Our X Factor points us to the resources to live happily and be successful in everything that we do. It supports us in our search for answers about our lives and to gain insight about relationships and situations at work, home, or in the community. It is intended to help us work toward solutions and find the balance and serenity we need to grow, move forward, and achieve our goals with greater purpose and joy every day of our lives.
With a life expectancy of seventy years, each one of us disposes of 25,550 days (opportunities) to achieve something great. Each morning, as we wake up, we tune our compasses in a certain direction, and as a result of our actions, our day culminates as a good, a bad, or an average day. By nighttime, we go to bed feeling light, heavy, or oblivious—moods that, in all likelihood, influence the tone of our dispositions the next day.
To make every day a success, we must first become aware of how we feel. Our attitudes toward people and things, our moods, our ability to feel good and interact with others, and our actions must be in tune with the goals we want to achieve. The objectives covered in part 1 of Our X Factor, “Awareness,” provide us with opportunities to locate where we are currently situated on our life maps and where we actually want to find ourselves. Yet before establishing residence elsewhere, it is important that we acknowledge what is holding us back and what can propel us forward. That requires our awareness.
Like any journey, in life we must accept that each step precedes another. We need a road map that helps us stay the course, fuel that keeps our engines roaring (or purring for those who are more comfortable cruising at a gentler pace), and a compass that indicates the direction in which we are going. Those metaphors are analogous to the objectives of “Making It Happen,” part 2 of the book, which direct us on our chosen path and teach us how to reveal and engage our X factor to maximize our value chain of success and happiness. To steer our lives in a desired direction and achieve results, we are accountable for learning about the controls that guide our lives and responsible for operating them effectively every day. We make it happen.
Finally, if we are determined to take stock in our lives, we need to know how to collect dividends. We need a measure for our success. Some people want to be entrepreneurs or business owners, others choose to pursue corporate careers, some want to be artists or advocates, and others still wish to settle and raise a family. Although these are laudable goals, they do not guarantee happiness, success in life, or daily feelings of joy. In part 3 of Our X Factor, “Making It Count,” the focus turns toward discovering appropriate benchmarks for our success and happiness. Here, the objectives are to learn to discern the things that matter to us, develop behaviors that lead to greater success and happiness, and track our daily progress thereof. In this critical part, we are reminded that we have only so many opportunities (days) left to make good on the single lives we were granted. Let’s make the most of each one and make it count!
This book is not a biography, but it references scenes of people’s lives or stereotypes observed in society. However, much of what inspired me to write Our X Factor stems from my own experiences. Hence, in fairness to you, I wish to introduce myself and provide you some context and background information such that you can distinguish any bias I may have introduced.
I live in the United States, but I was born and raised elsewhere. At a crucial time of my upbringing and education (ages sixteen through twenty-four), I lived in yet another country, where my parents hoped to settle, run a small business for a few of their golden years, and then retire. Later in life, during my career, I travelled abroad extensively. Throughout, I adapted, learned many things, made friends, and appreciated cultural differences. I taught myself new languages, sometimes by necessity, sometimes for a deeper immersion into the cultures to which I was exposed. Close friends have called me Renaissance man or jack-of-all-trades. Though flattering, deep inside I felt different as I could not find an environment in which I felt totally included.
When I go on job interviews, I’m sometimes asked, “Tell me/us, what distinguishes you that would make you a valuable addition to our organization?” To which I reply that I am an out-of-the-box thinker who likes the challenge of finding new organizational and process solutions to serve customers better (I’ve worked mostly in marketing, sales, and strategy). “Fantastic,” is what I usually hear in response. “We need people with fresh new ideas who aren’t afraid of coming forward.”
That did not always get me the job in the end, but when it did, I soon found myself trapped working with people who like the status quo (even when they bitch about it), don’t really appreciate different ways of thinking (even when they ask for it), and don’t care much for the process of feedback (even though teamwork tops their lists of corporate cultural values, along with integrity, honesty, and innovation).
In the early 1990s, I managed an international training and development program for a DOW 30 Company. In a bout of raising ethnic awareness, the firm required that all of its employees attend a diversity workshop. Sharing such a session with about 150 coworkers, we were asked, for a specific exercise, to respectively arrange ourselves around the room in groups of people by gender, socioeconomic factors, ethnicity, and, lastly, region of ancestral origin. During the final round of the workshop, I found myself in the largest group: Europe. I was surrounded by descendants of Italian, Polish, Irish, and Spanish immigrants. One by one, I heard my colleagues talk about how their experiences were different from those of their peers at school, college, or work because of their cultural customs and affiliation, specific to their heritage. When asked where I was from, I simply stated, “Europe” (I was the only European-born in the group). They probed and insisted that I share my personal experiences and feelings on the subject of my cultural heritage. I could have provided a cliché answer but chose to answer how I felt instead: “I am European and have affinities with several of its cultures. I avoid the trap of taking sides and prefer embracing many foreign cultural customs that I believe will enrich my life and broaden my views of the world.”
