Zain Asher’s Lessons from a Quiet Hero

Audio Description

Popular CNN Anchor Zain Asher pays tribute to her mother’s incredible strength and determination to raise four successful children in the shadow of tragedy. From cutting the power cord of the TV to installing a payphone in the house, this Nigerian mother went to great lengths to ensure a better life for her children. Learn how it all paid off.

Transcript

This transcript has been generated by an AI tool. Please excuse any typos.

00:00 - 00:41

Not only did she, she cut out images of black success from newspapers, but the best one she kept in a white binder. And it was just a binder that even the full bed, you know, like a bedtime story. She would read through these articles of black people, especially if they were West African, just who had done amazing things with their lives. And she would talk to us about them. At the dinner table, we would see articles of black success on our walls. You know, they say that the only thing that can hold a person back in life is the perception that they have of Gonzalez. This was my mother's way of just changing that perception to make sure that the perception we had of ourselves was very, very, very positive in terms of what we could achieve.

00:47 - 00:53

This is changing the trajectory. I'm James Thompson, Bernstein's head of diverse market strategy.

00:53 - 01:48

And I may safely toss the emerging market strategist here at Bernstein. Thanks for joining us today. For those of you who are not familiar with our guest, Zain Asher is the host of CNN's prime time global news show One World with Zain Asher. And she is an anchor at CNN International. Zain is the graduate of Oxford and Columbia Universities, and she's the author of the newly bestselling earliest memoir, Where the Children Take US. Zain, let's first of all, just acknowledge that you're an overachiever. And what I really appreciate about your book is the fact that you kind of break down how we, too, can be overachievers, too, and you make it a little bit more accessible. So think about this Mother's Day. You were able to give your mother the ultimate gift. Your new let's say it again, bestselling book is fully devoted to paying tribute to her and her strength and her determination. I mean, what are your siblings saying?

01:49 - 02:35

It's very funny. My siblings really love love the story and love the fact that I've written this book about my mother, our mother, because she really is our quiet hero. One of the questions that I've been asked throughout my whole life is how how did she do it? How did your mother, this widowed immigrant living in south London who had come over from Africa, who was obviously a single mother after my father passed away? How did she managed to raise you a CNN anchor, your brother, an Oscar nominated actor, your sister, a doctor, and your eldest brother, a successful entrepreneur? How is that possible? And so the book is really explaining how she did it. And so I'm incredibly proud of her.

02:36 - 02:37

And thank thanks for making us look bad.

02:40 - 02:41

I'll pass that on to my mom.

02:44 - 03:01

So, Zain, let's start by talking about your unique multicultural lens. You describe yourself as Nigerian by blood, British by birth, and American by residents. Though you were born and raised in the U.K., and what ways did your Nigerian heritage shine through at home?

03:02 - 03:43

I think that one of the things I treasure the most about my Nigerian background is this community spirit that Nigerians have always had. And it is such a powerful part of my life and something that I've always been in awe of. You know, in the book I talk about the day when I was accepted into Oxford University when I officially got that letter in the mail. And I remember us calling my grandparents to tell them the news. And they were home in the village in Nigeria for Christmas. And, you know, we were later told that people in our village had thrown a party in my honour.

03:43 - 04:09

So these are people that I didn't really know, that I never really met, never really shaken their hands. And I remember just sitting in silence, just being completely dumbfounded that people who I'd never had any interaction with could be so happy to see me do well, that I've never really experienced that kind of unconditional support from people who didn't know me.

04:09 - 04:30

And one of the things that I love about my culture is this idea of even wedding sponsors, marriage sponsors that we we have in our culture. And that is when a couple gets married, the newlyweds are usually in our community and our village appointed what we refer to as marriage sponsors.

04:30 - 05:15

And that is an older couple who have been married, let's say, for 20, 30 years to guide the newlyweds through the ups and downs of married life, to sort of say to them, hey, listen, you know, you're just getting married. You know, you're in your early mid-twenties. This is what you need to watch out for when it comes to marriage. This is how you get a marriage. The law is what makes the marriage work. When you have children, this is the sort of pressure that your marriage might be under. And so in our culture, you are never alone. You know you're never alone, even if you are. Alone. Physically, you are never alone emotionally or spiritually. And that is something that I'm really trying to find ways. My kids are born and raised in the New York Tri-State area, and I'm really trying to find ways to make sure that community spirit lives on through them.

