Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hashmi Barbeque Center: Restaurant Review

Do you really even live in Nairobi if you've never been to Hashmi and raved about its food to all you know? Yes, I'm being (mostly) serious.

I can't remember the first time I went to Hashmi - only that I've been a regular customer for more than half of my life. Nowadays, we order in more than we actually visit, just because they're always so busy. 

However, I took some days off earlier this month, and decided to take my mum on a mummy-daughter lunch date to the restaurant - I knew the food is amazing, but I wanted to see if the rest of the place lived up to the hype. 

Location wise, Hashmi is in the Nakumatt Ukay complex - convenient, but depending on the time you go, potentially tricky to get parking. 

Side note: If you're reading this, I REALLY hope you're not one of those people who parks ON THE ROAD instead of the designated parking that's just a short walk away. 

Anyway, back to Hashmi. Ambience wise - including interior and music, unfortunately, the place isn't great - but the food does MORE THAN make up for it. 

This particular Tuesday, Mum and I headed there a little early to beat the lunch rush, which turned out to be a great decision! By the time we were leaving, there was near-to-full occupancy. 

The waiter came to take our order pretty quickly, but I was a little confused as to why he hovered around at our table as he waited for our orders. Perhaps he's used to people who know what they want right away? I asked him to give us two minutes, which is when he stepped away. For those of you wondering - yes, I do know the Hashmi menu pretty well, and yes, I did order one of the two things that I usually do, but still, I always like reading the menu!

Mum ordered the pili pili fish, I got the poussin chicken, we got a butter naan to share, and we both ordered cokes (which were, unfortunately, nowhere near cold enough). 

When the waiter brought the cutlery, he unfortunately placed them face down on the table - not the most hygienic, so we asked for a fresh set, and luckily, this time they were brought in a plate. 

Now for the food...

The fish was fresh - could've been crispier, but the flavour was perfect. I remember a time about 12-13 years ago (yikes I feel old) where this dish would be ALL I'd ever order at Hashmi. One of the things I like best about Hashmi is their consistency. Eating their food is like a trip down a comfortable memory lane, because it's been there as I grew up.

The chicken, as usual, was great. I absolutely LOVE their poussin sauce - it goes on everything, including my chips and my naan (sometimes I like just the naan and the sauce), and I have NO clue what they put in it. The chicken was soft and cooked well, but perhaps could have had a tad bit more flavour permeation. If you haven't yet tried their poussin sauce, please do! It's a perfect explosion of flavour in your mouth, and you'll be left wanting more.

Now, as everyone knows, Hashmi makes the best naans in Nairobi, hands down. Just LOOK at all that soft, buttery goodness! Literally yummy enough to eat on it's own, its melt-in-your-mouth goodness should be proclaimed one of the wonders of the world.

Hashmi is one of the only places we've found that also delivers naans in great condition - more often than I'd like, I've had naans delivered that seem to want to give chewing gum companies a run for their money. It's so good - as I write this, I've just eaten lunch, and I'm pretty full, but I'm still craving their naan...

Overall? Their food is fantastic, and you absolutely NEED to try it out! However, if you were to order in as opposed to actually going to the venue, you may not miss out on too much - and then you can pop open a bottle of something good and not have to worry about driving/parking!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Spring Valley Artisan Coffee: Restaurant Review

It's a cold winter here - for Nairobians, at least. Stormy weather, cloudy skies, the occasional downpour - you get the picture. I took a few days off work, and thought that it'd be perfect weather to head to one of my favourite coffee & waffle joints for breakfast with my sister - and finally get a review in. The place is owned by two friends - but don't worry, I made sure to make this review as unbiased as possible!

Tucked away in a little corner at the Spring Valley Petrol Station on Lower Kabete Road in Nairobi, you may be forgiven for not realising that there's a cafe in there. In fact, the location may be one of the only complaints I have - not because of the way it looks, but because of the difficulty in finding parking. (Luckily for all of us, they'll be opening up another branch soon, so that should take care of vehicular woes!) Their coffee is already quite popular in Kenya, with the cafe almost being a 'side' to that.

The decor is chic and eclectic, perfectly suited to a rainy day - and with the opportunity to actually buy some of the pieces! 

Their menu is heavily focused on coffee and waffles (as you can see below). Lots sounded tempting, but alas - we had to choose. Sitting down to breakfast, I noticed that the only savoury item on the menu is the cheese pie, so perhaps adding more savoury for those among us who don't eat as many sweet things may be a good idea. 

