DEI Advisors Podcast

Karim Abouelnaga, Founder & CEO, PRACTICE Benefit Corp., interviewed by Lan Elliott

December 24, 2023 Karim Abouelnaga / Lan Elliott
DEI Advisors Podcast
Karim Abouelnaga, Founder & CEO, PRACTICE Benefit Corp., interviewed by Lan Elliott
Show Notes Transcript

Karim shares his unique journey and the mindsets that set him apart.  He discusses how self-reflection and introspection helped him turn around his business at a critical point.  Karim discusses the backstory of his 2017 TED Talk, one of the 9 Most Inspiring TED Talks that year, and how he embraces imposter syndrome.  He also explains how to find your voice, the right way to ask for help, and why it’s better to ask for perspective than advice.

Hello and welcome to DEI Advisors. My name is Lan Elliott on behalf of DEI Advisors, and today I am really thrilled to have our guest advisor Kareem Abulnega on today. He is the founder and CEO of Practice Benefit Corp and is just a really amazing individual who I've recently had the pleasure to meet. So welcome Kareem. I'm so glad to have you on. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here. Thank you. You've had such a unique journey. We have a lot of leaders on this show. And one of the things that's wonderful is that people have so many different paths to leadership. But when I say yours is unique, I think it truly is compared to a lot of other people that we've had on. You were raised by a single mother in New York City. With quite a bit of government aid, you attended some of the most struggling public schools in that city. You were the First in your family to attend college and you graduated in the top 10 percent of your class at Cornell. And now you have an amazing nonprofit, which we're going to talk about, but I would love if you could share some of the inflection points in your career and if there were particular factors that made your journey different than others. Yeah, I'd love to jump in there, but I always have to clarify that we started as a 501c3 nonprofit, but in 2016 actually changed our legal structure to be a public benefit corporation. So it's a for profit, but with a fiduciary obligation to maximize public benefit. So I'd say biggest inflection points I can talk about. One of them was I graduated. And in the two years after I graduated from college, I raised almost two and a half million dollars in philanthropy from people I had no business meeting with when you're growing up poor, you don't have the rich uncles and aunts to call and ask for money. And I found myself in circles with, just really generous families. So the Rockefeller family, the Tish family, the Ackman family, the Sackler family. And it was because of the work that we were doing and the story that we were sharing. I think it wasn't just some outside person coming in to try and revitalize their this community. It was someone from the community who had grown up in it, who had seen the problems firsthand, who was Committing their life to doing that work. And that was definitely an inflection point looking back and being able to say that, you don't necessarily have to have all the resources immediately. You need to have the vision. You need to have the commitment. You need to have the plan. And hopefully the doors will start to open for you. And I genuinely believe that. When you have the confidence and the conviction in what you're doing, that the rest of the things when you're doing the work you're supposed to be doing will start to fall into place. So that was a big one. Giving a Ted talk in 2017, I think was another really big inflection point. It's the largest stage that I've ever been on. And that same year, my Ted talk got picked as one of the nine most inspiring from the annual Ted conference. And so that was still to this day, one of the highlights. I also have to counter that with 2017, 2018, I nearly bankrupted the business. So we switched from a nonprofit for profit public benefit corporation and the learning curve was super steep, right? There weren't a lot of public benefit corporations. What does it mean to balance like purpose and profit? What does it mean to do good and do well financially? And we were in this space that I think was still very early and we were trying to find our ways through it. And I nearly bankrupted the company. And so learned a lot from that experience. Even though I had studied business in undergrad. You get a really intimate understanding of the financial statements and everything after that. And thankfully had an incredible support system and was able to turn things around and build the organization to where it is today. So definitely feel like those would be my top three inflection points if I had to pick them looking back now. You've got so many great stories and we talked about this before that I could have happily filled half an hour hearing your entire journey, but I appreciate you sharing Some great, learnings and what you just talked about in terms of continuing to learn new skills and to adjust and I do want to dig into learning from setbacks in a little bit, but perhaps one of the things we could first start with is taking risks because you started your company in your dorm room at Cornell, and I've said, I think all I did was study in my dorm room at Cornell, but you actually set out to change the world. When you did that, not only did you start this nonprofit profit to help kids who were like you coming up in school and public schools. In urban locations and other places, but you turned down some incredible Wall Street offers at graduation and decided to focus on your startup nonprofit. Can you talk a little bit about the mindset of taking that entrepreneurial risk and also, some of the skills that you've had to learn along the way? Yeah, I'm taking myself back to that moment and just remembering, I thought at 18 everyone thought they were going to change the world, and then being at Cornell being around all these ambitious, motivated people that's what we went to school for. And so I had this belief that I could do it for some odd reason. And so I started working towards that. I also feel like my risk tolerance was something I discovered later on. I remember believing that, this there was nothing special about what I was doing. There's nothing crazy about what I was doing. It was normal. And so had I thought of it as being something more? I don't know. Maybe I would have hesitated more. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I looked back at the experience and said, know, not anyone jus college with no money lin security at home or safet do something like that. A me grateful for the suppo community, the folks who Didn't make me feel the absence of what wasn't there, and so always grateful for that. And then I think just some mindsets that were instilled early on made a big difference for me. But I remember being in the hallway in 11th grade at my high school, and I had a brother who was two years younger, and his science teacher, Mr. Cifuentes, was talking to him, and he was like, Your older brother, Kareem, is not smart. He's hardworking. And that was a pivotal moment for me because my initial reaction was one of anger. What do you mean I'm not smart? Like I study hard. I'm getting good grades. Of course I'm smart. And it was at the time, like one of the biggest like compliments someone could give you. It's that. It didn't come naturally to you, you worked hard and you earned it. And when I finally heard what he was saying, it changed my like perspective on everything that I thought was possible for myself that I didn't have to be smart. I didn't have to get something immediately that if I worked hard at it, I could figure it out. And jumping in and then doing something entrepreneurial where I did. Believe I had in the skill sets for I believe that I could figure it out and learn it as I was going so I definitely think I picked up a lot of those as I was going along that made taking the risk a lot easier I think if your teacher were to have the chance They would probably say that he's not just smart. He's also hard working But I do think that idea that putting effort into it and leaning into it also is really important. And another thing that you bring up that I will probably touch on a few times because I think it is quite unique to you is mindset and the way you approach things and the way you look at things is really one of your special skills. So I love that you mention mindset as well. Shifting over to learning from setbacks, because you mentioned almost bankrupting the company. Was that a situation where it was a setback, but you had tremendous learning or growth that came out of it? Yeah, absolutely. I think I was and and I don't mean that in a negative way that you shouldn't be nice to people you should. But it also meant that I was avoiding difficult conversations. I wasn't the first one to want to give critical feedback to someone that might make them better. And so I was holding back and I got to a place where maybe there were some difficult decisions that I should have made a lot. Earlier that in hindsight, would have made me a better leader sooner and made the condition and situation better for everyone else. But I didn't have the confidence and have the wherewithal and I didn't have the experience to handle it in the way that I should have. And so I learned some pretty tough lessons. I have a list now. I call him like the 12 ways to bankrupt your company. And I after reflecting and making the entire list sat down and said, Okay, now that I know and have identified what the problem is, there's a very clear solution. I think in the process of snowballing and getting to bankruptcy, it's, you don't just get to bankruptcy by making one mistake or near bankruptcy, right? It's clearly a series of different mistakes. And so once you're clear about what the mistakes are, you can start to undo them, right? If we can be very clear about what the problem is, there's always a solution. I think where we typically struggle is in defining the problem. Or we pick the wrong problem. And so when we come up with a solution for that problem, it almost isn't helpful because we didn't solve the right thing. So definitely learned a lot of skills from that. A lot of self awareness that was developed in that moment. I think my introspection and level of reflection just went up. I don't know if it was tenfold, but I definitely learned a lot more, spent a lot more time reflecting on my decisions after I made them. And it is a very humbling experience. So it doesn't matter how much humility you have before that moment, like you're gonna come out with even more after. So it is one of the things that I look back on and I'm grateful happened, but isn't one of those things that I would wish on anyone or want to relive. I remember in the darkest moments describing it as feeling like I was in the middle of an ocean and the ocean. It was like pitch black. I'm on this rowboat and I know if I stopped rowing that the boat would sink, but there was no direction with what I was doing and the thing that pulled me through it was reflecting on my why, like why I was doing this from the very beginning. I had