05:15 - 05:25

That's amazing. So it's clear that your mother's strength, resilience and influence shine prominently in your life. Where did she get her strength and her drive?

05:25 - 05:53

Yeah. I mean, on the surface, it really doesn't make any sense because my mother is somebody who is you know, if you meet her, she's quite shy. She sort of, you know, doesn't really look strangers in the eye when she talks to them to sort of looks down at her feet. And it's incredible what she managed to do and how hard she fought for us, because I think that people who knew her would never have really expected that from her.

05:53 - 06:40

This is how I start off the book in September 1988. My mother is in the kitchen waiting for a phone call from my dad because my dad and my brother were on a father son road trip. There was a long distance father son road trip, and she was waiting for my dad to call to say, hey, listen, we just landed at the airport, Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport in London. Can you come and pick us up? And so she knew exactly what time the plane was scheduled to land. So she got ready, even put on her coat and was just waiting by the phone. Then the phone the phone never rang. The phone call never came. And it was so strange because she thought, okay, obviously they've missed a flight, but they could at least tell me the next flight. And she waited for hours and hours and hours and hours, and there was no phone call until around 630 in the evening.

06:40 - 07:06

The phone finally rang and she was expecting it to be my dad. But the voice on the other end of the line was not my dad's. It was the voice of an extended relative calling from Nigeria. And the voice basically said, Your husband and your son have been involved in a car crash. One of them is dead and we don't know which one. I mean, that phone call almost completely destroyed her. I mean, she was a broken woman for a very long time.

07:07 - 07:45

The road trip was taking place in Nigeria. My dad and my brother were leaving a town called Enigma, which is where we're originally from. It's kind of quite rural. And they were going to Lagos, which is like the New York of Nigeria, and it was a six hour road trip. And then during the road trip, the man driving them swerved into the opposite lane to cut around traffic, and then the car went around a bend and obviously hit a blind spot and the car was crushed by a speeding tractor trailer. Everybody in the car was killed instantly, apart from one person in the backseat where my dad or my brother was sitting.

07:45 - 08:33

And so my mum traveled to Nigeria, literally not knowing who she was going to be burying in her family, whether it was going to be her husband or her son. She had no idea. And she tried to cling on to hope. Maybe both of them have survived. Know, maybe it was just it was the car accident and they're both injured. And she's really trying to cling on to that. She gets Nigeria. It's actually my dad who passed away. My brother was alive but banning and so you know for a long time my mum was this broken woman who you know, when we eventually after the funeral came back to London, she would just lock herself in her bedroom for hours screaming and crying. I mean, that's all we would hear on the other side of the door. We wouldn't see her, but we could hear her screaming and crying. She'd come out, maybe make sure we had food to eat, the lock herself in a bedroom for hours and hours and hours.

08:33 - 09:06

And so people who knew my mum thought to themselves, we know, oh, my mum's, there is no way that she can withstand something like this. This is this is it for her. You know, she's never going to come back from this. And those poor children, what's going to happen to them? That was the sentiment within my family. And eventually my grandmother came over from Nigeria to stay with us for a while. And she said to my mother, Listen, I'm so sorry that this happened to you. However, you cannot neglect your children anymore. It's just not acceptable. Like we don't even talk to them. You don't even interact with them. You can't do that, you know?

09:06 - 09:41

And so eventually my mother slowly began to emerge from that grief. And the real reason why she emerged from that grief was because she got another phone call that was very upsetting. And that is my oldest brother was kicked out of school without a father figure in his life. He just went off the rails and was getting into fights. And it was just, you know, our family was basically falling apart. And my mum in that moment realised, gosh, everything that I've fought for with my husband, which is to come to England to give my kids a better life, is now hanging in the balance. That was a big wake up call for her.

09:41 - 10:27

And so after that my mum began to really do whatever it took to make sure that we wouldn't be focused any more on the empty chair at the dinner table, that we could focus on something besides the pain of our loss. And that's when she began to make academics discipline structured. Routine schoolwork, a much, much more prominent focus in our lives. That was when she started, you know, trying to put her foot down. It just really felt like there was a new sheriff in town in our house. And that's when she began to implement a lot of, I would say, very unique and creative parenting strategies that I think, you know, more people should know about because I think they are really powerful.

