Be Nice. It has been such a stressful two years thanks to the pandemic; global mental health is at an all-time low. Now we are watching the devastating coverage of over two million Ukrainian refugees fleeing their country. Whatever we can do to be kind to others is worthwhile. Success goes beyond just your work. Think about how you treat people, especially when no one is looking — that shows good character rather than just having a good public reputation.
Have you ever noticed how often we equate success with more? Whether that’s more products, more profits, more activities or more accomplishments, we buy into the belief that we have to do more to have more to be more. And that will sum up to success. And then along comes The Great Resignation. Where employees are signaling that the “more” that’s being offered — even more pay, more perks, and more PTO — isn’t summing up to success for them. We visited with leaders who are redefining what success means now. Their answers might surprise you.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Maha Hosain Aziz.
Dr. Maha Hosain Aziz is a professor, keynote speaker, author and cartoonist focused on global risk & prediction in NYU’s MA International Relations Program. She is a risk expert in the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council; and on occasion she still consults via the world’s first crowdsourced consultancy Wikistrat and other networks. Her 2016 political comic book, The Global Kid, won seven awards (all profits to charity) and was a Top 16 Amazon bestseller; its sequel with VR/AR elements launched in Dec 2021 with EdTech partner Musemio and contributor AR Market; her first book Future World Order was a Top 15 Amazon bestseller and won seven global awards (15% of profits to her brother’s memorial fund). She is a Jordanian-born Pakistani who grew up in the Middle East (Jordan, Saudi Arabia), Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia), Europe (UK, Greece) and the US. She is a social scientist trained at Brown (BA), Columbia (MA) and the LSE (MSc, PhD).
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?
It’s wonderful to connect with you and your readers! I see myself as a global citizen though with strong Pakistani Muslim roots. In fact, I lived in seven countries by age 14 — Jordan, Greece, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UK, and with my final four years of school in Singapore (UWC SEA) and here in the US (UN International School in NYC). With the full support of my mother, my dad was able to have a successful 30-year banking career globally, so we three Aziz kids grew up seeing the world and being exposed to different cultures and mindsets. This perspective as a global citizen from a young age really shaped who I am and what I do today. I’m very grateful for it! And I want to keep sharing this perspective through my work — whether it’s through my books, speeches, classes and of course my comics.
How has your definition of success changed?
At some point, things clicked and I stopped feeling bad that I’m not a traditional academic. It’s hard but you have to block out others’ negative energy, those who judge the less traditional — just be proud about following your own unique path. I realized that what matters is that I understand my purpose — to help others make sense of a world of growing global risk so they can make better decisions. As long as my work supports this purpose privately and publicly, regardless of what others may feel about it, then this is success for me. In the last ten years, this has led to a portfolio career involving different projects all relating to global risk and future trends, as a professor, author, speaker and occasional cartoonist and consultant based at NYU. So being clear on one’s purpose and pursuing it in one’s day to day work and life is important. Making that mental shift is key. To those reading this: What is your purpose in this world and are you pursuing it?
The pandemic, in many ways, was a time of collective self-reflection. What changes do you believe we need to make as a society to access success post pandemic?
The pandemic was a reminder that we can’t just rely on our governments to solve our problems. They didn’t meet our expectations as they struggled to deal with the Covid-19 response — and as citizens we felt increasingly frustrated. Admittedly it is a hard time to be a world leader tackling so many unexpected challenges. So let’s accept that the government cannot be the only driver of change. We must recognize that to be successful as a society we must all be activists now who help tackle some of our biggest challenges within our countries and in the world — this is a key point I highlight in my new VR/AR comic book The Global Kid and new book A Global Spring. Obviously if every leader were like Ukraine’s President Zelensky, that would be the ideal — look how he has inspired the world with his sincere messaging on social media, and his citizens who are bravely fighting for their freedom. It is remarkable to watch. But this is an exception rather than the norm. So to access success as a society in a post-pandemic era, we each have to think about what role to play in tackling key challenges, as most of our governments plod along.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
Although our governments and multilateral organizations didn’t come together against the pandemic as we had hoped, the silver lining was the renewed sense of global community amongst citizens. Look at how citizens in over 60 countries protested against racism after George Floyd’s death in the US in 2020. Now, as we ease into the post-pandemic era, it’s powerful to see how citizens globally have thrown their support behind Ukraine amid the Russian invasion, even sending over 50M dollars in crypto donations to support Ukrainians; over 15,000 foreigners have even gone to Ukraine to fight the Russian military. In this case, most world leaders have stepped up to offer military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Both the government and citizens appear to be united against a common enemy — President Putin. If only we can retain this sense of unity to combat other global challenges, like the climate crisis, hate and so on. This could be a game changer for our global community so we can achieve the best possible future for ourselves in the post-pandemic era.
