Stay active, physically and mentally. That way your focus will gradually shift from difficult thoughts to other matters. Eventually the difficult thoughts will become weaker and weaker. Moreover, physical activities lead to many benefits like improved stamina, increased endorphins which helps you have a better mood. And beyond the direct fitness improvements, the fact that you get out of the house, seeing other people outside, It all helps to get you through the storm.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Farid Samie.
Dr. Samie is a successful, accomplished engineer based in Houston, Texas. He was educated at the prestigious KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, earning a doctorate in engineering. Dr. Samie speaks three languages fluently (along with another two at basic level) and was active in competitive sports with several international achievements. Being a dedicated father, who worked hard to accomplish successes while overcoming his own life challenges, Dr. Samie shares with us today his insights on how to thrive while coping with dramatic losses and life changes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Sweden with three brothers and my two wonderful parents. We immigrated to Sweden from Iran in the 1980’s. Growing up in Sweden was difficult at times. While Sweden being overall a tolerant and safe country, there is also severe prejudice against people who don’t have the classic blonde hair, blue eyed appearance — which I do not possess. In the early 1990’s, a sniper, John Ausonius a.k.a. Lasermannen (The Laser Man) targeted immigrants for a couple of years before he finally got caught. In today’s (2021) Sweden nearly 20 %, that is 1 out of 5, Swedes voted for the far right party whose prime agenda is anti-immigration. Facing this adversity became a motivating drive for me, however. I am a Swedish citizen, influenced by the culture, and very proud of the achievements of this rather small nordic country. Still, with people seeing me as lower than them, I became determined to prove the opposite. I wanted to be the best in school, and sports. Success is not about natural ability, it’s about perseverance, so I persevered. In the end I enjoyed the product of hard work in both education and athletics, earning my doctorate as well as various awards and medals in martial arts as a young man.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I actually have two favorite quotes.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin
— and —
“Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” — Cassius Clay
By nature the unknowns and undesired changes lead to elevated stress and fear in us. And to some extent it’s healthy to have fear. That set us up for preparation, however, don’t let the fear limit your success. A divorce is considered as one of the most stressful life events, however, separating from an unhealthy relationship could bring new opportunities. Opportunity to meet a more compatible partner, more focus on your children, on your goals, and dreams. Bottom line: life doesn’t end with a negative change in circumstances, it will be different, and there is opportunity for an even better future. Impossible is nothing!
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
They are actually rather practical qualities. First, it’s very important to stay healthy and active. I strongly believe in the power of a healthy mind and healthy body. This one tenet is so important, it results in many positive aspects of life. One of the obvious examples is building endurance so that I can be a better single parent, while having a full time job. This requires being disciplined, pushing your body and mind, while making sure to get the right nutrition and rest. People who are living a healthy lifestyle and staying active are often happier, and are less affected by stress.
Staying active is not about just going to a gym or running 30 miles a week. It could be a passion to learn a new language, playing an instrument, or a dedication to a hobby or goal. I enjoy learning about astronomy, astrophysics, and learning about neuroscience and the way that the brain operates. It doesn’t make for great conversation in all circumstances but this is a self-satisfaction. So the first principle is to maintain your health (body and mind).
The second of these three qualities that I believe helped me in my life, is to be tenacious. Believe in yourself. You are your only limitation. We all have external circumstances that can potentially limit us or limit possibilities for us. I recognize that. If you stop believing in yourself, you’ve made a choice to allow an external circumstance to limit you and that’s why I say you are your only limitation. It’s important to be tenacious. I moved from Sweden, an overall amazing country, in my 20’s. While it was very difficult to be away from my family and country I knew best, in the last 15 years I have lived and worked in 4 different countries. Moving to the US in 2012 was one of the best moves for me. The U.S. is a country with many opportunities and diversity unlike most other places in the world. I would not have been able to achieve this or to thrive in 4 different countries if I hadn’t been tenacious.
