all facets of the business that you aren’t qualified for for one simple reason: it’s your business. There’s no such thing as “that’s not my job” because everything is your job. If someone slacks off or makes a mistake, you have to put out the fires and pay for the damage.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to hire someone more qualified for the job? 

In absolute terms, yes. If your spawn is in a completely unrelated field, not in it to win, or plain incompetent, finding someone else would be the better option. I can understand why many families don’t do this though: trust. When you have started a business that is making dough, you’re not going to grant the inside info to a stranger. The secrets of the trade, the magic sauce in the burger, the heart battery thing in Tony Stark’s chest – you can’t give away your recipe for success or you could risk betrayal. Confidentiality clauses can only get you so far before John Doe is stealing your concept and suppliers from right under you.

Don’t you have any brothers?

I can do anything my nonexistent brother could’ve done. Like a boss. Next question.

But you get to do whatever you want, right?

There is more freedom. Creatively, I have direct contact with my client at all times (dad) and I have more flexibility to work on side projects because I dictate my own work load.

But do I get to sign off at 5pm everyday? No. At Sunday family breakfasts, you talk about incoming shipments. At birthday parties, you ask about people’s thoughts on blue corn tortilla chips. Even when walking down the aisle of a Whole Foods for some soap while on vacation in New York, you’re thinking, “oh my god, these chocolates would be such a hit at Wesley’s.” Work never stops, you’re always on the clock. Heck, I’m even blogging about it.

Oh, so…are you happy or not?

In the last few months, I’ve met a lot of people who told me they tried the family thing for a while and couldn’t stick with it. It’s not easy blurring the lines; it depends on the nature of the business, clashing personalities, and what someone wants to do with their life and where they want to do it. For now, I’m giving it a try. Like any job, it has its plusses and minuses. Regardless of the duration, I know my time isn’t being wasted when it’s going to la familia.

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The Barcelona Blues

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The burrata, the olives with cava, the walks after every cheese-loaded meal. When I look at photos of the time spent in Barcelona, it already feels like centuries ago. I don’t necessarily miss the city itself but I miss the wonder that came with being in an environment that was always feeding my curiosity, my drive, and my passion to learn. It feels like it was a memory of another lifetime because I feel the person I was there is not the person I am here in Beirut. But that’s the point of travel, no?

My motivation to keep pushing back at this “repatriation frustration”, to keep digging for the gold in a mine full of pyrite, to stick to the reason why I have this blog at all – that motivation is dissipating. They tell me this too shall pass. That’s what I am told by all those who’ve returned, but also by the ones that are still far, far away. They say that it’s temporary and you get over it once you find your rhythm again.

How depressing is that? That this fire will die down and you become complacent with the status quo, jaded with the gnawing annoyance in your gut, and eventually go back to going with the excuse of “This is Lebanon” while you kick back another G&T. Instead, the thought pisses me off more. I try to push through. I am trying to push through.

The main lesson I learned there (outside of my internship) was to channel my energy. Removing myself from Beirut showed me how much of my own fuel was being depleted because I was being too ambitious, driving myself into the ground because it was easier to do it all than to deal with figuring out one path to stick to. My generation has a hard time turning down opportunities. We don’t know how to say no because we feel like we have to be able to do everything at all times and our smartphone addiction makes the illusion that we can all the more convincing.

But it’s no fun being a scatterbrained basket-case who’s incessantly spread way too thin on a low fat quinoa cracker. Can I sit here and have a slice of cake for 5 minutes without thinking about how I’m going to buy a house before I’m 40/how much time will this need on the treadmill/did I confirm that Amazon order/did I get that quotation approved/what ever happened to Billy Idol/I should tweet that/how many days left before I have to submit that presentation?

So. Much. Wasted. Energy.

It’s time to let 2016 be the year of realizing stuff* and realize that I need to focus on investing my time only in what matters and makes me happy.

What’s taking up most of my sanity now: trying to fall in love with Beirut all over again.

*Just in case it wasn’t obvious, I am sarcastically using Kylie as an inspiration for this. I’m 89% sure she will be naming her first child Kale.

Back Home: On the Outside, Looking in

Courtesy of Tom Eversley

Courtesy of Tom Eversly

It’s odd having to think about cooking my dinners, doing my laundry & dishes, and what streets to walk through in the morning. It’s been odd not thinking about electricity, road rage, and garbage. It’s been odd putting all my energy into myself. It’s been odd being able to think about the bigger things. Like where I want my life to be in the next few months, what I need to improve on when it comes to my career and personal development, and even what books I want to read.

