Trust your struggle | Zain Asher | TEDxEuston
Articles,  Blog

Trust your struggle | Zain Asher | TEDxEuston


Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Reiko Bovee Hello everyone. My name is Zain Asher,
and I’m an anchor at CNN International. I’m super proud to say
that I have my dream job. I wake up every day,
and I’m so excited to go to work. But my life wasn’t always this way and I do want to share
a little bit about my background and help, hopefully, motivate
and inspire some of you. So, I’m an anchor
at CNN International now, but about four, four and half years ago, I was working as a receptionist. And the reason why I share that
is because I want to let you know that success is never really
in a straight line. There’s always going to be bumps
along the way. For the longest time in my life, I always believed that hard work
was a key to success. I thought, “You know what?
If you work hard, of course you’re going to be successful.” But now I realize that there’s
so much more to the story. There are plenty of people who work hard, who don’t necessarily make it
in their chosen careers. There are plenty of people
who are extraodinarily talented, who know the right people,
who are well educated, who don’t necessarily make it. So, if it’s not always hard work,
what then determines whether you’re going to be successful? As I intend to answer this, I’ll share with you a little bit
about my life and my background. I was born and raised here in London. My family and I,
we’re originally from Nigeria. The worst and probably
most difficult day in my life was September 3rd, 1988. I was about five years old. And my mother and I were in the kitchen,
in our house in London. We’d just gotten back
from a wedding in Nigeria. And my brother and my father
were still in Nigeria a few days after the wedding,
for a road trip, a father-and-son road trip. And they were supposed to come home
on September 3rd, 1988. We were supposed to pick them up
from the airport. And we were waiting and waiting. I guess we assumed
they’d missed their flight. We continued to wait.
We didn’t hear anything. And then, later on that day, my mother got a phone call
from a family friend in Nigeria, and the voice on the other end of the line
just basically said, you know, “Your husband and your son
have been involved in a car crash. One of them is dead
and we don’t know which one.” So, the car crash happened in Nigeria, and there were
about five people in the car. Everyone in the car died instantly
apart from one person in the back seat, where my father
and my brother were sitting. It turned out to be my father who died. My mother was pregnant at the time. Of course she was devastated
because my parents were really the loves
of each other’s lives. So, I was raised
in a single-parent family. For a while, my mother sent me to live
in Nigeria by myself, with my grandmother. When I came back,
she decided that, you know, in life, if you want to be successful,
you have to be able to relate to people from all walks of life. She’d deliberately send me
to various types of schools. I went to school in Nigeria, I went to a state school
in a poor neighborhood in South London, I went to a private school,
and then I went to a boarding school. This was on purpose, deliberately, because my mother felt
that, if you want to make it in life, you need to be able to relate
to everybody. So, when I was sixteen
– I have a strict Nigerian mother – but when I was sixteen, she decided
that she wanted me to go to Oxford. And she sat down and she thought,
“OK. How can I guarantee that my child’s going to get into Oxford?
