By Naif Al-Mutawa
When I switched schools in the 5th grade I encountered my first culture shock. The new school wouldn’t allow me to spend recess in the library. I had to actually do some of the things that I preferred to read about. Sports were so much more exciting to me when I read about others performing them. So at the tender age of 10, I was thrown to the lions. I had to fend for myself on the soccer field. Eventually, I found myself as a goalkeeper. And by the following year I had a new hero to look up to, one that wasn’t in comics. He was Kuwait’s greatest soccer player and he was as real as my heavy breathing and the scorching sun. Like most superheroes from Mighty Mouse to Peter Parker, he even had an alliterative name. Sameer Saeed was my Goalkeeperman. Even his number was alliterative. Twenty-two.
It didn’t matter that he was twice my height and I was likely twice his weight, he became my role model. I followed his games religiously. I even adopted his number in everything I did. Buying a new goalkeeper shirt with the number 22 or buying new gloves defined excitement for me for years. When he retired from soccer and became an entrepreneur, opening up a chain of stores, I became curious about entrepreneurship. Years later, in a chance meeting, I was able to tell him the role he played in my life just by existing. I’m sure he got that a lot. Unfortunately, he will get it no more.
I spent the last few days with almost two hundred Sameer Saeeds at the Young Global Leaders retreat in Puerto Vallarta Mexico. The level of talent in that group was inspirational. And in typical World Economic Forum style, the side conversations, the breakfast meetings, the lessons, the vibes were all invaluable. Here, together in one place, were more than 100 role models, not just to children, but also to adults. All of them are role models to me. Just listening to their individual life’s journeys was like hearing the personal sagas of 100 superheroes, each with powerful lessons to worthy pass on. I felt like a kid again, listening to stories about superheroes. It was like being in a talking library where the characters leapt out of the pages and into your midst.
But the day the meeting ended I was sadly awakened to the very adult reality of death. While I was talking and learning with the incredible YGL members who are now the great role models in my life, I learned that my childhood role model had been run over by a car and killed at the age of 48. What a sad, sad day.
My role model is dead. Long live my role model.