International Workers' Day Musings

Seven years ago, I was celebrating May 1, International Workers' Day, in a way completely different than today. May 2, 2011, marked my inaugural day as a full-time employee at one of Lebanon’s leading financial institutions. My first taste of Lebanese corporate life was in the capacity of “Strategy Officer” at a salary I will never be too thrilled to admit.

“If you excel and exceed expectations,” the Head of HR coaxed me over the phone as I tried to negotiate my pay, “you’ll be impressed by how rapidly your remuneration will grow.”

I finally acquiesced at the prodding of my parents, who perhaps innately knew that if I held out for something more in line with my lofty compensation visions, it might be a very long time.

So I threw myself into my new job, thirsty for knowledge of a field – banking and finance – I knew virtually nothing about. As engineers, we’re trained to think we can tackle anything, and that’s been my mantra until today. “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” (Richard Branson for the win.)

And it was amazing: amazing in the sense that self-learning was the name of the game. My boss was also an engineer by education, so he’d often toss several parameters in my direction and let me frame the problem, solutions (there’s always more than one), and my recommendation.

First month on the job -- like a boss!

Over the years, my title matured. Strategy Officer gave way to Deputy Head of Strategy & Organization which evolved into Head of Strategic Development. My responsibilities grew, though projects came and went like the ebb and flow of a wave. Much as the world of management consulting that I shunned, I’d hurl myself into a deluge of assignments, completing them in swift turnaround time and shooting them through a black hole, one where perhaps they’d see the light of day or perhaps they wouldn’t. I would never know.

It took my salary six long, grueling years to double. That ought to teach me: be wary of HR. They’re more concerned with the resources than the human in that descriptive acronym.

The bank reaped the prime years of my professional lifetime. I was fresh out of graduate school. I was at my intellectual height. I was fresh, energetic, and a dreamer.

Last week, I tendered my resignation. All things come to an end, and mine was probably well overdue. I put in seven years, far more than I could ever have foreseen just the first few months of my employment there. Time has a way of eluding even the most vigilant timekeeper, and in my case, I could see it swapping places with assets for liabilities in the notorious accounting equation.

Why did I cut the cord? That’s a topic for a future tell-all, but my shrewdest readers know how much I’ve been grappling with the co-existence of full-time corporate duties and my new role as mama. I’ve never been able to juggle two huge tasks and be content with mediocre achievement in either. It’s one paradigm at a time in the life of the insatiable dreamer, and I’d rather live and consummate each to its fullest. For the moment, at least.

Because I realize parenthood and livelihood don’t have to be disjoint or mutually exclusive. I just have to find my personal happy balance, for happiness begets clarity of mind, which in turn begets success, which in turn begets wealth.

So this International Workers' Day, I’m raising a toast to those who labor but are not employed. That is, those who conceive a creative response to the question of formal occupation in their unwavering pursuit of happiness. 

Because those who dare to dream are usually the ones who fail big. And they fail big some more. Until they finally hit the bull’s eye and win big enough to redeem all their failures.


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  2. The happiest moments in my adult life was when I would sit down with my son and show him how to write cursive letters and teach him the multiplication table using popsicle sticks. When I would remind him of his self-worth when a bully at school ruins his day. When I would help him deliver a speech or create a promotional video for a school project. When he and I would go to a Starbucks and I'd watch him gulp his latte with one hand while texting his friends with the other. When I would feel especially dadly by showing him and his friends a few soccer tricks, a game I loved, was good at, but too old to play anymore.

    These are things that you could do more as a full-time mama but less as a full-time head of strategic development


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