The Status Quo: Made for Shattering

I finally arrived in Beirut on January 13th, 2017. I’d been dying to explore ‘the Paris of the Middle East’ for years. Lebanon did not disappoint. I made incredible friends doing inspiring things with their lives, from journalism to wine bars. I discovered Lebanese cuisine, which I thought I knew about all my life but clearly didn’t (imagine Indian food in India versus Indian food in the food court). I left with new perspectives on war, conflict, and hope after talking to people deeply affected by Syria. And it was the 22nd country I’d been to in three years.  

Leaving a successful career in Sydney three years ago and putting a great deal of effort creating a location-independent lifestyle, I now work on projects I love, sans office. I vagabond around the world while building skills, relationships, and work experience. The diversity of my projects – producing Instagram content for airlines, directing social media for reality TV shows, crafting communications strategies for tropical getaways – is matched only by the diversity of my workspaces– a cafe in Singapore, a wooden cabin in a remote Ecuadorian village, a balcony in New Delhi, a New York-bound Qatar Airways cabin. 

Within a couple of years experimenting, I was working completely remotely from the most soul-enriching places. This was one of my favourites, a wooden cabin at the Rumi Wilco ecolodge in a tiny Andean village called Vilcabamba (Ecuador).
So please don’t judge (not just yet) when I say: my status quo needs disruption. I want the next three years to be way more adventurous, bold, and creative than the last three. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean that I want to climb the world’s tallest construction sites or move into the Amazon rainforest, but I do want push my mind out into previously unimaginable places. To do so requires going right back to square one and becoming a beginner again. 

The former Holiday Inn, Beirut. Operational for one year before the Lebanese civil war began in 1975. A few minutes of reflection here every day put a lot of things into perspective for me.
Working in the advertising universe for three years, my status quo slowly crept in as a subtle complacency, and eventually the money become a safety net that took precedence over new creative ventures. If I kept my job, I’d use it as an excuse not to expand my horizons. And so Beirut evolved into a space to explore my innermost needs. Did I want to venture out, yet again, into uncharted territory? Did I want to start from scratch again and make a fool of myself? The questions scared me. And thrilled me. By the end of my visit, the answers were a resounding ‘yes, yes, and yes’. The brave young people I met, chasing their dreams in a region all too familiar with life-threatening conflict, certainly inspired me. And so February marks the first month away from advertising and the first month dedicated to writing. 

I got to hang out with one of my favourite people, Fernanda Ghazarian, an entrepreneurial and aspiring wine maker from Aleppo. One of her rules that I think about all the time: its only worth doing if it scares you a little (or more than a little).
Now, the reason why I say I’d like to disrupt my status quo is because everyone experiences a unique state of affairs that they’ve become just too comfortable with. A lot of people hate their desk jobs (or don’t quite love them). But not everyone’s status quo is the oversimplified corporate ‘9 to 5’ way of life. And the status quo isn’t just work related. It’s about personal growth in all areas of life. It might be your health. Your sense of adventure. Your relationships. It might even be your sex life. Most importantly, it’s about your state of mind.

What’s your status quo? Take a moment, a few moments, or a few months to define it. Seriously. It’s worth thinking about and then making a commitment to disrupt it. Pretty incredible things can happen with reflection and inspired action.

Once you shatter your status quo by doing things differently, you’ll eventually notice things getting a bit too comfortable again. For some people it’ll take years, for others much less. But once you get there, you’ll know its time for reflection and disruption once more. In fact, you’ll probably notice that personal evolution is complex, messy, non-linear, and ongoing. It never stops. And that’s beautiful. Embrace the beginner mind. As Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” 

 


Here is a small selection of books, podcasts, documentaries and other resources that informed and guided me deeply over the past few years, helping me define and disrupt my status quo:

