zigzag and straight lines

Zigzags vs Straight Lines



badge raise (2) tell/told/told
fun believe (2) know/knew/known
atom switch (2) background
carpet term (2) atom bomb
fail final exam sell/sold/sold
blame share (3) give/gave/given
fault based on drive/drove/driven
DNA audience uncertainty
end up title (2) flee/fled/fled
refugee right way grew/grow/grown
hope dream (2) perspective
zigzag floor (3) entry point
inspire dropout buy/bought/bought
quit funny (2) stock option
chance submit (2) bring/brought/brought
fame no matter think/thought/thought (2)
brain find out find/found/found
end up motivate hit/hit/hit (3)
line switch on hit rock bottom
way expectation grow up (2)
path thing (2) burnout (2)
CEO laugh (2) platform (2)
plan B handbook footstep (2)
dice influence meet/met/met (2)
stock game over straight (2)
enjoy stranger around the corner
urge challenge







So when I came here, they told me my talk should be interesting. I should put some experiences into it. And it should be inspiring for you guys. And yesterday in the morning, they told me, “Ali you have only 18 minutes.”

And this is a big problem because I’m a Persian guy. Who knows Persian people raise your hand for a second?

Whoa. Okay. For the others in the audience, a quick introduction to the Persian culture. Okay this is so important for my talk now, believe me.

When you switch on television these days you will see we are the guys with the atom bomb, okay. This is us.

We are the most famous carpet sellers in the world. So even need a carpet I have a few outside in my car. Okay so just show me your badge — I will give you one.

When you come to Europe, especially to the airport you will see that 90 percent of the taxi drivers in Europe, they are from Iran. Well so we are really famous for being the best taxi drivers in the world. But in Iran you know, it’s always the same: if you fail at the final taxi exam, you need to work in a hospital as a doctor.

Okay, so I’m not a doctor, I’m not a taxi driver.

But what we all share is we talk a lot, sometimes too much, sometimes too fast, but always too much. Therefore I need more than 18 minutes okay? Don’t blame me okay? This is not my fault okay. This is based on my DNA. My mother told me yesterday.

Talking about my DNA, who ever asked you where you want to be born?

Who ever asked you who your parents should be?

I know it sounds funny, but it’s a fact: life starts by chance, and you have no chance to control it.

I was born in the Year 81 in Iran and Tehran, nearly 34 years ago. When I was two years old, my parents had to flee. And we ended up living in Austria. I grew up in a refugee camp outside of Vienna for nearly 7 months.

And when I was 14 years old I had no idea what to do with my life. So what the problem was that all of my teachers they always asked me, “Ali what do you want to do with your life when you grow up?”

And the problem was I was just 14 years old: I had no idea what to do. And I always said to my teachers, “I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea what to do with my life.”

But at that time there was one thing that really helped me out. And it was talking to adults about their life about their hopes about their dreams about the things they have learned.

And when I was 14 years old I said to myself it would be great to have something like a handbook of life stories which stories from people from all around the world, all answering the same questions into one book.

And the book should be free to the world for all people out there who have no idea what to do in their life no matter if they were 14 years old or 99.

I talked to my teachers about the idea and she laughed at me. And she said to me, “Ali it’s a nice idea; it’s a wonderful idea. But how should that work? The world is not connected.”

And she was totally right: 20 years ago the world was not connected. A few years later six months before my eighth term I quit school. My mother cried nearly for a month. Okay so my mother always cries when I change direction. It’s totally normal.

And I started to clean floors. I started to work in the meantime. Up till now, I’ve had more than 40 jobs in my life. And when you clean floors, and you’re school dropout, you see that it’s not the best entry point into your career.

Therefore I went back to school. I finished school. I finished all the university next. So to my full time job alongside all of my jobs. And when I finished University I started to work in a real job: I was a sales consultant for a large US company.