10:27 - 11:16

I would say that probably when I was younger, the most powerful thing that my mother did for me was teaching me in advance. So she went to my school teachers and she asked for the syllabus for the entire year, and she looked through it to figure out, okay, what is my daughter going to be learning in three weeks from now? What is she going to be learning in a month from now? And she would teach it to me at home beforehand so that by the time I went to school and it was taught for the first time, I knew it inside out. And that meant that my teachers thought I was so smart. They thought, this child is gifted, she's so special. And it wasn't really that I was gifted. It was just that I'd learned the material, you know, it was almost like, you know, repeating a grade in a way, because you already know the material. You're learning it for the second time.

11:16 - 11:46

But when my teachers began to sort of treat me as this role model, it made me love going to school. It would fuel my desire to learn again in the evening with my mom. It was the first time I understood cause and effect. When it comes to hard work, I could see what whatever we were doing in the evening. All of that learning ahead was having a direct correlation with my experience at school, how my teachers treated me, all of the praise or the accolades. And so it began to fuel itself. It was it was really powerful.

11:46 - 12:13

So when I was reading about that, I thought to myself, you know, Chinese culture has tiger moms. And I would argue that we could classify Nigerian moms as a leopard or lion. Mom zero. And another thing that really resonated with me was that while you were growing up, your mother had something that you described as the eight hour rule. Can you share a little bit more about that, what it was, how it works? And also really how does it apply to your life now that you're.

12:13 - 12:13

A.

12:13 - 12:16

Mom, a wife and you have a career?

12:16 - 12:58

Yeah, the "Eight-hour rule" was another one of those great little nuggets that my mom came up with, which is that, she would make us divide up our day into three equal parts. So, obviously, there's twenty-four hours in a day, three parts, eight hours each. And she would say to us, "Okay. Eight hours should be spent sleeping, eight hours should be spent in school, and the last eight hours should be spent working towards your dreams." She was so cognizant that how you spend your spare time really has an impact on your entire life. Little by little, bit by bit. And so the only thing that can ever set you apart in this world and separate you from the next person is how you spend the last 8 hours of your day.

12:58 - 13:45

What are you doing with your time? And it's interesting because if you ask anyone, Hey, how long did you spend sleeping? Most people could tell you, okay, I went to bed at 11, woke up at 6:00 that 7 hours. If you ask anyone, how long do you spend in the office, they'll say, Oh, yeah, you know, I got to the office at 9 a.m. and finished at five. Okay, great. That's 8 hours. But if you ask anyone, great. Well, what did you do with the last 8 hours of your day? It's very difficult to account for it because between commuting and watching TV and making dinner and putting the kids to bed and reading kids bedtime stories or what have you, it just seems to disappear and actually disappears very quickly. It doesn't actually feel like you've lost 8 hours of your day because it just dissolves. You know, it evaporates.

13:45 - 14:15

Now that I'm a mom, to be perfectly honest with you, it is much more difficult to account for the last 8 hours. I mean, actually, I can account for them, but they're not mine. The last 8 hours, a good day when your mom does not belong to you. It belongs to the kids. And so I always joke that really now with two kids, it's really like the last two or 3 hours of my day. But still, you know, that is that is still enough time. I can at least make some kind of deposit into my future now using the analogy of a bank account. And that's what I tried to do.

14:15 - 14:18

Yeah, my life is definitely imbalanced.

14:20 - 14:34

You know, when you were in high school, your mother realized that you had some television commercials memorized. I'm laughing as we're about to talk about this. And she barred you from watching TV until you received an acceptance letter from Oxford?

14:34 - 14:34

Yeah.

14:35 - 15:03

I actually had an acceptance letter in your hand because black people were raised in America, we are often taught that failure is not an option. But despite your mother's unconventional ways and this unconventional approach, it seems that you are raised with this idea that roadblocks are, in fact inevitable, and it's more about what you do to turn them into success that matter. So taught us a little bit about that perspective and that experience.