Books
Shunryu Suzuki: Zen Mind, Beginner Mind
Tim Ferriss: The 4-Hour Workweek
Julia Cameron: The Artist’s Way (in particular the ‘Morning Pages’ practice)
Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now
Tara Brach: Radical Acceptance
Ashlee Vance: Elon Musk
Josh Waitzkin: The Art of Learning
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Herman Hesse: Siddhartha
Aldous Huxley: Island
Richard Bach: Illusions

Videos & Documentaries
Simon Sinek: The Golden Circle
Steve Jobs: Stanford Commencement Speech
Oprah Winfrey on Career, Life and Leadership
Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Articles & Podcasts
Kevin Kelly: 1000 True Fans
Tim Urban: Taming the Mammoth
Josh Kaufman: Core Human Skills
The Tim Ferriss Show
The Tara Brach Podcast
NPR: How I Built This
NPR: Making Oprah

Life Experiences
10-Day Vipassana Meditation Retreat

5 Life Lessons I Learned Working at Apple

Me and my dearest Apple friends in Dallas (2012). We worked in Apple Stores all over the world and were fellow associates on the Apple Store Leader Program. L to R: Evin (Paris), Me (London/Sydney), Martina (Zurich), Alex (Paris), Tomo (Tokyo).

I had just one dream to accompany my suitcase as I left my hometown, Sydney, for London in August 2010. As a 21 year-old aspiring songwriter and producer fresh out of university, I intended to make London my new home and writing hits for Beyoncé and Beyoncé-tier artists my new career. Standing by for Beyoncé’s team to pick up one of my demo songs, I took up a part-time sales job at a West London Apple Store that October, covering my costs in the world’s most expensive city. Three years later after graduating from the Apple Store Leader Program in Sydney in late 2013, I left Apple to begin a new entrepreneurial adventure that would take me to Sri Lanka, Singapore, India, Philippines, Malaysia, and Europe.

Looking back and connecting the dots, I realise that the education I received at Apple was priceless compared to a business degree or to anything that Beyonce could have ever given me. My classroom – the shop floors of some of the busiest Apple Stores in the world – allowed me to learn important life skills and even more about my values, strengths, and opportunities. My brief career at Apple, along with the Apple-alumni friends and mentors I met from all over the world, enabled me to become a better person, ignited my passion for learning, and expanded my songwriting dreams into entrepreneurial dreams.

I’d like to share a few of the most important lessons I picked up during my chapter at Apple.

1. Be Yourself. Being Someone Else Sucks.

Photo Credit: Rick Maiman, Getty Images
Photo Credit: Rick Maiman, Getty Images

At Apple, I didn’t have to play a role. I could be myself! I learned that though there are different ways of presenting myself depending on the situation or audience, the core of who I am shines through every meaningful interaction I have with others. On the other hand, whenever I lack authenticity, conversations become littered with awkward moments, tension, and fizzle out into nothingness.

How did I become more of myself?  I channeled my authenticity by:

  • Reflecting on my core values, past, and life dreams
  • Being fully present within myself and noticing when moods or behaviours change
  • Recognising strengths and weaknesses
  • Asking for feedback on an ultra-regular basis to build into self-development

As a side effect of being myself, I became more open-minded, compassionate, and able to put myself in others’ shoes. This became especially important in an environment as diverse as an Apple Store filled with people from many different walks of life.

2. Know Your Why, Then Start With Why.

Photo Credit: The Art Of.
Photo Credit: The Art Of

Shortly after joining Apple, the now-famous TED Talk by Simon Sinek was the first recommendation a manager gave me after seeking his opinion about applying for the Apple Store Leader Program. Watching it changed my life, because for ten years I thought the only way I would find fulfilment in life is by writing Grammy-award winning music. I was starting with what when I should have been starting with why.

Intrigued by the idea that why is more important than what, I took the time to dissect my pop dreams. What was deeper than the outcome I was seeking? I reflected on my childhood, and a flood of memories washed over me. As a 10-year-old growing up in Saudi Arabia, I published a tabloid newspaper using my pet cats, dogs, and ducks as the stars of its gossip columns. For years my little sister was my muse and singer for entire albums I would write and produce on my computer. I would direct album cover photoshoots using our floppy disk digital camera, edit the liner notes on Microsoft Publisher ’98, and manufacture the album using our cool new HP Inkjet Printer and CD-RW burner. I also loved to paint, cook, write short stories, and build model airplanes. Suddenly it hit me – I didn’t want to be a songwriter or producer. I wanted to be a creator.

