Lij Tafari and the Power of Realizing That We Never Start at the Bottom

Fasil Ghebbi fortress and palace compound, in the Northern province of Gondar, the seat of Ethiopian emperors

Fasil Ghebbi fortress and palace compound, in the Northern province of Gondar, the seat of Ethiopian emperors

Our first job always seems the most difficult one. It is the proverbial start at the bottom. Even for those of us re-entering the workforce after a long break, the thought of having to start at the bottom is daunting. Though hard to recognize, the reality is actually quite different.

Whether that first job is in the stuffy mail-room in the basement of a large corporation, the sweatshop conditions of a back-alley shop in LA’s garment district, or stocking the freezer at McDonald’s, the fact is it is not the bottom. It could always be worse. Immigrants without legal status can teach us a bit about being truly at the bottom, and even they would recognize that their situation is likely better than where they came from. It could always be worse, and keeping this in mind is a very powerful motivator.

The young Ethiopian, Lij Tafari was of noble heritage. He was born in 1892, of Gurage heritage. His father served in the military, was from a land-owning family, and had become a provincial governor. When at the early age of 13, his father died, Lij took over the governorship of Selale, a realm of marginal importance, but that offered an opportunity to learn how to govern. Throughout this time, Lij continued his studies and held fast to a vision that he was already on a path that would lead to greater things. He later assumed governorship of another minor neighboring province, Sidamo. After the death of his brother and ensuing disarray, took over the governorship of Harar province, which was of much greater importance. He now governed over a large swath of Ethiopia and was no longer a minor nobleman.

However, at the court, first of king Menelek II in the early 1930’s and later Menelek II’s succesors, he was still considered of the “landed gentry.” He had not been raised at court, so his right to be there was continuously questioned. He was taunted and made to do menial tasks by the other nobles. Throughout this time, he remained composed and calm, no matter the setback or the embarrassments. As a matter of fact, he became known for his calm decorum during the most trying times and it became a cornerstone of his leadership.

Lij Tafari eventually became Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, the first African nation to join the League of Nations, and a strong influence against the Axis powers of Germany and Italy in WWII. He would become a leading international figure of the 1950s & 60s, a founding figure at the Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, a respected statesman meeting with world leaders like Mao Zedong, a respected attendee at the funerals of JFK and Charles de Gaule, and a leading proponent of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. He even sent Ethiopian troops to fight in the Korean war under US leadership.

All these achievements would not have been possible if he had allowed his position at the start of his journey dominate his thinking. No matter how foreboding the road ahead may seem, the most important thing to remember is that we never start completely at the bottom. Even the realization that we are near a proverbial bottom, is a revelation that we are already some measure above it. This position, this state of mind, is critical in realizing that we have already achieved something, that we are already on our way, and that the first hurdle is behind us. That is a truly empowering thought. Haile Selassie understood this, and so can we as Collegiate Gigsters, no matter at what point we are on the path to success.

This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.
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