folks who were telling me just like file for bankruptcy and walk away. You're in a losing situation. You're in education, so the upside isn't really high. You're serving low income kids and families, so again not a lot to be made there. And if you fail at all of this no one is going to say anything bad. You tried something really difficult and it was fine. And when I heard that get played back to me, I took that as more motivation and a reason to have to make this work. I think we want more people to go into our society and solve and tackle big problems. And if I couldn't prove that there was a financially viable way to do it without taking this oath of poverty, then more people would be discouraged and less likely to do it. And so I felt like there was this movement that was happening where we needed to figure out how to solve a pain point. Which is typically what for profits do and at the same time address a social problem, which is what typically non profits or non governmental organizations do. And we needed to find the middle because folks were tired of waking up every single day and doing soul sucking work to solve a pain point. And it was just as tiring and exhausting to wake up every single day, solving a social problem that not that many people cared about. And you in yourself right in the process, weren't able to sustain yourself, your family and provide for them. And there needed to be this middle ground where we could wake up energized by a purpose that we were going to be doing something that was worthwhile, that was going to be building a legacy that was making the world a better place for the people who are around it. And at the same time, not have to struggle to take care of ourselves, take care of our families and provide for the people that we care about. And so I think it was understanding that entire like dynamic that just fueled me to keep going and I have an amazing wife and she pushed me during that time. Like we're still early in our relationship, but that support was incredibly crucial. That's an amazing story. I love that it starts with self introspection. A lot of times you've cast around for other things that you need to do or people you need to bring in or do I hire a consultant? What do I do? That's what you normally do in business. We're going to find someone who's an expert, but I love that you began with looking inside and going back to your why and also. Understanding how do I build this in a way that's sustainable for the company and also for me and my family so that you can keep going. Great themes in that. Along those same lines, you had mentioned being in the middle of the water and not knowing which way to row. And I think a lot of people get to that point where you think how, The task in front of me is so difficult and so unimaginable. How do I get there? How do you stay motivated on a day to day basis? Maybe not something so dire as that particular situation, but how do you remain motivated each day? I was going to say in those dire moments, like your why is everything right. But the day to day is where most people get stuck up and I. Was also very fortunate. My senior year of college took a career planning and hospitality class, and I'm not in the hospitality industry, but one of the things we spent a lot of time on was unpacking our values. And that was the beginning of this like values discovery process that I did. And then later on through the support of the global good fund was given like a leadership coach. And like almost like development consult, leadership development consultant and a career coach. And between the two of them again, like dug deep into what are the things that are driving this? Because the things that we value, the things that are important are what pull at us. It's not a push. We're not waking up and saying, man, I have to push this boulder. I'm waking up instead and I'm saying, okay, these are the things that I'm inclined to want to do more of. And I had gotten to a pretty like granular level of specificity. And what I say when that is like we literally took like the virtue of like family or value of family. And we said, what does that value of family mean to you? Because two people may say they value family and to one person it means that I need to work as hard as humanly possible and make as much money as humanly possible so that my family has anything and everything that they need. And to someone else it might mean that I need to work as little as humanly possible so I can be there for every significant life event. And both of those people value family. And so I had a very like clear definition of my core values and I'll share them, like at the top of my list was making the difference. Like I knew that I just was here and put on this earth to do something that was more than just like serving myself and doing more for me. And so I knew that I would get fulfillment and enjoyment from making a difference. And so I had that at the top of my values list, my health was second, my family was third. Then I had my friendships and then I had paying it forward. And I said, these are my five core values. And I put them in an order, right? Literally said, Hey I'm not going to feel happy like supporting my family. I can't support my family if I'm not taking care of my health and vice versa. And so had that clarity around those values. And then whenever I set goals. I look back and I reflect on are these goals aligned with my values because where most of us get tripped up is we set goals. We don't have an understanding of our values or we think we know what our values are, but