The Ultimate Freedom

Greetings from Madrid! The last few days I was occupied with the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp reunion here. It was refreshing to see everyone and for all us to spend a few fun days together.

I am now sitting at Café de la Luz, about to finally start “working” again after all the festivities. I put “working” in double quotes because I am using the word “working” in a fluid sense. “Working” these days, in the absence of any structure or a job, is really just analogous with me just having my laptop open.

I bring this up because today is special. It’s a day where, for the very first time, I have no plans in my life. Literally zero. Nothing. Nada.*

Sitting here at this coffeeshop in Madrid, I have no sense at all of where I should go next or what specifically I should do. There’s no reason for me to be in Madrid, but there’s also no reason for me to be anywhere else, really.

At the same time, I have the capacity to do practically anything. I can take off on a world-trip if I feel like. I can go to the Far East and indulge in martial arts. I can go to Africa and climb Mount Kilimanjaro, or maybe Nepal to do some meditation?

What I am experiencing now is the luxury of having the ultimate freedom. Having said that, there is a very fine line between ultimate freedom and being completely lost. That fine line, I think, is purpose. I currently have no purpose that I am fully committed to, and as a result I consistently feel lost.

I do believe though that purpose is attained with a blend of thinking and acting. I have done plenty of thinking (and this blog is a testament of that), and it’s now time to be acting. More to come on that.

* Well, strictly speaking, I just booked a bus to Cordoba tomorrow. But, I think of that as random probing rather than an actual plan.

Forging a Warrior Mindset

In my last post I wrote about my state of mental weakness. I have been lacking firm opinions, deferring decisions to the last minute, easily getting distracted, giving up on things I plan very easily, etc.

Before when I had a stable job and home I was able to get away with this. But, now, gaining mental toughness and emotional resiliency is becoming increasingly necessary.

Another way I can describe my current state is that I am simply in a limbo state. I don’t have a clear purpose, I’m not offering the world anything of value, and I don’t have a sense of where I should live or what my life should look like. Not only that, but I am also falling into an “analysis paralysis” while trying to figure this all out.

To be able to get myself out of this limbo state, I need a sense of direction. And, to get that sense of direction, I need focus and a methodical way to explore the possible directions I can go. And, to get focus, I need mental toughness and emotional resiliency.

A few days ago I came across a great book: 8 Weeks to SEALFIT: A Navy SEAL’s Guide to Unconventional Training for Physical and Mental Toughness

The book is inspired by principles from the Navy Seals, Sun Tzu, yoga, and ninjutsu. So far the underlying philosophy in that book resonates with me a lot. It sees physical training as a catalyst for mental toughness and emotional resiliency.

The training in this book is certainly not easy. It’s been very physically demanding the last few days. Here’s an example training I did yesterday and today:

  • Warmup
  • 5 rounds of:
    • 20 airsquats
    • 20 burpees
    • 200 jump ropes

In addition to intense physical training, the book is emphasizing “the warrior mindset”.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” – Sun Tzu

“Pain is weakness leaving the body” – Navy Seals

I started seeing training as a battle. Not only should I prepare the body, but I should also prepare the mind.  Here are three steps of mental preparation I do prior to training:

  1. Clear the mind. I eliminate distractions and focus on the task ahead.
  2. Know the “why”. I am doing this not just for the physical fitness, but for improving my mental toughness and emotional resiliency. I need both to help me explore and get a sense of where to go next in life.
  3. See victory in the mind, and practice for it. I imagine myself finishing the workout in perfect form in my head, feeling it as much as possible.

The first time I did this workout, and halfway through the first cycle, my first instinct was to immediately cut my goal from five cycles to three cycles – the burpees were just too tough! But, sticking with the warrior mindset, I plowed through it. I won that battle, and several other battles since.

This process of mental preparation is definitely helping me and is something I want to inject not just in physical training, but in anything challenging I intend to do.

I plan to continue with the SEALFIT training, as I am getting a lot of benefit out of it so far.

And, today is my birthday! I’ll be spending some time tonight with the family and tomorrow at dawn I head to Madrid. The MIT reunion is coming up!

My Mental Weakness

I left Lebanon and have been back in Egypt for over a week now, and generally my time in Egypt is an interesting introspection as I tend to spend a lot of time alone and without significant obligations.

But, the more I am spending time with myself, the more I am realizing a very apparent weakness in me, and is something that is becoming more and more painful for me as time lingers.

I am in a state of mental weakness. I lack firm opinions, I leave decisions to the very last minute, I give up easily, I easily get distracted, and my mind is dominated with negative emotions. Not to mention that a lot of the “plans” I make are often better classified as “wishful thinking” at best.

I don’t think any of the above is actually new. It has been creeping in me over the last couple of years at least. Now, though, that I have more time for introspection, that reality is more often than not hitting, slapping, and punching me in the face.

