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Grit and Curiosity

Updated: Apr 8

A few days ago, my colleague Ismayil and I were discussing the usual. Our conversation consisted of a little bit of everything. At one point the conversation took a turn and we ended up at “self-criticism & self-love”

He mentioned that most people would consider me as someone successful, to which I replied. My self-evaluation or self-love is not blind, it is conditional. I do not consider myself successful and always set new targets for myself. I do not like to stand still or stagnate because I like to change in the direction that is most fulfilling to me. Ismayil thought this could be toxic to one’s mental health. Because in his opinion, although successful I put too much pressure on myself.  This approach might seem toxic or exhilarating. However, I am quite happy with this trait of mine so far.

After some more mingling, I asked him these two questions.

1. What do almost all billionaires & game-changers have in common, is there a single word for it?

2. What do all scientists and greatest thinkers have in common, is there a single word for it?

He gave some guesses & assumptions.  However, my self-observed answer was – Grit & Curiosity.

Now let’s have a look at the definitions of these words first, and also what do I mean by them?

To have grit means to have courage and to show the strength of your character. It means that the person who has it will stop no matter what. Even if he does he will have a damn good reason for it. People who have this characteristic, do not have the instinct to quit when life becomes difficult for them

Curiosity means the desire to know, to understand, to find out & inquisitive interest in the way things work or how humans operate. Curiosity is when a child looks at a toy & breaks it down to see what is inside and how it is built.

To prove my point, I am willing to share some examples. Some of these I have personally experienced and some I have read or heard about.

Back in the day, I decided to hire a head of marketing, after Hasan Askerov gave me a heads up about his departure. He asked me permission to relocate to Abu Dhabi & work at Etisalat. To which I replied, “Pack your bags. This is the opportunity of a lifetime” and he left. After a few weeks I got to meet Teymur Hajiyev(on the left side of the cover photo) – a very well-read creative guy who used to work for one of the biggest banks at that time. We worked on numerous projects over 2-3 years. He even directed a few of our TV ads as well. And every time he was traveling overseas he would come back with some unusual purchases. Stuff like lenses, cameras & different accessories for camera or filmmaking.

At one point I understood that Teymur has more passion for filmmaking than being head of marketing at ATL. So we had a friendly chat and we parted ways. Since then Teymur has devoted himself to filmmaking. And guess what, he achieved more in 5-7 years than Azerbaijani cinema has achieved in several decades. His movies visited dozens of film festivals and most importantly. Two of his movies were at the Cannes Film Festival & a bunch of other international film festivals like Palm Springs, Locarno, Tampere, and Rotterdam. This is just the beginning of the journey for him. This is a story of grit, passion and dedication. The inclusion of “Towards Evening” in the Semaine de la Critique section at the Cannes Film Festival 2020 makes Teymur the only Azerbaijani filmmaker to have been at Cannes both as a director and a producer. You can watch that same movie below.

Over the years, I have made sure to surround myself with people who inspire me and push me to be better. One of those people, who has taught me to never give up no matter what life throws at me, is Mubariz Mustafayev. Mubariz has been with ATL for several years, he used to be part of ATL Consulting & now he is the Business Development Manager at ATL Tech.

Mubariz(on the right of the cover photo) and I have an inside joke where I have been calling him a “Hero” for 3 years now. However, in October last year, he really proved that he is one. Almost 2 years ago Mubariz was diagnosed with a disease and doctors informed him that if he doesn’t forgo the necessary surgery he has 2 months to live. After undergoing 3 brain surgeries he had his last check up in October. He has fully recovered and is very thankful for everyone who was beside him during the last difficult 2 years.  His official statement for us was “I am back”. Now that is the embodiment of grit and strong character.

There are many stories of men winning at life but I want to segue way to one of my favorite stories of all time.

The story of Kobe Bryant. For some, this name does not mean much but to me, Kobe was a legend. A Famous NBA player who passed away in a tragic helicopter accident. Growing up all he wanted was to become an NBA champion & he did all in his power to become one. He admired Michael Jordan, idolized him, and put everything he had into becoming like Mike and he did. Kobe’s story is one the most inspiring stories out there, plus he is the hero of one of my favorite interviews of all time. Grit was all over his heart and mind. Watch his interview below.

Another amazing story about grit is the one of Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks.

Did you know that Howard Schultz approached 242 investors to fund Starbucks? That is the definition of grit & persistence. Some people are impossible to discourage, even after they receive 242 “NOs”. 

Now let’s talk about curiosity. I bet you guys did not know that Elon Musk read every book he could get his hands on. Allegedly he read 10 hours a day when he was a kid. These books seemed to have powered his ambitions. He would spend days engrossed in books. He especially enjoyed reading science fiction novels. After he had finished reading all of the books at his local library he decided to read through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, when he was only nine years old. I was even surprised when I found out about Elon’s admiration of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He read about him when he was a child & even visited his memorial in Ankara. I mean we all know that this guy is the closest thing to an alien. He was a curious child; he became an ambitious young man & turned into Tony Stark. Yes, Iron Man’s Tony Stark is based on Elon Musk.

Another interesting story of curiosity is Albert Einstein’s introduction to science. When he was five years old, he received a compass. Young Albert was fascinated by the fact that no matter which way he turned the compass, the needle always pointed in the same direction. This was his introduction to scientific inquiry. The rest is history.

Have you ever heard of Richard Feynman? If not, then you should. He is one of the biggest names in the history of physics. Richard Phillips Feynman was a prominent American scientist, widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential theoretical physicists in history. Feynman revolutionized the field of quantum mechanics and formulated the theory of quantum electrodynamics. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965.

However, years before that, the young Feynman was heavily influenced by his father. Who encouraged him to always ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking. He was also always ready to teach Feynman something new.

There are so many stories of legendary men & women who had curiosity and grit. Every scientist, every philosopher & genius growing up wanted to figure things out. So please urge your kids to be curious & let them ask questions. Do not kill their curiosity with your impatience. I recommend reading the book, especially as a parent. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.

So when I explained my standing on the meaning of Grit & Curiosity, Ismayil asked me. “Which one do you have, Rashad?” I wish I could answer that. However, my answer was the following.

“Unfortunately I was born in a very unstable time zone, it isn’t about the country, it is about the geolocation. I was not exposed to legendary scholars, scientists, businessmen, athletes, actors, or game-changers.” Sadly, my generation grew up through wars, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and fights for independence. This is a topic I wish to discuss further in a different blog.


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