My sister chose a cappuccino while I went for the latte - and to eat, she chose a cheese pie, while I went for a waffle (no surprises here) with strawberries and maple syrup.

My sister loved her coffee, and said that it had a perfect aroma! I felt similarly about mine, and honestly think that it's one of the best lattes I've had in (or around) Nairobi. Weirdly enough, while drinking that coffee, I got that 'comfort food' feeling - coupled with the cold weather and the jazz playing in the background, this meant that I went righhhht back to bed for a lovely nap after this breakfast!

Now for the food...

Their cheese pie is so good that it should be illegal. The pastry was just right, the flavour of cheese was perfect (but not overwhelming), and it didn't drip with fat which can be such a turn off. I tried a bite of my sister's - and immediately craved my own. Luckily, I had a chance to get one because she tried a bite of my waffle and decided she wanted half, so we got the best of both worlds :)

Now for their waffle. Oh. My. Goodness. Crispy but still fluffy enough, sweet but not sickeningly so, flavoured with the goodness of cinnamon - this waffle had it all. I'm salivating just writing about it! I honestly think that their waffles are the second best in Nairobi - and the best for vegans! Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that their waffles are vegan? 

Overall verdict? If you haven't been here yet, you're definitely missing out! If you have, you probably have a smug smile on your face right now because you're in on the secret. Despite parking woes, the location is extremely convenient, the service is fast and friendly (if a little shy :) ), the food is great, the coffee is even better.... do I need to go on?

Liked this post? Let me know! Feel free to comment, like and share below!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Let's Talk About Mental Health

You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength.
-Marcus Aurelius
When I was 14 years old, I dislocated my patella while playing basketball. Naturally, it took a while to recover, and I was in a full leg cast for about 5-7 weeks, and crutches for a while after that. I remember finding it very easy talking about the incident whenever anyone asked - I naturally (and correctly) assumed that they would understand.

"Oh yeah, I dislocated my knee. Should be fine soon, though! I just need to take some time to recover."

Fast forward a few years later - I found that it wasn't that easy to talk about my experience with depression. In the spirit of being open, and vulnerable (and let me tell you that I'm not too fond of being vulnerable), because of some conversations I've been having recently, and given that it's been more than 4 years since, I decided that it was about time to share.

It was my junior year of college that this happened. We all have downward spirals sometimes - it's just that this one time, I kept spiralling, and had no idea how to get out of it. Fuelled by a fear of what the future would hold (or not hold), things seemed to get harder, not easier.

Luckily for me, my experience was on the milder side, I had the support of an amazing counsellor at Sewanee, and friends who made sure I was okay - and eventually, I was.

However, the experience was (and still is) hard to talk about. I remember waiting to tell close family and my best friend up until the summer I was back in Kenya. Sometimes, when I did talk about it, the conversations went something like this:

"Oh, we've had hard experiences too! Maybe we have more of a reason than you to be depressed, right?"

"But you're always so happy and positive! You can't have been depressed."

"Yes, that's all very well - let me tell you about the hard times in MY life now."

Nowadays, even if I feel a 'normal' downward spiral coming on, I take care to push my mental health at the top of my priority list. There are certain things that I need to do, including regular exercise and sleep among others, to ensure that I'm emotionally healthy. Partially because I know that I have no active desire to experience again what I did those years ago - and also because I know that it's important to look after mental health, no matter who you are and what you do or do not suffer from.

We're in the 21st century, and prioritising, taking care of, or even talking about mental health is still a taboo. This is especially true in the culture and country that I come from, where vulnerability is frowned upon.

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a colleague about the importance of everyone looking after their mental health, and reasons why people didn't, and I also read a great article online about a CEO who went out of his way to commend a colleague for taking a mental health day at work - and in doing so, sparked conversations across the globe about what we can do to make work environments more mental health friendly. I highly recommend that ALL of you read what the CEO had to say.

I especially loved this quote:
It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.
What do I hope we'll take away from this? There is nothing wrong with taking care of your mental health. There is no stigma in talking about mental health. Sometimes, people suffer with mental health issues - instead of stigmatising their experiences and alienating them, we should support them to the best of our capacity.

Let's start up conversations with our friends, in our workplaces, in our homes, to remind those around us that mental health IS important and should NOT be neglected, and let's be sure to support those who are already championing this vital cause.