I can hardly see you underneath all that guck. Right now, I’m removed enough that I do not incessantly worry about you and where you’re heading but still within the same hemisphere so I’m not that far behind. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about you Lebanon; it’s the distance between us. This LDR is going to take work and you’re going to have to make an effort so I have something to come home to.

But hey, let’s not get melodramatic here, it’s been 9 days since I left.

Guys, there are 4 main happenings back home that I need y’all to take part in. I would like to live vicariously through my peoples because, for once, I understand what it’s like to be living far away from my beloved Beirut and seeing it from the outside. It’s a mix of FOMO and WTF.

Horsh Beirut on Saturdays
It’ll be open every Saturday for Phase 1 of the park’s opening to the public. Phase 2 is all weekend, Phase 3 is daily. If we prove that we can take care of it and we are in need of public green spaces, it may encourage municipalities to fund more spaces/renovation of existing ones. It’s wishful thinking but let’s make sure we show them how much we want and RESPECT public space.

Wickerpark Festival – Sept 13, 2015
Great fun in Batroun with Lebanese bands performing outdoors at sunset. It’s chilled vibes with local Colonel beer. Bring a blanket or cushion to sit on if you go early.

Sursock Museum – Oct 9, 2015
Opening on a Friday, the perfect new activity to start off the weekend with. What were you going to do? Movies? Mar Mikhael? Stay home to catch up on [insert Netflix series here] and order ZwZ? Haven’t you always wanted to go inside the beautiful palace anyway? Now you can. Entrance is for free, just saying.

And while these are all happy events, this is the one that needs the most attention:

#Youstink Protest Tomorrow Afternoon
We need a solution to the garbage crisis before the rain hits. Forget about all other concerns and demands. This crisis affects our health (and that of future generations) and living environment. Even if you don’t support the movement or the ousting of the MPs, we need to be down there asking for a PLAN OF ACTION before more damage is done.

Yalla!

From Beirut to Barcelona

Courtesy of Gratisography

Courtesy of Gratisography

The last time I ate McDonald’s was when I was at the Frankfurt Airport on my way to NYC. Had you told me that I was going to be back here 4 months later while on my way to Barcelona, I would’ve given you a high-five, done a victory dance, and also been in awe that I managed to steer clear of Big Macs for that long. I was going to use the “I’m traveling” excuse to be reunited with the classic but it turns out there’s no McDo in this terminal. Instead, I’m stuck with a pathetic 10-Euro Thai chicken sandwich. Boo.

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As you can see above, Barcelona’s been on the travel list for a while. I’ve heard good things about the Spanish coastal town and its art, architecture, and ham. All summer, friends who’ve been have told me that I will fall in love with the place. I’m hoping that they haven’t set my expectations too high; there’s a lot of pressure to make the most of this temporary move.

And that’s another thing – it feels strange leaving Beirut when there is a chance for change back home (too optimistic?). There is so much uncertainty in the months ahead but I can’t tell if that’s me or a symptom of the lost millennial generation of global opportunity, information overload, and goldfish attention spans. How the heck do you navigate through all the possibility? Maybe no one’s got it figured out and it’s actually about learning to be at peace with the idea that we’re all just winging it as we go.

I came across this video about the “origin of x” and its relation to Arabic and Spanish. It was comforting to see that I’d be learning more about the Arabic script in a non-Arab country that still had linguistic ties to it in some way. Maybe Spain will be the intersection of foreign and familiar. Only time will tell.

Follow my adventure via #BambigoestoBarca on Instagram.
I’ll be blogging as much as I can too.

P.S. – Maktoub 3 Loubnan has NOT been put on hold. My sister will be checking the mail periodically in my absence so please find a cool postcard for your memory. Check out the ones that have made it over so far here.

Staying Productive When Unemployed

Courtesy of Stokpic

Courtesy of Stokpic

By unemployed, I mean not going to an office every day. That means you could be freelancing, applying for higher education or a new job, or planning world domination via miswak toothbrushes. Whatever your reasons are for not clocking in, here are some tips that I came up with from my own summer of unemployment.

Let Side Projects Take Center Stage
Use the flexible schedule to work on the side projects that were always lower on your list of priorities. When you have a full-time job, it’s tough to burn the midnight oil on something that isn’t a must or hasn’t fully taken shape yet. When the day’s events are up to you though, you can recalibrate where you want to invest your minutes. Not all side projects have to be grandiose and extra ambitious. It can be as simple as getting through all the books on Obama’s summer reading list.

Keep To-Do Lists and Deadlines
Without a boss or manager keeping you in check and the sun luring you into beach bummery, it’s not hard to waste away ending up in an endless lethargic stupor. Having daily lists of what to do can keep you on your toes, making sure you cross off the most basic tasks for the day. Just remember to be realistic with your expectations of what you can accomplish. Being productive AND sleeping in is doable, just set up the schedule that works for you.

