Bestselling author and Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum Soulaima Gourani discusses the importance of knowing and owning your own dignity and making the most of what you’re good at.
- The mother of all values
- Three steps for zeroing in on your true talent
- To clearly distinguish what you enjoy vs. what you’re good at
Soulaima is a TED Talks Mentor and works with corporate clients and world leaders as a World Economic Forum expert in behavioral science and education. She is a two-time author and speaks on the topics of change management, career development, leadership, entrepreneurship, global trade, emotional intelligence and much more. Everything she does always serves a common purpose: to create more innovators, critical thinkers, and problem solvers–more peace in the world.
Items Mentioned in this Show:
- Soulaima’s website: www.Soulaima.com
- Book: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
- Book: New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World–and How to Make It Work for You by Jeremy Heimans
- Book: Give Work: Reversing Poverty One Job at a Time by Leila Janah
- Previous episode: 038: Establishing the Essential with Greg McKeown
- Previous episode: 323: The Surprising Power of Seeing People as People with Kimberly White
Soulaima Gourani Interview Transcript
Soulaima, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at your Job podcast.
What an honor. I’m really, really thankful.
Well, thank you. I’m thankful too. Well, I wanted to start by hearing something interesting about yourself. Now, I understand that you don’t ever drive cars and only use your bike even if you’re going to a very formal place, is all dressed up. What’s the story here?
I got my driver’s license of course when I was 18. That’s usually the age of driver license in Scandinavia, where I am from. I believe my first trip in my new car was not so successful, sorry. I destroyed the car completely.
First trip. Wow.
Then a few months later I drove a car again and I had another accident. I’ve had a few accidents, three or four accidents in my life; I kind of just decided maybe this driving is just not a thing.
You know what I did? I simply hired a driver. My first paycheck when I became independent in 2007, the first thing I did was I actually did hire a driver, a personal driver. In my country, it’s the Prime Minister and the Queen, they have drivers. Normal people don’t. But that was one of my first hiring, that was a driver, so I could make more money and I was more efficient and I didn’t have to think about accidents and stuff.
When I had to pick my next country to live in, I actually looked where I could be sure that there would be Uber drivers, so I picked Austin, Texas, but very shortly after I moved there, they forbid Uber.
I was really devastated because I need my ride, right? So I moved to California. I can get an Uber within a few minutes.
Oh wow. I thought you were going to hire a driver in Austin as well.
No, I did not. I ended up not doing that, but I moved to California, Palo Alto in Silicon Valley earlier this year. I can get a ride within a few minutes. I kid you not; it’s on my top three reasons to pick a city. Well, good weather and international environment, so the three things that I look for.
I dig that. I can relate in terms of the connectedness of a city to certain resources really matters. We’ve gotten rather accustomed to having our groceries delivered with Instacart.
Oh yeah, yeah. I use Instacart as well. I’m on Amazon every day. Everything are being delivered to my home. I don’t go shopping anymore. I get everything delivered. I have to say, I’m so much more productive. I tip really well, so I believe I’m supporting the gig economy in a positive way for people who need the job more than I do, so I think it’s a win-win.
Remember, I am from a country, where we don’t have Amazon, we don’t have Instacart, we don’t have all those things, so for me living here is – it is really like paradise because I can spend time on the things I really care about, doing my sport, work, and be with my kids. I don’t waste my time on doing shopping or grocery shopping. I’d rather sit in a library reading and studying for my next book than going shopping.
Well, so I want to hear about the fruits of this tremendous productivity. You’ve won numerous awards for being inspirational and a great thinker and sort of just being a great force for good in the world. I’d like to hear a little bit about how do you keep motivated and inspired, such that you just continue to do these things?
First of all, you become the average of the people you spend time with. I grew up as a very lonely child. I was the only immigrant. I was the only brown child. Everyone was white. I grew up surrounded by middle class families and we were very – we were broke most of my life. My parents were simply broke. We grew up kind of poor, brown, so I felt very lonely.
I remember for the first 10 – 15 years of my life, the only thing I wanted was to be with exciting people, be inspired. All my life, I’ve been looking for my tribe, people who are upstanders, change-makers, inspirational people who – activists, people who do stuff. I’m not so inspired by people that live comfortable lives. I need people who put themselves on the edge.