For me to do anything worthwhile in life, I need to overcome this state of mental weakness. Not only is it a blocker for practically anything I do, but it’s also causing me to suffer.

Here’s a recent example of my mental weakness. When I flew out to Egypt my goal was to spend two weeks working on side projects. Here’s what came out of it:

  • I decided to build a simple alarm clock app that greets with refreshing bird sounds. The primary driver behind this is I have never done any mobile dev and thought it would a nice gentle intro to get a feel of what mobile dev is like. I worked on it for a bit and didn’t finish it.
  • I decided to build a speech recognition system for understanding how people say the time in Egyptian Arabic – I wanted to use this as a building block to speak with my phone in Egyptian Arabic and have it wake me up at certain times. I read some papers and downloaded some datasets, but also never fully committed.
  • I decided to put all three routers in our home on one wifi network (as opposed to three separate ones). I thought it would fix a small nuisance and I’d learn a few things about networking while doing it. After a few hours of triaging problems, I actually set up the network. There was one issue though: a device connected to one router would stay connected to that router even if the signal is very weak, as opposed to switching to the much closer router on the same network with a stronger connection. I was supposed to figure out a fix for that problem, but I never did.

Or, consider for example my workouts. When I left my job almost three months ago I wanted to spend more time focusing on my physical fitness, as it’s something I haven’t been putting as much attention to as I’d like. Here’s how things evolved:

  • I came up with a plan that I wanted to train for Half Iron Man and be ready by next Summer.
    • I ended procrastinating and didn’t do much training, but a big hindrance for me was that a big pool was inaccessible. Traveling to Lebanon and not sticking around one location long enough makes it more difficult for me as well to commit to a gym for pool access.
  • I changed my plan to do something very simple but over an extended period of time. I decided every morning that I’d spend a couple of minutes doing ab workouts, following the guidelines of the book Convict Conditioning.
    • That plan lasted (with many misses) for 40 days, but relocating several times and the sheer ease of the workout didn’t make me feel like I was actually working out, so I subconsciously made the decision to stop.
  • The whole workout plan fell apart.

So far during my stay in Egypt there has been precisely zero projects that I took to full completion. This is dangerous, as it could spiral into further mental weakness.

I bring this up here because I have been thinking of ways to build up my mental toughness. More to come on that.

So you think you can bounce?

A couple of weeks ago I was speaking with Sarah Habli and we were talking about how it would be fun to jump on some trampolines. Well, we decided to rally up a crew and all go a for a night of bouncing and jumping.

I felt like I took off my adult mask and have become the child I was meant to be. I could feel the adrenaline and dopamine rushing through me as I was bouncing and jumping around. We (humanity) need to do more of this!

Off-trail Hiking in Sannine

Today I ended up going with Azhar, Alaa Hariri, her friend Catherine on a little road trip. We first went to Zarour then went to Sannine. I always get this sense of contentment when going through the mountains here in Lebanon – so beautiful.

While in Sannine I decided to venture off a little bit. It started with a short walk, then it went into full-fledged hiking and rock-climbing mode. I climbed a nearby mountain and it felt liberating! Mind you, it was getting quite dangerous towards the top as the mountain got more steep and there were a lot of loose rocks, but an enjoyable hike nonetheless.

Here’s some random footage of the day, mostly the hike:

Five minutes. Go!

Alright I’ll say everything that comes to my mind about today for the next five minutes. Today has been a good and productive day. A few highlights:

  • Did two interviews for candidates at HIL. It was an interesting experience interviewing candidates in Lebanon. They were completely taken by surprise when I asked them technical questions and to write code on the board. One of the candidates I interviewed, has about two decades of experience and mentioned he had never had an interview of this format before. Apparently, in Lebanon technical interviewers don’t ask candidates to write code. Baffling. Let’s just say the Lebanon talent scene leaves a lot to be desired.
  • Confirmed outline of machine learning workshop. This is somewhat related to the point above. I spoke with Bassem at SE Factory a couple of weeks about giving a workshop on machine learning for developers here who are curious about it but didn’t have the chance to dig into it. I am hoping it proves useful, and at the same teaching is the best way to learn, so it’ll be a great learning process for me. The event will be published this Friday and will be scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, two weeks from now.
  • Picked up some new dragon staff moves. I practiced for nearly three hours today and busted some new moves that I am excited about. I felt like I plateaued for a while so this was definitely a refresher. One favorite of mine was a move called “Cheating Death”. Very simple and very elegant.

Alright five minutes are up. Time to go to bed!