15:04 - 15:24

My mom is a very bold person. She has a lot of courage. And it's so strange even for me to describe her that way because she comes across again as very kind of like shy and demure and quiet. But she has a lot of inner strength and she's really able to fight. You know, she's she's a very good fighter.

15:24 - 16:15

And so the reason why I bring that up is because just directly related to the opposite story. One of the reasons why she banned me from watching TV is because of because of a meeting she had two parents evening. It's what we call it in the U.K. And, you know, she had really wanted me to go to Oxford University. She just believes as an immigrant that Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, that was the ticket to a better life. That was what would have you set for life if you could just get your kids into one of those schools. And also, it would prove that all of your sacrifice, leaving your country, moving to a foreign country, all of the difficulties that you enjoyed, being an immigrant, not fitting in, that was a way to say, okay, this is what we have to show for it. You know, this is what my kids have achieved with this gift that I've given them to live in this place where there's opportunity.

16:15 - 17:00

And so she spoke to my teachers and my teachers basically said, listen, you know, your daughter's a good student, but she's not Oxford material. Like, I just we just got to make that clear to you. And my mom's like, what? And so my teachers have basically said, listen, here's a list of other very good universities that she just had never heard of them. She grew up in colonial Nigeria. And what she heard about was Oxford and Cambridge. And so she comes back home and she says to me, Listen, your teachers just don't think that you're good enough to apply to Oxford. But don't worry, I'm going to find a way. And so she went to her bedroom and she closed the door and she marched up and down. I've come too far. I've literally invested so much, and I'm just not going to take no for an answer.

17:00 - 17:35

And then she was like, Oh my goodness, I've got that comes to me. And she's like, I've got it. I know exactly what to do to guarantee that you are getting into Oxford University no matter what. I was like, What, Mum? And that's when she decided that she was going to ban me from watching any television until I had an actual Oxford acceptance letter in hand. And it was her strategy. And I didn't really talk about this in my book, but her philosophy was that, listen, the kids are going to Oxford and Cambridge and Harvard and Yale. They're not geniuses, you know. Are they really much more intelligent than you or is it a case of plain and simple hard work?

17:35 - 18:10

You know, and she just sort of believed that by eliminating distractions that I could I could get there, too, you know? And she was right. I was, you know, I was someone that did have to work, you know, like I wasn't one of those people that was going to waltz into Oxford, you know, by just sort of cramming the night before I had to really study. And so she created an environment where I had nothing else to do but study. And then when, you know, when TV was the question, I spent all my time on the telephone calling buoys, calling friends of friends, friends of friends, of friends of friends, anybody who I could talk to on the phone.

18:11 - 18:58

And then she found a solution for that, too. She bought what was referred to in those days as a residential payphone, and it was an ordinary phone that had a slot on the side for coins. There's not like a giant payphone with a phone booth on the street. It was just a tiny phone. And so she brought one home and said, okay, if you want to use the phone, you can use the phone as much as you want. You just have to pay for it yourself. And so if I wanted to make a phone call, I had to put $0.20, which is like a quarter into the phone, and it would give me about 60 seconds on the phone. And so I did use the phone now and again, but my phone calls have to be incredibly concise. There was never like spending hours on the phone anymore and I wasn't making my own money. I was just a teenager.

18:58 - 19:48

So at that point, without television and without the phone, I really did have nothing else to do but study. I mean, initially I rebelled and I would do anything aside from focus on my schoolwork. And then eventually, reluctantly, I opened the book and then I opened another book, and then I opened my textbooks and, you know, to get into Oxford, everybody knows that. To get into those schools, you kind of have to know more than what you're being taught in school. You've got to really read around your subjects. You know, that's like one basic thing that you have to do to get in. And so I began reading around my subjects and knowing more than what I was sort of being taught. And it wasn't very long. I would say within a few months I did become a straight-A student, and not only straight A's, there were a lot of practice exams and practice tests where I was getting every single answer correct. So it.

19:48 - 19:48

Worked.

19:49 - 20:01

It worked. Now, with my 8 hours, I was rather than 3 hours in front of the TV and 2 hours on the phone, it was now an extra. 5 hours of study every single day.

20:02 - 20:23

Right. So you have described uplift. There is as people of similar backgrounds who can open our minds to new possibilities. So when you think about this experience with your mom, right, how did your mother's introduction of uplift influence your perception of what it meant to be black? And of course, what kind of heights you could reach as a black woman?

