Rostam Zafari is one of those individuals who makes you wonder whether you have spent your own time wisely. In fact, it is the fleeting nature of time that is both his greatest fear and motivator. As a 19-year old, he has garnered much attention and media exposure for his unconventional and leading accomplishments. This includes his TedTalk feature, his ebola kit discovery, and his most recent feature in Hypepotamus for the new education app he co-founded, Mystro.
For the interview, we decide to meet at his creative hub and personal sanctuary —his home. And as I walk into his room, I realize that behind his youthful grin, is a serious and complex mind. His wall is covered with quotes from some of the greatest philosophers & leaders of all time. Tilting my head, I gaze around and notice one in particular pinned twice — "I am greater than my demons." Here is a young man of many accomplishments, and I could tell he was well-versed in his answers & a natural at expression. But, as I looked around, I wondered to myself, who is the real person behind the tailored demeanor & where has his journey been. Thank you to Rostam for the interview.
Name: Rostam Zafari
School/Major: Emory University/IDS; Social Entrepreneurship & Creative Writing
The key to happiness is: Purpose
My kryptonite is: Time
In three words, I would describe myself as: Chasing a dream
I dream of: A world I’d be happy to be born in at random
Success to me means: Being, in equal measures —good & great
Define curiosity: What if?
To be brilliant is to be: Equally intelligent & audacious
You started as pre-med and have now gravitated towards entrepreneurship. What changed? What lead you to your current path?
I never considered myself “pre-med.” When I was a kid, I always wanted to know who made the greatest impact. For a time I thought superheroes do, then I thought doctors do, then I thought politicians do, then I thought entrepreneurs do. Now, I’m back to believing superheroes do & you can be a superhero in any field whether it’s medicine, teaching, government, or entrepreneurship. Since all fields make the greatest impact, I chose entrepreneurship because that is what makes me feel most alive.
Tell me briefly about the app you are developing, Mystro. What is the mission?
We are creating a learning platform to fulfill a single mission: Meet Anywhere, Learn Anytime, Master Anything. We are starting with edu’s bread & butter, which is standardized testing like the SAT, ACT, & AP, but then we want to flip the script on traditional education and offer music, art, entrepreneurship, etc. all in a seamless one-one-one experience.
You describe education/learning as a meeting of the ground and sky? Can you explain? How do you think our current education system can be improved?
Traditional education tethers us with deadlines, due dates & assignments, though most of us have our own passions —starting a company, writing a novel, walking in space. Yet, the aim of education is to unlock our potential —so why is it that our systems often un-educate us? Imagine if all of us could spend less time doing what was expected and spend more time chasing our own skies —building start-ups, crafting poems & designing a world we’d be proud to hand to our children. It’s time for education to leave its box & become personalized and affordable. Learning is not a place, a GPA, or a number of credits. Learning is a lifelong journey and Mystro was created so that we all can learn both what is required for our career paths and what is required by our own bold souls.
Where do you think fear comes from? How does it affect you? How do you deal with it?
Fear comes from the instinct to flinch at the unknown. Flinching keeps us from seeing and living in the moment. I keep my eyes open and on the road ahead.
You have the quote about overcoming demons pinned twice on your wall. What would you consider a demon you have worked to overcome? When was there a time in which a vulnerable moment made you stronger?
At some point in our lives, we each decide to be perfect. We dream about being like the heroes we admire in the stories, books & movies that we love. At some other point, most of us decide that we can not reach perfection. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain for eternity. As soon as he reached the top, the boulder would roll back down again. I've kept that quote on my mirror since high school to remind me that overcoming my demons —the fear of wasting time, of letting people down, of not living up to my potential— is a gradual process. We are all a work-in-progress and striving towards perfection is more important to me than ever reaching it. Like Sisyphus, if we can bear the boulder of fear, frustration, and failure and continually strive to the tops of the mountains we set out to conquer, we will flatten our demons. And perhaps, even the mountains themselves.
People often say that the road to success may test one’s virtues. What are the values you will never sacrifice, even for success?
The road to success has to mirror the kind of success you want. If you want to make a positive impact in people’s lives and do good, then your road should reflect that intention. One day in our garden, my grandfather said that staying true to our virtues requires two simple (but not easy) steps. Differentiate between right and wrong. Choose what is right.
What does "awareness" mean to you? Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?
I would consider myself a spiritual person. Awareness to me means being present to myself in the context of my surroundings. It means being able to lead myself and master myself. It means knowing both my demons and my ability to conquer them. As Lao Tzu once said, “If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.
What are two key characteristics that a successful person embodies?
1. Vision 2. Drive
You defined Love as “purpose.” What do you think is the key to healthy relationships between family, friends, couples, etc.?
Understanding, accepting, and empowering each other as we chase our own purposes.
If you had one message or piece of advice to share with others, what would it be?
Wherever you stand, be the Soul of that place. —Rumi
What is your favorite quote and why?
“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.”
—J. M. Barrie, The Little Minister
Even the gods started with a vow.
Download Mystro at: www.mystroapp.com
Message from Rostam: "We are currently looking to hire a brilliant iOS programmer determined to change the world or education to Mystro's team! If you or anyone you know is interested, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
LinkedIn: Rostam Zafari