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Saturday, December 16, 2006


I wanted to put on a gown of rose petals and share with you pink dreams on scented paper; but instead of the sweet Valentine’s Day feature I had in mind, I was driven by painful anger to defend women from the blows of Dr. Nick Neave who dropped a bomb in my backyard when he announced that “women in the 21st century may boast that they are truly independent for the first time in our social history. They may tell themselves and each other that they don't need a man. They can even start a family on their own thanks to IVF techniques. But, while feminists may argue (that) this proves women have finally kicked off the shackles of dependence on men, I'm afraid they're wrong.” Walid Anwar, sales and marketing expert agrees saying that “women will always be women no matter what they achieve under the name of their so-called independence. Deep down inside each woman, she needs a man to lean on and support her. No woman wants to be totally a male figure - it is just against nature.”

The evolutionary psychologist is convinced that women “are programmed to worry their men are going to abandon them … women may be richer and enjoy all the trappings of success but, deep down in their psyche, they fear they can't survive alone … they fear a drop in status or social standing that might come with divorce … women are more inclined to forgive an affair than a man … not because they're nicer, more easygoing individuals. It's simply because their primeval urge to hang onto a male provider is so strong … the thought of your husband having sex with another woman may be devastating. But even worse is the prospect of him pouring all his financial resources her way.” Tamer El Meehy, managing director of Entrust: Development & Management Consultants acknowledges the existence “of a deeply embedded sense of insecurity in women that is often reflected in a high level of possessiveness; many women are richer than their men, and are in fact providing for the family, but they still have the same insecurity.”

Reading the doctor’s words triggered my resentment for Walt Disney, who fed us many a time lies about a long awaited prince charming who fights the monsters to free the little helpless princess from evil spells. He promised living happily ever after yet overlooked the affairs, breakups, make-ups, struggles, boredom, and challenges that rock, or wreck, many boats. Hallmark is next on my hit list; because of their cute cards, creative gifts, and heart warming poetry, we have to celebrate Valentine’s Day and unlucky tomboys, like my humble self, never get to send or receive any of their product lines. It is as though being brought up, and living, in a conservative Middle Eastern society is not enough to get us, Arab ladies, into frequent intellectual fist fights with cavemen who come our way, the good doctor had to add fuel to our living hell with his conclusions.

On the one hand, Rania Hegazy, TV producer wonders if “earth will be a better place to live on were there no men.” On the other hand, the relationship between men and women in our society reminds Nancy El Maghrabi, managing director of Markstri of “the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union, at the time. It is an eternal power struggle.” Moreover, Shahinaz Ahmed, education/training specialist sees the male-female communication process as “a series of catastrophic collisions of ill-defined needs that we like to believe are the same.” And Dalia El Rashidy, partner at Logic Management Consulting says that our women are trapped with their men in a “mother-child relationship where the mother has to be understanding and accommodating all the time without the child ever trying to reciprocate. The sad truth is: this particular child never grows up.”

The article goes on: “In prehistoric times, women … needed the support and protection of men who didn't just have brute force but also had social status in the group, either through their sheer physicality or the strength of their personality … modern surveys consistently show that women today ape those inherent characteristics by looking for partners who are socially dominant and have the respect of their peers.” Did I get this right? Did the evolutionist refer to women as limp creepy social parasites who need to climb up a strong male trunk and suck the living sap out of him to survive? Will we wither and die if we are separated from our socially acceptable host? In short, we prefer being tied to a stake and stoned to death to getting out of a bad relationship, or marriage. Khaled El Dessouky, business development manager for Hitachi Egypt disagrees with Dr. Neave; “I tend to think that men and women are equally, yet differently strong. Their bonding becomes a win-win game only when they master their strengths; for example, when men throw the power card, women should use their tenderness weapon.”

Dr. Neave shared with us another study by unnamed sociologists at Virginia University: “women who worked were more dissatisfied with their husbands than those who stayed at home (and) a survey by the Skipton Building Society concluded that many women who are the main breadwinner hold it against their partner for contributing less to the household budget than they do … happiest of all were women whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the household income … in short I suspect women will never feel truly comfortable earning more than their men. The need to rely on a man is driven by such a deep-seated biological urge.” How bad could this article get? I am used to Middle Eastern men wanting to turn back time using religion or pleading protectiveness, but Dr. Neave threw the ball high up and it fell on the grounds of our biology – who could argue against that?!

