What Are You Doing With Your Nanosecond on Earth?

Hosted by founder of The Room, Fred Swaniker, The Pathway is a conversation series with global leaders that aims to uncover the milestones, challenges, relationships and opportunities that have enabled their path to significance. On a recent episode, Fred engaged in a special conversation with Reeta Roy, President of the Mastercard Foundation and a distinguished member of The Room. A passionate advocate for the world’s most vulnerable, she has worked tirelessly to build a foundation that is collaborative and known for its lasting impact.

Reflecting on their conversation, Mike O’Brien draws lessons from Reeta’s beliefs on the importance of curiosity, being a student for life, and truly listening to others in the quest to bring about change in the world.

This community is incredibly diverse and filled with remarkable people who are striving to disrupt the status quo and create a better future. Even more exciting is the multitude of paths everyone is taking to reach their potential. Each path is unique and comes with its own important story that needs to be heard. By actively listening to these conversations and distilling some First Principles, we can learn to collaborate better and amplify the impact we are having individually and collectively.

What’s your story? Why are you here? What are you seeking to do? Who are you really?

Take a minute and think about how you might answer these questions.

Are your answers inspiring and interesting or are they vague and convoluted? Are you able to coherently organize your life’s experiences to communicate what you have learned along your path? Or are you struggling to come up with an answer that makes you proud?

What if I went on to remind you (as Reeta Roy did on The Pathway): “We’re here for just a nanosecond and it’s what we do with this nanosecond that matters.”

Are you proud of your answers or do you wish you could go back in time and make some changes?

Become an Interesting Person

In a previous episode of The Pathway, we heard from Roshni Nadar Malhotra how her unique path helped her differentiate herself and add value as a leader. During her interview, Reeta Roy told us how a mentor, early in her career, impressed upon her the importance of “becoming an interesting person.” But how do you become an interesting person?

So often in life, and particularly with COVID over the past year, we find ourselves falling into the monotony of a routine. Then, before we know it, 5 months or 5 years have gone by in a nanosecond. There is a litany of excuses we use to justify why we accidently stopped trying “to become an interesting person.” We got caught up with the responsibilities of our jobs or our families. We let our egos prevent us from trying new things. We let our envy or jealousy force us down paths we were not passionate about. The list potentially goes on and on…

Now stop for a minute and ask yourself this question: “What was the last thing you were curious about?”

As we have seen on The Pathway, people become interesting by having a variety of experiences, by pursuing their curiosities and charting their own paths. They then share these experiences and the lessons learned with others around them, enabling their successes.

  • For example, Masai Ujiri started out as an athlete before using his experiences to become a successful scout and later a World Champion NBA Executive.
  • Don Gips started out working in consulting before shifting to politics, learning to build teams, and eventually running the Skoll Foundation to empower changemakers.
  • Roshni Nadar Malhotra worked in media and education, then became an IT Executive and is now pivoting, using her experiences to focus on conservation efforts.

Become a Student for Life

During Fred’s conversation with Reeta, she referred to her role leading Mastercard Foundation as not simply a job, but rather a calling to enable greater levels of inclusion around the world.

Building upon earlier conversations regarding the paths’ leaders take towards success, Reeta took it one step further by providing an incredible observation:

“Success not only has to be earned; it has to be learned. This is how we create greater levels of inclusion. We can’t do this if we’re not curious and listening.”

Through a combination of principles like discipline and kindness, we can put ourselves in a position to earn success. We then pursue our own paths, providing us with unique experiences to learn and become interesting. These experiences enable a diversity of perspectives we can use to help lead and succeed. But then what? What does success look like? How does one leverage some initial experiences as a leader into long-lasting impact?

The answer, perhaps, is to continue the cycle. To continue being curious. Through Reeta’s recommendation to “be a student for life and open yourself up to learning.” Becoming a leader, after all, is not the destination, it is instead where the real work of having an impact begins.

Reeta went on to say, “When you think about impact, you have to listen to the people whom you work with. To young people. Ask them what success looks like. What does change look like? What does improvement look like? How do we get closer to that so we’re measuring success as seen and experienced through the lives of the people we’re working with and not success on our terms?”

The Importance of Truly Listening

Reeta learned an important lesson early in life as a member of an all-girls debate team: “We learned about different perspectives…If you had to argue a proposition you needed to know all sides. You learned to listen and to understand different viewpoints.”

She explained how being able to listen and understand people’s needs allows us to collaborate better. “Sometimes, you need to concede points…points that don’t matter to you very much but may matter a lot to the other side. And when you do that, they concede something that matters very much to you but might not matter as much to them.”

Without listening, without being curious, how can we learn to see the world through each other’s eyes? How can we learn what is truly needed to bring about change in the world?

By being curious we can become interesting. By being interesting we get presented with opportunities to lead and be part of a diverse team. The question then becomes: What will you do once you are given the opportunity to lead? Will you continue to be interesting? Will you continue to be curious? Will you continue to listen? Will you define success on your own terms or as seen through the lives of others?

Mike O’Brien is a member of The Room and Director of Research and Investment Strategy for AVR Asset Management in San Francisco. He founded a leadership consulting firm, Independence Creek Advisors, focused on organisational dynamics and human nature.

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