Most of my life I’ve spent most of my money travelling. I’ve worked and been and lived in 35 countries now. What keeps me motivated is to see and to understand what is going on in the world. For instance, if I want to understand the conflict in Israel, I go to Israel. If I want to understand what’s going on in Saudi Arabia, I go to Saudi Arabia. If I want to understand the pollution situation, I will go to Mongolia. Or if I want to understand the political situation in Russia, I go to Russia.
I wouldn’t use the term lucky, but instead of buying expensive furniture or even an expensive bag, I’ve spent all my money on traveling. The more I travel, funny enough, the more money I make because the more knowledge and inspiration I bring back to my home country, wherever that might be, or the more authentic stories I can put into my books or in my talks. Kind of, when I do what I love, I’m more successful.
I’ve never been drawn to stability. I’ve never found it very fancy to have a life based on routines. I don’t need much. I need a bed. I need my toothbrush. I need my husband that I’ve been together with for, oh gosh, 25 years, and my kids. Everything else doesn’t matter. I can live in a one-bedroom apartment even now. I don’t need much. I just need to travel and write about I see.
That keeps me motivated by traveling the world and seeing what is going on. I’m a tremendous advocate for doing things, so I cannot just sit and see the news; I need to go out there. In a way I’m documenting what is happening in the world. I look at the world as a mom, as a young solopreneur, entrepreneur, investor and as a speaker. I think that’s my life. I don’t have a job. My life is my job. It’s kind of weird.
It’s really interesting. Even just preparing for this interview, it’s like, well, I know you’ve got some real useful things to say about being awesome at your job, even though your sort of life is your job and your instance, so I was like, but where shall I focus and prioritize. We’ll see what we get into.
One thing I was intrigued with is you’ve got a real message associated with all people having dignity and realizing that dignity and that value. Can you unpack some of those ideas for us?
Yeah. I’m sorry to say, but there has been done a lot of research showing that most people grow up, live their lives without living accordingly to their core values, meaning they get lost, they find it difficult to focus, they don’t know what is a good chance and what is a right chance, they might spend their money wrongly, their time, their energies wrong.
They might feel kind of lost in life. They end up having a job they don’t like. They might even end up working for a manager they don’t trust or don’t like. That’s not a life worth living.
I’ve spent more than half of my life trying to find out how to connect people with their core values. One of the values that I think is the number one, you can call – you might call it the mother of all values. It’s dignity. Dignity is everything. You cannot give your dignity away. I mean no one can take it from you, but you can give it away.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time of my life traveling the world, building and supporting the message of dignity. I’m on the global board of an organization called Global Dignity, of course. We educate kids in – not elementary, but college and universities and graduates in how to live a more dignified life. I believe by sending them out in life with a great amount of understanding what it means to live a dignified life and how to treat other people with dignity, will in the end create world peace.
I take it one-by-one. I kind of transform young people’s life by having that conversation, what does it mean to live a dignified life. Because if you have that strong feeling of dignity, you don’t get into these maybe troubles, partnerships, relationships. You might not stay in a job where you’re not appreciated. There’s a lot of things you don’t do if you a strong feeling and appreciation of your own dignity.
That drives everything I do I have to say. I’m super passionate about it. Yeah.
Well, that’s intriguing there in terms of you’re right. The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about being in relationships that you shouldn’t is this comedian Dane Cook. This joke is years old now.
They were talking about someone in a bad relationship. It’s like “You should just get out of there, just get out of that relationship.” It’s like, “Well, it’s not that simple, Karen. My CDs are in his truck.” It just still tickles me to this day is that we all have all sorts of reasons that your CDs being in someone’s truck, if you still have CDs, is not a very good one.
Let’s hear it then, could you define for us what do you mean by dignity and acting in a dignified manner and how do we kind of build that up if you’re lacking in that right now.
First of all, dignity is a universal feeling. Dignity is the same in Sri Lanka as it is in Palo Alto. It’s the same. It’s the way you treat yourself, the way you think about yourself and the way you behave towards other people.
Dignity is a very strong, deep, and profound feeling. For instance, if someone – if you’re in the schoolyard and some kids undress you and run away with your clothing and you’re standing naked in the schoolyard. That’s a very undignified situation. Or if someone spits you in the face or hit you or steal something from you or say something to you, that’s a lot of – every day actions.