The third quality is to be the person that you expect others to be. I am very fortunate that my family and close friends are wonderful and have supported me in so many ways. Some people didn’t win that lottery, but even so it’s still possible to build a community of quality people. And it starts with YOU taking the first step! Great people are all around us: neighbors, colleagues, or someone you just met on the airplane. Don’t be too shy to open a conversation, offer to help, show genuine interest in people, be honest, and be respectful. Many of these people are likely to be there for you when you are in need. None of my achievements would be possible without the support of people who were there for me.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
Absolutely, my loss and life change was one and the same event and unfortunately it’s one that is very common. Divorce. A lot of people go through divorce, still divorce is very traumatic, almost universally. No one gets married believing that their relationship will end in a divorce. We love our spouses, we want the marriage to work. When the marriage still doesn’t work despite that, it cuts deep. It’s devastating. And while you’re suffering from the emotional aspect that is inherent with these endings, you’re simultaneously faced with the inevitability of losing some of the time you used to spend with your child and in some cases, losing most of that time. You’re sharing custody, you no longer live with the other parent of your child — you are going to spend less time with the children. So you feel you’re losing your best friend, your spouse, and your children all in one go. And the arena where all of this loss occurs, is in the courthouse. In litigation. I’m not sure an amicable divorce is really a thing because look, it’s heartbreaking. It just is. For those of us who didn’t go through an amicable divorce, you’re facing the court battles, the hearings, the allegations, your most private part of life is shared with people you’ve never met before, and of course the attorneys’ fees.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
I was of course devastated that my relationship failed, but the worst thing was the realization that I wouldn’t be able to see our child for a significant portion of the years to come. Let that sink in — can you imagine that? Standing at the door watching our child (just turned 3 at the time) leaving our home — the only home he’d ever known — was beyond pain. He would call “PAPPA” in the middle of every night, just for me to come by his bedside and give him a hug or glass of water that most of the time he wouldn’t drink. There he would be standing in his bed, with a big smile, cheeky enough to wake me up. But not this night and many nights in the future. Will he be Ok? But this goes beyond the nights when he needed me. After learning all the statistics about the higher levels of school dropouts, depression, incarceration, and even suicide rates among children of divorced parents, I was scared!
How did you react in the short term?
My appetite and my sleep had reduced substantially. I lost 20 lb in less than 6 months and was happy if I could get an average of a few hours sleep each night. I reached out to close friends and family. Thankfully there were many people who supported me and I am eternally grateful to them.
But even when I was exhausted and pretty much broke, I was still tenacious. I kept telling myself, I have to stay strong, and positive for our child! I would wake up early morning, work a full shift, spend time with our child (if I could see him), after that I worked on the litigation documents related to the divorce, then an intensive workout session, ending the nights by spending couple of hours working on a spreadsheet that I’d created to automatically calculate the rules of the overly-complicated child visitation schedule. The default custody-sharing schedule in Texas is called a Standard Possession Order (SPO) that most divorced parents of Texas have to follow. It’s not an easy read — very difficult to understand. So I started creating a smart spreadsheet that would automatically calculate when it would be my turn to see our child, to make it easier to understand the upcoming child visitation dates.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
After the divorce I immersed myself in spending time with our child. Everything else stopped during those times. I wanted to, and had to, focus on us being together, creating memories together, being happy together, because not only do you want to shelter the child from this turmoil as a parent, but because during the divorce our time together had become significantly less.
Also speaking with many single parents it was clear that my automated visitation calendar would be a useful and valuable tool for other parents following the SPO. So in my spare time I started to build a mobile application (named Our Days Calendar) based on the child custody calendar spreadsheet I’d started creating earlier.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
Always look ahead and adapt to the changes! I had to adapt to an unexpected new life, and look ahead on possibilities and opportunities and joy in different ways. I wouldn’t let anger or negativity infest my thoughts, there are so many things in this world that bring happiness.
I could spend more time with our son, focus on work, fitness and healthy living and picking up new hobbies. Life is full of surprises, and mostly they are good. Focus on those good things.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I found it effective to be aware of the thoughts coming into my mind. By being mindful, I could be diligent in turning my thoughts to more positive options. Sometimes you can let go of things passively and they fade into the past. Many times you have to actively redirect yourself from negative feelings. When I found myself becoming sad I recognized the emotion, but then I chose to say “that was hurtful, but sometimes bad things happen in life. Let’s now move on”. It’s important to follow up with a positive outlook.
This self-talk is normal and healthy. It’s not any different from the negative voice in your head — which by the way, is also you talking to yourself. Here, you’re just being aware of what you’re saying in that internal narrative, and choosing to be positive. In time I found that negative thoughts came less and less.
Also being active helps a lot on this journey. I stayed active with work, workouts, met with people, camping, and hiking.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
There are a lot of people. Let’s start with my father. The true hero and role-model who took a 38 hour flight to come from overseas only the day after I asked him to support me. Despite his medical conditions, he would stand tall at all times and would give me his shoulders and hugs when I needed it most: when I missed our son. Not once did he mention his own fatherly pain when seeing the situation first hand, the emotions and also the financial devastation that was happening. He would always say: Do your best, and it will be fine! Also my close friends, Steven and Amanda who without hesitation would be there when I needed.