We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”
- Embrace Your Purpose. Take a second to reflect on what you feel your contribution should be to the world — and just go for it! If you can align your work with what you feel your purpose is, this will only serve you. As mentioned, I am an educator who uses different platforms to help others make sense of a world of growing global risk — through my classes, speeches, books and comics. What is your purpose?
- Don’t Let Your Age Hold You Back — Success Can Come at Any Age. Look at how kids learned about the new innovation of NFTs during the pandemic — and made huge sums of money with their creations! If you are open to learning new trends and applying it, e.g. the blockchain, you can add value now. There’s so much opportunity nowadays for all ages to create tech-oriented startups. Age isn’t a barrier; you don’t need to work 30 years to be a “success”.
- Be Nice. It has been such a stressful two years thanks to the pandemic; global mental health is at an all-time low. Now we are watching the devastating coverage of over two million Ukrainian refugees fleeing their country. Whatever we can do to be kind to others is worthwhile. Success goes beyond just your work. Think about how you treat people, especially when no one is looking — that shows good character rather than just having a good public reputation.
- Family Must Come First. Life somehow feels so much more hectic now, especially as we ease out of the pandemic. But however busy one gets with work, one must always prioritize family. In my pre-pandemic life, I traveled to London from NY every month for two years to support my brother Abid during his cancer treatments. After he had passed, I traveled to London monthly for two more years to have face time with his daughter. This was exhausting but it was important to prioritize family. I also created a memorial fund for him which supports Syrian refugee youth via charity Peace and Sport, and donated 15% of my first book Future World Order’s profits and 100% of my first comic The Global Kid’s profits. Linking my work to his memory was a heartwarming feeling. I love my brother!
- We Are All Activists Now. While our governments struggle to tackle key challenges, see it as your responsibility to see how you can help. If your work is aligned with solving a big problem that the government can’t fix, even better. This is what I emphasize in my VR/AR comic book for tweens The Global Kid which I created with award-winning edtech partner Musemio and Rome-based collaborator AR Market; I also highlight this in my book A Global Spring. To do my part, I donated one week’s profits from the comic to UNICEF’s Ukraine Appeal and hope to donate more from my book. What will your first (or next) activist step be in this world?
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
Healthier, happier, fulfilled. The world would be a better place if our work were aligned to tackle the major global challenges that our governments cannot tackle alone.
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
Your mindset. If you’re stuck in the past or burdened by what others think, you will miss out. You can waste months, even years. Change your mindset. Focus on your sense of purpose and please just go for it! Simply making this your focus will make you a success. Having people support you, in my case my sweet mum and dad (and even my dog Lucky!), is also so important, especially if others may not be as supportive.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
I admire people who give back. As I note in my new book and comic, tech billionaires have done a lot during the pandemic, from helping to develop the vaccine (e.g. Bill Gates) to donating masks (e.g. Adrien Cheng, Jack Ma) and sending ventilators (e.g. Elon Musk). During the current crisis in Europe, beyond donations, billionaires like Musk have sent satellite internet to keep Ukraine connected to the world. Although billionaires get a lot of criticism for their massive wealth in a world of massive inequality, the point is they are often using their wealth to not just do good but to fill the gap left by the government at sensitive times. This is inspiring and their actions are a key part of success — giving back. Again, to those reading this: we are all activists now so what role will you play?
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she or they might just see this if we tag them.
It’s been remarkable to note how many people have risen to the occasion during the pandemic and the crisis in Europe. There are four people I would love to meet to pick their brain:
1. As you may have noted, I’ve been a fan of Elon Musk for a long time. He has an incredible vision for the future but is also doing so much to help in the present. In the pre-pandemic era, he sent solar panels and energy storage batteries to rebuild power in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. During the pandemic, he sent ventilators to California hospitals. As we ease into the post-pandemic era, we have been dealing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine; after a Tweet request from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Musk immediately sent his Starlink satellite Internet to support this war-torn country. The Internet is a human right, according to the UN, and Musk’s satellite internet can potentially make this happen worldwide; it could also create opportunities for education and employment for people who previously have had no opportunity. Game-changer.
2. I’m a fan of Angelina Jolie given her work with refugees as a UNHCR special envoy. I’m curious how she would handle the Ukraine refugee crisis. How do we integrate over 2 million Ukrainians in Europe? Lately, she has also been reminding us that we shouldn’t forget about other refugees, for instance Yemeni refugees whose struggle is ongoing. This is so important.
3. I’m also impressed with people like actor Chris Evans. He could simply devote all his energy to his art but instead he is using his platform to try to ease the strained relationship between US citizens and government via his organization A Starting Point (ASP). In a way his efforts are helping to renew the social contract which we definitely need in the US and worldwide frankly. I wish I could collaborate with him on ASP in some way (including sharing my superhero political comic The Global Kid!)
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.