Reflections on the Purpose of Life

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Over the last few months a change has descended on me. A restlessness that is not quenched just by going to work, making money and paying the bills. I most certainly came to the realisation a long time ago that I did not want such a life. That was, in fact, the primary reason why I left a secure and well paying career to embark on the much more difficult entrepreneurial journey. I believed that entrepreneurship would allow me the opportunity to gain control of my life and livelihood and open up the new horizons I was anxious to explore on my own terms.

I also know that it’s not an age thing, nor the fact that by May next year I would have fulfilled my self-imposed and welcomed obligation of seeing my children through their university education. My vision was to set them on their path of financial independence, and ultimately financial freedom. Arriving there; however, is completely up to them.

All I’m sure of is that this kind of restlessness isn’t new to me.

I decided not to go on summer holidays this year. I had too much going on and opted to stay and take care of things. A few days before Eid, I paused at a particularly difficult time I was going through and asked myself those question again: “is this it? is this what I got into business for? am I living to work, or working to live?” To be honest, I must confess that I’m most definitely living to work. I wasn’t an owner, I was owned. I refused to surrender to that. I had to get out even if for a few days. I reasoned that the business won’t collapse if I absented myself for a few days, and if it does, then it wasn’t worth the effort in the first place.

My wife did the smart thing and took Ramadhan off to visit her family in Scotland. I decided to surprise her by joining her. I called to ask her to pick me up from Edinburgh airport the next day. Needless to say she was surprised – pleasantly I might add – and that was the start of one of the best holidays I have ever had.

The spontaneity and the return to one of my cherished passions were what made this holiday so special. I took the time to ensure that I get some quality me time. I went jogging every day in beautiful surroundings, greenery all around, clouds in the sky, cool air, drizzle or rain sometimes, courteous people and drivers and the actual availability of continuous pavements! I also indulged in photography which was always my first love, and we both just decided on the spur of the moment to drive to a destination hundreds of miles away!

One of the long drive destinations was Inverness. I’ve always liked it and have fond memories of visiting the home of Nessie while at university in Scotland. I went jogging that morning and fell in love with the city again; its river and the breathtaking scenery it offered, the woods close to the city centre. In the evening we joined the throngs and discovered that Inverness has become the wild party town of the north. Such a happy atmosphere. We loved it.

From there we decided to go to Oban on the west coast. We still can’t remember why or how we thought of Oban and why we decided to visit. Nevertheless; while having dinner on arrival in Oban we noticed a nature walk in the close-by island of Kerrera in the local tourist map brochure and decided on the spot once again to go on that five mile walk the next day. That was one of the best decisions we have made on that trip. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was after four miles of walking in that beautiful wilderness that we encountered the first humans since leaving the ferry. Needless to say, we could have done the walk a lot faster, but we both decided to take it easy, enjoy the scenery and take some pictures. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you would have come across some them.

Memorial Bench, Kerrera Island, Scotland

To both Frances and I, we will never forget that trip. We really bonded and the walking and disconnecting from the world for a few days allowed us to re-connect and have long conversations without distractions.

All that forced me to reflect on what I require out of life now, at this particular stage in my life.

I realised that in Bahrain, I have been living to work with hardly any space left to enjoy the fruits of my labour. Yes, it was absolutely necessary to ensure that I meet the goals I have set for myself such a long time ago, but now that they are almost met, what next? Do I have to continue to toil at the same level? Or is it time to retire and relax? Although I’ve not yet decided what to do next, I can tell you that retirement isn’t in my consideration just yet. It’s not that kind of itch.

“What’s the ideal situation?” I keep asking myself. Obviously financial freedom continues to be an important goal, but so is actually living. Pragmatically, I’ve got a good thing going now, and its scary to let go. What is required, I feel, is actively pursuing a new way of life; one that prioritises working to live, rather than the opposite. This has become so important to me… and it’s threatening the old way of life. I don’t know where that will take me and I’m not going to allow a sudden shift to derail all the hard work that I have poured myself into. I will; however, find a way to detach myself gradually from the business and allow it to flourish without my constant availability and input. I need some time to think and need to put some plans into action.

New experiences, horizons, treks, open fields and skies are beckoning. I can’t wait for this new journey to continue.

I would really appreciate if you would be kind enough to share your own experiences with me if you went through the same journey. How did you manage the transition? How did you ensure success and sustainability? In hindsight, what would you have done differently?