20:23 - 21:09

My God, it was everything. Because my mom not only did she, she cut out images of black success from newspapers, but the best one she kept in a white binder. And it was just a binder that even the whole bed, you know, like a bedtime story. She would read through these articles of black people, especially if they were West African, just who had done amazing things with their lives. And she would talk to us about them. At the dinner table. We would see articles of black success on our walls. You know, they say that the only thing that can hold a person back in life is the perception that they have. And this was my mother's way of just changing that perception to make sure that the perception we had of ourselves was very, very, very positive in terms of what we could achieve.

21:10 - 22:05

And that obviously gave me so much confidence, especially when it came to applying to a place like Oxford University. There are a lot of people of color, a lot of black people who, you know, had way better grades than me, but just see a place like Oxford and just think that's just not for me. You know, even if my grades are perfect, it's just not for me. There's obviously a lot of racial reasons as to why that is. But for me, I felt as though I deserve to go to Oxford University. I deserved it, and my mother felt that way, too. That's why she was willing to fight, because she'd seen so many images of Nigerians, of black people who had done fantastic things with their lives. And so her whole point was that, listen, these people are no different from you. You work hard like they've worked hard. You could have what they have. And it's as simple as that. There's no discussion, there's no argument, there's no debate. That is a fact.

22:05 - 22:34

And it had a real practical influence on me, too, because I remember turning on the TV and there was a woman named Femi Oke who was hosting a BBC show in the late nineties. And, you know, there were a few Nigerian TV hosts, but she was I just thought she was so talented. And I thought, oh, my gosh, that's so amazing that somebody who is really from my country has this brilliant job. Like, I remember looking at her and just being in awe.

22:34 - 23:12

And then a few years later, I moved to America and I saw Femi Oke presenting the news on CNN. And I just was so I was so touched and moved by how far this woman had come, how far this woman who is just like me. You know, representation is obviously so important. I was so impressed by her that I immediately sent her an email. I tried to figure out the formula for the CNN emails, and I eventually figured it out. And instead of an email and not only did she respond, she actually gave me her phone number and said, Listen, I'm always happy to help people call me at any time. I was like, What? A CNN anchor. Just give me her phone number. Doesn't even know me.

23:12 - 23:47

I was I was a student at the time. I was a journalism student. And so I called her up so nervous. But she gave me just invaluable advice about making it in journalism, making it in a newsroom as a woman, a person of color, you know, just it was priceless. And then years later, when I actually applied to CNN, I gave her a call. She was no longer working at CNN at the time. She was now in radio, but she really, again, helped me practice and sort of rehearse with her the grueling kind of CNN interviews and what you have to go through and what they ask you. And the she thank me.

23:47 - 24:37

You're going to be with this executive. He's going to ask you this. Then you'll have another meeting with this executive and then another meeting. And then maybe if you're through to the second round, you might have a screen test here. She explained everything to me. She even invited me to her radio station just to go through anchoring with me and helping me practice. And so when I when I got the job, I realized, oh, my goodness, this woman, you know, I referred to her as an uplift in the book. This woman who was. Yes. Key for me just in terms of being a role model and inspiring me. But beyond that, just seeing her on TV all those years ago, seeing this Nigerian woman do so well on television, literally changed my entire life. I got my job at CNN because of me, you know, and that is the power of representation. But it's also part of that Nigerian community spirit that I spoke about earlier. So, yeah, she changed my life.

24:37 - 25:05

So as I was reading your book, there was a passage that really resonated with me. And it's when you said, I know now that my mother was worried about failing us, drowning in an endless cycle of doing and rushing and earning. When you think about your life, how do you find balance and keep afloat when juggling family life? Your career, being a wife? And then your passion projects like The Spark, as well as the school you and your your siblings built in Nigeria.

25:06 - 25:38

My gosh, I wish I had an answer to that because I feel as though, you know, the classic mother thing where you feel as though you're failing in everything, you know. I mean, on a personal note, I do believe in in meditation. You know, I'm somebody who really likes to take time and just withdraw from everything and sort of close my eyes and just feel the stillness and peace. And I really believe in it, I swear by it. And that gives me the energy and the fuel to come out of that and be much more productive.