Leaders especially have the power and the responsibility to role model this behaviour, and to encourage their peers, networks and organisations to carry on this conversation. A HUGE kudos to Ben Congleton of Olark, for doing exactly that.

Do you have stories of colleagues and leaders who have encouraged the prioritisation of mental health, or a time when you yourself felt empowered to do so? I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to share in the comments below (anonymously if you so wish), or on the Facebook post below:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Personal Financial Management: Follow Up

About a year ago, I had written a post about personal financial management, and thought that it'd be a good idea to do a follow up - let you know how well these tips have actually worked for me, and reflect on them a little bit.

We'd discussed some common money mistakes that we make:
  • Not prioritising savings
  • Having a very vague idea of where your money goes
  • Forgetting non-monthly expenses in monthly budgets
  • Spending more than we need to
  • Living paycheque to paycheque
  • Getting into unnecessary debt

And we also discussed some tips to help us avoid these mistakes:

1) Prioritise savings: I think this is one of the tips that has worked best for me, and one that I've been able to follow religiously. How did I do it? I set a savings target that is a percentage of my income, and whenever any money comes in, the first thing I do is transfer the target into savings, and treat that as an expense. The savings target will obviously depend on you - some people do 5%, some 10%, some can probably do 50%!

It's also been very helpful to me to set up a separate savings account at another bank - this way, I've made it harder to be able to withdraw from this particular account! 

I'm interested to hear - what are some systems you've set up to make sure you prioritise saving?

2) Know where your money is going: I've been amazed at how helpful this has been! Just being able to track where and when I spend has enabled me to save much more than I had before. I highly, highly recommend Toshl. I use both the app, and the desktop version, and add all my expenses as soon as is possible. 

3) Create a budget: Going beyond just knowing where you're spending to actually planning your spending, a budget is the important next step in personal financial management. I haven't been able to use this for all my expenses, but using Toshl, I'm able to track where I spend the most, and have created budgets for these categories. 

What are some tips you use when creating and managing budgets?

4) Cut out unnecessary expenses: Important note - this is NOT advocating misery! However, it's definitely an important part of the journey toward financial freedom, and it's a function of being able to execute tip number 2 properly. 

Personally, at the end of the month, when I sit down and look at my month's activities on Toshl, I'm able to challenge myself on certain expenses - preventing me from making similar mistakes the next month

5) Do not live paycheque to paycheque: It may seem like this is a luxury not many of us can afford, but think of it this way- would you be willing to afford it if you were not getting any income for the next three months and had to live on what you already have

Again, being able to successfully implement tips 1 -4 will make it much, much easier to stop depending on the next paycheque.

6) Avoid unnecessary debt: I'm no debt expert, but someone once told me that the golden rule of debt is this - if you're taking debt to buy something that loses value (like a car) as opposed to something that gains value/adds to your value (like education), then that's bad debt. 

I'd love to hear if any of you have tips for avoiding and managing debt!

Personal financial independence may seem like a distant goal - but these tips have helped me significantly, and I hope they do so for you too!

Monday, June 26, 2017

God, Death and the Meaning of Life: Excerpt from an Essay

I don't know if any of the rest of you do this, but occasionally I find it interesting to go back and look at work I did in school. I was reading an essay I did for an introductory Philosophy class (God, Death and the Meaning of Life), and thought it may be interesting to share some snippets. Some of my thinking has changed - evolved - since I wrote this, but it's interesting to see what I still hold to be true. And the question is always a fascinating one - what makes our lives meaningful?

What are we living for? What makes our lives meaningful? Have we lived good lives if we were “happy” throughout but made no significant achievements? Or have we lived better lives if we were miserable throughout but dedicated them to a worthy cause?

I believe that in order for my own life to be meaningful, I need to be self-reliant and have self-love. I need to be happy with who I am, and have the love of the people important to me. I also need to be able to live for more than just myself. Learning to successfully overcome obstacles and appreciating the simple things in life are important too. Most importantly however, I believe that one needs to be able to accept, love, and rely on oneself before life can have any meaning at all.