we don't really know what they mean. And then we're not motivated anymore. We don't want to achieve those goals. They're not driving us. And having goals does increase your motivation, by the way. So I may already be talking to a smaller group by assuming people have goals when the reality is that most people don't have goals. And so if you want to increase your motivation, go and set goals. And then if you want your motivation to keep going, set values, aligned goals, understand what your values are, understand what the goals are. And you may realize in the process of setting those goals that the value is wrong. And that's okay, too, right? So sometimes we think we value something until we realize we have five financial goals and finances or financial health isn't one of our values. And so it may be time to go back and say, you know what? It's okay. I need to put this here as a value. I may have grown up with financial insecurity. And so that is something that's really important to me now. And I'm aware of that. And so when I make my goals and I tie in finances, that's going to keep me motivated because it aligns with who I am. Values align goals. I go back to all the time whenever folks have motivation issues. They're always tied to that. That's so interesting. I've never really thought about it that way, but it does make complete sense that when there's disalignment, that's when you are not motivated and you don't know what you're working towards. Value is importance. So it's not going to get you out of bed and going. That's for sure. One of the things you've discussed that I really love is approaching things with an asset based approach rather than a deficit based approach. And it's such a positive way of looking at a situation. Can you elaborate a bit on that mindset and how you bring it to life? Yeah. And I know we're using jargon here. So a asset for those who don't understand comes from the balance sheet, right? One of those financial statements and it means something of value. So it has some sort of significance or value in it already. It's a positive word has a positive connotation. The other side of a deficit, the counterpart to that is a liability, right? Something that's weighing it down or dragging it down. And so when I really think about these two, I think about them as asset versus liability, and we can look at any situation and say, Hey, Do we want to put the lens on of, Hey, this is inherently bad and then assign bad value to it? Or, Hey, this is inherently good. And I want to assign good value to it. And they, the philosophers of the, I don't even know what century gave us that, right? They said to look at the same situation and depending on the view that they're looking at it from in their perspective. They are the ones who assign the value to it, right? Everything is inherently neutral. We assign good or bad. And so when I think about asset based or deficit based, I think about the lens at which we're approaching something and I intentionally avoids the word problem, right? When we're saying asset, we're actually saying, Hey, there's an opportunity here. When we're saying deficit, there's usually a problem. And the way we approach those two things is also very different opportunity. I'm excited, right? My energy is one of excitement. Deficit or problem is one of waning, dragging. Oh, I got to go and solve this. This is heavy. This might not be good. And I just have pushed for years now, even amongst our team. Whenever we approach our communities. That folks historically have looked at from this deficit based mindset, we need to come in as the champions, right? We need to come in recognizing my story is not the only story of success that there is so much more there, right? That this quote that folks have used for decades now that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not needs to continue to echo in the back of our minds. When we're approaching our communities, when we're approaching our schools and recognizing that there is a lot of potential here, and this is our opportunity to go out and unleash it, right? We get to be the ones who are out there mentoring, teaching, educating, and uplifting the next generation of kids growing up in situations that they had no control or choice over. And they have just as much, if not more, ability to contribute to our society than anyone else born anywhere else in the world. I love that mindset and the idea of really looking at issues as opportunities and taking on a challenge and solving something that others have not. And I've, I found that to be really helpful in my career as well. What other people thought of as. This is broken. Why would you wanna work on that? I've approached it as this is an opportunity to come up with a solution that no one else has yet. So let's take on that challenge as a team and figure it out together and let's uncover what's working there, right? What are, what's the good there? How do we build on that? Instead of just, let's go and fix what's broken. Absolutely. You mentioned earlier your TED Talk, which I've had a chance to watch, and it's amazing, and I've also had the pleasure of moderating a panel recently that you were on regarding DEI, and one of the things that you are amazing at is public speaking, and I don't know if that just comes naturally to you or not, but I'm really curious, one, how the TED Talk came about, and also if you could share maybe The importance of public speaking and elevating one's career and how you go about preparing for it or feeling confident about it. Yeah. So the TED talk, I applied to be a TED