Life is unfair…but?

Yes, life gets rough.

Naturally, when that happens, we tend to switch on our self-doubt mode.

“Why me? Life is unfair!” 


We tell the story as victims because complaints are the easiest way to escape the pain. It is always easier to blame others rather than taking on the responsibility ourselves.

Unfortunately, complaints are proportionate to helplessness. 

It looks like this on a chart.

When our minds get clouded with negativity, we surrender our powers. We trapped ourselves a mind-prison. And it becomes a negative spiral.

I had one of those moments.

“It is unfair!” I went for a drink with a friend and I complained about something. Negativity feeds on negativity. Then next thing I knew, I was bitching about everything under the sun.

Noticing that I am getting into a victimized mindset and I was dramatizing my pain, my friend snapped me out of it.

“Do you know Satya Nadella?” my friend asked. 

“Of course. he is the CEO of Microsoft,” I said. 

“A glamorous job, right? But, unknown to many, his firstborn, Zain was born with cerebral palsy and he is quadriplegia,” my friend said. 

Satya’s eldest child, Zain is severely disabled. He was born weighing just three pounds, having suffered asphyxiation in utero; as a result, he is visually impaired, has limited communication and is a quadriplegic.

“Satya had 2 choices. Bitch about his unfortunate, or do something about it. Guess which one did he pick?” my friend asked.

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“After Zain, things started to change for me. It has had a profound impact on how I think, lead and relate to people.” Satya said in an interview.

Satya said it publicly more than once, that empathy is the cornerstone of his leadership. It helps him in turning around Microsoft.

And more importantly, it makes him a better human.

Struggle and pain have a purpose in our life. They are the Universe’s way of teaching us how to be a better person. They will diminish when you complete your lesson.

“Whatever that you’re going through right now can’t be worse than having a quadriplegic son literally speaking. So I am sure you can make good use of this experience, just like Satya,” he said. The question is … “are you going to allow yourself to do it?” he asked.

Let me tell you another true story.

I was in the lift with a group of strangers. Let’s call them A, B, and C.

“Hey, are you guys going to the party tonight?” A asked B and C.

Both B and C looked surprised. Obviously, they didn’t get the invite.

“Why am I not invited!” B said with a hint of sarcasm.

“Great! Guess I’d just have to invite myself!” C said matter-of-factly.

Yes, oftentimes, life seems unfair. But it will good eventually!

Meanwhile, you have to decide how to look at it.

Oh, Microsoft just became a trillion dollars company.

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I hired her

“I am in a BIG dilemma,” my ex-intern asked me for help.

“I am waiting for my dream company, P&G to confirm my job offer but I don’t know if it will ever happen. On the other hand, I MUST reply to the other pending job offers soon,” she said.

I work for P&G.

“WHAT IF I ended up getting neither of them? ” referring to being rejected by P&G after she rejected the other pending offers.

“From a scale of 1-10, how would you rate P&G and the other offers?” I asked.

“P&G is 10 and the rest…are 2s,” she said.

She had made up her mind; she just did not know yet.

“Look! Life is not black and white. Between 2 to 10, there are plenty of options, no? ” I said. Read More

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Remember the anniversary!

“My mom scolded me big time this morning for NOTHING!” That was the first thing Ann told me when we met up for lunch.

“I don’t remember your mom being unreasonable,” I said.

“Of late. We always fight. She complained that I don’t know how to cook! It is not fair!” she said.

Ann loves her mom. Last year, she gave up a job offer in the US because her mom was unwell. She returned to Vietnam. The opposite is also true. Her mom is a single parent and raised her single-handedly. Ann joked that she is the center of her mom’s universe which is probably true.

“Come to think about it, we used to fight like this too. Whenever I had to return to the US after a summer break in Vietnam,” she said.

“Aren’t you going to relocate to the Philippines next month?” I asked. Ann is management trainee in an international firm and part of her program requests her to relocate within the region for the next few years.

“Yup. And?” She asked.

“And your mom didn’t scold you,” I said. 

“Listen. She is sad that you are leaving her again and she is annoyed that you are spending more time at work and with your friends before you go. And she is probably worried about how are you going to survive not knowing how to cook,” I said.

I told her a personal story. Read More

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Sessay’s life lessons

Alone, I was wandering the streets of London. Saw a steakhouse and went in. A man doesn’t think much when he is hungry.

