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Despite a life of upheaval and constant change, one resilient and positive woman was able to transform herself into a vibrant leader.
When I was 7 years old, my family’s future was changed forever when the Iranian revolution hit.
My father, an executive director of a textile company, was a target of those who opposed the Shah and his ministry. In less than 24 hours and with just 3 suitcases, my mother, two sisters and I, boarded an airplane to France with no clue of what the future held. My father stayed behind to take care of his employees but had to go into hiding for his own safety. Unfortunately, it did not take long for the government to use his remaining family as a way to bring him in and send him to prison. When this happened, his whole life was seized — money, properties, and business — and the life we knew vanished.
Growing up, I was a naturally happy, yet quiet, child who observed and absorbed everything around me. I admired my dad’s business acumen as he brought commerce to rural areas of Iran, built factories and subsidized housing, created jobs for locals so they could send their children abroad to gain MBAs and become leaders in their communities. But with his livelihood and our home now gone, I understood we had to create something different.
When we arrived in Nice, France, my sisters and I entered a boarding school where the kids were much older than me and my younger sister. While my mother searched for a new home for us, I recall thinking I had two choices: Stay inside, hiding from others, or get to know as many people as possible despite not knowing when I would leave again.
By a miracle, my father was released from Iranian custody after some months and joined us in France. When I was 11, we relocated to Los Angeles, where my dad built a successful business supporting the retail sector. However, after five natural disasters in as many years, we endured significant losses and were again forced to rebuild.
A devastating earthquake also hit LA shortly after I got married, expediting our move to the East Coast, and altering my plans to go to Medical School. Add to that colicky twin girls, growing debts, and a pending divorce, and again I was facing an unpredictable future for me and my daughters.
Enough to pay off the debts of yesterday and the bills of today. Enough to take care of myself and the twins while leaving room for the future, including college funds.
I went to a recruitment firm to apply for healthcare jobs. My first interview was so successful that the recruitment consultant approached me, suggesting I consider a job as a recruiter in the tech industry. It could pay a lot more, and even though it wasn’t my background, the skills I had were very aligned to this career path. The only catch was that the job on offer was based on 100% commission! This was a far cry from the guaranteed income I’d set out to secure, but I knew my work habits and knew I would do whatever was required to make enough money to support my family.
After asking my parents if they would loan me money if I really needed it (I never did), I put my negotiating skills to the test with my prospective employer. They agreed to pay me a salary for the first three months of the job, just enough to cover my bills until I was up to speed and earning commissions.
Greater than the risks, I saw the possibilities. It didn’t occur to me to feel intimidated about learning a new field or working in a male-dominated sector.
Watching my father lose and create money multiple times and being in a family that leaped into the unknown and thrived, helped me to discover my own determination to make the most of whatever was in front of me. This became the basis for the leadership perspective I embody today as a resilient leader, someone who can lead without having to live through earthquakes and revolutions!
No matter my financial or personal situation, I’ve always recognized that I am the creative force in my life. I can always create more by simply taking action and seeking it out. I knew from watching my family rebuild itself that making choices today would lead me to a greater future. The questions I ask continually are…
When you recognize that you are the creative force and source in your own life, things such as money, homes, and livelihoods can only go away temporarily. If you have you, you have everything you need to create anything you desire.
By choosing to embrace life in France as an adventure, I chose a path of possibilities. Hiding away and limiting my experiences made no sense to my 7-year-old self… and it still doesn’t as an adult. Why live trying to avoid risks, problems and potential roadblocks, things which only will cause anxiety and stress as you try to control the uncontrollable? It’s more fun and more expansive to live life as an adventure and allow unpredictability to be a springboard for infinite possibilities.
The greatest possibilities you have are always just beyond your imagination or ability to think or figure things out. I embrace going beyond the limits of my mind by asking:
Every choice you make — no matter how little — creates your future. I learned to look at what my choices would create in my life: “Will this choice create more or less for me?” I have learned to trust and follow my instincts. If I’m unsure, I just choose and find out what happens. If it doesn’t work out, at least I know more now as I make my next choice.
Early on in my tech career, I worked so much that I hardly saw my daughters. I knew this wasn’t sustainable and needed to change. When I committed to nurturing myself more, opportunities to support that instantly presented themselves. I found a new job with better hours and more money. I also began listening to the niggles in my body — pain, stiffness, mind-fog, stress. I noticed that when I chose to do something joyful and rejuvenating for my body in response, relaxation and inspiration came flooding in! Creating and innovating in business became easier because I was happier and more vibrant.
So much more is possible when we include joy into our existence and remember that force and struggle aren’t necessary. Imagine what more you would be capable of if you allowed yourself to be more joyful and ease-filled!
No matter how much or how little you start with, expanding your world and creating a greater tomorrow is always possible. The easiest way to grow and expand is to be curious and ask questions. When you do this, you will notice that there is always more to know, more people to talk to, more to discover.
My favorite questions for expanding my awareness of possibilities in life and business are these:
I learned a mantra from Access Consciousness many years ago that I love:
It is a brilliant reminder that whatever is going on — good, bad, or ugly — ease, joy and glory are always available. For me, ‘glory’ is about the exuberance, gratitude, and celebration for all I have and can choose, even in dark or intense times. It is this perspective that has allowed me to be most resilient and never give up.
Sure, there will be ups and down in life that you can’t control. But how you allow them to influence you is totally your choice. Possibilities don’t end just because the unexpected, unplanned, or even undesired shows up; they only end when we stop seeking them.
Becoming a refugee early in life started me on the journey to become the leader, entrepreneur and facilitator of empowerment that I enjoy being today. I am grateful for every question I’ve asked and every choice I’ve made along the way. Together, they’ve shown me that no matter what, there is always a light, always a way forward, always a greater future… if you are willing to choose it.
Laleh Alemzadeh-Hancock is a leadership and entrepreneurial coach, professional services consultant, personal wellness mentor, and founder and CEO of global professional services company, Belapemo. Laleh boasts 30 years’ experience in operational excellence, change management and business consulting. A highly respected executive and leadership coach, Laleh has a particular interest in supporting the leadership capabilities of women – in business, in the workplace, at home and in the wider community. She is featured in the 2019 publication, America’s Leading Ladies: Stories of courage, challenge and triumph. Follow Laleh.