You may not hold a door for an older woman that is coming just after you or you might not help someone crossing the street even though you can see he or she needs the help. There’s a lot of activities throughout the day where you can easily improve your own feeling of living a more dignified life, but also improving others.
I’m enforcing to think dignity in everything, how you communicate, written, verbally, actions, education, school, work, everywhere. It’s about really treating others as we should. Bring more love, hope, light, the more positive feelings, understanding, sympathy.
Tolerance is a very difficult word because I don’t want people to tolerate each other. Tolerance is not a strong word. It’s not a good word. If I tolerate you means I don’t like you, but I need to have you in the room with me. That’s not a good feeling, but I want people to start understanding that we are different. Every single time you meet a person in school, in church, at work, wherever you are, that person has been through a lot of things that makes it and turns that person into being that person that he or she is.
We should show each other some more patience because it’s a tough life for many people. When we lose it, when you lose it sometimes, we should try to meet other people with a great amount of understanding that this has been a tough day or it’s a tough life or – so I want to improve the understanding, not the tolerance, but the deep, deep understanding that we are different and everyone deserves a really good life.
Just a small thing, when I walk down the street, I smile at people. If I’m in Asia, they think I’m super weird.
Why is she smiling? That doesn’t work everywhere, but mostly in US it’s a good strategy just to smile at people in streets. The feeling I’m left behind with is extreme happiness and I can see that the people I’m smiling at – it’s just a small smile – people get so happy. I know that’s a small action of dignity, but I try to implement it in everything I do. Helping, helping, helping if I can help.
It does spread. The good thing is my actions in the morning will impact the people I smiled or helped in the morning, their actions later on in the day. I’m spreading good karma.
This is intriguing. I’m thinking back to a previous episode we had with Kimberly White, who talked about just the power of seeing people as people. This is kind of resonating with some of those messages and the difference it makes. When you say dignity, you mentioned that is a strong, deep, profound feeling. If I had to put you on the spot and ask for your one to two sentence dictionary style definition, it’s like “dignity is…this.”
Self-acceptance and love if you ask me.
Okay. Got you. Self-acceptance and love, then when you don’t have dignity you either don’t think you’re worth much or deserve to be treated well in your job, you mentioned a romantic relationship or in other contexts. One of your theses sounds like is that if you treat other people with respect, acceptance, and love, you sort of bolster within yourself your own strength to expect, demand, or not tolerate not being treated in that sort of a way. Is that fair?
Yeah, it’s 100% fair. It’s easy to sit and talk about on this podcast, but the true challenge is really to live out your own values because it can be difficult to find your values.
One of them being dignity, of course, but to live out your values because you know when you have to sit down with your mom, your sister, maybe a colleague, maybe even your manager, and tell that person, “I need to tell you, how I want to be treated. Let me tell you how I’m motivated, how I can be a compassioned sister or brother,” or “Let me explain how I function. This is the way I want you to treat me.”
Then you will explain why fairness or freedom or whatever, there’s a million different words to describe the values that you might represent, but maybe you pick out four.
To explain – one thing is to find them yourself. Secondly is to understand them. Thirdly, start communicating them to others. Four, to implement them and kind of make people understand that these are my values and if you don’t live up to those values, and if you don’t treat me this way, we will have to talk about leaving each other or stopping.
It’s very difficult for people because I think most people want to pleasure others. It’s troubling because we end up in jobs and relationships and all those things where we feel that is not based on what is truly good for me, but good for someone else. It should be good for someone else, but we’re losing our self and when we’re losing our self, we get depression, suicidal, we need to drug and drink and overdo things and we have a big issue.
People have never been more depressed, never been more medicated, never more lonely, never more self-hate. I live in Silicon Valley, where our young people are killing themselves. We don’t get it. They have money, future. They have most things that we desire in life and yet they kill themselves. It’s really a problem that is universal.
We cannot create the growth, the prosperity, the happiness, if we don’t fix this first. It’s very hard to think about environmental issues or refugee crises or whatever if you can’t even get up in the mornings and go to job and function.
We need to fix the problems first. It’s very basic, but if you can give that compass to people, deep understanding of what it means to live a dignified life, if you can give that, educate people on just that one value, I promise you, a lot of things will be easier in the future.
Okay, so then when it comes to the education and the development of leading a dignified life, we talked about treating others with dignity is sort of one key way that that happens. What are some others?
First of all, finding your true talent is not that easy either. We still have a very fixed mindset in the education system. I’m not blaming the educators because honestly speaking, I’m married to a teacher myself. It’s not an easy job. But finding out what is my true talent is really difficult because the traditional system, education system has a certain way of looking and describing what is a talent.
It can be intelligence, what is the right intelligence, what is a good job, what is the right job. As we speak, I’m writing on my next book that is kind of, I hope, mapping what the future is going to look like until 2040. I’m looking into what kind of jobs that will disappear and which jobs that will come or be created.
We need more people to understand to find their talents and be more creative about how can their talent – everyone has a talent. Everyone has a talent, but not a lot of people think that their talent can be transformed into a real job where they can make a real living. We’d rather stay in jobs we don’t like, that we’re not good at than actually exploring what could be our best future.
The second thing after dignity, that should be finding your talent. I think it’s a human right that someone teaches you how to find your talent. It might be a very small talent. It might be almost invisible, super small talent, but even the smallest talent can be a job or a way of living.
When you talk about the finding of the talent and how they can be super small, invisible, can you give us some examples of what you would call a talent that has been found, like what’s yours, and others and then the process by which that is discovered?
First of all, I was never told I had a talent. I’m not that good in school. I was kicked out of school in seventh grade. I ran away from my parents when I was 13. I lived in the streets. I was in foster care, children’s home, institutions. I had a very troubled upbringing. None of my teachers ever, ever told me I had a talent. Actually, they did the opposite.
I still remember when I was in fourth grade, my math teacher, he said, “Soulaima, you’re so ambitious, but honestly speaking, let me tell you something. You will never be successful in your life. Let me explain why.” No, he said that, honestly.
I still know that teacher’s son. I still know him, so it’s a very well-known story in my home country, Denmark, because it’s ridiculous. But everyday teachers are without even knowing, they’re killing people’s dreams. It happens every day.
But this teacher told me that I will not reach very far in my life because I was a woman, I’m brown, and my name was Soulaima. He said, “It’s never going to be a success.” I left, I left the class. I left my math teacher and I never returned to math, so I had to learn math again much later in life when I took my MBA. I could take an MBA because I could pay myself. But I was kicked out of school.
I was never told that I had a talent, so of course, this is a very important matter for me because no one saw mine and I was told I did not have any. That’s not okay. It’s really a principle for me. It’s something that I fight for a lot. I’ve spent thousands of hours teaching teachers how to look for talents they have never seen before because honestly speaking, how can you recognize a talent you have never seen before?
No, but really.
In the future, we don’t know what talents we need. I’m a mom. I have a nine-year-old and I have an eleven-year-old son, a nine-year-old daughter and an eleven-year-old son, how can I ever be a good mentor for them in the future because I have no clue about what future they are going to be growing up in and all the things I’ve learned, I learned them in a different time.
We need to give people that framework and understanding that by knowing their talents and by working on mental health, health as such, love for learning, they will always be okay. They will always be okay. There’s no such thing as a stable, secure future for none of us actually.
Talents are really difficult to see, especially if you’ve never seen them before. My talent, really, I was told by a teacher when I was 16 that he could see I had a talent. He said, “Your emotional intelligence is very, very strong.” This is way before I even knew there was anything called emotional intelligence. I didn’t know.
He didn’t say anything about my IQ. He just said “Your emotional intelligence is very strong. I can totally see you become a leader in the future.” I looked at him and I said, “Honestly?” I dedicated my TEDEX talk to him afterwards, many, many years after because it was really a crucial moment for me that someone said I had a talent. I was never told such.
He said that “I can totally see that you will be a leader in the future. You alone will change the way we look at leaders.” I couldn’t believe it. I was 16. I had never seen a woman in a management position at that point. It didn’t exist in my town. It didn’t exist really not in my country. We only had a very few women in politics and CEOs didn’t exist as women. Denmark was at that point in time very traditional, still is. I wasn’t inspired. But he said you will be that.
