“Pull Yourself Up By Your Own Hair!”

I admire my brother, Ali.

(Yes, that is him in the picture above with German Chancellor Angela Merkel).

He has always instinctively known that he had a God-given talent — Showmanship.
 
At age 10, he had asked our mother for a microphone. A microphone!
 
And with it, he’d lock himself in the TV room, where he would spend endless hours moderating imaginary soccer matches.
 
Inadvertently, it turned out, he was honing his skills and laying the foundation for his future career.

Later, in his teens, he moved on to writing his own rap-songs and performing at high school events with his band.
 
His song “Monday morning, ma matha woke me up…”, (apparently the biggest worry for teenagers), which he had submitted to the popular Radio-Hamburg show in the 1990s, even won him airtime.
 
As he grew up, it was obvious that he had an extraordinary set of talent for entertainment, and everyone around him assured him of that.
 
Amongst his peers, he was always popular, thanks to his sharp quick wit, musical performances, as well as his shining athletic abilities.

At one point, he was even chosen to train and occasionally play with the German professional Bundesliga soccer team St. Pauli-Hamburg.
 
Fast forward to 2017, and armed with a solid education from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service as well as Columbia University School of Journalism (thanks to our mother, who insisted he study and not turn pro) — Ali is now a globally recognised, respected, and in-demand bona fide TV journalist, speaker and moderator.

We are so very proud of his accomplishments.

Especially, since he did it all on his own.

But — how did he apply his talents and turn his passion into a career?
So I asked my brother.

In Ali’s words:

I know who I am.
I know what I want.
I know what I am capable of.
I have ambitions.
I have goals.
I am disciplined.
I am always prepared — physically and mentally.
Prepared to overcome any obstacles that present itself along the way.
In fact, I expect them.
I don’t allow myself to get distracted by people, scenarios.
No one can fluster me.
No one will stop me.
I have nerves of steel.
I don’t slack.
I work hard.
I never stop.
There is no magic to it.
Self-honesty, goals, vision, courage, hard work.
Always move forward!

Wow! Some powerful statements. Unwavering and unapologetic. That is my brother.

But, what about me? Why am I not like that? Why don’t I know yet exactly what I want?

I mean I think I am not that bad either. But, why don’t I have a clear trajectory?

Why doesn’t someone discover me?

Again, I asked Ali.

He tells me:

First of all, are you honest with yourself?
You gotta be honest with yourself.
No one but you can help you — no one!
Not even I, as your brother, can help you.
I advise you to take a good look in the mirror every day, and ask yourself “Who are you? Who do you want to be? What are you good at? What do you really want to do with your life?”
Don’t waver.
Don’t be apologetic.
Be brutally honest.
Tear down those conditioned layers.
Mute out surrounding voices and opinions from everyone, even your family.
Just listen to yourself — with honesty.
I warn you, it might take a while to find the answer.
It’s a process.
It might even get ugly, because it’s frustrating.
And your ego might not like what it hears, what it is that you really want to do.
There is nothing to be afraid of.
Be fearless.
Be courageous.
Keep asking yourself.
That’s the only way to reach your core.
Because again, only you can know who you are, and what you are capable of.
Only you can grab yourself by your hair and pull yourself up towards that goal.
No one will do it for you.
Everyone is busy with themselves.
Stay with that thought every day.
What is your God-given talent?
How can you apply yourself in this world?
Talents are good, but you need more.
You need to know how to apply them, so you enjoy what you are good at and make a living.
That is exactly what I have done.
I took a long hard look at myself.
And it took me a while.
But, I have done the work.
And finally, it came together, I knew.
I took a decision.
And now I am going after it with everything that I am, because that is what fulfills me.
I advise you to do the same.
Just remember this — only you have the key to your success and happiness.
No one but you can help you.
Don’t waste any more time.
Go for it.
You owe it to yourself.
And start right now!
That’s it, I’m out.

Whoa, I was floored.
 
Sitting in silence, nodding my head in approval and just staring at him. In awe of his words…so deeply inspired by his wisdom that resonated with my heart and mind.

No one had spoken to me with this much honesty in a long time.

My God, I felt empowered and excited.

I loved it…and yet, I felt a bit scared at the same time.

Am I the sole person responsible for my life’s fulfilment? The only person who matters in my pursuit of meaning, work, happiness, legacy?

Thoughts were flying in my head. I was going backward and forward in time at light speed. My brain was buzzing. So much work to do!

And, while Ali’s words still echo in my head every day, and I promised to go for it…I thought I’ll share my wise brother’s wisdom with all of you.

Because that is one thing I know about myself absolutely — I like to, love to and can’t help but share a good thing when I hear it.

(ia52@columbia.edu)