25:38 - 26:24

And so when I get into the habit of feeling stressed like God, I did, I do, I'm drowning. I don't know how I'm going to doodle. I try to focus on gratitude. You know, I mean, having children is for sure a lot of work. But I it's I don't know what's going to sound, but I try never to complain about it because just out of respect for people who want to have kids that can't, you know, I'm blessed with two kids. I'm blessed with two perfectly healthy, happy, beautiful children. And yes, don't get me wrong, it's not always easy. It's not a walk in the park. But I. I have nothing to complain about. You know, I have them. I wanted to have kids and. And I had kids.

26:24 - 26:50

I would also say, again, with my job, you know, like my job is a lot of work. It's a lot of work. And it involves just knowing what is happening in the world every minute of every day and being up on everything. But again, I'm so grateful I have a job that, again, people would give their right arm to have. And I'm very aware of that. And I'm also aware that, more importantly, I have my dream job. This is a job that I've wanted for a very long time.

26:51 - 27:29

Demi Okay. You know, she said to me, gosh, you know, I've spoken to a lot of people and given a lot of people advice. A lot of people have called me and said, wow, you work at CNN. Gosh, can I have advice about how to make it in journalism? She said to me, You are the first person who I've given advice to who on their own without my help, has called me back several years later and says said to me, Guess what? I have an interview with CNN. And so, yeah, just so much to be grateful for. And obviously that is because I take off my mother and I'm a hustler and a fighter, right? When I have those stressful thoughts, I just try to focus on what I do have and how much there was to be grateful.

27:30 - 27:45

So you've just mentioned how you're a fighter like your mom. And while in Nigeria, you talked about how you realize that to be Nigerian. You learn that it is to fight. Can you kind of unpack that for us?

27:45 - 28:44

Yes, definitely. So I actually went to Nigeria recently, I think it was about two months ago. I was only there for a week and I was so shocked and sort of I just found navigating life that, to be perfectly honest, quite difficult in that, you know, it's no it's no secret that life in certain developing countries can be quite cumbersome and quite complex, you know. Nigeria, when I was there, I had to contend with power outages. I had to contend with, you know, a lot of people in Nigeria have like three or four different cell phones, so that if the network goes out on this one, then you can try your next cell phone. And then if the network goes out and that cell phone, you try the next one. And so you're constantly having to do battle to get things done. And when I'm there, given everything that I have to contend with, I'm lucky if I get one thing done all day when I'm about to do my job. And I was there working.

28:44 - 29:41

And then when I come back to America, it's remarkable because the gift that I'm given when I'm here in this country is productivity. I don't have to worry about, okay, how am I going to do my job? Because the power just went out and maybe I should actually, because I have no power. Go to my friend's house four miles away because I know that she has a generator and she does have power. So maybe I can file my report from her house instead. But then on my way back I need to call a source. But then I have no network and there's no cell phone service. So maybe I should call the source tomorrow when maybe there is network. Or I could go to my other friend's house and drive five miles because I know that he has better cell phones. I mean, that's what you're dealing with in Nigeria when you come back to England or, you know, in this case the United States, if you've been trained in that kind of environment in Nigeria and you have that kind of resilience, because if you can start a business in that environment, honey, you can start a business anywhere, you know.

29:42 - 30:03

And I say there's a line in my book when I say Survive in Nigeria and you can survive anything, thrive in Nigeria and you can change the world. And I truly believe that people who can go through all of that every day and still become successful, they've built up this insane amount of resilience and tolerance.

30:03 - 30:54

When they come to America, it almost feels like a walk in the park. And so that's what I mean when I talk about Nigerians being fighters. You're doing battle every day just to survive and just to get your job done that you come to a place like this. And this is probably I think this explains immigrant success more broadly because you, you know, you live in that kind of environment and if that's what you're used to, I remember getting off the plane and landing in Newark and thinking, Oh, my God. This place is so easy. I know that America has lots of other issues. But in that moment, after living in Nigeria for only just one week and just seeing what people have to go through just to get one thing done all day, you know, from a productivity perspective, America is a lot easier.

30:54 - 31:08

That's interesting because even when you think about the wealthiest people in the world, Forbes published their list of the world's billionaires and of the 15 black people who are on it. Of the top five. Three of them are Nigerian.

