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The TO DO List

The TO DO list circles in my head, growing bigger and bigger and looming darkly over my being. Things are added, rarely taken away, and often lingering for months and years. You have not cleaned the garage – it’s been a year! You have not set up your study- it’s been two years! You have not organized all the Pakistani clothes of all ages for all seasons and all levels of formalities in the garage closet! I scream at myself incessantly. I am tempted to find cause or excuses outside my control, and often seduced into blaming others. As a student of Sufism, I quickly stop and ask myself: and how are you responsible for these circumstances? A simple question that usually gets me back in a positive mood.

And yet I love my TO DO lists- they give me a plan for tomorrow at least, and even if I check off 3 items out of a dozen, I am happy. They give me purpose, they give me structure, and if I am working with a team, they give us a common place to work from. I am the kind of person that adds things to a TO DO list after I have done them, just to get the satisfaction of checking it off!

My sister Sabah calls me the General, as I plan the next day or the whole week, trying to maximize a family reunion or maximize grandkids’ time together as cousins. The ideas keep popping – we could do this, we do that, we can always make it work. All that counts are the will and the intention. Of course, throwing corporate project planning at all family or social events can be overdone, but it never hurts. What does hurt once in a while is that despite all the meticulous planning, there is always that one dish that is left inside the fridge or microwave at a party forgotten in flurry of activities in the moment. I can always count on doing that without fail, as I did yesterday at Reza and Amna‘s house for a family birthday celebration!

I enjoyed designing conferences for technologists in the American Express Enterprise in the 80’s, change workshops for large corporations in the 90’s to help employees deal with a big strategic shift in the corporation’s direction, leadership workshops in more recent years to align leaders and teams on strategic direction and how to get there, and conferences with Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan to develop Muslim leaders and build communities of leaders. I think my love of strategic change planning and designing experiences was an asset then, and truly a fun and creative experience too! What made it fun was that we had outcomes that we wanted to achieve, and those outcomes drove the design. Even in my interfaith work today, the outcomes that drive our events and our planning may seem intangible to action fanatics. However, even if only one person leaves an interfaith event with a more positive view of a mosque or a synagogue and the people that go there, I feel it is a worthy outcome, and perhaps more impactful because it is at the level of mindset and being. And while there are no immediate visible results, that shift in mindset can cause different actions in the future.

And that is why most personal development coaches and gurus urge us to stop and look at who we are being in all this doing. Ever heard the saying “Don’t just do something- stand there!” Can we stop and stand and reflect and bring some sanity back? Does all our thinking about doing do anything? No, it does not. Does all our thinking about yesterday help us? No only if we use it to mine lessons learned. Does all our worry about tomorrow help us live a better present (our family’s nickname is Samurai worriers by the way)? No, unless we use it in a limited way to plan for the near or distant future. And so, as we age- Ooops I used the taboo word- it behooves us to reflect on our state of being. We usually underestimate our power of being, and how it can impact, influence and even change the dynamics of relationships and of communities. I suggest that we appreciate the past (including all its breakdowns and mistakes), learn from it and even atone for it; that we embrace the mystery of the future with utmost optimism (some call me Minoanna as in Pollyanna!); and that we unleash our passion in the present by bringing our full presence and energy to each moment including our TO DO lists. I think that is one fine way of being!

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