  • Steve the American
    27 August 2015

    Those sound like the kind of questions that every middle aged guy asks himself. Is that all there is? It all seemed so hard and worthwhile when you are working your way up but looking back it seems pathetic and banal. Was the world any better for your passing? Were you just another raindrop fallen in the river to the ocean?

    • mahmood
      27 August 2015

      No matter how small the ripples that my raindrop has created, I’d be happy for the ripples. I know that I fail a lot, but succeed once in a while. Makes that success all the more sweeter!

      • Steve the American
        6 September 2015

        That is the curse of old age: You can see your mistakes so clearly. It’s like watching a movie of your younger self doing stupid things and you can’t stop it.

        • mahmood
          6 September 2015

          The more frustrating part to me is my abject desire to get my children to benefit from my experience and avoid my mistakes and they don’t seem to care! I’m for ever trying to find better ways to connect to them to get them to benefit from those experiences in order to short-circuit their growth. Yet, they appear to be hardly listening.

          • Steve the American
            6 September 2015

            While I am not a parent and have no experience to match yours, I can confidently say that you don’t have to worry about your kids repeating your mistakes. They will find their own mistakes to make, peculiar to them, which they will warn their own children not to make, in vain.

          • mahmood
            7 September 2015

            Doesn’t make it less frustrating.

  • Chiara
    27 August 2015

    I agree that this isn’t particularly an age related phenomenon but one that occurs periodically at transition times in one’s life. Transition times are exciting and challenging at the same time, like the oft quoted analogy to the Chinese written character that simultaneously means crisis and opportunity.

    It seems you are on a positive track with thinking about how to set up to manage your business successfully with less hands on efforts on your part and more of a necessary oversight role.

    The world of entrepreneurship must be full of stories about people thinking that owning their own business would give them more independence and free time only to realize that owning a business is more demanding than working for one, in different ways.

    I was wondering about your gardening hobby. Are you still active in that endeavour? Thinking of more landscaping activities or travelling to garden destinations?

    • mahmood
      27 August 2015

      It’s all work in progress. Never ends I don’t think, but it’s good to stand back and take stock once in a while and apply any minor or major corrections as needed. Life is a non-linear affair. So is entrepreneurship. A lot of people think that it’s a straight line affair but they’re soon (rudely) disabused of that notion.

      I’m off to Bangkok on Saturday for a production job. I’m staying a few days extra and my wife is joining me. I’m sure we’ll be visiting some of their beautiful temples and gardens in the vicinity. Will upload pictures when I get a chance.

  • Chris from Seattle
    27 August 2015

    Hi Mahmood. Thanks for coming back to your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading.

    I find myself in the same stage of life. Wondering what is next, managing that restlessness. I’ve been restless all my life, but this episode has a different tone. I’ve been working in the corporate environment for the last 15 years, and wondering how much longer I want to keep this pace. I don’t have any answers, just the central question: what next?

    I was in a meeting a few weeks ago with my team at work. Many of my team mates are significantly younger than I am. We were sharing our career paths. One of the young women at my table asked me, “how have you done all these things in your career?” I responded that it was just that – I’ve had about 20 more years work experience than she has. It’s just having the time behind you. And you’re right – it’s a non-linear experience.

    • mahmood
      27 August 2015

      Thank you for sharing your experience Chris.

      I’ve done the various community engagement and service in both Rotary and the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation and found them immensely fulfilling. I know that I have more I can give in that regard and I shall. However, I feel that I owe it to myself to get more quality “me time”. The trip that I’ve had to Scotland recently has cemented that. The time I’ve spent walking, running, trekking and re-practicing photography have had a different and more fulfilling experience. I want to repeat and prolong that feeling.

      The immediate plan is to travel more. Even if it’s for a weekend get-away. We’re fortunate that in Bahrain, we’re truly at the cross-roads of the whole world. Most of it is merely 6 – 8 hours away, so it’s doable.

      First trip after Scotland is coming up this weekend. I’ve got business in Bangkok and then my wife is joining me once I’m done there. So it should be interesting… terrorism notwithstanding!

  • Dana
    31 August 2015

    Sounds like you’re coming to the top of the pyramid; hierarchy of needs and the one called self-actualisation. It doesn’t need to mean having to let go of work- work still also seems to be something that you clearly enjoy.

    Perhaps delegation of some of that workload is the key to freeing up time to discover what else you want to do, for yourself and for others .

    • mahmood
      1 September 2015

      I think you’re right Dana. I’m striving to get my thoughts together and putting some sort of plan going forward. I’m looking forward to this stage to be sure.

No sympathy for fat people
Reflections on the Purpose of Life