According to David Swenson, much of what contributes meaning to life is happiness. However, this must not be unjustifiable happiness; there must be a reason for this happiness, a motive for its existence.  He believes that as human beings who make mistakes, there is always the danger that we can go wrong with our pursuit of happiness. While we may appear happy, leading everyone to believe that we are so, we might be pursuing empty happiness, in materialistic things. I beg to differ with this particular view. While the pursuit of empty things may not be the right thing to do in order to obtain happiness, there is no denying that the pursuit of such things in many cases does lead to our happiness. While this is not necessarily correct, and indeed does leave me feeling uneasy as to what we as human beings have come to, such happiness does give meaning to life; albeit maybe not substantial meaning.

Swenson also stresses on the importance of happiness being based on something that is intrinsically good, which I do agree with. Wealth, power and the like do have the potential to do good, but are not intrinsically so. These things give a sort of privileged status to the few individuals that possess them, and this is not always fair. They “rest upon differential capabilities and exceptionally fortunate circumstances.

Some people may argue that people will be able to find happiness in hurting others. If we think of serial killers who kill for the pleasure of it, they technically lead happy lives. They are doing what they enjoy; does that not mean that they have meaningful lives? In my opinion, absolutely not. While what they are doing does make them happy, it makes other people very miserable. The happiness that these killers obtain is completely selfish, and thus does not contribute to a meaningful life. Swenson goes on to say, “as the fundamental source of inspiration in my life, I need something that is not exclusive and differential, but inclusive and universal.” It is important to find happiness in something that will not take away happiness from other people, but preferably, add to it. This is true, selfless happiness, and I dare to say that we have all experienced it. How many times have we done something for someone whom we love that we did not necessarily enjoy doing? How many times have we experienced that specific feeling of happiness that comes from making this someone happy?

There are people who would rather live their lives believing that there is no higher power to judge us, like E. D. Klemke. He says that there are many cases of human beings who have led meaningful lives without faith in God. According to him, even if life had no meaning without faith in God, he would rather find some other meaning, as opposed to one that has “illusory hopes and incredulous beliefs and aspirations.” This is also the view held by Ricky Gervais, a comedian. He sums it up by saying “Do unto others… is a good rule of thumb". I try to live by that. Kindness is probably one of the greatest virtues there is. But that is exactly what a virtue is. Not just a religious virtue. No one owns being good. If am good, I do not believe I will necessarily be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It is knowing that I try to do the right thing and that I lived a good life. And that is where spirituality really lost its way; when it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you will burn in hell.”

While I realise that some people might be able to find more meaning in life without belief in a supernatural entity, I also realise that there are a countless number of people who have been unable to find meaning in life unless they turn to God. If religion were to be completely removed from the picture, then I believe that it may actually give people an incentive to be more moral, and kinder to their fellow human beings. It would take away from having to be good so that you can answer to a higher power, which we can argue is a motivation for many; and encourage people to be good for their own sake. In fact, it could be argued that being moral for one’s own self is the highest form of morality attainable, as you are not doing it to please someone else, even if that someone else is a higher power.

To conclude, I would like to say that every individual’s meaning of life would depend upon their own personal view of the world, and of themselves. For me personally, for example, if I was not able to be happy in my own company, then I would feel as though I am not leading a happy and meaningful life. We are our own first lines of contact with the rest of the world and all of existence; if we do not love ourselves, then we may not be able to meaningfully connect with the world around us.

Swenson, David F. "The Dignity of Life" The Meaning of Life III (2008): 17-26.
Klemke, E. D. "Living without Appeal: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life" The Meaning of Life III (2008): 184-195.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Le Grenier à Pain: Restaurant Review

"Have you been to that new French place? I've heard it's amazing!"

Well, obviously, I hadn't been, and was dying to go, which is why when I planned to meet friends for brunch Saturday morning two weeks ago, I thought it'd be great to try Le Grenier à Pain.

I got there a little earlier than my friends, and this turned out to be a good and a bad thing. Good because, well, I got to check out the place and get a feel for the vibe - very laid back chic, a place that you could go to for a lot of different things including:

  • A first date
  • A tenth date!
  • Writing
  • Working
  • A (casual) interview
  • Brunch with the girls
  • Well... brunch with the guys too!
And that's just what I came up with in a minute.

Why my getting there early was a bad thing - I got to check out the entire menu, and realised I wanted EVERYTHING. I had gone in having casually scoped the menu online, and I'd decided what I wanted, but after having some time for a thorough perusal, the choice became more and more difficult!

To drink, I decided to go for the chai latte. I liked it a lot, and would say it's probably one of the top three you can get in Nairobi. In fact, by the time my friends came, I'd polished off my first and was ready for another! What I liked - it was spicy, sweet and steamy. What could be improved - the spice was slightly diluted, and a bit of a 'milky' flavour came through. 