There, I met Sessay.

He was the unassuming old man sitting next to my table. He was alone, eating sirloin steak on a sizzling hot plate. We exchanged a smile as the waiter seated me next to him.

“Always salt the steak on the hot plate while it is sizzling … makes it juicier,” my sirloin steak came and he gave me a friendly fellow steak lover advice.

The beauty of traveling is that you are never alone. You always have new friends to get to know.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I am retired now. Spending a few months in London. I am living 5-minute walk away from the Buckingham Palace. This steak is one of my favorite places in London,” he said.

“What do you do before you retired?” I guessed his answer to be along the line of some well-to-do jobs; because it is not cheap to live nearby the Queen in London.

“My last job was the governor of the central bank in my country. I am from Sierra Leone by the way,” he said.

He showed me a 10,000 leone note and pointed, “this is my signature,” for a brief moment, I thought he was pranking me.

“So you print money?” I joked. Read More

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She had 3 Months Left

I woke up at 3 a.m. and worked until 9 p.m. Just when I thought it was a never ending day, I received a shocking text from a friend, Han.

“Brandon, my best friend has 3 months to live. She is diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, ” The text read. “You are a coach…what should I do?” Han asked.

She went on to describe her friend – a quiet, soft-spoken, and optimistic young graduate. She had a simple dream. She wanted to come to Saigon to find a job, and to make money to make her mom’s life easier. Her mom is her only family member and they are close.

“Her father passed away when she was three. Her mom is crying so hard now. I just wired her mom even dollar in my account. I told her to bring my friend to find a better doctor,” Han is devastated. She has a big heart.

I didn’t know what to tell Han. It wasn’t something easy.

Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book “Option B” that the most powerful thing you can do is to acknowledge. To literally say the word “I acknowledge your pain and I am here with you, for you.” Speaking with honesty and empathy is a good start. But, never say “I feel you” because we can’t walk in their shoes unless we are dying too.

“Give her some time. Be there when she needs you. And I think you should go and sleep now, ” I said.

I offered Han monetary support instead. I know that she is dead serious about going broke to save her friend.

After we hung up, I took a deep breath. Suddenly, my long day didn’t feel that long anymore. It wasn’t a great week for me. I was bothered mentally for a while. Then, I thought to myself, “Really?  Someone is battling for her life now and you are acting like a whiny kid here?”

I have lived yet another day healthily and that was all that mattered.  I am thankful that my parents are healthy; that my siblings and my friends are doing fine.

Most things in life are dispensable. There are only very few things that are truly irreplaceable. Life goes on perfectly without us most of the time. The universe is designed in such a way that it does not collapse when one of us falls, which we each will eventually.

The irony is that we tend to focus on the wrong things. The petty things. 

Often, we spend too much time on things that we think are larger than life but in reality, they are dispensable in the grand scheme of things. We devalue what is truly irreplaceable. We postpone our dreams. We let our today be someone else’s day. We live someone else’s dream because we think there is always tomorrow to work on ours. But, what if tomorrow is numbered?

That night, I prayed for Han’s friend.


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What is the shape of your life?

A friend took a mid-career path change to join the company as a new hire.

“I am not sure if I’ve made the right decision,” she said. “I feel that I am behind the curve, especially when compared to them,”. Her peers are 5-6 years old younger than her.

What she said reminded me of my guitar teacher, Ben. It was many years ago since I last met him.

“If your life is the shape of an alphabet, would it be an A, O, S, or T?” – Ben likes to ask his student this question.

Our life has shape,” Ben said.

A is the shape of a pyramid. Some of us live to climb the ladder to the top. We are taught the view is magnificent when you get to the top. But, it is a long climb. Some people do it patiently while some are just too eager.

“The watch out for type A is that you tend to compare life. You THINK everyone is racing towards the same destination,” he said. “It is an illusion. Our life is completely different. It is OK to go at your own tempo,” Ben said. Read More

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Is your head in the sand?

When I was a kid, the adults told what was an ostrich. I was made to believe that an ostrich will bury its head in the sand when it is scared. The supposedly dumb bird believes that if it can’t see its enemy then the enemy can’t see it too. In fact, there’s even an idiom that says “bury your head in the sand”, so it must be factual, right?

Well, not so true.

