“There’s a spark in me that just doesn’t die” – Meet WXN member Ayesha Shah
A seeker and teller of truth. An advocate for peace and justice for all. A passionate coach. An experienced people-and-culture leader. Ayesha Shah is many things – a WXN member among them. From her first job at the age of 19, she’s worked her way to Senior Director, Strategic Solutions and Rewards with Compass Group Canada, and founded her own coaching business helping students and her community tap into their own resourcefulness and power.
How did she find her path – and herself along the way? Ayesha shares what keeps her fulfilled, what earning a degree in philosophy taught her, why she loves weightlifting and how WXN really means “connection.”
WXN: What do you find most fulfilling about the work you do?
Ayesha: Being a People & Culture Leader, I get to influence how we think about work, how we talk about important issues at the table, and how we talk about talent. I get to ask tough questions like, are we overlooking people? I get to see people as whole human beings, and advocate for that. To see people like that, that just fulfills my soul. We all go through different things in our lives, and I think being able to hold space for people when they are working through things, to be able to advocate for people, that matters.
WXN: Where did your passion for justice and truth begin?
Ayesha: I lived in Saudi Arabia growing up. I'm the firstborn. I'm the only girl – I have four brothers who are my BFFs. I grew up in a culture where women are treated as less than human beings, where they don't have agency, where there's a structure of ownership and sponsorship. So I grew up with a very strong sense of justice. My dad always told me that I could do anything I set my mind to, and I did not see myself as different from these guys who were my brothers. I used to wonder, why is it, then, that there are doors that are not open for me that are open for others?
I've always had a very strong sense of justice. When I was in Riyadh, I remember that every Friday, they would hold public executions and other sorts of corporal punishment. Seeing that, hearing those stories, it didn't feel like justice to me because there was no room for error and there was no room for forgiveness or reconciliation. It just didn't resonate. It's just not who I am.
WXN: Why study philosophy – how does it play into your journey?
Ayesha: I studied public policy. I studied business. I started working very young. I had three jobs when I first started working, and I've never stopped working. I found so much love and so much support and so much compassion, and I also learned that accomplishment made you safe. I lived that life for a very long time. You'll see I have a very, very credential-filled resume.
After years of doing all that, I realized that I didn't feel whole. I didn't feel like myself. So I started going deeper. I studied philosophy because I felt like all the geniuses of the world must have come up with the truth by now. They must know what we should be all doing. I went there looking for truth, and I found that the meaning of all of this is what you give it. You get to choose.
WXN: What has been your biggest challenge and biggest accomplishment?
Ayesha: In my view, the biggest challenge for me was to stop seeing myself as what I do and to accept that who I am is more important. I also realized that a lot of our challenges are not external. Our biggest and most important battles are inside of us. To be able to release myself from conforming to expectations that didn't feel right in my own self, in my own body, and to actually let go of that fear, I think that was a very challenging journey because there's a sense of unsafety – What will happen? What will people think?
The one thing I'm most proud of and most grateful for, is just being able to believe in myself, even in the hardest moments when nobody else would believe in me. No matter what has happened to me, there is a spark in me that just doesn't die. Every tangible accomplishment that I have in my life is a result of that thing. It's innate, but I nurture it quite intentionally. I am also very proud of the fact that I have not allowed difficult situations in life make me bitter, angry and cruel. When you see a lot of that, and experience it, it’s a lot of work to hold on to your true, loving self.
WXN: You’ve also won some interesting awards in powerlifting. Can you share more about that?
Ayesha: I had spent so much time on my intellectual pursuits that I completely left my body behind. So, it became important for me to nurture and take care of my body because it's the vessel that allows me to move about in this world. I took an intro class at the gym, and a few minutes in, I felt like I was going to die. My coach, Elma, put her hand on mine - this is a stranger I met for the first time - and she looked me in the eye and said with compassion, “I know. This sucks. But now you know. And you can do something about it. if you want to make it better, I know you can. I will help you.”
She showed up for me at five in the morning, she showed up for me at nine at night. She taught me everything about training, and moving well. She helped me figure out how to meal prep. She saw that I was strong – mentally and physically – and said, “Why don't we see what you can do?” She told me about The Canadian Powerlifting Federation’s Women’s Open. I registered and we started training for it. It wasn't about a medal. It was about showing up, being there and having fun. It was a milestone; one of the most powerful moments of my life. Look what we can do together.
WXN: As a WXN member, what does the “X” mean to you?
Ayesha: X is anything that's uniquely you. I think that we are all leaders within our own rights, whether we lead quietly, whether we lead behind the scenes, whether we lead from the side, whether we lead from the front. It’s that leader within us, that ability to put ourselves out there. That willingness to be seen, to see other people and to create something good from it. When you see X, there's a point of connection in that. And I like that middle point of X, where things intersect. To me, that point of connection is the space of life.
Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What’s your “X”? Join Ayesha and the rest of the WXN community!
Get 30% off individual memberships in 2020!
During tough times, it’s so easy to get lost in the chaos of “now”
and lose sight of what's important. What we need. Where we are going.
How we'll get there. Who will help us along the way.
That’s why, for the remainder of 2020, WXN is offering an annual
Individual Membership at a discounted rate of $99. That's just $8.25 per
month - a 30% savings!
Take advantage of this limited time offer, because there's never been a better time to invest in yourself.
Learn more and join us today!
Ayesha Shah – Sr. Director, Strategic Solutions & Rewards, Compass Group Canada
Ayesha Shah is a People & Culture Leader, professor, trained coach and founder of C-Potential, a coaching practice hyper focused on curating the potential of diverse talent in Canada. In her role as Sr. Director, Strategic Solutions & Rewards at Compass Group Canada, Ayesha is the creative mind behind, Just Now, Compass Group Canada’s first initiative of its kind focused on breaking stigma around mental health, and creating an ecosystem where everyone belongs regardless of gender identity, sexual preferences, race, religion, socioeconomic status, or disability. Ayesha is a respected mentor for the Manager In Training program at Compass Group Canada. She regularly volunteers as a mentor and panelist at her alma mater. Occasionally, Ayesha pens compelling poetry and blog posts to share messages of inclusion, and courageous leadership with the goal of doing her part to making our world more inclusive for all life (human & non-human) through education, creative expression, and constructive dialogue.