I meditated on that for many, many years after. As you say, I’ve been nominated and received so many awards now as the leader of the future, but I didn’t know how to get there. I just thought about it. That’s what I want to be. I just didn’t know how to get there. But today I am. They say I am the leader, not only of the future, but a leader to be looked up to. I’m a woman and I’m brown and my name is still Soulaima. I think that’s really the good thing about the story.
I’ve seen other people’s talents, like I have a friend who really wasn’t good at much. He was only good at gaming in front of his computer. He was quite old at this time like in his late 30s. His wife was very unhappy with him. He said, “I have to find out how to make gaming into my living because that’s the only thing I love.” He started thinking about developing games and now he’s one of the most successful gamers in the world. He lives in France. He’s a millionaire.
I have another friend who said, “There’s nothing I’m really good at. The only thing I really enjoy is tasting chocolate. Chocolate is the only thing I know of. It’s my pleasure.” He developed one of the biggest chocolate companies in Europe later on. Even the smallest talent that might be – gaming and chocolate, I think most people can relate to those things. They built themselves careers in that.
So what is sort of the process or key questions you ask or the means by which you explore and zero in on, “ah-ha, this is the thing?”
First of all, you have to be honest with yourself. Is this my talent? Is this really what I’m good at? Then sometimes you’re really disappointed because you might say to yourself, “Is this it? Is this the only thing I’m good at?”
Then what’s really important is you don’t get depressed. If you realize the only thing you like is chocolate, some people will say that’s really – honestly, that can never be a job or how can that be your skill, then you have to be honest with yourself and really believe that this can be a job.
If you enjoy chocolate, you should then start understanding more about chocolate and become an expert in that field and think how that can be a job, either you create a job or you get a job, where you work with that talent that you have found.
First thing is to find it. Second is to accept it. Thirdly, is to be creative and find out how you can build either a job or a portfolio or whatever around that talent.
It might be a very small talent and that’s where people usually get disappointed with themselves because still a lot of people think that they should be good at something like numbers, coding, leadership, something big, but our talents might be very, very small and we might not even know it’s a talent. It’s not always easy to find your talent because if you ask people what is my talent, they might not see it either because how will they know it’s a talent.
I was told – later on in my life I was told that – I was laid off from my job in 2007. I was pregnant and I couldn’t get a job because no one employs pregnant women, not even in Scandinavia. I had no choice but to create my own business. I decided to become a consultant because I knew I was good in selling. I knew I had some core skills in education, to educate sales people in selling and basic skills from my old job.
Then some of my clients hired me and my old employer hired me back. I was laid off, right? When I asked my employer, “Hey, you laid me off, but you hired me back as a consultant. It does not make sense.” My HR manager said, “You know, Soulaima? We like you and we think you’re so great. We’d really love to have you as a consultant and we pay you a lot of money as a consultant, but we also pay you a lot of money to make sure that you walk out of the door again.”
I never understood what she meant, but she meant that I’m super – I’m brilliant. I’m good at what I’m doing, but I cannot stay too long because I’m also very irritating. Being irritating is really a great skill as a consultant because you’re being paid for being annoying. That’s why ….
That’s right. This thing you keep ignoring, stop ignoring it. It’s very, very important. It’s like, “Stop talking about this. It’s not fun for us to deal with this.”
As an employer, it doesn’t really work because if you were employed, people don’t like it. If you’re a consultant, you can ask them to pay ten times as much per hour and you do the exact same thing as you did when you were employed, but then at that time they didn’t like it.
I found out that I’m irritating and I totally build my brand about being controversial, irritating, straight to the point, a cutthroat way of delivering messages. I created a great brand as a consultant because I was just me. I was just me …. So I didn’t have to change anything. I just had to change position from being at one side of the table just by going to the other side of the table, yeah, I became, yeah, this recognized leader.
It was only half a meter that I had to change my position, but how would I know? Being laid off was really my blessing. I didn’t think it was my blessing. I was very, very sad and almost depressed about being laid off, being pregnant. That was really a low point in my life. But it was really not a low point. It was my starting point, but I didn’t know that at that time.
You talk about the finding of your talent process. You zeroed in on the examples of the chocolate and the gaming and those are things that they really like to do. I’m curious, is there a distinction between something that you just enjoy doing versus something that you’re actually good at and how do you think about those waters?