The ostrich has a small head and her nest is on the ground, so it has to lower itself to the ground. The illusion optic makes some people believe it bury its head in the sand. No – in fact, the experts have made it clear that the bird is not as stupid as we think. But, why there are still many people who think otherwise?

There are many stories that we accept as truths because “everyone else” says so. We assume that they must be right.

When I was in my primary school, my basketball coach told me that I was heavy, I had a lousy stamina, and I would never do well in sports. I carried the “truth” in me for the next twenty-odd years. I felt inferior when it came to sports, especially running. I seldom ran with my friends because I didn’t want them to see me run.

One day, by mere coincidence, I had to take over my friend’s spot in a 10 km run (don’t ask me why!). It was painful but I did it. I remembered telling myself at the finishing line,” Hmm…I am not that bad after all.” One thing led to another and I did a few half-marathons since then.

The first step is the hardest because you have to rewrite the story in your mind.

Mike Dooley said, “Thought becomes things”. The universe is fair and neutral because we are responsible for creating our own meaning.

Our minds love “stick-it-note”. It is how we see the world. The mind creates meaning by putting a tiny mental “stick-it-note” on each and every moments and memory from our lifetimes. Everyone writes their notes differently. That’s why some people see a glass half full while some half empty.

How you remember something is more important than what you remember.

“Brandon, he is an asshole. BUT, I can never let him go…” Tina said. We were having a coaching conversation about her boyfriend.

We discussed in depth to uncover the meaning of her relationship. In Tina’s subconscious mind, she labels the relationship as “if this ends, no one will love me anymore”. That’s why she always find excuses to forgive him.

“Tell me more about the ideal man you’d like to spend the rest of the life with,” I asked Tina. It took her a while to come up with a vivid description and it sounded complete opposite of her ex-boyfriend. She wanted someone loyal, driven, and funny. Her boyfriend is none of those.

“What if… this is not an end but a beginning?” I asked.

“Tell me more?” she asked.

“We need to experience the bad to appreciate the good. Imagine, you are on a journey to meet the ideal man. Along the way, you have to take a pit stop to learn a few lessons. Your ex is here to teach you what makes you miserable,” I said.

A lesson will repeat itself until learned.

“Now, there are two ways to write this story. One,  no one will love you anymore. Two, be grateful for the lesson learned and it is time to move on in the journey,” I said.

You are the story you tell yourself. Remember the ostrich? Not all stories are real.  

Oh, and guess which story Tina decided to put on her mental “stick-it note”?

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The book we didn’t publish

A few years ago, when Pamela and I were young assistant brand managers (ABM), we wanted to write a book called “my life lessons as an ABM”.

Eventually, I got promoted to a brand manager; she left P&G to start up the Facebook office in the Philippines.

The book did not happen but we kept in touch.

Last night, I dug up the draft – it was last edited in 2013 (TIME FLIES!)

It is an incomplete raw list, but here goes.

About the job

  1. Rule #1: Get shit done
  2. Rule #2: Don’t forget rule #1
  3. You will feel stupid occasionally. It is OK, which means you are growing.
  4. Knowledge leadership is power
  5. But, knowledge without action is rubbish. Be bias for action

About doing the job

  1. 80/20 is good enough
  2. Multitasking is counterproductive
  3. Deliver more than what you are expected
  4. Big decisions are usually made before the meeting
  5. Take responsibility for your failure too; Don’t be a pussy

Read More

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How to love without saying “I love you”

It was the Valentine’s day. Roses and chocolates galore. I  was in a mall full of lovebirds and I wondered, “what is love on a normal day?

Then I got a text from my mom and she inspired me. I made this list.

1) For more than 20 years, my mom never missed a day waking up at 5.30 am to ready my sisters and I for school. She said,“I hardly go to school, so I am not as smart as other’s mom. But I do my best.”

2) My mom never allowed pet at home. One day, she changed her mind. My sister is an animal lover and she just broke up. My mom allowed my sister to keep the stray dog she had been pleading for my mom’s permission  Now, Brownie is my mom’s fourth daughter. My mom mixes Omega 3 fish oil along with chicken breast and fine cut cabbage for Brownie as lunch.

3) My mom started taking snapshots of Brownie because she knows I love seeing Her. She sends the pictures to me via WhatsApp every day. She keeps me closer to home.

4) My mom texts me every day to remind me to drink water, to have dinner on time, and not to leave office too late. Sometimes, I lie about my late dinner to give her a peace of mind.

Read More

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