I love that before we ordered anything, they gave us some bread. It was yummy, although a little on the tougher side - perhaps because I let it sit for a while!

After what seemed like HOURS of indecisiveness, I finally decided to go with my first choice - the pain perdu pomme-cannelle & sirop d'erable (I'm proud that I actually understood part of that!). For the rest of us, that's apple-cinammon French toast with fresh fruits, creme fraiche and maple syrup.

My friends decided to go with the raisin swirl and the pain au chocolat. The friend who ordered the former said that it was fresh, warm, with a great blend of flavours and it was easily in the top 5 she'd ever had. The pain au chocolat, on the other hand, was nice, but not the best she'd ever had.

On my part, I absolutely LOVED my French toast! 9.5/10 for sure. It was amazing - not too sweet, with the subtlety of flavours coming through perfectly. Even more perfection would have been achieved if there were more strawberries in the fresh fruit to go with it!

Overall verdict? I would highly recommend this place, and I can't wait to go back! In fact, as I sit here writing this, I made the mistake of looking at their menu (we never learn...) and now I'm hungry.

The ambience was great, and the service was amazing! Our server (Faith, I believe) checked in on us enough to be helpful, always had a smile on her face, and seemed like she genuinely loves her job.

For a place that's been around since Jan, with their grand opening 3 or 4 weeks ago - well done!!

Monday, May 29, 2017

12 TKN Wellness Rituals

When you ask someone how they're doing, or how life is going, or how they've been, 9 times out of ten the answer will be 'busy'. The world has gotten faster, and busier - and seemingly, unhappier. Many of us work 8-5 (if not more), to be able to afford to maintain a lifestyle that we don't even have time to enjoy.

Fortunately, there are numerous things we can do, on a regular basis, to ensure that we do invest in ourselves beyond just making sure we're professionally successful. I thought to write about a select few that I try and keep up with, and others that I am starting, and I hope to be able to feature others' at some point too.

1) Writing

No surprises here that I write, often. I write on this blog, I write (real) letters to friend (and yes, I do use a fountain pen similar to the one above), I write to myself. If I'm having a crappy day, or trying to make a difficult decision, it wouldn't be too uncommon to find me grabbing the nearest piece of paper, writing down what I'm thinking, and then more often than not, throwing it away.

Writing is a way to deal with emotions, process your day, get some clarity. In case it wasn't clear enough already, I highly recommend trying it out!

2) Working out

The longer I go without working out, the grumpier I get, on average. It was a little later in life than I should have learnt this, but once I realised that working out regularly keeps me sane, happy and healthy, I've been trying to do it as often as I can.

And no, it's not just me! There are numerous studies out there that have proven the multiple benefits of exercise.

3) Attitude of gratitude

I was listening to a podcast the other day (yes, that's a thing I do nowadays) that talked about the importance of practicing gratitude. The speaker argued that without knowing how to be grateful for what we have, we'll never truly be happy. We'll keep wanting more, but when we get that 'more', we won't know how to appreciate it.

We look at happiness as something that's on the other side of a finish line - but when we get there, the finish line just gets further away. How did we forget that happiness is really found along the way?

I've been working on cultivating this attitude - and I'll admit, it's not as easy as I thought it would be! Two things have helped - meditation, and my '+ jar'. The latter is a glass jar that I've had for many months. When I remember to, I write down positive things that have happened to me, things I'm grateful for, and put them into the jar. These have ranged from 'I got the new job!' to 'I just had a great pizza!'. No surprises at the last one, I'm sure.

Anyone else tried other ways to cultivate this attitude? Please do share! And for those of you who're interested in starting +jars of your own, I'm happy to be an accountability partner.

4) Treating yourself

You know what? If no one's told you this before, I'm happy to be the first. It's okay to treat yourself every so often. Another podcast I was listening to talked about how we motivate ourselves. Sometimes, we tell ourselves 'I'll buy myself this and that once I've achieved this or the other' - a reward system. Sometimes, we say we'll buy ourselves what we want just because!

The speaker argues (and I agree) that it's okay to treat yourself once in a while without having the pressure of having to 'earn it'. 

Personally, massages are an indulgence I like to partake in regularly. In fact, I went for one just yesterday, just because - and it was great.

