In the picture, Wynton Marsalis. I watched him play the sax in Abu Dhabi (photo credit www.thenational.ae).
“Humility engenders learning because it beats back the arrogance that puts blinders on” – W.M
I wrote this post on my way to France. The trip marks the beginning of my doctoral journey. On my eight-hour flight to France, I decided to write about my 15-year career to date.
To make a long story short, you could summarize the journey in a series of small achievements.
A bachelor’s degree in economics, then a master’s degree in HR Management (with focus on the sociology of organizations and organizational behavior); this was followed by further studies at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a few certifications from reputable organizations in the US and in the UK. These educational milestones came with recommendation letters, awards, honor’s lists, and more.
As soon as I completed my BA, I have started working. It started with a leading Pan-Arab publishing house in project management and the digitalization of journalism. It was followed by teaching classes at the initial university I went to and a couple of entrepreneurial ventures.
Afterwards, I have joined one of the leading management consulting firms in the world, I worked on global scale projects providing consultancy services in strategy, operations, talent, and technology. I have additionally published articles, delivered talks, organized events, grew teams, managed budgets, facilitated sessions to Boards and C-suite groups, and more.
I was then hired by two major tech companies. In one, I completed one of the largest integrations in the corporate world, I designed and stood up a shared services center, I implemented one of the most innovative ERPs; in the other, I created the Cloud Adoption practice for the Middle East emulating more mature markets where it existed.
Recently, I set up, with a few partners, a digital transformation start-up; one that enables digitalization of organizations through products and services around Enterprise Architecture, Business Intelligence, Robotics, etc.
This is not the truth.
I cannot deny that it felt great writing this first page as if it were a self-esteem boost coaching exercise. However, facts are not as beautiful as the narrative. A narrative filled with ego.
Some people tell these stories to others and oftentimes they post them on their profiles on social media as if it were helpful or honest or inspiring. People conveniently omit the breakdowns, the lies, the failures, the mistakes, the disappointments, the temptations, and the stresses.
Who would want to share how the person they looked up to crushed them at work?
Who would want to share how they did not get their promotion after hard work?
Who would want to share the sleepless night in the office when they received a text from their partner breaking up?
Who would want to share the time spent in clinics to try and find why the headache would not go away and why it is there in all cases without any medical reason revealed?
Who would want to share that they came back home for the weekend and stayed in bed; not because of fatigue but because there was no friendship maintained anymore?
Who would want to share how they wake up at night forgetting where they are and only realizing a few seconds later where the bathroom is located?
Who would want to share how they lost their nerves in the office as they could no longer take on the politics?
Who would want to share how they just resigned because it was either resigning or staying on anti-anxiety pills?
Who would want to share the type of destructive feedback they got from people who were never seen sweating at work?
I realized that on top and deep inside the corporate world there are two things: Loneliness and Lowliness.
There is no milestone that changes your life. I only decided that I do not want to be a victim of corporate alcoholism (I bet you have around you people on top who are drunk of excessive success consumption – 70% alcohol). I learned (the hard way) how to play politics but I decided not to.
In a recent book I have read, “ego is the enemy”, the author, Ryan Holiday talks about how things never look good enough. Yet, we could strive for better. Always. The narrative does not matter. The perspective you use to tell your story does not matter. What matters are the lessons learned. This book resonated with my experience as it invites us to be brutally honest with ourselves instead of telling stories and believing them.
“You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool” – Richard Feyman
Most of us have the same defense mechanism: ego. We refuse to tell ourselves the facts, the truth.
At times, I have believed in my greatness. This is where I hurt myself the most. This is when I failed dramatically. Thankfully, people around me, my readings, meditation, and coaching, have helped me transform all this into resilience in my failures.
I smile when someone speaks highly about people they do not know well. They mention them when speaking about success and how it looks like. I smile because I was as such until I realized that success is veiled by pride. We like the people we do not know enough. We look up to those we know about from books or social media or talks. I like Holiday’s book because instead of crystallizing the world’s successful people, he shares what is “behind the scenes”. The purpose is not to put successful people down. Instead the purpose is to invite us to Aspire. Succeed. Fail… and repeat.
Even talented people who are typically seen as successful; the key is to realize and keep telling oneself that talent is only the starting point. Success lies in the hard work to maintain and refine talent. Success lies in accepting that there is always someone better than us who could teach us and that there is always someone who we can teach.
Over the past 15 years, I have mostly encountered cynicism and complacency among senior people leading corporations and entitlement among millennials considering themselves indispensable. Between both extremes, there are people I came across who were not obsessed with success. They wanted to learn. They were more peaceful; they were more graceful. They were more humans.
I sometimes feel sad that these realizations came late. Nevertheless, the person who said “it is never too late” was right. As there are remedial lessons too. What I have been practicing is to see myself and others with distance.
Get out of your own head.
Plenty of books persuade us that the issue in the workplace, in relationships, and in life goes back to one thing. For some, it is expectations, for others it is arrogance, and the list goes on. Yet I believe that disregard the issue and the wealth of available solutions, no progress can be made, no success can be realized, no happiness can be found without self-awareness.
We all know someone around us who is infatuated with their own story.
They often talk a lot. They often talk a lot about themselves. And those who talk a lot, do not do. Those who talk feel that they achieved earlier than the actual realization of what they are talking about.
Similarly, I have come across people who are always overwhelmed and under pressure.
Those people are often toxic. They suck your energy and they do not get the best out of you. They do not get the best out of themselves. They are so overwhelmed and overwhelming that they do not focus. Instead, even if what you want to achieve seems too big or too complex or too new: get started. Do not over-plan. Do one thing at a time. Take small steps. Iterate and scale.
Those overwhelmed people around us in the workplace fear void because it is terrifying as Marlon Brando says.
I meet fresh graduates very often in my work. They want to emulate people who are impressive in their eyes. This is the purpose of people on top in the corporate world: few are truly impressive. Their focus instead is on impressing people around.
It is not about becoming successful. It is surely not about staying successful. It is about becoming.
It is not about passion and drive that push us. It should also be about our values that pull us. They pull us from corporate alcoholism. They pull us from thinking that we know it all. Because we never do and never will.
It took me a very long while to admit that I can only be a good leader when I learn to obey humbly. For very long I needed to demonstrate that I can fight. Nevertheless, mastery lies in knowing how to and knowing when to fight.
Do not grow excited and lose self-control. I train myself every day to stay composed, calm, and patient. This is the journey towards success.
We all think that we have put in the hard work. We deserve that salary increase. We should have gotten more considering what we are giving and who we are.
All this does not matter. These are equations we should unlearn. They are expectations we convince ourselves with. They set us up for failure and disappointment.
It is not a performance. You are performing in front of no one. Just get the work done and learn all the way.
“It is not with ideas that one makes verse. It is with words” – Malarme
I used to dream big. I used to wake up and think that I want and will change the world. Soon enough it became a nightmare waking me up at night. This was my wake-up call.
I will stop. I do not want to belabor the story.
Sexy stories: know how to tell them but do not believe them. Every best seller is ephemeral. Realization is inwards.
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