Oh yeah. Let me give you an example. A few years ago I met a musician. She’s a very famous violinist, artist. I was sitting next to her and I asked her, so oh my goodness, it must be amazing to live from what you do – art must be a blessing. I can only imagine being – make a living out of your art must be the best thing in the world I thought. She looked at me and said, “No, I absolutely hate playing my violin, but that’s the only thing I’m good at.” But she’s famous and she’s extremely talented.
You can be very good at something, very good at something and not enjoying it, while you can be enjoying doing something really, really a lot, but not being good at it. Those things are not related at all.
I mean, it’s a miracle when you’re good at what you’re doing and you enjoy doing what you’re doing. That’s a miracle. Most people never find that. That’s okay. That’s okay. But your talent can be something you don’t enjoy doing.
Understood. Okay, so you’re looking for both of those things to line up and then to build the job, the career, the money maker, whatever format it takes around it.
Yeah, I mean I’m not a fan of thinking as a job as something that is kind of something you go to and you leave in the night. I’m more into a lifestyle. I’m more into a portfolio of things that you’re doing.
For instance, I’m an author two days a week. I’m always working on a book. I try to publish books every year. I’m an author two times a week. I’m a speaker two times a week somewhere in the world. Then I have one day at home with my kids or I’m having board meetings. Then during the weekend I might do interviews or something else.
The thing is I have a portfolio of things I do. I’m not only a writer or a speaker or an investor or a board member. I’m all of those things. Saying you can be good at a lot of things and you can enjoy doing a lot of things and the thing is really to combine those things and design your own life. Designing your life as it should be where you spend time – then it’s okay to do something you’re not really enjoying doing two times a week because that’s okay. If you can spend three or four days doing something you like for the rest of the time, it’s perfect.
I’m more thinking of life design, how do you want your life to look like. I don’t mind that people have a job they don’t like three times a week if that means that they have three or four days during the week they can do something else.
For instance, if you like – let me give you an example. One of my daughter’s teachers – she’s an amazing teacher, elementary teacher – she works two days a week, maybe three days a week, and she’s having two days off per week. She lives near the ocean. I’m in California, right? She’s a semi-professional surfer. Her tradeoff is, I’m an elementary school teacher three days a week and then the two other days of the week I do my surfing. That’s a brilliant, brilliant example of a great life design.
I think it’s about finding what makes sense for you and you only have one life I believe, so to say that’s the only thing I can prove at least. It’s about getting the most out of it. I don’t mind working hard and sometimes you also have to do things you don’t like because it’s a way of gaining skills, it’s a way of making a living, making money, save, invest.
I don’t believe in throwing what you have in your hands and jump into a new career because it’s more shiny or more interesting. You should be careful because you will be jeopardizing your money and your investments and your time and maybe even your family. Make smart decisions. I like life design because it’s a more responsible way of designing your life.
Most of us can tolerate a lot of pain, even a job we don’t like, if we know we’re doing it because we want to build, gain knowledge, money, whatever to really do what we like doing in our life later. I don’t judge people if they do something they don’t like. I just want them to realize they don’t like it and they must have a reason why they’re staying there.
Understood. Thank you. Well, tell me, Soulaima, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?
Yeah, I want to say lots of people come to me and say, “Hey, Soulaima, I always wanted to be this or that, but now I’m too old,” or “Hey, I’m too young.” I will just say age is really not an excuse. Unless you come and you’re 45 and you say to me, “I want to be a professional ballet dancer,” or something, something that is maybe you should have started doing when you were younger, then there’s nothing you cannot do just because you’re 45 or 66 or – age is just really a number.
I have a friend, she always wanted to be a model, but she was not tall enough. She’s pretty, beautiful, but she’s not tall enough, but she really wanted to be in the fashion world, so she just started being a designer. She has her own fashion brand. She was recognized as the best designer in Europe not too long ago. She’s 49, 52, something. She’s mature. She just wanted to be a model, but it was too late and she didn’t have the whatever skills you have to need to be a model, so she just found a way for her to be in the fashion world.
I’m saying nothing is too late. You can be a late bloomer and that’s okay, too.
Cool, thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
“We’re stronger together.” I believe that everything can be done in the world if you have access to smart people who are different than yourself because very often we say, “Oh, I cannot do that because I don’t have the skills,” but it’s really not about you; it’s about the ones you know.
