The United Nations, and Finding Your Personal Legend

Yesterday, a group of Edward S Mason Fellows at the Harvard Kennedy School had the privilege of listening to Gillian Sorenson, a former UN Asst Sec Gen, and widow of the late Ted Sorenson, who was Special Counsel to President John F Kennedy, and a personal hero on mine.

Some takeaways from that illuminating talk:

  1. Life can take you in strange directions. It is helpful to have a general plan of where you think life will lead you, but you have to always be attuned to what the Universe is telling you, and be prepared to have your Personal Legend (fans of The Alchemist will be able to appreciate this). Gillian Sorenson followed her interest in politics, and parlayed that into what seems to be a very satisfying and enriching career in the United Nations.
  2. You never know until you try. Gillian Sorenson cut her teeth in politics campaigning for Ed Koch, who she described as 8th place in a field of 8 candidates running for Mayor of New York City. Who knew that a relatively anonymous House member could have won office as mayor of the largest city in the world? I suppose Ed Koch didn’t either, when he chose to run for Mayor.
  3. Public speaking can change your life, or hold you back. Some of the smartest and most compassionate people in the world, can fail as leaders of their organisations if they are unable to step up and represent their organisations as effective and compelling public representatives. Public speaking ability is at the heart of how we represent our organisations and our communities. It still amazes me how so little of public education in Malaysia (for that is the public system I am most knowledgeable of) puts emphasis on the ability to speak in public.


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