I could now articulate my passions clearly – I love creating something out of nothing. I love bringing ideas to life. I love inspiring a team of people to help make it happen. After this realisation, my job at Apple became so much more meaningful and fulfilling. I wasn’t just selling great products. I was the creative director of amazing customer experiences on the shop floor for eight hours a day. At home, cooking a delicious sake infused salmon dish for my friends became as fulfilling as writing a song! And today, the excitement of traveling to a new city where I can take Instagram photos that elicit emotion and inspire wanderlust is more exciting than the prospect of winning a Grammy.

Having discovered my why, I now enjoy and revel in each non-songwriting, non-Beyoncé project and experience, and I communicate my ideas with more passion, energy, and excitement than ever before.

3. Think Macro and Micro.

Photo Credit: Cult Of Mac
Photo Credit: Cult Of Mac

Observing my environment with macroscopic vision and microscopic detail was a crucial part of my training at Apple. On one of my shifts in Sydney, after getting my team energised for the eight hours ahead, reviewing our store goals for the day, and ensuring the look and feel of the store met our high visual standards, our most senior store leader walked into the building. She noticed only one thing – my outdated lanyard, which was due for replacement that morning because of a subtle design update. It didn’t matter that the rest of the entire store was ready for a great day ahead of us.

Tiny details like this that others might have seen as minor really mattered to us. A demo iPhone that hasn’t been reset to give that new-phone feel, customers waiting too long at a neglected part of the shop floor, an employee who has lost his motivation to create great customer interactions over several weeks – these are details that could easily be overlooked for the bigger picture.  But at Apple, these details are what make up the big picture.

4. Become Comfortable with Uncomfortable

Jony-Ive-Apple
Photo Credit: Patrick Fraser, Getty Images

In order to thrive at Apple and beyond, I had to become very comfortable with being uncomfortable. The kind of discomfort that precedes virtually all life lessons and opportunities for growth can as subtle as butterflies in the stomach or as incapacitating as gut-wrenching nausea. I became familiar with a broad spectrum of uncomfortable situations – looking for specific constructive feedback from coworkers on a weekly basis, having difficult conversations with difficult customers, completing challenging projects and milestones every few weeks as part of the leadership program, and eventually choosing to leave Apple at the peak of my performance there. What I learned is that, if a goal or dream feels uncomfortable, it’s all the more important to pursue it.

Checking my ego at the door was crucial to finding comfort in discomfort. With my ego looming over me, each failure, rejection, or overwhelming frustration in the learning process would have chipped away at my spirit. An important part of growth is the willingness to look like a total idiot for the sake of learning and trying. With an ego, it becomes impossible to lean into the discomfort.

5. Find Courage

Steve-Jobs-2

The last and most valuable lesson I learnt from Apple was a culmination of the previous four lessons. I received no no formal training in “courage”, but my learning came from the daily experiences, conversations, and mentors that pushed me to dream big, reflect on my self-development, and follow my gut on major life decisions.

The practice of making daily courageous decisions for three years eventually instilled in me enough courage to leave Apple. The company I was so in love with for its culture, values, and purpose, would be my last major employer (for now at least). With my newfound courage, I started my first company in Sri Lanka with no capital, business experience, or connections. My decision opened the door to new experiences, an abundance of new life lessons, and inspiring people to enrich my life. But had it not been for my journey at Apple, none of this would have been possible.

I could easily give dozens more lessons I learnt from Apple, but these five made the most profound impact on my professional and personal life.

Photo Credit: 9to5Mac

Are you a former Apple employee? Share in the comments section below the biggest lessons you learned working at the company.