fellow. And as part of the TED fellowship, you get an opportunity to give a TED talk. I do have to say that. I applied probably three times before I was selected as a Ted fellow. They pick 12 people globally every single year. It's a pretty big deal, but at the same time wasn't one of those things that was a natural fit. And then even of that there are multiple talks that are given at Ted every single year. And they pick only a handful or a dozen or so that ultimately make it online. And so I think it was extra special because of that. But surprisingly, I would say that public speaking isn't actually that important. So if I had to say is this a critical part of someone's like career development or being successful? I would say it's not. I think what's more important is that you're able to communicate. Effectively, right? And effective communication looks differently for different people. Like some people, it comes easier to on stage. Some folks are better writers and some people are better in small groups or conversations. I think it's Figuring out like what your niche is getting really good at that and then continuing to be an effective communicator I think that far and like outlasts like being a great public speaker I've been you know, I've just had so much practice in the process. And so that's why it maybe looks a little bit easier But I told you this the other day, I still get that feeling in my stomach before I'm about to give a talk or speak in front of a group, and that feeling never goes away. And so I'm glad it looks better than it actually feels inside. tHat leads me to the next thing I wanted to talk about, which is imposter syndrome. Because that's that feeling of butterflies you get when you're trying to do something new or something that is a little bit scary. And we've talked about the idea of leaning into that because having imposter syndrome can be a sign that you're learning things or doing something new and challenging. How do you handle imposter syndrome when it comes up? First I had to study imposter syndrome and I would encourage anyone who has it to go out there and spend the time, watch a couple of videos, read an article about it. It is what it's stated as, right? You feel like you're an imposter but you're really not, but you also know that a lot of people feel that way. And I forget who said this, but it was something along the lines of nobody is ever really thinking about you because everyone is so worried about what other people are thinking about them. And I pair that or couple it with the imposter syndrome, like research and understanding. And I realized that you're never going to overcome the feeling like no one ever does. And I have always been like a fan of the quote that courage is not the absence of fear, right? It's acting in spite of it. And so whenever I start to feel that imposter syndrome, I acknowledge it. I label it as, hey, this may be legitimate and that's okay. I'm feeling a certain way right now. And again, like that is part of being human, right? I think they say only people who don't feel are psychopaths and dead people. And it's good when you have feeling. And so you have this feeling and you acknowledge it and then you say, okay, in spite of this feeling, I'm going to move forward because it may or may not be fully true. So I'd say just expect that feeling will never ever really go away. It's not one of those things that you do one time and then it's done. But as you become more and more aware, you can choose to act differently. And so in spite of the imposter syndrome, move forward and embrace the fact that you're not. Yeah. And you've talked about how, when you go to give a speech, you'll still get those feelings, imposter syndrome feelings. But when you do it again and again, you. You tend to understand that it's going to be okay. Is just continuing to move forward, continuing to move into things you're uncomfortable doing, is that part of it? Yeah, it's like you take your first test. I don't know if you can remember that feeling as a child, but you're nervous, right? You're so nervous, you're anxious. You're freaking out, you've never taken a test before, and then you take more and more tests. Or when you're studying for a new class, and you get that same nervousness again because you're not prepared, or you haven't done it enough times. And then you do it again, every single time you sit down for a test, you still get the feeling of oh, I'm about to take a test. But you now know that it's going to be okay, you've taken tests before, you've gotten good grades before, and you push through it. I just think it's the same thing all the way through. Yeah. Yeah. It's definitely part of the human condition that you need to get used to. And especially if you want to learn new things, you're going to be trying things that you haven't done before. So it starts again. I love that you said that. Like you, you're truly learning something new. When you have that like anxiousness or feeling of like discomfort sometimes I think we're challenging ourselves But we don't feel that and if we're not feeling that we haven't really tried something completely new for us. That's so true I love that. One of the things you've written about Kareem is labels and how labels can limit or unlimit us and You recently gave a speech where you talked about leaning into the meaning of your name, which means generosity. How would you describe your personal brand and how did you go about creating it? I don't know that I've ever been super intentional about personal branding until now. I'd say like in the last couple of