“Women need to look up to their man and independent women who have an established career need a man who delivers an added value. Compatibility has a final say when it comes to who is putting how much where and for how long,” refuted Amany Souka, managing director of El Wekala Advertising. “A male partner who earns less is prone to insecurity attacks and minority complexes that would drive him to having affairs to prove his masculine caveman strength.” she added. Hence, the women in the doctor’s research have developed a severe case of low self-esteem that could be traced back to a mentally and emotionally abusive partner – who earns less money. Dr. Rafik Nakhla, director of personnel at the library of Alexandria and business instructor at SAE focuses on the bigger picture saying: “men and women are not rivals; they are partners for life where the return on investment comes in the form of mentally and emotionally healthy children; the future of the children depends on the quality of the partnership.”

It all comes back to maturity; women who are dependent on men are like fungal infections whose symptoms are reddened teary eyes, blistered ego, itchy heart, and overall burning sensations, and men who are dependent on their women are pathetically, yet disgustingly, sick. Dr. Steven Covey divides maturity into three phases; “dependence is the paradigm of you - you take care of me; you come through for me; you didn't come through; I blame you for the results. Independence is the paradigm of I - I can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose. Interdependence is the paradigm of we - we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together.” Monir El Shazly, strategy consultant and freelance photographer summed it up saying that “If their relationship will not make both of them better, it will make both of them a lot worse off.”

Instead of a male-bashing book, Daylle Deanna Schwartz’s All Men are jerks – Until Proven Otherwise helps us realize that we create the jerks that we later complain about by allowing them to get away with unacceptable behavior in an effort to please them – the kind of behavior that Dr. Neave applauded earlier on in his theory. Daylle believes that if we can get to a place where we can see a man as a sweet addition to our life, as opposed to a necessity, our relationship becomes a win/win situation: we win if we have a satisfying relationship with a man - we win if we have to leave a jerk because we have a satisfying life either way. Hesham El Zeini, recruitment consultant agrees and believes that balanced and successful relations are “a never ending process of strategic negotiation where enough space must be given for compromises.”

Before Dr. Nick Neave rested his case, he came up with a joke of a conclusion: “while women may claim they are having cosmetic surgery and Botox treatments purely to feel better about themselves, I believe the reason is much more complex. Women are driven by a primeval urge to keep their men by looking youthful and fertile.” Now I am beyond livid and totally speechless. A woman, without her, man is nothing!

“You should never look for someone to complete you.
A relationship consists of two whole individuals.
Look for someone complimentary...not supplementary.”
Oprah Winfrey

Thursday, December 7, 2006

New Beginnings

It was raining heavily and I do not like heavy rain. It was cloudy and grey and I do not like grey clouds. It was windy and cold and I do not like cold wind. I put a few drops of cranberry fragrance oil in my burner and lit the tiny candle underneath, took my laptop in my arms, sat on the sofa, threw a blanket over my legs, and got online. I decided to browse Egyptian blogs and bloggers to see who is writing what. I typed “Egypt” in the search box and I was redirected from one blog to the other until I found his page. I do not know what made me stop and read; his words emitted a sincere and genuine vibe that blended well with the warming scent of cranberry that filled the room.

He is a typical Egyptian guy – not my favorite – who has a typical Egyptian wife to whom he got married in a typical Egyptian way. They were leading a typical Egyptian life and they had no serious issues but for the every now and then character clashes between him and his wife. She had a free spirited genie locked within the bottle of the traditional Egyptian girl and she thought marriage will set the genie free. She pursued her love of nature in desert trips, safaris, and excursions, and he never understood her urges to sleep on the sand or to watch the sunrise from a boat. Nevertheless, they reached some sort of an agreement whereby she can have her breaks when he said that it was ok.

Gihan went blind; she lost her eyesight all of a sudden and the doctors said that it was a rare case. My eyes watered as I read Ahmed’s lines: “My 25 year old wife will never see the nature she loved again.” He went on describing how she got depressed, shut him out, wanted a divorce, wanted him to remarry, quit her job, isolated herself, neglected her friends, and just gave up on life. There were a lot of tears between his lines and there were a lot of tears running down my cheeks. I could not even begin to imagine walking the famous mile in her shoes, or in his shoes. On her birthday, he nearly forced her to get dressed to go out and, to spare her the discomfort of being around people, he took her for a long cruise in a felluca.

Gihan asked Ahmed to lend her his eyes; she wanted him to tell her what he saw. He began talking about the scenery and she began asking him detailed questions. She wanted him to describe the sky; its shades of blue, the birds, the clouds, and the buildings in the horizon. She needed to know the color of the sun at the moment and he understood that orange is not a solid color. She asked him to tell her what he saw in the water and he learned the power of reflections. Gihan was the one who lost her sight, yet she was the one who lent Ahmed her eyes. For the first time he saw what she saw in nature and for the first time they enjoyed nature’s beauty together.

