Zain Asher on Trust Your Struggle at TEDxEuston (Full Transcript)

July 25, 2016 11:39 am | By More

Following is the full transcript of news anchor Zain Asher’s TEDx Talk titled ‘Trust Your Struggle’ at TEDxEuston conference.

Full speaker bio: Zain Asher


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Zain Asher – News anchor

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 to 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.

So 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 extraordinarily 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 want to 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 3, 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 3, 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. So she deliberately sent 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. And 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 16 — I have a strict Nigerian mother — but when I was 16, 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?” And 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. 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.”

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. So 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.

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