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The S.A.L.T Model for Overcoming Struggles with Dr. Emad Rahim

By Arel Moodie

Today at the Art of Likability we have a totally inspiring story of a genocide survivor-turned successful entrepreneur, speaker, and author! I sat down with my friend Dr. Emad Rahim to discuss his transformation through his SALT strategy as well as how to effect transformation in our own lives to rise above our circumstances.

Press play to listen to the episode below

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Emad's book Resilience: From Killing Fields to Boardroom, can be found on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes!

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How to Rise Above Your Circumstances

Emad was born in a Southeast Asian concentration camp, where he lost both his father and his brother early on. He was “lucky” enough to be sponsored to move to the United States, but the story did not stop there.

When Emad and his family reached the States, they moved into a rough neighborhood. While it was a cultural melting pot which would throw colorful block parties, violence was also part of the ensemble.

If someone comes from a bad place, I guess it’s understandable that it’s hard to escape from those circumstances, that it’s a compelling story to survive the Cambodian killing fields, that it’s okay to survive getting shot. But beyond compelling and flat out inspiring is Emad’s transformation into an associate professor and successful entrepreneur.

I don’t know if you’ve gone through the Cambodian killing fields, but all of us here at the Art of Likability have experienced the struggle for a better future. In that way, we can relate to each other. That’s the human experience right?

I fight my fight, and you fight your fight, but we fight together.

Maybe you are fighting your own demons, and you’re wondering how you’ll rise above your current circumstances. So how did Emad rise from his circumstances to successful entrepreneurship? What was the way out?

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SALT: Survive, Adapt, Love, Transform

Emad outlines a strategy to rise above your circumstances with the acronym SALT:

S: Survive

A: Adaptation

L: Love

T: Transformation


Sure, Emad survived through the killing fields of Cambodia and endured an abusive step-father. As a highschooler, Emad would look for any pretense to start a fight. No one would say that he was thriving. To Emad then, this was life, and he was stuck there. just surviving.

Sure, he'd be looking to start a fight, but deep down, Emad wasn't looking to start a fight. He wanted to graduate from high school. When a school counselor told Emad after a meeting that there was no way he could obtain his high school diploma, that was it for him. Completely frustrating.

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Emad stormed out of the room, actively seeking a fight. He instead found something else-a different way to accomplish his dream of obtaining his diploma.

What sparked this change was running into his future mentor Mr. Dardell, who guided him through his high school to his diploma and even assisted Emad in the paperwork for college. Surely a big change, but just as you need two hands to clap, Emad's own effort was needed to handle this new life.

He needed to adapt.


It was when Emad took on this new life that he needed to change his actions, to adapt to his new surroundings and break out of his comfort zone then. For Emad, this meant no more fights, and focus on schoolwork, on the SAT, and on expecting to go to college.

His mentor gave him the spark that effected change. I want to dive into and take a look at this "spark" of change: it was when Emad saw that there was a different and better life beyond looking for fights.

When you see that the're a better life than what you currently have, then you wonder what you have to change in order to take a step towards that goal. Here is where adaptation takes place.

However, it's tough to step out of your comfort zone into a world with unfamiliar expectations. What is one to do, and how should one act and behave? It helps very much to have a guide, and this is where love steps in.

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For Emad, the person who showed him love and a belief in his ability was his mentor Mr. Dardell. Where Emad had no idea what an SAT or FAFSA forms were, it was Mr. Dardell who helped him to prepare for the test and to complete the paperwork in order to get him into college. It was Mr. Dardell who introduced and pushed Emad into this new life.

For you, it could also be a mentor, or a colleague also looking to improve his own similar station in life. Whatever it may be, the people who love you are the ones who will push you to adapt and to evolve to this new life.

Love can be a friendly competition between fellow colleagues. Keeping in contact with fellow entrepreneurs looking to make a difference in the world pushes you to bring something to the table.

There, sharing recent achievements is not a way of bragging-it's a way of pushing you and your friends to outdo each other and bring even more good to the world.

"Great job man! Now it's my turn..."

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Upon reaching transformation, it is almost as if you cannot even recognize who you were in years prior. Even as a successful entrepreneur, Emad is still looking for ways to change and affect the world in different ways. With an opportunity to obtained a tenured professorship, Emad was still encouraged by his mentors and the people close to him to expand and explore.

"Successful people evolve."​

How can you transform yourself? What worked for Emad in his transformation was his involvement in organizations he saw that were fighting for a cause. By volunteering and participating, he developed new relationships and experiences.

His network and expectations would change, much like his first experience with Mr. Dardell. You too can take a step towards transformation by getting involved in a passion, or volunteer work, and by so doing evolve your own network and expectations of yourself.

I promise you nothing in this episode will help you--if you don't take action! To start your own journey of transformation, look for an opportunity to get uncomfortable and seize it!

If you want to get in touch with Emad, you can find him on Twitter at @DrEmadRahim, on Facebook, and on Speakerpedia for speaking related inquiries.