5) Time alone

I forget how many times I've preached about the benefits of time alone. Whether you're always working around people, you live with your family, you're married, you have kids - whoever you are, being able to spend meaningful time alone, and doing so, are beneficial to your growth, your happiness, and your independence. Whatever form this takes (see 12 below), I encourage you to try it.

6) Time with friends and family 

That being said, don't forget to spend time with friends and family too! Saturday night, my mum, my sister and I curled up in a room to watch a movie together - that same day, I'd spent some quality time with my pups. And tonight, I'm planning on having a wine date with my best friend.

Personally, after working a crazy week, I find it all too easy to spend the weekend in and around my bed, so getting time with my loved ones like this is always nice.

7) Time outdoors

Sunlight, fresh air, blah blah blah - turns out that all those things are actually good for you! I've made no secret of my frustration with how quickly Nairobi is developing upward, so I try and find at least a few minutes a day to step outside, away from the concrete (or as away as I can get...), and just breathe. Weird how just those few minutes can leave me feeling refreshed!

8) Drinking plenty of water

I'm not quite sure what it is about this one that makes me feel better - but I have noticed a marked difference in myself from the days I drink plenty of water to the days I don't. Anyone else?

9) Reading

Being able to be present where I am and appreciate all around me is great - but sometimes, so is being able to immerse myself in others' experiences and learn from them. 

The 'J' in me (MBTI for those of you who're wondering) has actually made two spreadsheets (fiction and non fiction) to keep up with books I've read and want to read. I recently finished all the Harry Potters again, and really enjoyed them!

10) Laughter

Funny YouTube videos. Friends being funny. Pets being silly. Little moments of joy. Laughter is such an important, yet underrated, part of our lives! Try it for yourself and see just how laughing (or smiling more) can do wonders.

11) A well deserved glass of wine

'Wait, doesn't this count as treating yourself?' I can almost hear some of you asking. Those of you who know me will know exactly why, for me, wine is in a category of its own!

There's nothing like sitting down at the end of a long week with a glass (or more) of wine that really signals to my brain that it's time to unwind.

I'm also always on the lookout for new wines to try - you can follow along on my personal Instagram account

12) Vacations

Sometimes, you just need to get away! Last year, my sister and I went to Diani in July. In December, I went to visit family in the U.S. 

Not sure what I'm planning before that, but this December, I decided it's finally time to visit my best friends after three years away! You can bet that I'm looking forward to that one desperately!

What are some wellness rituals you follow? I'd love to hear more!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Meet the Mentor: Frazer Buntin (part 3)

We hope you’ve been enjoying the feature on Frazer so far! If you haven’t read the previous parts yet, you can catch them here and here. Today, Frazer will be answering some questions I threw his way.

What are three principles that leaders should live by?
1.      Intense personal reflection
2.      Don’t give a shit
3.      Facilitate radical candor

What three words would you use to describe yourself?
1.      Intuitive
2.      Active
3.      Controlling (see, not all roses and rainbows!)

What’s the best advice that someone has ever given you?
“Use your head”

If there’s an aspect of your journey that has surprised you so far, what would you say it is?
How quickly we can adapt to change

Now-Frazer meets early-20’s-Frazer. What advice would you give him?
If I could give my early-20’s “me” some advice, it would be to not listen to my 42-year old self if I ever show up from the future with advice. Our paths need to happen. Our paths need to unfold. The unfolding is our life.

My incredibly wise words to college seniors when I go back to Sewanee to speak are:

“Do something! As that something will lead to something else.”

There is no defined path for us. There is no single right answer. However, if forced, I would tell myself to take more chances, live interesting places, do more cool shit that I haven’t done before, keep cultivating friends, let love happen, reflect intensely, don’t give such a shit.

Congratulations! You just won a million dollars. What are you going to do with it?
If I won a million dollars, I would perhaps start one micro-foundation of something for each of my kids, for something that are passionate about. I would use it as a way to help them create and cultivate something worthy over their lives. I think this could be a really cool experience for my kids to participate in running a micro-foundation. This perhaps could be the most valuable education they could receive and a really fun way for me to spend time with them.

If you were invited to give a TED talk, what would you speak about?
I would absolutely give a TED talk on the intersection of intense personal reflection and not giving a shit.

What’s your favourite book, and recommended reading for others?
Favorite book:
Panther in the Sky by James Alexander Thom.  It’s not my favorite book from a content standpoint but it was the book that really got me connected into reading at a young age so for that reason, it is my favorite book.