What can I do to make that happen?” She thought about it for a few days,
and she came up to me with a proposal, and she said that she was going to ban me from watching any television
for eighteen months. (Laughter) So, I was only allowed to watch
BBC and CNN International. If I wanted to watch anything else,
I had to ask special permission for that. And then, no television expanded
into no phones, no cable, no music. I literally had nothing else
to do but study. And my mother said to me,
“If you’re living in my house, the only way you’re ever going to be able
to watch television again is if you get into Oxford.” (Laughter) So, I really laugh now, and it is funny, but, you know, her plan worked. I worked very hard, I got straight A’s,
and I went to Oxford. So, overall, I didn’t necessarily
have the easiest childhood. I was raised in a single-parent family;
we didn’t have much money; and therefore,
I found it difficult to make friends. I didn’t have the easiest childhood,
but I loved every minute of it because it prepared me for real life. As I mentioned,
especially after having gone to Oxford – and I went to grad school as well
in New York, Columbia – I really believed up until that point that hard work was the key
to being successful. Now I realize
there’s a lot more to the story. I’m going to share with you
what I think is more to the story. The first thing I believe is,
trust your struggle. This is something I’d heard a lot,
“Trust your struggle.” And that means
no matter what the hardships you’re going through in life, have faith that it will all end up being
for the greater good. I mentioned that four,
four and half years ago, I was working as a receptionist, and I was in a production company
in California. And I was a receptionist,
and I really wanted to sort of move up within the company. And no matter how hard I worked,
I couldn’t get promoted. No matter how many times I stayed late
or came in on the weekends hoping that my boss
would notice me and promote me, it never happened. And in fact, for the position I wanted, they began looking
for external candidates. I’m sure anyone who’s been through that
knows how that can be. And because I was the receptionist,
it was my job to serve water to the people who were coming in
to interview for the job that I wanted. (Laughter)
I know. It wasn’t easy. So, I didn’t really necessarily
feel good about myself because of that. I did some soul-searching
and I asked myself, “What do you really want to do in life? Clearly this is probably not meant
for you. What do you want to do?” I’d always been passionate
about broadcast jornalism. So, I called
a television station in New York, a local news station, and I asked them, “What do I need to do
to get a job with you guys?” So, unfortunately,
I didn’t have any experience. They needed about two or three years
previous experience as a reporter, and the only experience I really had was answering phones and sending faxes. That’s all I really knew how to do. And so, they said no repeatedly to me. And, on top of that,
I had a British accent, and in America, if you want
to get into the local news business, it’s very difficult
if you have a foreign accent. It’s a lot easier in national news, but certainly in local news
it’s a lot harder. So, they said no, and I decided I wasn’t
going to take no for an answer. So, I basically called in sick to work, and I paid my roommate, my housemate,
a few hundred dollars, whatever, and they helped film me
around Los Angeles, sort of acting like a reporter.
I studied reporters inside out. I studied everything
that they did, inside out, and I put together various packages, which were sort of voiced-over pieces
that I learned basically from studying
various reporters. And I sent them to this news station,
hoping that they would give me a chance. Unfortunately,
a lot of these news stations receive thousands of applications,
thousands of tapes. So, it took them several months
to get back to me. And during that time,
the recession kicked in and I lost my job. So, there I was, no money, no job. So, I decided anyway
that I was going to move to New York and just hope that this one station
would get back to me. So eventually, after emailing
and pestering constantly, they eventually got back to me. They brought me in for an interview, and they were so impressed
that, even though I had no experience, that I had put together this tape
by myself, showing what I could do, that they hired me on the spot. (Applause)
So, thank you. So, that’s why I say,
“Trust your struggle.” The second thing I believe –
and this sort of comes out of left field – is I honestly do not believe
in competition. The corporate world will tell you
that, if you want to get ahead in life, you need to be competitive,
you need to have that drive to succeed and compete with one another. But I don’t believe
in competing for what I want. I believe in creating what I want. Abraham Lincoln once said
that the best way to predict the future is to create it. In order for me to be successful, I don’t believe that I need to take
anything away from anyone else. Now, of course, you know,
there are some advantages to looking at your peers
for inspiration, definitely. But I think that having
a competitive spirit, having that need for one-upmanship and comparing yourself
to other people again and again can actually bring out fears
and insecurities that end up holding you back. So, when I was interviewing
for another position in CNN, the anchor job, I was sort of sat next to a girl who I was
competing for the same job with, and rather than sort of not wish her well, I sat with her for hours,
and I helped her, I showed her what she could improve upon, so she had just as good of a chance
of getting the job as I did. I went in for the screen test first,
I came out, and I told her everything they asked me
and how she should prepare. So, I don’t believe in competition.
