Today I celebrated my 44th birthday filled with gratitude.

There are many different definitions for the word gratitude, both traditional dictionary interpretations and more advanced explorations from the field of positive psychology. One that feels especially insightful is offered in a Harvard Medical School article titled “In Praise of Gratitude,” which explains it as follows:

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness… Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.

I have overcome a great many emotional, financial, and physical challenges in the past dozen years. I am nowhere near where I planned to be at this stage in my life; some days it’s hard not to feel frustrated with what I’ve lost and what I’ve missed. However, I am actively rebuilding my life and resetting myself on a course that will lead me to a better version of myself. Gratitude is a key concept to my achieving this goal.

As I’ve gotten older I focus less on celebrating my annual journey around the sun with things than I do with people who matter most in my life. I am fortunate that, through my expat experience, I have found true love with my fiancée, Sylvia. Through her loving guidance and sincere support I am finding faith. This has empowered me to appreciate what I have and to not dwell on what I don’t.

With her I have discovered that, sometimes, even a simple prayer of thanks before a meal can  help me see things in a more positive perspective. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans to improve my present state, but it means I work towards achieving them while embracing the “art of possibility.”

I am also grateful for my two amazing sons, Jacob and Max; they are both uniquely talented musicians and incomparably exceptional individuals. I am proud of their ability to overcome developmental and physical obstacles with which they have dealt. My love for them knows no bounds; they are my anchor and my inspiration.

Unfortunately, being overseas opens opportunities for me that are not possible in the United States, it minimizes the time I can spend with my sons. This is the biggest Catch-22 of my being abroad: I am better positioned to help them while being very far from them.

I find myself frustrated that I am unable to live the lesson I learned from my maternal grandfather, Papa, “spending time with someone special is worth more than anything that person could purchase for you.” But after repeatedly trying to make ends meet while doing what I loved in the United States fell through I looked abroad for a way to meet my personal obligations while pursuing my professional aspirations.

Despite being far from my sons physically, they are always close to my heart. If I had one birthday wish it is for them to understand the myriad personal and professional reasons why I relocated. I realize that might be harder to do now, but it is my sincere hope that one day I can make amends. For now, I make enthusiastic efforts to participate in their lives virtually while maximizing the moments we can share physically.

Nothing can make up for not being “there” in person, but I pray their hearts remain open to my love and their spirits stay strong during my absence. I look forward to a time when we can celebrate our birthdays — and our everydays — together again. Time stands still for no man (or his sons) and, as I experience my “children growing up, old friends growing older,” I hope too much experience doesn’t slip away.

I recognize that life is about love; each day I strive to create more of it for others and make the most of it for myself. It is my intent to make sure the love I take is equal to the love I make. I don’t always succeed, but I try my best. Every day I plan to be better than I was the day before — for myself, for my loved ones, and for my God.

We all have a limited time in life to make the most of ourselves and do the most good for those we love. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I am endeavoring to overcome my past failures while focusing forward on emerging opportunities. All the while I am trying to live in the moment and remain grateful for all that I have.

I suppose that’s how the circle of life is meant to spin, right Simba?

What have you learnt to forget?

Last year, during the heat of the summer semester, Ms. Alissar Nasrallah warmed the hears of my students with her keynote speech “What We Have Learned to Forget – The Human Behind the Business.” Alissar manages Prest, her family’s corporate gifting business. I first met Alissar when we were both extras on Star Trek Beyond; we struck up a friendship and I was fortunate enough that she was willing to share her insights and ideas with my class.

Acknowledging the connection between business and ethics, Alissar reflected on the importance of philosophical and humanitarian values and their role in business. The following is an essay version of her presentation — provided by Alissar.

We have segregated our life into two main categories: Business and Personal, forgetting that life has much more than that. We typically apply a “live in the moment” only between these categories with “don’t bring your home problems to your work” and vice versa. We got into the details of the norms and values “don’t be too friendly at work” “be too friendly at work to lobby well” “know where to stop” “your personality at work is different than your personality with your friends.”

The segregation got deeper, forgetting that this person is a singular one and that his life is much richer than being sized down to two sectors. Once we understand the big picture that makes us – what I call the big ‘I’ – we will know that this segregation is not needed and that our personality can be constant in all areas. We will know that the nuance is having clarity of how to act and when to act no matter where we are and whom we are dealing with. Enrich the big ‘I’ with humane values to find stability, clarity and to pave your way up in all your actions, words and thoughts.

An inevitable part of enriching the big ‘I’ is how we deal with the other ‘Is’. Because of the ferociousness of survival, we apply twisted strategies that, I believe, most are not filtered humanely – from networking (that comes from the basic human nature of relationships), plotting to defeat colleagues, human objectification and object humanization, etc.

Why not try to change the twisted strategies for once and see how the world evolves; we might like it better. Strategies are needed yes, and smartness is needed. Inhumanity is not. Depict negative connotations is everything you read, you see, you watch, you listen to and you think of. What we feed our mind will be unavoidably translated into our actions.

If you don’t believe in goodness to drive your actions and responsibilities towards others, you have to believe in the simple logic that says: if I encounter pain on you, you will most probably reply with pain. Put this on the whole population scale, having in mind the complex human psychic.

The world will be an unpleasant place to live in – an unsustainable place. We often use the term sustainability when we talk about the natural environment, and not the human environment. For us to live together sustainably, we need (not only want) to live well together which means we need to be good to each other. In the lines of this idea, I came up with a simple untwisted strategy that I called “Positively-Conditioned Objectives”.

Everything we do at any time has an objective, even if we are unaware of it. A coffee with friends has an objective of connecting, venting out, updating. Being aware of the objective allows us to eliminate anything unnecessary along the way. The objective is for us and the positive-conditioning is our responsibility towards others. “I want to be the best cook” is my objective – it is for me. “Supporting others along the way” is my positive conditioning – it is my responsibility towards others.

I am not only talking about big objectives. I am also talking about walking-in-the-park’s objective and having-coffee-with-friends’ objective. The biggest objective of all times is to live happily. And the biggest positive conditioning is to be loving. You can push this strategy down to your tiniest actions, thoughts and words. It is a compass to always know yourself, be aware of what you’re doing, thinking, saying and feeling all the while being responsible towards others for a sustainable, more pleasant collective life.

You can also watch a video of Ms. Alissar’s presentation below.

I was asked to give an impromptu speech to new College of Business Administration (COBA) students at the American University in the Emirates (AUE) during an orientation session on September 26, 2017. This video was captured by a colleague in attendance. The text of what I said follows:

“By the end of your four years or three years or five years, whatever it is, you are a changed person for the better and part of that change comes through your participation and engagement in the whole academic experience — beyond just the grades, beyond just your one area. So, I guess my suggestion is to open yourself up to many different opportunities, meet different people, participate in activites, do your best in your class, participate in your class, and make the most of your time in your moment here. I often joke with my students that I was in a hurry to graduate; in fact I graduated early from my undergraduate school. And then, the minute I graduated, I said “why did I do that?” Make the most of your time here; it’s a special time, it’s kind of a magical time, even though you’re going to have stress and moments of anxiety and pressure. But, overall, your college experience is a very unique and positive time for you.”