years, I've been thinking more about it. But I haven't sat down and said what is the personal brand mean? I've always been aware, though, of consistency, right? I always tell people the scariest like situation is when someone is inconsistent. When if you think back to when you were a child. You had that teacher that really nice teacher, right? Let's use the really nice teacher first. And you walk into class one day and she's angry. And she's flipping out. That freaks you out, right? And that's almost worse than the evil teacher. That you know you're going into class with that mean teacher. Because you know what to expect. And the days where you're off base with the mean teacher is when the mean teacher is really nice. Then, you have a problem again. And so I think what a brand does is it allows you to put that consistency together. So I actually used barred Google's AI search engine was like, how would you describe my personal brand? And it said equity, right? This belief that all children deserve access to a quality education. It's something that I have stood on. It's still to this day is an integral part of who I am. Social justice and dismantling systems of oppression. And I genuinely have believed that there are systems that need to be recreated. And I am a big advocate of good trouble. And I say it all the time within my company empowerment, right? It doesn't really do much if I'm going out there and I'm saying like, this is great. It's how do I get you to believe that you can do it yourself, right? How do I instill that confidence in you? And so empowering others to reach their potential. And it is something that I always tell people is the thing that drives me secondarily to creating equity. It's helping people like actually unleash their potential and realize that they could do things that they didn't think they could do before. And then being innovative. And I, that's a cool title to take on, but I don't know how true that is. But looking for new ways to solve problems and make a difference in the world is what it said. So the four sounded good as pillars and maybe I'll build on these one day. So I appreciate the question. Thank you. Those are really incredible pillars. And I love that you used AI to do that. It's the second time I've seen you do that really well, actually. Along those lines of empowering others. I wanted to talk a little bit about advocating for ourselves because a common generalization is that women and maybe people from underrepresented groups don't do a great job of advocating for themselves. And that can be a challenge in seeing them rise to the C suite or getting opportunities that they would like to have. What would you tell our viewers who are struggling to find their voice and find their voice? What's the right way to ask for something that you want? So let me tackle the voice part first because I don't think you find your voice until you start to speak. And so I want like folks to put that and let that sit, right? There is no voice if you're not speaking. And so you need to go out and practice and maybe you're not comfortable. Like speaking up online or in some of these forums and spaces, but you need to then journal, right? Start to write, like, how would you have responded? And you need to work your way up to the point where you would feel comfortable saying something. Because you never get to that place. And over time, it's a process, right? It's a journey of finding our voice. Everyone who starts says or they look back in old video or they look, reflect back in a conversation. They're like, man, I'm so bummed that I said that, or I can't believe this came out that way. And then you're doing something really important, right? You're self reflecting, so you're going back and you're looking at what you said, and now you're fine tuning it or tweaking it to get it closer to what your heart ultimately wants to put out there. And so I say you have to speak. And if you don't feel comfortable speaking first, then write. And then after you write and have conversation, and after you have conversation, then go out there and then tweet, you're going to continue to iterate in terms of how you do it. I'm a big proponent of situational leadership, right? So there's no one blanket answer here. And there is no one right way to ask, depending on the environment, depending on the culture, depending on the identity of the company that you're in, there is a way to do it. And I would say watch the informal cues and see how other people are doing it. Because if other people do it one way and it's succeeding, odds are that is the right way to do it in that environment. In that context, I think where we messed up is we go to a conference and they say, Oh, this is the way to do it. And you go back and you're trying to apply that to your company. But your company has a very different culture and that may not work there. Or you take it back to different countries. And that may not work there. And some countries have high power distance and some have low power distance. And so you need to understand the distances of power when you're having that kind of conversation as well. So big proponent of situational leadership. And I think this is one of those situational aspects. And I would say that is what's going to dictate what the right way to do it is. It's great advice. And yeah, every situation is going to be a little bit different. And just like you said, with the teacher who comes in and is always friendly versus the one that's not, like you have to adjust based on who you're having that conversation with. And sometimes it's even just picking the right day to have those conversations. You had mentioned support systems earlier. Could you share a little bit more about mentors and champions and their importance in your success and how they've. Advanced your career. Yeah. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the mentors and even the organizations that I got involved with at a really young age. One of the first ones was Eddie Rodriguez, who I got connected to through this program called rewarding achievement that was paying kids that struggling inner city public high schools to get ahead and pass AP exams. But one of the things I learned early on, even just about the mentors and the champions, is that to be able to receive that you need to be willing to ask for help. So one of the pieces that I always think about when I think about mentoring or think about getting ahead is being aware enough to know to ask for that. And in my career now, I've realized that. It's not a class thing, right? Asking for help is uncomfortable, regardless of what class you come from. Asking for help comes with all of these inner voices Oh, I don't want someone to know that I'm not smart enough. When you're poor, it's, I don't want to owe someone something because I have nothing to give them. Or I don't want to burden someone. Forget about the other two, right? I don't want to be a burden to someone. And you come up with all of these reasons not to ask for help, right? Or I don't want to seem like I'm self serving. And so those, they're there all the time and you have to push past them. And I, the way I pushed past them, at least when I was younger, was I said, I wasn't getting this help just for me. The whole purpose of getting the help was to be more successful. And that's the purpose of Help Anywhere, right? Get through whatever challenge, obstacle, or whatever it is I'm facing faster, right? Or get through it. You might not even be able to get through it without the help, if you're not willing to ask for it. And so I want to get through it. And the reason why I want to get through this is because it's going to allow me to do more for my community. It's gonna allow me to uplift other people. It's gonna allow me to do more for my family. And so if you can change it from this inner critic of selfishness to a place of selflessness, it makes it easier. It doesn't eliminate the feeling, right? You're still gonna have that feeling in your stomach of, Ah, man, or what if they say no, right? The rejection feeling on top of all that. There's all these reasons not to do it, but you have to get good at it. And I don't think there's any percentage that's like higher or lower depending on your class, but I will say that if you're underrepresented or you're a woman or you're growing up low income, that if you don't ask for help, those social safety nets and support systems that exist for someone who might be more affluent or well connected don't exist for you in the same way. And when I used to get asked the question what was it about you that made it different? Like, how did you get out? I got that question. I remember fondly. And I used to, in the beginning, always say. There's not enough opportunities for kids growing up like me. And if you understand anything about business and you're a good business person, you know this. You don't take every single opportunity that comes across your desk. Because not every opportunity is a good opportunity, right? You make decisions and you evaluate them. And so if you're growing up in an environment where there aren't that many opportunities and you say no. 10 opportunity. You may not get another one. And I used to drill into that logic. And then I realized I was mentoring someone a lot younger, who is about to start at Cornell, who grew up in a very similar situation. And we were sitting down and I did what I thought any like recent grad would do is I told them all the professors to avoid all the classes they should take all the clubs they should join to make sure that they got good grades and would have a great experience. And we were talking the first couple of weeks. He was super excited. He went through it and then I didn't hear from him for months. And I had finished in the top 10 percent of my class. Like I knew what I was doing there. I was more than capable of helping. I helped with the personal statement. I helped with sourcing recommendations. And so I thought I had proven myself as a trusted resource and almost like this older brother figure. And then I just let it be. I know Cornell is stressful. I know there's a lot happening at any given moment or you're just busy. And months later, he reached out and said that he failed out. He was on probation, had to do a semester at another community college, but had now rebounded. He was at the tail end of that, and he'd be going back to Like university the next semester and I realized in that moment that the difference between me and him Is that had i've been going through that and I was struggling I would have reached out in the beginning instead of after the fact And it was when I just had that epiphany that most people just don't ask for help And if you don't ask for help, you're not going to get it. Yeah, I think that's so true and but it's such a moment of vulnerability to admit that you need help, but that's It's when people are there to help you through it or to guide you. And it's one of the most important things you can do is to ask for help. And it's very hard to do as, as a woman or an underrepresented group where you feel like they gave me this chance. If I ask for