I believe in creating what I want. I don’t believe in competing
for what’s already been created. The third thing
I honestly believe is to give, because it has become
abundantly clear to me in life that the more you give,
the more you receive. I learned this lesson
from a woman named Kat Cole, who I interviewed for a story for CNN. She’s a corporate CEO, and she started her career
as a waitress at Hooters. Now, I don’t know – (Laughter) You guys laugh, but I’m
not sure if people know what Hooters – I don’t know
if you have Hooters in England, but it’s a restaurant chain in America, where the waitresses
are very scantily clad. That’s how she started off. And I was curious about the transition from going from that kind of environment –
especially because she grew up poor, and her mother saved
ten dollars a week for food – to now being a CEO. And especially financially I wanted
to know what that was like for her. She said she didn’t really know
what that felt like to have money, even though she was being well paid, because she still gives
most of her money away, till this day, because it was clear to her that the more
you give in life, the more you receive. So, this had a pretty deep impact on me, because I’ve interviewed
a lot of CEOs for CNN, and I’ve interviewed
a lot of founders for tech start-ups, some of whom have made millions,
if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Usually, what they say is, “If you want to be successful,
you need to network, have a brand, study your competition.” And she had
some practical advice as well, but suddenly, the moral of her story was that the more you give,
the more you receive. And I can tell you
that I’ve tried it, I’ve tested it and I don’t necessarily believe
in giving just to receive, but she is right: the more you give,
the more you receive. And the last thing I’m going to say is loosely related to hard work. And when I first heard this phrase,
I thought it was such a cliché, I’d heard it so many times growing up, and that is, “Success comes
when opportunity meets preparation.” I’d heard that so many times,
I thought it was a cliché, and never really paid attention to it. Only now do I realize how true
that really is. I’ll give you an example. So, when I was in local news in New York, I really wanted to work my way up
to get international news. I’d always wanted to work for CNN
since I was a teenager. And I realized, after studying
different reporters and how they made it, I realized that it was crucial
for me to have a specialty, some sort of expertise, something that I could do
better than others, I guess. And so, that could be anything,
from being a sports reporter, to being a political reporter,
or a business reporter. And I was very passionate
about business news. So, while I was working in local news, I decided to study
and teach myself business news, not necessarily because there was
an opportunity coming my way, or there was an interview
that was preparing for, but because I trusted that, one day,
an opportunity would come and I needed to be ready. So, every weekend, I went to the library: one weekend, I’d study stocks; the next weekend, I’d study bonds;
the next weekend, derivatives; the next weekend,
merges and acquisitions, teaching myself. And in fact, the librarians
on 33rd with Madison, in New York, got to know me very well,
because often times, I’d be the last person to leave. So, after doing that for a few years, eventually, by pure chance,
I happened to meet an executive at CNN, and I asked him
which department he worked in. He said he ran the business news unit
and he was looking for a reporter. So, when I met him,
he gave me about two weeks to come in for a screen test and also
for a financial news test as well. So, in his mind, he felt guilty because he only had given me
two weeks to prepare, but in my mind, I knew in my heart
I had been preparing for years. So, this is a lesson as well
that I had learned from my older brother. Some of you have already
approached me about him, but my older brother is an actor, and he stared in a movie
that came out this time last year, called “Twelve Years a Slave.” He was nominated
for an Oscar for best actor, and I’d learned this lesson from him. He is a master preparer. When he was thirteen years old,
he would lock himself in his room and write Shakespeare on the walls, and he would study
and memorize various plays, from “Measure for Measure,”
“Twelfth Night,” “Richard III,” not because he had an audition coming up, but just in case, in a few years,
an audition came his way, he wanted to be ready. It didn’t matter
how many times he had to do it; he did it again, and again, and again,
until he got it right. Most people wait until they get the call
for a job interview, before they begin to prepare; or they wait until they get
the call for an audition, before they begin to rehearse. But my brother taught me to prepare
well before you get that call. So, to sum up, I truly believe
in trusting your struggle, knowing that the hardships you go through will somehow end up being
for your own benefit. I also believe in turning
a blind eye to competition, I believe in giving,
and I believe in trusting and knowing that your opportunity will, one day, come. You just have to be ready. Thank you. (Applause)

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