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  • 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;

  • I changed schools constantly,

  • 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 journalism.

  • 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,