If you have a really good network that you’ve mapped, that you have nurtured, that you know really well, that is more diverse than you, who have competence you don’t have yourself, then you have access to the skills you don’t know how to do, meaning you can do anything in the world. I believe we are stronger together.
How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
My favorite experiment is how to stay focused. I think nowadays you’re being tempted so much by social media, things you could do, things you’re invited to, and things – staying focused and get things done is really something I’m very a fan of. I can see people don’t get things done. They talk about it, but they don’t get it done.
I’m very motivated and highly interested in understanding how people get things done and stick to things even when it doesn’t look promising or when it’s hard, they still keep doing it and focus and get it done. I like that. That’s a nice skill.
You said there’s research there about how it’s done that you found compelling and what is it?
Yeah, I think Greg, you had him on your show.
His book is very-
Essentialism, Greg McKeown.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. He’s a good friend of mine. He keeps inspiring to this very day on how to – because I live a life at least where I get invited and attended to travel, go somewhere all the time or jump on this or be part of this or invest in this.
I met him the first time I believe in China six years ago. He’s been a friend ever since. He inspired me because he is, as some of your listeners might know if they heard the podcast, he’s on it, man. He gets things done. He don’t jeopardize his time or his focus. I’m super inspired by Greg.
How about a favorite book?
Oh man, that’s a tough one because there’s so many friends that I have that have written amazing books. New Power by Jeremy Heimans is a very good book.
I think Giving Work by Leila Janah is how we improve people’s life through the gig economy. She’s the owner of Samasource and she wrote an amazing book called Giving Work. Instead of giving aid and money to people, just give them a job. How about that? Let’s teach them how to make a living. Those two books I think is – New Power and Giving Work I think that’s my two favorite books.
Is there a favorite tool you use that helps you be awesome at your job?
Yeah, I saw your question and I’ve been thinking ever since because what is my most important tool. I know this might be cheesy, but I will say it anyhow, walking. I walk for one hour every day in the nature. That gives me the power and the mental focus that I need to be good at my job. I know it’s weird. I hope – I wanted to tell you it was an app or something more sexy, but it’s really one hour of hiking in the mountains just near my home every day that gives me the true power of being good at my job.
All right. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect, resonate, and gets quoted back to you?
Yeah, what should it be? Can you give me an example of what’s some – I don’t know.
Well, like with Greg McKeown, we talked about with essentialism, might mention the closet analogy and say, “Hey, it’s not just a matter of might I ever wear this some time. It’s a matter of saying does this garment spark joy.” That resonated for me. I was like “Wow, yeah, that’s really good, higher standard. Does it spark joy? No, no, no.” I’m able to kind of really quickly clean through my closet with that higher standard.
Yeah, I have actually. Everything I do, everything I do in my life, I measure it out of, “does it make me happy, does it make me more relaxed, does it improve my economic status, do I make money out of it, and fourth, do I improve my skills?”
Not every decision fulfills those four things, but it makes it clear for me that I can make a decision. Okay, I say yes to this, it’s funny, but it’s not going to give me any money. I’m not going to learn anything from it. Then I can make quick, good decisions on behalf of if it doesn’t make me relaxed, not happy, if it doesn’t improve my financial situation, and if I don’t learn anything from it, if none of those four things are being met, kind of, then I shouldn’t do it.
Got you. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them to?
Go to hopefully to my homepage and sign up for my newsletters, Souliama.com. I have had a newspaper for ten years called Straight Talk. I put myself in those newsletters. I love them. I put a lot of energy into it, so if people want to know what I’m doing and if they’re inspired, sign up for my newsletter.
All right. Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeing to be awesome at their jobs?
Yes, first of all, really understand the value of your work. If you understand the value of the work you do, then you will like your job more no matter what job it is. If you understand the meaning and what it is doing to others, then you will appreciate your job more and by appreciation, you’re going to be more happy. If you’re more happy, you’re more creative. If you’re more creative, you’ll be more successful.
It’s actually about taking away your stand and start appreciating, I know it’s a tough one this one, but start appreciating where you actually are in life even if you feel you’re at the wrong place, by starting to appreciate, you will do your brain a big favor that will help you get out of your situation if you know what I mean.
Well, Soulaima, thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom here. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all of your next adventures.
Oh, thank you so much for having me on your show. I’m really honored. Thank you.