I admit, it didn’t gain me much popularity with my group at first (as I implicitly declined to play along with the exercise), but it was better than declaring how I felt on a deeper level: “I wish we weren’t so concerned about our associations with groups but, rather, valued to embrace everyone as we are: unique individuals, irrelevant of our creed, color, or cultural background.” I recall a particular fantasy I’ve had since I took a civil law class in college and was introduced to the concept of statelessness. Wouldn’t it be great to have no nationality and be free to roam the world without impediments, not unlike what John Lennon implied in the song “Imagine”?
It is not so much that I have a need to fit in than I fear the alternative—feeling left out, shunned. When I entered elementary school (in my birth country), I was picked on because I had an accent. My parents had raised my four older siblings in Africa, and I had picked up their speech patterns. When I was sixteen, moving to another country came as a relief but not without its challenges: (1) I needed to communicate and study in a foreign language, and (2) in that country people liked to poke fun at my compatriots. My defense strategy was to become good (funny) at telling such and other jokes. In time, I studied that language and its many nuances and accents to a degree that it got me a scholarship teaching that language in college. I learned in the process that adversity can bring opportunity when one is not resigned to accepting defeat and living with its consequences, such as humiliation, being treated as inferior, and performing below one’s potential for lack of being given a chance. I began viewing our move abroad as a blessing. I stopped feeling like a loser or victim, gained the respect of my peers and teachers, and felt in control of my destiny.
Before that experience, when I was fourteen, my teachers recommended that my parents enroll me in a trade school. I was not inclined to do well with higher education, they said. Ten years later, I enrolled in an American university to go for my second master’s degree and spoke four languages fluently. I was blessed that my parents resisted the temptation to deal with a subpar-performing student as per my teachers’ urgings. Thanks to that change of environment, I lived, learned, and grew in ways they—or I, for that matter—never imagined were possible.
In America, I met the girl who would first give me her hand in marriage and, later on, three beautiful children. I made the deliberate decision to settle here as I thought the alternative—to expatriate her to Europe—would result in both sacrifices in our careers and strain on our relationship as she would feel exiled, far removed from her family, friends, and cultural ties. This was a feeling I had been subjected to on two occasions thus far. Over the years, my contact with family and friends had waned. The burden of the upkeep of my past relationships had become mine and mine alone. My absence, as a single person, affected their lives less than their collective lack of presence affected mine. A cousin closest to my age and childhood friend told me one day, “Isn’t it good enough here for you?” He could simply not relate to the choices that I had to make, but it stung, nonetheless. I began thinking that when you leave your birthplace for too long, perhaps you can never again experience what it feels like to come home.
My perception of my friends’ and family’s attitudes was that, in their eyes, I had achieved something on my own and was happier elsewhere—that I didn’t need them anymore. If so, I thought they couldn’t have been more wrong. With few exceptions, everyone wants to preserve a sense of belonging, specifically one that ties us to our roots.
As I focused on my career, I worked hard, moved up the echelons of the company where I worked, and became entangled in its politics. I was ill prepared and made some wrong moves. I was inexperienced with the American corporate culture. I was impatient. I wanted to drive deep changes, incorporating ideas that I had gleaned in other countries where I had traveled or worked, which were met with great resistance. It came at the price of resentment by several of my peers and some superiors. I learned the hard way that people may share objectives yet differ in processes by which they aim at reaching a common goal.
“He wants to fix world hunger,” one day one of my supervisors said about my exposé while at a strategic panel discussion with all our alliance partners in the room. He meant it as a joke, and I genuinely believe he thought my naïveté (or so his demeanor implied) was refreshing. I simply replied, “If it doesn’t get fixed, it’s because no one is doing anything about it. I don’t intend to let that be the case here.”
One night, a senior executive who had taken a personal interest in me confided, “My [internal] clients are divided about you: half of them think you could be the next chairman of this company, the others want me to fire you.” Thank you for the heads-up. I appreciated his candor and sentiment and regarded him as my role model for many years after that. However, his career with the company was coming to an end, and his ability to favor one vision for my future over the other soon waned. What was I to do? Abandon my ambition of becoming a crusader?
Without support, my career prospects with this company reached a stalling point. I changed jobs in the midst of the Internet boom, joining smaller startup firms. The “boom” quickly turned into “bust,” and most of my new employers went out of business. Like many of my former peers, I became a consultant. My income dropped dramatically. In between assignments, I studied business strategy to the highest degree and began to publish business articles. I travelled some more abroad for research and to raise awareness about my endeavors as a strategy and marketing specialist with my prospective clients. I taught myself a sixth language in the process. But business never picked up. This sounded depressing in all six languages.
Then, one day, I got served with divorce papers. My life had led me to an impasse. I never felt as lonely as on the evening the process server knocked on my door….
My bank accounts had been depleted. My wife was seeking full custody of my children and the possession of the house. With nothing to look forward to—I was in the midst of writing a novel, lack of finding anything else to do that could get me out of my professional rut—I felt lost, aimless. I was in hell!
Across the pond, my aging parents, whom I didn’t want to burden with my misery, offered little solace. My siblings, who had all gone through divorces, were of little help. My friends extended their sympathies, but then withdrew. I searched for answers, often to find I didn’t quite know the questions. I wrecked my brain for ideas. After all, I am the fixer!
There has to be more to life than this, I thought as I reached bottom. Or had I?
There has to be a better, easier way…