31:08 - 31:09

Yeah.

31:09 - 31:23

And when you look at the top six unicorn companies with black founders, that was published in early January. Of those six. Three of them were founded by Nigerians. There's clearly a correlation, right?

31:23 - 31:32

You can be so productive. You know, the length of time it takes me to do one thing in Nigeria, I can use that time to accomplish 20 things in America.

31:32 - 31:51

So, you know, staying on this success and investing theme, you reference an old Nigerian saying life is either pay now or pay later, but if you pay later, there'll be interest. How has this mantra impacted your life, your decisions? How you think about investing? How you think by giving back?

31:52 - 32:30

Yeah. So the pay now or pay later, I mean, it's quite simple. So, you know, I talk about learning in advance and learning ahead and my mom going through the, the school syllabus with me and figuring out what I was going to be learning in school in a few months and teaching it to me beforehand. And I took that and I sort of repeated and copied that model when it came to the labour market, when it came to getting a job. I figured out that her. What if that doesn't just apply to school, but it can also apply to your career as well, this idea of learning in advance.

32:30 - 33:24

And so I remember when I was first reporter at CNN, I decided to teach myself and I had there was a CNN talent scout talent coach who was like permanently employed by the company. And I went to him and I said, Lenny, I want you to teach me how to anchor. And he looked at me and said, Well, has anyone asked you to anchor? And I said, No, but I just want to be ready in case an anchor position opens up. And he thought I was nuts because he knew as well as I did that it takes years for new anchor positions to open up at CNN. I mean, if you watch CNN, you'll see that every anchor has been there for a very, very long time. And on top of that, he knew that even if by a miracle an anchor position opened up at CNN, there was absolutely no way it would go to a reporter who had only been in the company for a few months. And so he sort of was skeptical, but he agreed to help me out after his normal duties were over.

33:25 - 33:53

And so every day, even though there wasn't even, you know, a flicker of an anchor position open every day after work, sort of later in the day, I would go with many and we would rehearse anchoring just in case the position opened up so that I was ready and we would go through the scripts of all the sort of biggest anchors. And he taught me how to interview, how to ask great questions, how to really listen, all of it, and nothing happened. But I kept on rehearsing, I kept on practicing.

33:54 - 34:18

And then one day I heard from a colleague that CNN International was looking for new anchors. And I quickly got on the phone with one of the executives. And we kind of both knew that my chances were slim. I'd only been at the company for a short time. But what the executive didn't realize was that I had been practicing and rehearsing being an anchor for many, many months by that point.

34:18 - 34:51

And so she invited me for a screen test. I flew to Atlanta. Its great test was literally about a week or so after the phone call, and in her mind it was a very short amount of time to ask this brand new correspondent who'd been with the company for less than a year to get on a plane and do an anchor screen test. But in my mind it was fine because I'd been rehearsing for this position for months and I aced it because I was ready, because the opportunity had opened up and I was as prepared as I could be.

34:52 - 35:23

And when they told me the job was mine, I realized that I had my mother to thank because if she hadn't, it drummed into me that you should start preparing well before the position opens up. Well, before you know you get called in for an interview, prepare for your dream job now before anything is on the horizon. I did just as well as people who had actually had real experience anchoring because I practiced so much. So, yeah, that's how it affected me in my in terms of my investment in myself.

35:24 - 35:46

Right. And I really appreciate that commentary on preparation when I think about my journey here, this journey here and our journey outside the firm, like a big part of what really pushes us and motivates us is to help other people be prepared for what's next. And if you do it the right way, if you do it consistently and urgently, it will definitely pay off.

35:46 - 36:04

Well, Zain's book, Where the Children Take US, is out now. And do yourself a favor your friends, your family, your momma, and get it out because it is incredible. It is life changing and it's such a great read. Zain, congratulations on all of the success you've had with it so far.

36:04 - 36:06

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

36:06 - 36:25

I hope you enjoyed today's episode. We love to hear from you, so please email your thoughts, questions and any feedback to diverse markets at Bernstein dot com. Be sure to share, subscribe, comment on and write us on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and check us out on Twitter at Bernstein IWM.

Host
James Thompson
SVP—Head of Diverse Markets Strategy

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