Recommended reading:
A New Earth by Ekhart Tolle
Reflections of a Ghost by Andrew Lytle
Working Days by John Steinbeck

Your biggest source of strength is…

Do you know what your goals and ambitions are going forward?
My goals and ambitions going forward are to live a full life, moment by moment. That’s as specific as I am right now.

If you could host a dinner party and invite any three people, dead or alive, who would they be?
I would invite my wife, my son, and my daughter. We would dress up in formal wear and listen to hip hop music.

Many people have different success rituals. Which are yours?
For success rituals, we also would need dozens of pages to cover this topic. I am a very ritualistic person, and I have many rituals that I constantly refine and use to extreme degrees. These rituals include morning routines, workload and schedule management, parenting, nutrition, exercise, sleep. Perhaps we can do a follow-up on these and get into more detail (editor’s note: keep an eye out for this!).

In my first post, I mentioned that Frazer is working on an exciting new project – he’s working to add a new title under his belt – that of ‘author’. Back to Frazer…

Yes, I am working on a book project right now, which includes some of the topics covered in these posts. It is a book about feelings. Specifically, the way we feel throughout our professional careers during points of intensity. Typically, behind any extreme period within our careers (highs, lows, frustrations, fears), there are a set of common feelings. “I feel like I am drowning in work.” “I feel like I am stuck.” “I feel like no one cares about my career.” “I feel like a monkey can do my job.”

I explore why we have these feelings, with deep context of the underlying causes. I also use my experiences throughout my career of having these same feelings to explain tactics to cope through the friction that these feelings create. I have had some crazy-ass experiences in my career, and they have given me some deep points of context. A rare few get context in our professional careers, so the value of the book will hopefully be both understanding that context and taking action from it. The output of this context is this same professional acceleration.

I was inspired to write this book over a long period of time but especially after doing a mentoring session with a large group of professionals at Evolent. One of the participants sent me an email afterward that tipped me over the edge into action.

Similar to mentoring, my ability to share wisdom through context creates efficiency out of inefficiency. The audience for the book is likely primarily individuals who are earlier in their career. However, the spectrum of feelings can span across a broad scope of levels and points of time, so there is value in the material for most folks. I hope to help others understand these periods of intense feelings and equip them with some tools to deal with these periods. At the same time, I hope to make them laugh, as some of the stuff that has happened to me is damn funny.

If anyone is interested further in learning more about the project, you can reach me at

Thanks much for inviting me to contribute!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Meet the Mentor: Frazer Buntin (part 2)

In part 1 last week, we met my mentor, Frazer Buntin, and learnt about his early life and education background. Today, he'll talk to us about his career so far.

Work background

Right after school, I worked for my father’s company for about a year. I wanted to see if the business clicked with me and additionally, my older brother, with whom I am very close, was there as well. My plan was to work and live at home and eat Ramen noodles to save as much money as possible for an epic adventure.

I absolutely love adventure. I love adventure more and more throughout my life and also regret not adventuring more along the way. This particular adventure was about 3 months of tramping around New Zealand and Australia with a back pack and a $500 car that I bought off a cork board advertisement in the first hostel I came to in NZ. I hiked and camped and climbed mountains and fly fished and sat in silence for long periods during the middle of the day.

One rainy afternoon, I simply started writing while lying in a bunk bed in a $5 a night hostel. I wrote about what kind of person I wanted to be. I wrote about the values I wanted to hold true to in my life. Many of these values had always been present but had been dulled by the norms of college. Some of these values were new. That day – and the entire trip – ended up being a bit of a personal reset button for me. I came away from that experience with clarity on how I wanted to “show up” to life at my most fundamental level. I cherish that time still today and feel that it set me on a course personally that I still benefit from today.

My professional career has spanned some incredible and crazy-ass experiences. I have worked for huge companies and started companies and have been CEO twice and have travelled all over the US. I have had unbelievable successes and epic failures. My path has been so winding that it would take dozens of pages to describe the way my career has unfolded.

Today, I am president of a large division of a high-growth healthcare company called Evolent Health. Evolent has gone from having 3 employees to over 2,600 in 5 years. We have gone from an idea to a $1 billion IPO in 5 years. Someone once said:

 When you have a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask which seat is yours, just sit down.