Pete, Kim, my mother, my siblings, neighbors, colleagues, friends, All of the members of that jury… Last but not least, my attorney Mr Ron Sanders who remained honest and respectful through the entire litigation process. I am eternally grateful to them.
And the final mention here. In recent years I’ve joined a nationwide, free-of-charge fitness group called ‘F3 Nation’ which focuses on fitness as well as supporting each other. I would highly recommend anyone out there going through tough times, as well as those that are able to provide support to others, to look into it.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
I can focus more on our child and myself, work, fitness, and goals. Modeling positive qualities as a single parent is far better than staying in a marriage when both parents would be normalizing relationships that are dysfunctional. I think this outlook is a great example of redirecting your own inner narrative as I was talking about earlier. The negative thought is I’m divorced and I’m not able to model a healthy marriage to our child. The positive reframing is that we are no longer in a difficult home environment, and of course there’s the prospect of eventually meeting someone that is similarly minded.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
During the first 18 months of the separation I was sleeping an average of 2–3 hours a night. A high performing job, many business travels, combined with intensive and frequent litigation processes, emotional and financial drainage… I struggled to wind down. Still, with only one goal in sight, our son, somehow I would find energy to keep going.
My strategy was, don’t fight your mind. If you can’t switch off, then stay active and turn your attention to something else. In my case working out helped a lot, and I was always picking up that spreadsheet I was talking about earlier. I turned it into a web-based application and shortly thereafter released it as a mobile app (Our Days Calendar). As most other start-ups, it was a challenge to coordinate something technical while also learning how to market, building a team, and finance. I will say I really surprised myself to be able to take that on successfully, on top of everything else too, but it was really important to me. I don’t think any parent should struggle with understanding legal jargon in order to know when they can see their child. I’m happy to be part of a solution for them. We’re now working on expanding the app to cover the standard possession orders across other states.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- Stay active, physically and mentally. That way your focus will gradually shift from difficult thoughts to other matters. Eventually the difficult thoughts will become weaker and weaker. Moreover, physical activities lead to many benefits like improved stamina, increased endorphins which helps you have a better mood. And beyond the direct fitness improvements, the fact that you get out of the house, seeing other people outside, It all helps to get you through the storm.
- Be tenacious! Don’t be a victim of your own life. Work hard for what you want to achieve! And even if the outcome is not as desired, at least you know that you did your best. In competitive sport environments, no one starts as a champion, you work hard and work your way up. Challenges in life are no different.
- Be genuine and kind to people, you never know when you will need support. Having people come to court every day of the trial bolstered me and helped me keep going every day. Having people around you who believe in you helps you to believe in yourself, even when things seem grim.
- Stay positive and control your emotions. Changes in our lives are often challenging. Still, you control your inner monologue. Stop speaking negatively to yourself and choose to be positive while recognizing the challenges you face. In time, you’ll come to the habit of thinking positively about your life, and you’ll be able to move on and let go of the sadness, and the negative thoughts that come with dramatic loss and major life changes.
- Forgive! Children are born innocent, happy, and full of joy. What we then turn out as adults are consequences of our upbringing, environment and genetic makeup. Forgiveness could also be towards yourself and the inner child. Forgiveness ultimately leads to peace and healing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’m working right now on it, actually. I want to empower divorced parents here in the U.S. We should be able to easily understand when we’re going to see our children. This is a legitimate problem for people operating under the standard possession order and joint custody laws of Texas. It’s true for many other states as well. The standard possession orders are full of legal jargon and overly complicated. To even understand the visitation schedule with our child, I had to pull out calendars and calculate weekends of the months (1st, 3rd, and 5th), and not to mention all the other additional rules, which in most cases required a lawyer to interpret.
During development of the Our Days Calendar app, I learned what’s behind all the complicated legal terms. In many cases the non-custodial parent gets to see the child just about 30 % of the time. I don’t know how it became normal in the U.S. for one parent to see their child 30% of the time, when you have a situation where both parents are fit, are able to love, care for, and can provide for the children. Separating one of those parents and demoting that person to the status of being a visitor in their childrens’ lives is completely unacceptable. Most importantly, no child should be deprived from equal time with both fit parents.
Our Days Calendar empowers parents and helps them understand their day-to-day custody schedules. No child should be staying late at school because neither loving parent understood whose day it was to pick up and have visitation with their child.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Bill Gates — he is a well-recognized and influential person, and he is currently going through a divorce.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best way is to visit us at www.ourdayscalendar.com. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!