His words came to a full stop and my day came to an end. Ahmed and Gihan were in my dreams all night, and when I woke up in the morning I did not jump out of bed. I did not run around the house trying to get myself in the car to go to the office. I sat in bed and smiled at my cats, slowly reached out to the curtains, pulled them away, opened my window, and watched the sunbeams smile back at me. Their light filled my room and their warmth filled my heart. I reached out to my cats and for the first time I felt their soft fur; before, I used to touch them but that day I felt the warmth and the beauty of something that is beyond words – something that I took for granted.

What else did I take for granted? Who else did I archive unintentionally? What other signs did I miss on the way? What more could I not see? What did I never have the time to do because I was so busy? Who did I never had the time to meet because I had other priorities? I got a cup of tea and sat back in bed and enjoyed a lovely new beginning to my morning. Eventually I got myself out of the house and drove to work; I decided to take a different route. I wanted to see new things and I reminded myself of how lucky I was to be able to look at such beauty. I am lucky to have the heart to enjoy it and I am blessed to be able to feel it. I am eternally grateful to Ahmed and Gehan – two people that I never met. The smile lasted that whole day, the day after, and many days that followed.

New beginnings are always loaded with many contradictory feelings; hope, fear, optimism, doubt, resolution, skepticism, comfort, hesitation, and determination. The skeletons in the closet and collective experiences are a threat to new beginnings. Regret, or the fear of regret, weighs heavily on our hearts as we try to embrace the sunshine. We remember when we were last burnt or when we were last hurt, and we subconsciously look at our scars. Memories of how deep and how painful they were rush back to our heads, and with an involuntary movement we clench our fists as though we are holding on to the past. Something inside of us refuses to let go and that very same thing resists the change – the new beginning.

I will welcome 2007 differently; the tree will shed its old dry corrupted infected leaves and will grow new soft fresh green leaves. I will slow down and enjoy the drive rather than the destination. I will take off my masks, let my hair down, face the sun, smile, and breathe. I will borrow Gihan’s eyes and, from now onwards, I will use them to carefully watch what I used to carelessly look at; to deeply look at what I used to superficially see; to simply see what I simply never saw. “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. It comes in to us at midnight very clean. It is perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands and hopes we've learnt something from yesterday." --John Wayne

Happy New Year and happy new beginnings

Monday, December 4, 2006

Character is Fate

"A man's character is his fate." — Heraclites, Greek philosopher (c. 540-c. 475 B.C.)

After her father was shot dead, Clarice Starling went to live on a farm with a foster family, from which she ran away in horror when she witnessed horses and lambs being slaughtered. Their screams haunted her, and all her success, achievements, trophies, and honors were a relentless pursuit to silence the lambs. Mediocrity was the farm that I ran away from; my lambs were screaming for freedom and the wild horses within me wanted to feel the wind against their faces. Back in 1994 I read Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. The pessimistic novelist made it sound as though the hero’s catastrophic fate was a natural byproduct of his character. At the time, it all made sense and I fully agreed. Then one night I watched “Return to Eden” and I saw how a woman faced her worst fears, altered her self perception, confronted the demons in her past, and changed how she talks, walks, and looks. She gave herself a new name and a new life. At the time, I did not like who I saw in the mirror and I resented the path that I was told to follow. I wondered if I could be someone else; would my fate change, were I to change my character?

It is amazing how much power we have yet we are so oblivious to its existence. At home we were directed to focus on our downsides, at school we had to improve our bad grades, and in the workplace we are asked to “develop” our weaknesses. Those who succeeded in aligning their character and their fate did the exact opposite. We invested in what made us feel strong instead of wasting time on things that only made us feel weak and bad about ourselves. Marcus Buckingham* says “all you have to do is find the one controlling insight that allows you to unlock your potential” – knowing your strengths is the first step. Stephen Covey* tells you to “live out of your imagination, not your history.” – This is the part where we get stuck; we do not believe in flying. We feel more secure with our feet on the ground, even if it is just quicksand. The most difficult step is the change itself. Change is an intrinsic part of our existence, yet we resist it to the bone. Dr. Spencer Johnson* wrote in his bestseller Who Moved My Cheese, that “if you do not change, you can become extinct.” Fear always intercepts our attempts to change; fear of the devil we don’t know; fear of the other side of the fence; fear of the maze. We hold on to stability, to our comfort zone, like a mother to her child on a collapsing bridge, and we avoid venturing outside for fear of getting hurt or getting lost.