That is how I feel about Evolent. We have smart people, great culture, and most importantly, our work is meaningful and interesting to me. Those last two items are the ticket-to-the-dance requirements for me. My main job functions are to hire good people, set the strategy, monitor their behaviors, and measure our results. On a “Monday morning”, that means I am usually on the phone or in a meeting or working on a task that involves making decisions on improving our business. Leading people and solving problems consume most of my time. I have essentially no recurring work and nearly every task, every day is unique.

My successes will have little context for you unless you have worked in the fields or industries that I have, so it’s difficult to make those come alive for you. It is similar with the low points. Just know that I have knocked some home runs out of the park and I have absolutely fallen on my face in parts of my career as well.

All of these stories are long and usually funny, so perhaps, we’ll run into each other sometime and I’ll tell some of them. I will share that when you have the highs and the successes, you should absolutely cherish them. Marinate in them (there’s that word again). Feel like those days never want to end. Let yourself get goosebumps on how well you succeeded. During the lows and the failures, make them right beyond your own expectations. Take something away from them that you learned. Remember careers are a long-game. And then let that shit go.

I can attribute my success to hitting the parent lottery, growing up on a farm, great education, eye-opening experiences, mental wiring for problem-solving, and a knack for motivating people. Deeper than that, I attribute my success over time (not as individual) to intense personal reflection. I have always, throughout my career, taken time to think about what is working and what isn’t working for me – and then to do something about it. That process of reflection has accelerated my pathway down the career “funnel”. This reflection has also allowed me always to be learning. Always to be finding new tactics, methods, and strategies I can apply for all kinds of different scenarios throughout my career. I think I have a knack for surfacing and using tactics very well.

As for key role models, I have covered my parents already. Beyond that, I see anyone as a role model who has found the intersection of doing actual work they are good at doing, in an industry of which they are passionate, and have found a way to be well-compensated. This is the sweet spot of a work career when work doesn’t feel like work. Many of us only get one, a few two, and a very rare few get all three. These are the role models for me.

Regarding work-life balance, I have totally blown this one in my past and had to earn my way back into a balance. I never expected my career to involve as much travel as it has but here I am, 20 years into it, and I have logged A LOT of miles. More so than that, for a long time, I carried work with me as a thinking obsession. Maybe even a thinking addiction.

We would need more pages to give this topic the time it deserves but I am in my own personal “recovery”. Some of you will get this instantly and some might get it 10 years from now.

However, I have found the other side of the Venn diagram. I mentioned the concept of “intense personal reflection” previously as a driver of success. As our biggest strengths are also our biggest weaknesses, I needed another side of the coin to balance me. The other side of my Venn diagram that gives me work-life balance is not to give a shit.

I don’t mean that I don’t care, as I care – intensely. What I mean is that I do intense personal reflection, I make some decisions, I take some action – and then I don’t give a shit after that. I let go of control or expectation or wanting or needing some outcome to happen. I let go of the desire for some future event or thing to bring me happiness. Our brains are tools we use for survival but we must put them down when we are done. If we don’t put them down, we aren’t not actually living our lives, we are living our future lives. This is hard as crap to do for me so it is a practice. There are a whole series of tactics below the level of not giving a shit that we also would need more pages to cover adequately. I am putting a lot of effort into this though and it is working. I can feel myself living a few feet above myself.

Mentors are rare. Good mentors are unicorns. The best type of mentors are when you get lucky and have a direct manager who is also a good mentor. These people are like unicorns, riding a unicorn. I have had a few people who have helped me along the way including one or two unicorns riding unicorns. In hindsight, I am deeply appreciative of these people. Their wisdom was a huge accelerant for me personally and professionally.

For me, I enjoy helping others find their way. I enjoy helping others “be okay” with where they are and where they are going. I enjoy helping others take my tactics and experiences and wisdom and do something even better with them than I have. I think I would have been, and perhaps may be at some point in the future, a decent teacher. Part of my enjoyment of passing on wisdom or guidance or experiences is creating efficiency out of inefficiency. Wisdom should be scaled. Knowledge gained from experiences should be scaled. Again, I was taught to care about things and this is one I care about. If I can get scale on the things I have learned with several other people throughout my life, then I am potentially putting a massive accelerant underneath those people. Perhaps then, their experiences and wisdom and knowledge over time far exceeds mine. If they are inclined, they do the same and we are accelerating the advancement of the human state of mind. That is pretty rad.

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