Under 30 and Rising: ‘Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone’
As a Saudi woman in the engineering and technology field, 23-year-old Rawan Abukhaled is often not just the only woman in the room, she’s the only woman in the whole factory. That might be intimidating for some, but not for Rawan, who follows the advice, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
A Digital Transformation Consultant for GE Digital in Saudi Arabia, Rawan loves her work helping companies use digital solutions to cut costs, improve efficiencies and increase output. Because there are so few women in her field, she also is driven to “be the best representation of a female Saudi engineer in this field, so everyone around me thinks, ‘Hey, we need to hire more women.’ I’m constantly trying to get that idea through.”
She’s also passionate about her job because, like her degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Virginia Tech in the United States, it enables her to work in two areas she enjoys: technology and people. “There’s a geek side to me that likes the math and problem-solving, and the other side of me that loves the social network and interacting with people.”
She’s also deeply committed to making a difference, driven by her purpose, a term she describes as, “what wakes you up in the morning, what burns you inside to keep you going and fires you up.” In Rawan’s case, it’s women’s empowerment, especially in the Middle East.
“I’ve had that voice in my head since university,” she says. While at Virginia Tech, she campaigned and was elected to the position of vice president of the Saudi Student Club – the first woman elected to a leadership role in the organization’s 80-year history. After taking on the role, Saudi women came up to her asking what it was like.
What struck Rawan was the impact her election had on fellow female students. “I was the Vice President of a student club – not vice president of a country or a city. Yet, even something that small inspired women.”
It’s clear she fully embraces the two most important pieces of advice she said she’s ever received: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” and “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
This is reflected in her advice to her younger self – and to all young people: “Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, because that discomfort you feel is growth and learning. Don’t let fear cause self-doubt and prevent you from reaching your full potential.
“A lot of people, when they are younger, let their fear limit their experience in trying new things and keep them in their comfort zone.”