I was 27 I had everything: I had the car . . . I had the income . . . I had the stock options . . . I had a great job title on my business card . . . and I had to look.

And then my father died. Suddenly at the age of 53, he died.

And it brought me to rethink my whole life. And with the help of friends I found out that I was the biggest asshole in the room. I was just working for money and for the fame. After my father died, I had a burnout syndrome. I was not able to sort of work anymore, so my brain was empty. I was not able to buy four things on a list from a supermarket.

I totally hit rock bottom of life.

And this experience had motivated me to change my whole life. And it brought me back to society as a teacher. And in 2010 nearly five years ago I started to work as a teacher in Austria.

And while I was working with the kids, I always asked him the same questions my teachers asked me when I was a kid. I asked the kids, “What do you want to do with your life when you grow up?”

And you know what? They gave me the same answers I gave to my teachers when I was a kid. All of the kids said, “We don’t know.”

But when I was a kid, I had the idea of the handbook of life stories. But at that time, the world was not connected. But in the meantime the internet was invented.

And nearly four years ago with the help of the internet, I launched a website, The Handbook of Life Stories with just 16 stories from people from all around the world; all answering the same questions about their life, their hopes, and their dreams, and the things they’ve learned in their life.

In the last four years, we collected nearly 5,000 stories for more than a hundred nations from all around the world, all answering the same questions about their lives, their background, and the things they’ve learned.

Currently we’re reaching out to a million people a month and approximately 50 people from 15 nations are working on the project. And here is what we found out, after talking to nearly 5,000 people.

When I was a kid, I learned that in life there is one straight line for your career. I learned it when you finish school or university, you start to work in a job and when you do the things in a right way, you will walk your way along the path. And one day you will end up being the CEO or something like that.

But so what we learned after talking to nearly 5000 people was that more than 85% of the 5,000 people who submitted their story on our cell on our platform told us that their life was not a straight line. Instead it was a zigzag; it was not a straight line. It was a zigzag.

And that fact brings me to totally new perspective on life I want to share with you today: you don’t know when your life starts; and you don’t know when it’s going to end.

Be honest to yourself: maybe today is the last day of your life. Tomorrow a car could hit you — and games over. There’s no Plan B for life.

No one ever asks you who your parents should be or where you want to be born. You have no influence on the on the color of your skin, your origin, where you’re from. And you don’t know when life’s going to end. And life could be long or it could be short. But life is a game of dice.

And what I try to tell you is the only thing you can do is you can change your life every day. You can you can think about what you want to do every day. But don’t plan for the future.

So what I try to tell you is you shouldn’t try to meet the expectations of other people. You shouldn’t try to walk in the footsteps of others. And you shouldn’t try to live the hopes and the dreams of other people. You don’t know what’s around the corner.

And also to be honest also your best friend, your girlfriend or your husband was once a stranger to you. And you should enjoy the uncertainty of life. You really should enjoy that you don’t know what’s around the corner because this is the beauty of life. And I urge you, I challenge each one of you in that room to find your own zig zag in your life. But don’t waste your time. Thank you.

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1. Ali is an American, born in California. True or false?

2. Did he jump straight into his talk about planning your life?

3. Ali had always wanted to be a computer engineer. Is this right or wrong?

4. Did his teachers always say to him, “Listen in class. Do your homework. Study hard. Attend university. Get a job in a large, multinational corporation. Work hard and succeed in life.”?

5. Ali’s life and career path followed a straight trajectory. Is this correct or incorrect?

6. What were the pivotal, watershed moments of his life?

7. What is Ali’s pet project or most recent venture?

8. Does he have a message or advice for people?


A. People have always asked me, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” Yes or no?

B. What do you want to be when you grow up? What are your goals in life? What did you and your friends want to be when you were young?

C. Has your life followed a “straight line” or a “zigzag line”?

D. I know people whose lives followed straight lines and others whose lives have been zigzags.

E. What advice would you give children and young people?

F. What might happen in the future?

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