Stop Feeling Guilty
You need discipline as mentioned above but you will have the propinquity to revel in the newfound freedom. There is beauty in being able to wake up when you want and shift things around on a whim. Learning to be okay with doing nothing temporarily every once in a while is a skill that has to be acquired. In the technology age when we’re all incessantly connected and online, we need to master the art of stillness. And if you’re wasting too much time/energy vegetating and living the funemployed life, take up a new hobby and eat more falafel. Those vegetarian sandwiches cost $2 and keep you full all day.

Courtesy of Stokpic

Courtesy of Stokpic


Change Desks for the Day

Get out of the house and off the bed. Changing it up helps you feel like you’re going to work, especially when your home is supposed to be the place you turn off your brain. If you need to get work done that doesn’t depend on internet connection, go to a spot that has bad wifi. You’ll be too frustrated to bother connecting which will force you to pour your energy into the tasks at hand, spending less time reading The Atlantic articles about millennials. Trying different hideouts to camp for the day with your laptop/sketchbook/agenda can be a fun way to get acquainted with your surroundings. You’ll test cafes and meet people who are a) escaping electricity cuts
b) researching something you could be into or c) wearing a tarboosh because they’re a lost Italian tourist.

Be selective with where you go though because spending hours on end at coffee shops can rack up quite the bill unless you’re one of the types that orders one cappuccino every 4 hours. A balanced way to assess how much you should ingest at a cafe is to base it on: how much internet you consume, how many other laptops are there, and how many waiters have changed shifts.

Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

Not to sound like a preteen on tumblr but with freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy? 

5 Steps to Survive Lebanese Wedding Season

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Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

1. Don’t Post Wedding Selfies

The beauty of having friends and family from different non-overlapping circles is that you can wear the same dresses to their occasions, even if they’re a few days apart. It is possible to last an entire wedding season with one dress if you do not document it heavily.

However, by posting a full-length-mirror selfie to Instagram, you’ve officially retired that OOTD to next year’s rotation because Noor won’t forgive you for wearing the same dress to her wedding next month – I mean, it’s like you don’t even CARE.

If you don’t want to recycle wedding outfits, then hashtag your heart out because you looking FINE and that hair won’t stand a chance against our humidity or surround-dancefloor-while-clapping duty.

None of this applies to men. Boys, just change your tie and you’re in an entirely new outfit. Life is unfair.

2. Power Banks

You will be there for at least 4 hours and you will be using your phone to either chat, take photos, or [insert social media addiction here]. Your phone will die. In the 21st century, that will cause people who are not in your physical presence to assume you’re also dead. That, and you could get very bored or be forced to talk to a relative who keeps asking about your age and marital status.

Make sure your lifeline is fully charged when you leave home and keep a power bank on you or stuffed in your little clutch.

3. The “3a2belik/lak” Drinking Game

3a2belik is the Arabic sentiment that means “hopefully you’re next” – at a wedding, it’s referring to going down the aisle. Besides hearing this from everyone including the valet parking guy, one of the best features of weddings is the open bar so, every time you hear a “3a2belik/nefrah minnik/nshallah mnshoofik 3arous,” take a sip from your glass of Chivas or a shot of tequila. At a large wedding party, make it 1 shot/3 3abeliks.

If you’re at a conservative wedding (i.e. no booze), replace the whisky with spoonfuls of tiramisu. The traces of rum may do the job or, at the very least, you’ll get a decent sugar high that’ll make you giggle your way through the night.

4. Take on a New Identity

When at a social function like a Lebanese Wedding, you’re bound to meet people. You may even be at a table full of new faces. Now is your chance to pull a Frank Abagnale and invent a whole different persona. Keep your name but change all the details. Don’t worry, they’ll never admit that they Facebook stalked you only to find out you are not a massage therapist with a condo in New Mexico.

Be careful though – you’re in Lebanon which means a person you don’t know could turn out to be your cousin. At that point, inform them about Step 3 and let the bonding begin.

5. Uber/Careem it Home

Unless your face is glued to your phone’s screen because you’re being an antisocial millennial and only showed up for the shrimp cocktail at the buffet (no judgment), you will not want to drive home because of three things:
a) Existing in heels
b) Not knowing the road back to civilization
c) 3a2belik Drinking Game/Open Bar

Avoid it. You could even go home in an Uber Black since you’re all fancy. Treat yo self. And wedding planners, get some promo-codes for your guests so everyone can drink and be merry…and safe.

Mabrouk to all the new couples of the season!