Chapter 0: Egypt

My stay in Egypt lasted ended up lasting 24 days. I wish I had been more diligent to write more about my experience. I am now flying out to Beirut, which will be my home for the next few weeks.
I don’t have a particular agenda writing this post. It’ll mostly be random thoughts that pop in my head around my experience thus far.
– It’s not as scary I thought. Not even close. The thought of leaving my job at Twitter and leaving the country with no plan was daunting to me and it took me months to build up the courage to do it. I was particularly worried about waking up in the morning and face the hard fact that I don’t know where life is taking me, that I don’t know what I am doing, that I am wasting my time, that I have no job, that I gave up my career, that I no longer have a paycheck, etc etc. But, having done it, it doesn’t feel that bad at all. It’s actually quite exciting – at least for now.
– I am very very glad to have made it to Egypt at this time. I was very fortunate to visit my grandmother – twice – prior to her death two weeks ago. It gives me a lot of comfort and peace that I cared for her and stayed close till the last minute, as painful as it was. There were a number of deaths in my family circle over the last few weeks, and each one was a stronger reminder for me that, in the grand scheme of things, nothing matters. And, as such, nothing ought to be taken seriously.
– I really enjoy being close to family. Even though the cultural differences between us had grown over time, I really enjoy being around them more regularly. I want to keep that in my life. I don’t want to always be away as I have been the last nine years.
– I love my circle of friends in Egypt. They are all forward thinking, ambitious, working on interesting projects, and are super fun to hang out with.
Lebanon will my first “experiment” post the stable days of San Francisco. It’ll involve exploring a new part of the Middle East and doing work that I suspect I would deeply connect with. I’ll share more details soon. I’ll leave this post at that – plane is landing!

Review: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very simple and brief read on modern physics. The author primarily discussed two major developments in physics in the 20th century: general relativity and quantum mechanics. He later used both of these theories to describe our current understanding of very big things (cosmos) and very small things (subatomic particles).

In later parts of the book the author talks about how both of these theories view the universe in a fundamentally different way. General relativity views the world as curved space where everything is continuous, and in quantum mechanics the world is a flat space with discontinuous amounts of energy (quanta).

The last two lessons were unrelated and felt to me a bit out of place, but aside from that the book did definitely peak my curiosity and is pushing me to learn more about the subject.

My favorite part of the book was the lesson introducing the theory of general relativity and how it refined our understanding of the universe. The theory lead to predicting that the sun causes light to deviate, that time passes by more quickly high up than below, that space can expand and contract, that space cannot stand still, that space is currently expanding and that the expansion has been triggered by the explosion of an extremely hot and small universe (i.e. the big bang). The simplicity and elegance of how one theory could explain so much is breathtaking.

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وفاة جدتي و عزاء النفاق

من أسبوع تقريبا كنت أنا و مجموعة من الأصدقاء نستمتع بغروب ساحر على شاطئ لاجونا في دهب بسيناء. كان غروبا مليئا بالسمر و المرح. بعد ساعة تقريبا من قعدتنا على الشاطئ وجدت هذه الرسالة متروكة لي على تليفوني:

لا يسعني أن أقول سوى أنني شعرت بحزن ساكن. شعرت بالحزن على فراق جدتي، و شعرت بالسكينة لأنني كنت على تواصل شبه دائم معها لمدة سنين. شعرت بالسكينة لأنني كنت في مصر وقت وفاتها و تمكنت من زيارتها مرتين – مرة قبل خروجها من المستشفى و مرة في بيتها قبل أن تُتوفّى بخمسة أيام.

للأسف لم أحضر دفنتها و لكن حضرت عزائها، و للأسف وجدت منسابة العزاء هي ليست إلا مناسبة نفاق. أغلب من حضروا العزاء هم أُناس لا يمتّون لجدتي بصلة، و إن كانوا يمُتّون إليها بصلة فقليل منهم كانوا يكترثوا بها أو يسألوا عنها وقت حياتها. و حينما يعزون يعزونك بمشاعر باردة و لا ينظرون إليك نظر العين. حتى الشيخين الذين كانا يرتلا القرآن كانا يتسامران معا بين تلاوة تلك الآية و تلك، فبالنسبة لهما العزاء مجرد “بزنس” لا أكثر و لا أقل، و للأسف لا يمكنني أن ألومهم على تفكيرهم هذا.

هل صارت مناسبة العزاء كما هي عليه الآن غير ملائمة لعصرنا هذا؟ ربما. للأسف سادها النفاق كما يسود أغلب عادات هذا المجتمع.

ثاني يوم لي في مصر

و ها قد مضى اليوم الثاني، و أظنه مضى أسرع من اليوم الذي سبقه. قضيت أغلب اليوم مع العائلة – من صلاة العيد بعد الفجر إلى آخر الليل حينما وصّلنا أخي و إسراء و الأولاد إلى المطار. يذهبون الليلة إلى كندا و يقضون هناك الصيف كله. كم أتمنى أن كنت أقضي معهم وقتا أكثر.

هذه صورة التقطها اليوم مع أبناء أخي:

من الغد يبدأ العمل. للحديث بقية.