As university students across the world embark on new paths this Autumn, Medina asked Huda Al-Ghoson, author of Unbounded, more on her memoir and wider perspectives.
Al-Ghoson is widely recognised for her bold effort to progress the cause of gender equality at Saudi Aramco, a once-male dominated corporate giant that remains the largest oil company in the world. In Unbounded, she describes her rise from an entry-level employee to the first high-ranking female executive in the company’s history.
Students across the UK are beginning a new academic year. What is one piece of advice you would offer to them?
I would advise them to believe in their infinite potential and manifest their dreams as they tackle their work with enthusiasm and determination.
I would also encourage them to search inside themselves for the hidden gifts that will help them actualize their aspiration; they need to approach life with courage and venture into unchartered waters. Along the way they will face all kinds of trials to test their tenacity. They will stumble and fall, but they should get up and continue the adventure to the next stage.
Consider each encounter an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, for these are gateways to self-discovery.
What is the underlying message of your memoir? And what does the title Unbounded signify?
The book’s central message is that we are the masters of our destinies, and there is no price too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. The memoir is more than just a reflection on events and experiences: it is an invitation to explore our inner strength and natural abilities. Moreover, it implores each person to be thoughtful and contemplative so that they can rise above the human drama and transcend the traps of ego and cultural hypnosis.
The title signifies the soul’s natural state is unbounded by place or time, virtuous, uninhibited and free from the shackles of social conformity.
Why did you write this book?
When I was younger, it was uncommon for a woman in Saudi Arabia to rise to a corporate position of power and influence, as women lacked the simplest of rights, including basic self-determination.
So rather than falling victim to the restrictions imposed upon me in a world ruled by traditional and religious values, which denounced woman’s individuality and intellect, I triumphed over all societal, cultural and occupational hurdles in my path.
This experience compelled me to share my story and the lessons I learned so that I could motivate others to be true to themselves and follow their dreams. I have more than six decades packed with magical discoveries, extraordinary twists and turns, crushing failures and euphoric victories. I feel obligated to share these experiences and the insights that I gained along the way. Hopefully, my story will inspire others to believe in their capacities to achieve their goals despite the hurdles and hardships in their way.
What do you hope people will get out of Unbounded?
I hope people will embrace the fact that we are all born with freewill and the ability to fulfil our heart’s desire, no matter what our circumstances are. And I hope people will appreciate that all the things that life throws at us are opportunities and lessons to help us grow wiser and make better choices.
Unbounded is, ultimately, a call to embark on an authentic journey of self-discovery, to examine our thoughts and actions so we can rise to our soul’s calling in following our own path, not that of others. That’s how we get fulfilment in life and perpetual joy and peace.
You write about “social condition,” “cultural hypnosis,” and “psychology of the masses,”, and emphasize the value of independent thinking. Tell us more about these concepts.
Throughout our lives, certain biases influence our perceptions, inhibiting our ability to think for ourselves and make unprejudiced judgements. We imagine that the social and cultural tenets that our parents, teachers and society inculcate us with are our real values and convictions.
If we continue to unthinkingly accept these influences and don’t question them, we start conforming to other people’s ideas and expectations, losing everything that makes us unique.
What do you think is the next step for Saudi Arabia regarding opportunities for women?
Next, we need a concerted awareness program to transform mindsets and attitudes that embrace women’s emancipation and empowerment. Although the recent reforms and amended laws allow for the full participation of women in our economic and social development, women empowerment continues to be a foreign notion. It will continue to face resistance from those who seek to uphold long-standing traditions and conservative elements of nomadic heritage.
Many men and women fear that abandoning the traditional family model of the nuclear family, with the male breadwinner and housewife, would cause our society to disintegrate and precipitate our cultural decline.
Transforming behavior is challenging, especially when it is supported by a strong belief system. Culture is a collection of habits and customs rooted in a people’s collective past. By changing the everyday experience, you will, overtime, begin to change attitudes and the collective believe system as a whole.
Transforming culture is a process that requires the collaboration of everyone that is a part of it. It is a deliberate and constant effort to raise awareness, uproot antiquated dogmas and seed modern pragmatic values.
There is a lovely photograph in the book of you with a girl scout in Dhahran. Tell us more about the work you have been doing with young women.
Our work focuses on delivering assertiveness and empowerment programs for high school, universities and college students.
The programs are designed to open students’ minds to new possibilities and learning opportunities, helping them develop self-confidence, resilience and courage. For women to succeed in a patriarchal society, they need guidance to dispel restrictive beliefs that inhibit their power to manifest their dreams. We provide mentoring programs and invite successful and leading women to share their experiences. This helps the young girls develop a compelling, successful and inspirational image of femininity.
We have also launched a networking forum with partners in the market and community to address current issues with practical solutions and strategies.
A lot of people feel lost right now. You talk a lot about self-discovery and manifesting from within in Unbounded. What would be the first step someone could take?
The key to self-discovery is ongoing self-awareness. It is a journey within which to explore our personality, natural tendencies, core values, mental constructs and the motives behind our thoughts and behaviors.
To appreciate your intellectual and emotional propensities, you must face the challenges in your path with courage and willpower. You must be ready to examine your life objectively and take responsibility for your choices and actions, because no one is responsible for them but you. Self-discovery and self-knowledge will liberate the mind from the traps of the ego and the psychology of the masses.
Once you uncover your internal motives and identify your gifts and capabilities, you will be able to make better choices and move through life with more confidence and courage. When your actions are congruent with your true beliefs and ideals, you can live an authentic and fulfilled life, free from the constraints of rigid doctrines or ideologies that seek to monopolize truth.
How did you deal with setbacks and failures? How do you handle adversity and misfortune?
I consider setbacks and failures opportunities for growth. They are a test in resilience. When you face setbacks, don’t despair. Instead, pause, reflect, learn and move on. Over time, you build resilience and can adjust your actions and stay the course. Failures offer lessons that speak more broadly to our tendencies, propensities and judgements. Bouncing back from these setbacks with vigor and positivity is the ultimate form of success.
Our psychological development necessitates that we face life’s challenges without resistance and accept every encounter as an opportunity to uncover more about our authentic self. Sometimes we cannot control the events our lives, but we surely can control our reactions and responses to them. And each of these responses is just one more building block of our future.