help, they're going to think I don't know what I'm doing, that I don't belong here. You're back to the imposter syndrome. So And unfortunately, you don't have an uncle who's a VP or a chief whatever to say, Hey, have you checked in on my daughter recently? Or, Hey, how is she doing? Which. I use the private and public school example, low income public school. You're one of 500 kids to a guidance counselor. Like you didn't submit your college application, like who's going to go through all of them to know that you're the one who didn't submit private school. You have a smaller teacher to student ratio. You have better guidance to student ratios and they're tracking more diligently. You don't get that application and they're going to come for you eventually. It may not be immediately, but they're going to come and figure out why you haven't submitted and someone will find it. And so you almost have this like disadvantage already working against you, that if you're not more intentional when you're coming from a position or a place where you don't have the same resources, that you're just not going to get the same support. That's true. That's true. And everyone needs help. So no matter where you started. So it's okay to And everyone who succeeds gets help, which we don't talk about as often either. That's true. That's true. You look around and when we've talked with all of these leaders, there are so many examples of people who have gotten help from mentors and champions along the way. So I think that's a great, it's a great call out. As I suspected, we're getting close to time because I'm always fascinated every time I talk with you, Kareem, I always want to learn more about you. But two quick final questions, if you would. First one is what advice would you give to your younger self? I didn't know what age we were going to go with, but I definitely said marry Kadesia, so my wife, and I say that with all seriousness, like who you marry does have an incredible impact on your future trajectory. And take that partnership seriously. I always also tell folks younger now that they should ask for perspective. Don't ask for advice. So I remember my like turning point, my senior year of college, I had a full time offer at BlackRock, I had other offers that are opportunities that I could have taken on Wall Street, and I'm asking people what should I do, what should I do, and people are quick to tell you what to do, but they don't understand like what you should do, and when we make decisions, We're only able to communicate so much right when we're asking someone for advice, we're not sitting there telling them like the feeling in our stomach, the emotions that we have surrounding it, we're only communicating what we're able to communicate. And that is maybe a third, right? They say you have your brain, your gut brain, and then your heart brain. And so there's three elements there. And if you could articulate what's going on in your gut and in your heart like kudos, but most people can't. And so you're giving someone information, you're giving them a third of the information. If you had a lot of time and were able to get it all out there and then you're asking them to make a decision for you in your life. And so I always say avoid that because you're not giving them the information that they really need to make an informed decision. But what they could do is give you their perspective on what they might do or how they would think about it if they were in a similar situation. And then if you're going to be an inexperienced CEO, hire experienced executives. You can only get away with inexperienced executives if you yourself are a very experienced CEO, and I made that mistake early on, and so those three would be my top three. Those are wonderful pieces of advice. And I also think back to what you said earlier about, Understanding your goals and your values and that's that goes into making those decisions as well. So I love all of those themes. One final question and Kareem, you've offered so much great advice from your journey. Could you share perhaps one final piece of advice with our viewers who are looking to advance their careers and are struggling with that? Yeah, I wasn't 100 percent sure if this was okay to do, but I'm a believer that like all leaders are readers and you need to be curious and embrace that growth mindset and actually created a free newsletter that I put out every single week that helps people be more introspective and reflective on like their journey and I am a believer that the answers to a lot of the questions That we need answered. We have the answers to we just need the right questions to be sparked on the learning journey to go out there and seek the knowledge. But we know what those answers are. And so I like we just throw it out there that if folks are curious, they can go out there and like subscribe to that free newsletter. But like absolutely keep reading and keep reflecting. Thank you. Where do they find the newsletter? They can just go to my website. Kareem Abulnaga dot com forward slash newsletter. It's called the learning loop. And literally it's about turning it back and my hope is all of us will not only be more reflective, but we'll learn to ask better questions to help other people reflect. That is a wonderful piece of advice for everybody. Thank you so much, Kareem. I so appreciate you being on and for our audience, if you've enjoyed this conversation with Kareem, I hope you will go on our website to look for conversations with other hospitality leaders. Our website is DEIAdvisors. org. Thank you for joining us.