Over the years I jumped one hurdle after the other I managed to finally silence the lambs. To unleash the power within me, I turned my back to the little nerdish girl that I once was. I silenced the screams of the student who sat in the front row but always went unnoticed. The shy frightened elf spoke up and earned her right to be heard. The little plain Jane Eyre has blossomed into a Madonna that is coveted for her uninhibited spirit and diversified career. I changed my character to change my fate. I began looking for needles of my kind in a stack of hay. I found many people who found their way inside the maze. Dalia Ibrahim (32), currently regional public relations manager for Hilton hotels in Egypt, says that the key to changing your fate is in believing in yourself. Dalia is very clear on the difference between the realistic knowledge of her potential and the delusional thoughts of what she could achieve; “You need to believe in your strength to reach the highest top of the highest mountain, but you also need to have the tools and the equipment to get you there – otherwise you might fall and break your neck. I believe in well-calculated risks; I try to keep my eyes open for opportunities and I am very honest with myself when I am assessing my options. I am aware of my talents and I capitalize on them but I also know that I still have a lot to learn.”

In a marketing communications workshop, I met the marketing manager of El Sewedy Cables, Ahmed Hassouna (33). A remarkably solid person who has determination written allover his face, Ahmed believes that people can grow and develop; “the backbone of the personality is more likely to stay the same but daily interactions, experience, reading, and self-education are the tools to help us stretch our character in all directions and dimensions.” Ahmed thinks that your vision is your fate; so if your vision is unclear, your fate will most likely be unclear. “Having a personal vision is like knowing where you are going when you leave your house in the morning, and having objectives and goals is like having a clear route to follow to get you to that place. We grow and our vision grows with us; hence we need to adjust the route to our new destination.”

Shahinaz Ahmed (34) is the CEO of the Egyptian Education for Employment Foundation (EEFE). She used to think that she is what she was born with then she began realizing that her actions decide her destiny. “Character is like an onion and we discover one layer after the other as we go on in life. Training is based on the idea that people have the ability to alter their behavior and ultimately their character, otherwise it is no use to learn presentation skills if you fear public speaking. We were born in a risk-free society; we want to live and die with a clean slate regardless of what we have learned. Change has a high price tag and those who resist change are just avoiding the responsibility that comes with it.” Leaving Egypt and going to England to study at the age of 32 was frowned upon. People discouraged her; they reminded her of her stable career, great position, big salary, and stability. “I was not content. I had so many unanswered questions and I had to find the answers my way. This was one of the best things I did in my life I learned so much about myself. Now, I make my own choices; regardless which country, or culture, I live in, I am the compass.”

I crossed paths with Ahmed El Badawy (31) back in 2000; he was the marketing coordinator for Dar El Fouad Hospital. A bright optimistic smile lit up his face when I asked him about how he saw his future; he had big dreams. In 2001 he formed a partnership with three of his best friends and they opened the first Café Mo. In 2004 he became the marketing manager of the renowned hospital. His mentor at the time, Dr. Hatem El Gabaly helped him “toughen up” and saw him through the challenges of the position. “I was getting bored and my work was becoming monotonous; I was aching for my dream of going 100% private and I wanted to give a free rein to my creativity. I resigned when I was at the peak of my professional career and I created REACH Advertising.” Ahmed does not deny the fear of failure that haunted him in his quest, but he kept his eyes fixed on his dream every time he had an anxiety attack. “I had the support of my parents, Dr. El Gabaly, and my wife to lean on when I needed someone to hold a torch in the tunnel.”

Those are just a few examples of the remarkable people that standout as exceptions to an obsolete rule. Dr. Yasser El Manawy, clinical therapist and life coach, says that every human being is born like a white sheet. On the one hand, our nature is dictated by our DNA and genetic traits – and that we cannot change. On the other hand, our character, or personality, is shaped by the people we meet and the things we see in our lives. We can change our fate by changing our personality. “It takes a few steps; first you change how you think, then you change how you feel, then you take actions to support the new thoughts and feelings.” said Dr. Manawy. When I asked him about the fear of change, he replied saying that “this is a societal imposed fear; it is part of our upbringing. Had we any faith in a higher power, this fear should work for us not against us. Healthy fear protects us from harm and empowers us; unhealthy fear holds us back and inhibits us. In order to change our personality and gain control of our fate, we need to face our core issues and innermost fears; we need to shift our motivation from the fear of loosing to the excitement about winning.”

Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny. - Samuel Smiles

Marcus Buckingham: best-selling author, expert on outstanding leadership and management practices. www.marcusbuckingham.com

Stephen Covey: internationally respected leadership authority, family expert, teacher, organizational consultant, and author, Dr. Covey dedicates his life to teaching principle-centered living and leadership to individuals, families, and organizations.

Dr. Spencer Johnson: One of the world's most influential thinkers. He is renowned for his brief, profound parables that help millions of people manage in changing times and rejuvenate their spirits.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Hamlet!! I beg to differ! How limiting could that question be? How restraining could it ever get? Do we only have two possible answers to a question? Do we always have two things to choose from? Are our options so restricted? Are we so grounded? Have we gone color blind? When did our retinas stop seeing the colors of a rainbow? Why do we print our experiences in duotone? In a game of multiple choice questions, how many answers could be correct? What number of choices do we have? Who gives us the options? When do we have to submit our selections? Who decides if we passed or failed? I studied Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Hamlet, ages ago. I remember enjoying the depth, the soliloquies, and the suffering of a tragic hero until his cathartic downfall. Only today that Hamlet’s line began bothering me – this cannot be it! We might as well die and end our misery!

I was brought up to be your typical “option-less” person but I learned how to find micro-options and loopholes of choices in the tightest of situations and the trickiest of questions. It was always hard for me to choose between two dishes, or two men, when one gave me heartburn and the other made my brain go numb. I went through a long journey of self discovery where I learned the virtue of the big picture, multi-dimensions, and different perspectives. I found my true calling and now there is no putting off to the fire within my soul. Being a Libra, I have always weighed my options on the fair scales of my inanimate birth sign. I still weigh the possibilities but they are much more than two. It shocks me now to meet people who are still trapped in the narrow tunnels of low self esteem and shackled to the ground by lead balls of fear. With their black blindfolds on, they face the brick walls of self inflicted imprisonment and turn their backs to all the opportunities in the world.

I was training some remarkable ladies from one of the UN bodies in Egypt, one thing led to the other, and I told them that we – human beings – have unlimited options. Silence filled the meeting room, heads turned to face me, eyes widened, jaws dropped, and then they all said: “No, we don’t! We do not have “that many” choices. We have commitments, responsibilities, and burdens that leave us only a few options to choose from.” They told me that my freedom to choose is directly related to my being single. They insisted that they could not do as they pleased, regardless of its impact on those around them, and I insisted that the power to choose does not mean being reckless; I do not want them to runaway from their duties, I want them to embrace them. Choices liberate us and knowing that we will never run out of options and alternatives is a relief. I am grateful that I am not married to any of the men who came my way. I am delighted that I am not stuck with one of those careers that suck the living life out me. I can safely assume that I am a happy person; on a scale from one to ten, one being the lowest and ten being the highest, I would give myself a comfortable eight.

We are meant to choose. We are created to investigate options and alternatives. We are not equipped to compromise for the long term. There are times when we consciously limit our options because we do not want to feel overwhelmed by the infinity of choices out there. It is difficult to choose; the bigger the selection, the more helpless we feel. How do we know we are making the right decision? How do we know that we are choosing what is good for us? How can we tell that we are not going to regret this? Other than using our limited common sense and intangible gut feeling, we will never know! But this should not limit us when looking into options. It is normal to make mistakes, just as much as it is normal to look into more and more choices for corrective actions. Nothing justifies waking up in the morning hating what you wake up to, who you wake up with, or where you get up to go. Nothing explains leading an unfulfilled life with an unfulfilling job and an unfulfilling partner. We only live once, so we had better make perfect use of our time on earth.

I am not pleading for drastic measures like divorce, immigration, a great escape, or 180 degrees career changes; I am defending our human right to choose. Our lives do not have to come to a standstill if we are in the wrong job with the wrong boss or in the wrong house with the wrong partner. We do not have to settle! We do not need to settle! We should not settle! After being confined in a solitary cell, freeing your mind starts with knowing who you are. Find the answers in your heart: what do I like? What makes me happy? What makes my eyes light up with hope? What makes my cheeks glow with achievement? What makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning? What puts a smile on my face when someone, or something, rocks my boat? Be it a new language, a long forgotten hobby, a dream career, a challenging sport, or anything else that adds flavor to a tasteless dish – anything that adds color to our black and white life. No Hamlet, I am sorry; it does not have to be or not to be!