How do you see people?

I sometimes worry that we don’t see each other as fully formed human beings… instead we see a cardboard cut out of “a manager” or “the guy in Accounting”.

When we don’t know each others’ stories, it becomes easy to misunderstand each other. If you hear me speak on stage, for example, you might be tempted to think that I’m an ex-CEO who has a privileged life, and wonder what do I know about handling the type of challenges that you have faced?

After the Iranian Revolution—when I was 17—my mother did the only thing she could to try and improve my future, which was to bring me to Istanbul and leave me there with no money or contacts. I somehow made it to the United States, where I worked in a gas station to put myself through college. It was a decade before I could even have a phone call with my family.

Then in 2009, I had a brain tumor and went through two major surgeries. I had to re-learn how to talk. In other words, if you only see the recent years of my life, you will completely miss the greatest challenges I have faced.

You are the sum total of all your experiences.

This is not only true about me. It’s true about everyone, even people who have been fortunate to avoid those sorts of challenges. We all lead unique and complicated lives. The details really matter. What makes you human isn’t your job or a few lines on your resume. You are the sum total of all your experiences.

The more we know about each other, the better able we’ll be to learn from each other.

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Shirin shares lessons learned from a career of success in business.

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