DESTROY EVERYTHING AND BUILD YOUR FOUNDATION

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SHAFIN AHMED

CREATOR OF FORTITUDE

SENIOR ANALYST, GLADIATOR, COMEBACK STORY

Shafin grew up in Bangladesh and came to Brooklyn when he was 11 years old. He went to college at St. John’s University to study Government and Politics and now finds himself working at Goldman Sachs. It’s been anything but a smooth journey for Shafin. I’ve seen him rise to the top and hit rock bottom. But he rose back up, higher than ever, largely because he embraced adversity. To this day he believes that there are two different types of adversity. There’s personal adversity which is made up of the decisions you make and then there’s circumstantial adversity which is made up of the things you can’t control i.e. your culture and gender. In this interview Shafin opens up about his experience with adversity, his desire to help others facing it, and how adversity helped him become a better man.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST FORM OF ADVERSITY YOU’VE HAD TO OVERCOME?

Well I think it was when I came to this country at the age of 11 years old and I had to adjust to the culture. I had to learn how to communicate with people and learn a different language. Just adapting was one of the biggest things I’ve had to overcome as a child. But in terms of my career, there was a time I used to work at this financial company for over a year. It was a great opportunity with a great salary but in terms dealing with the day to day workflow, manager, and status quo at the company, I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to face everyday. So I decided to leave the company and take a chance in terms of finding a way to make myself happy. I was unemployed for 8 months and there are things you have to deal with when you’re unemployed for that long. I think finding yourself in a career that’s right for you is one of the biggest forms of adversity for 25-30 year olds everywhere. In the 8 months where I struggled to find a job, I had to wake up every morning and learn to overcome the fear of being financially unstable, professionally unstable and not having the career path I thought I wanted.

IT’S INTERESTING that you’re SO YOUNG AND YOU say you KNOW WHO YOU ARE. IT’S IRONIC BECAUSE YOU MENTIONed THE CULTURE SHOCK OF COMING TO THE UNITED STATES AND HAVING TO ADAPT AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE.

You bring up a good point. I was so shocked when I first came here so maybe that’s why the career adversity didn’t phase me. I came here not knowing how to speak english, I was bullied and beaten up, but I never stepped down from it. I told myself “you don’t have to take this.” These people didn’t have any understanding of who I was or where I came from. Having that experience of overcoming adversity in my upbringing does transition to where you go in life and the choices you make. Some people wouldn’t adapt, they would just accept things.

You have to realize that we’re not dealing with the same situation we used to deal with in the 1980’s. Baby boomers would go to work 9-5 and work in corporate jobs to feed their family - that’s not what it’s all about anymore. The work environment has changed as well. You don’t have to accept to corporate life and day to day. I think life plays in circles. When you accept those norms, you’ll keep doing it over and over and keep accepting crap from other people and it transitions into your friends and family. So you just need to take yourself out of it sometimes and take necessary risks.

I think the other thing about dealing with adversity is having friends and family who have the mentality to push you when you are down at your lowest point in life. Sometimes you lose friends during your lowest times because you don’t have the financial stability to go out with them everyday. There are people I used to meet for happy hour everyday but they aren’t around anymore. For me that 8 months was a cleansing in my life. You take the good friends, the good family members, the good moral philosophies and figure out what’s the most important thing to you. In that 8 months I figured out that professional status is fucking amazing. Two, I learned about myself and how it feels to be at the lowest point of my life. When I was at that lowest point I didn’t have the confidence to talk to a girl or anyone. So those things affected me in a way and I told myself that I would never go down that path again. But it also built confidence. I was basically building something out of nothing again. You have to use your friends, family and morals to build your confidence again.

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“I decided that I’m going to risk it all because I have higher morals and I realize who I am.”

IS IT SAFE TO SAY THAT THE ADVERSITY YOU WENT THROUGH BY MAKING THE DECISION TO QUIT WAS A POSITIVE experience?

Yes. There was personal growth in realizing what was important to me and clearing my mentality on how to deal with things. Those are things that helped me but also when you’re beat down to the lowest point of you life, you don’t think about losing your job anymore. The most crazy and stressful day at my job doesn’t compare to those 8 months. So it’s like building endurance and running a marathon - it takes practice. When I got my job, that’s the marathon, that’s the race I was preparing for.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR DEFINITION OF ADVERSITY?

That’s hard. I talked about it in the beginning but maybe I went too fast. There’s adversity that you were born into like you culture - being a minority. Those are things you can’t control. Then there’s personal adversity which are the things you want to face to get to where you want to be.

WHY DO YOU THINK SOME PEOPLE ARE BETTER AT DEALING WITH ADVERSITY THAN OTHERS?

There are people who complain about most adversity. They say “I can’t do this,” or “It’s not my fault.” Those are the people that complain about other things rather than looking at themselves and figuring out a way to get out of it. They won’t do anything but sit next to you and talk to you about their problems. The excuses will never end. And there are people who are struggling right now who get out of it because of their mentality. Every day they wake up and have a routine.

WHAT TYPE OF ADVERSITY ARE YOU DEALING WITH NOW?

I know what I want to do. I grew up in a third world country so I want to give back somehow. I want to focus on human rights and equality eventually. My struggle is, when. When is it going to be ok to leave what I have to do something greater. I want to make some sort of impact in life.

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“Nobody has to take anything in life. You need to realize that.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN’T HAVE YOUR STABLE JOB AND HAVE MORE OF AN IMPACT THROUGH SOMETHING ON THE SIDE?

I was listening to this podcast and they said there’s some millionaires, there’s some billionaires that you don’t even have a chance at eating those tables. Those are closed doors in life. They wouldn’t open a door for anyone without the same social status. Sometimes I think about climbing to that door and holding it open for people who are like me so they can go inside and maybe share some ideas. I would have a bigger impact doing that than just leaving right now and joining a human rights movement for example. I want to do something bigger and more impactful.

WHAT DOES IMPACT LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

So when I was growing up I studied government and politics. I wanted to go to law school to study international law for human rights. If you go to a third world country, there’s a large opportunity gap. If you’re a female, you’re allowed to do only labor at the house. Farmer’s aren’t allowed to get jobs in the city. If you grow up under a certain family name you can have more opportunities. I want to be able to educate third world countries on the labor side of things. I want these people to work smarter versus having someone come into their town and take advantage of their labor workforce. Train the people in the village how to grow a rice crop and have them start their own entrepreneurial business. They have the resources, they just don’t have the education.

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN?

I never actually touched the scope of how I’m going to do that. I’m inspired but I guess just educating people from those countries and building a team who are willing to sacrifice their wealth. Gathering a group of successful entrepreneurs and coming up with a plan of how we can open up a clinic in those smaller towns, bringing these farmers, wives and kids in and talking to them about how we can proceed.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE ON HOW TO LIFE A MORE CREATIVE AND MEANINGFUL LIFE?

I think keep it simple. Just take a step back and think about what you want to do in the long term, not just the short term. Look around you. Look at your friends and your family because they are the foundation of your dreams, your hopes and your future. Take a deep breath and then take a step.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Watch the full interview here: