How does it feel to see yourself as an "error" in the system? When you try out over 40 jobs and you fit into none?
From system error to futurist, Ali Mahlodji discovered his sense of purpose in the midst of his life's difficulties. Having zigzagged his way from refugee to technology entrepreneur and CEO to global thought leader, he helps children and at-risk persons navigate the multiple paths to a sense of purpose in an uncertain world and often amid difficult circumstances. And he does so by drawing on his own inner and outer journey.
As a boy, Ali had no idea what kind of career he wanted when he grew up. He envisioned a Handbook of Life Stories that would feature people in a variety of jobs from all around the world and would be available for anyone to borrow from libraries. When he was 30, he launched that vision as a digital platform (whatchado.com) with a few friends - an opportunity made possible by enhanced technology, social media, and the internet. At the time of its launch, whatchado.com featured 17 stories. Today, it is Europe's largest video job orientation platform featuring nearly 8,000 stories and hundreds of company profiles, including partners in education and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
If you asked Ali whether his younger self knew that he would one day become an award-winning entrepreneur, he would likely say no. "Life itself starts and ends by chance, and in between we think we can make plans for the next 40 years which is crazy. Life is a zigzag...The most beautiful thing about life is its uncertainty," says Ali.
Ali was born in Tehran, Iran in 1981. His parents, both professionals in academia, took Ali and fled persecution in 1984. The family left Iran in the middle of the night and traveled to Turkey before making their way to Vienna, Austria. By the time Ali was 10 years old, he had lived in 13 different apartments. In Vienna, his mother cleaned for an architecture company while his father stocked groceries. When he was 13, Ali's parents divorced and he developed a stutter. He went on to drop out of school at 18, just before his exit exams. Ali remembers, "My father always told me to find out what I don't want to do, so the only way to do that was to try things out."
And so he did, exploring more than 40 jobs before returning to finish his education in his late twenties. Ali went on to earn a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Programming and joined the technology sector. After his father passed away, Ali felt called to do something that felt more meaningful, so he left his high paying job as a Global Systems Engineer and became a grammar school teacher until founding whatchado.com. Ali said, "A lot of young people don't have any idea of what to do in their future. It's so powerful when you have a chance to talk to someone about your experiences. We started this platform to show people if they want to have a job one day, don't think there's only one way to get there."
Passionate about helping prepare youth for the future, Ali dedicates 50% of his work to young people pro bono. In his TEDx Talk, Ali encourages young people to question the status quo, to be grateful so they do not end up acting in greed, and to believe in the future because "we need the energy to create the kind of world we want to live in." In his voluntary work, Ali also works with adult prisoners and youth at-risk of exclusion. The other half of his time he works with leaders and focuses on professional development.
Since launching whatchado.com, Ali has gone on to create start-ups such as futureRocka, ALIDO, and futureOne (which also has a podcast called futureOne HEROES). He is a best-selling author of multiple books including Und Was Machst Du So? (or, And What Are You Doing?), Next Level WORK, Ent-Decker Dein Wofur (or, Discover What You're Doing For), and Work Report. He has worked with various companies and organizations including Google, BMW, IBM, Siemens, Mastercard, Microsoft, Red Bull, and the United Nations. He has won numerous awards including HR Excellence Award and New Work Award (twice each), Voices Award for Best Business Podcast, Digital Communications Award, and Andreus Peace Award, among others.
Ali currently lives in Vienna with his wife, whom he describes as "the woman of his dreams," and they have two super cool daughters. Ali travels around the world as a keynote speaker on topics such as focus and simplicity in business, mindful leadership, leading new generations, diversity and inclusion, and "the art of making one's own life authentic."
Join us in conversation with this master speaker and author, who inspires us to live with relentless enthusiasm and compassion through all the zig-zags of life.
When a person suddenly sees his own light through my work and is touched by himself and realizes that we can create much more in life than we thought, that touches me. There is nothing better than when a person believes in their own future again through my work.
I finally had the corporate job I always wanted. I was 27 years old, had my great company car and stock options, and thought, now I've made it. And then I had a crisis of purpose that led to a burnout lasting several months. I was no longer able to work, had to take strong antidepressants and lost everything that was important to me at the time: my relationship, my job and supposed friends. Through therapy, I was confronted with the meaning of my life and realized that I didn't know what I really wanted. It was the worst phase of my life, because I didn't want to live anymore either. Only the confrontation with the innermost, what wanted through me into this world, I realized that I want to help children who have gone through the same as me. I became a teacher and then an entrepreneur. But without this burnout, I would never have become the person I always was inside.
There are two stories, that literally changed my life:1. How my stuttering became my superpower:I was thirteen years old when my parents divorced. For me it was such a great shock that I stopped talking. It got better with time, but I stuttered a lot. At first I couldn't even say my own name. At school it was a very bad time. It was a technical school for construction and 90% of the students were boys. They had nothing better to do than to make life difficult for the only stutterer in the school. Whenever we had to read aloud in class, I would go out with my asthma inhaler and say I couldn't breathe. I had very quickly developed asthma and the spray became my best friend, taking me out of harm's way if I embarrassed myself by reading aloud.One day we got a new teacher, Gerhard. Right in the first lesson we had to read aloud and he saw that I couldn't get a word out. After the lesson he asked me to come in and when I was about to say that I stuttered, he just said "Ali, I used to stutter too". I was completely perplexed. He was a teacher and could talk well, how could he have been a stutterer?"Ali, the only reason you stutter is because you have so much energy in you and your young body can't handle it yet. You'll see, someday as an adult you'll have more energy than anyone else and no one can stop you." Suddenly the stuttering that characterized my life had a good explanation.He lied to me that day, of course, and he also asked my parents to tell me this story, but he did something no one had done before: he made me the hero of my own life and transformed my greatest obstacle into my greatest learning experience. I still stutter from time to time today, but at the same time I have truly become the person who has more power than anyone else today.2. how I realized potential thanks to my mistakesI had quit school because stuttering made me afraid of the last final oral exams. And because I was afraid of having to speak in front of the class as a student, I also became the student with the most absences. Therefore, my grades in school were a disaster. I was negative everywhere except in IT. However, everyone told me what I couldn't do. My consequence was that I quit school because I couldn't imagine what my future should look like. I started to clean floors in a pharmacy. I earned badly, was treated even worse and slowly despaired of life. One day I met a former teacher, Klaus Weber, who asked me about my situation. I told him that as a former refugee, school dropout and stutterer with my name, it was not always easy. He asked me why I didn't want to learn something that I was comfortable with and my answer was "they knew my grades, I was the bad student and not the most intelligent." "Ali, do you really think you're not intelligent? You had a lot of bad grades, okay. But there was one thing in which you were better than everyone else in the class. In IT, you were even better than your teacher. Get an education in that field, but do it for yourself because you enjoy it." I followed his advice and did an IT apprenticeship part-time and graduated with honors. I then studied Distributed Computer Systems - also part-time - and again I succeeded very easily. This was the foundation for me not only to believe in myself, but also to realize that as long as I do things for the joy of it, I will always go my way. My former teacher showed me my light and shows me that there can be a beautiful future for my life.
Having a conversation with Chris Martin, singer of coldplay :)
Enjoy the journey and try to achieve everything you want in life, but never at the expense of other people and nature.