23/30 The Many Lives of the Hagia Sophia (and what its taught me about my own leadership)

The Hagia Sophia

I am fascinated by the many lives of the most famous mosque in Istanbul: The Hagia Sophia.

First, it was a church. Its where each emperor was crowned under the rule of the Byzantine empire. Unfortunately, parts of it were made of wood, so it burned down. 


It was rebuilt for a third time. But its life as a church was short lived. The Ottoman Empire took over Istanbul. Since their primary religion was Islam, the building was renovated into a mosque. 

From 1935-2020, it was a museum, owned by the government. In 2020, the leadership decided to turn it into a mosque again.

In the words of Rocky in the movie Rocky III, “You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you’re hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

As I researched the Hagia Sophia, I thought about how many times I’ve reinvented myself: News anchor. Documentary Filmmaker. Entrepreneur.

Here are the three things I learned about my own leadership as a result of re-inventing myself:

It taught me to stay relevant. During a big snow storm, my technical operator for TV called me. It was 4:45am. He was usually in the door by 4:30am. “Joya, there is an accident on the road. I’m not going to make it into the studio in time for your first live shot. I’m going to walk you through how to turn on the satellite transmissions. Walk down to master control and follow my instructions. I know you can do this…” He knew I wasn’t too precious too navigate the technology to get myself on TV that morning. And I did. Today, as an entrepreneur, I think about how much technology I embrace and learn about everyday in order to run a soon to be 7 figure business.

It inspires others.  In the last year, I reinvented my business model so I can work with clients from anywhere in the world. Several wrote me while I was working from Paris for a month.

You are awesome Joya and always so creative and courageous!  What you have done is rare and not everyone has the courage or vision to build something like this on their own. I hope you realize it.”

“You’re truly an inspiration 🥰keep living life to please you and leave your mark of inspiration for others to do and not just dream of it.”

It ups my agility to deal with challenges. I’ve lived with $3.00 in my pocket. I’ve lived with $3,000 in my pocket.  I’ve had a driver for years take me to work at 3:30am.  I take the subway daily. By reinventing myself over and over, I’ve developed the grit to live life at both extremes. It’s upped my ability to think creatively, come up with new solutions and adapt to new situations.


What to wear to the Hagia Sophia

It’s a worthy question. The dress code was looser when it was a museum. Today, given that its a mosque again, visitors are expected to observe a dress code:  

  • I reminded Matt to bring long cotton pants. He likes to fight me on wardrobe choices, but here its non negotiable.  Men must cover their shoulders and wear long pants in the mosque. No shorts or tank tops. No hats. 
  • Women must cover their shoulders and knees. I bought this caftan from Everlane, made of flax. (size 6) It covers my arms 3/4 of the way and is floor length, so it covers my ankles.  A cotton slip is sewn into the flax, so the fabric is not see-through, (another mandate of the clothing in the mosque. ) Given this detail, I suspect I’ll be hot. Daytime temperatures hit a heady 96 some days. I booked our tour at 10am. I can always go back to the hotel and change for the afternoon. 
  • Women must cover their heads. Headscarves are available at the entrance for free. I bought a white linen scarf while in Italy earlier this year. I’ll stuff it in my straw bag for the visit.
  • I’ll also stuff some socks in my straw bag. Everyone has to remove their shoes before entering the mosque. I’m used to this tradition being Indian. I remove my shoes before I enter my own house everyday.  There are cubbies to stow your shoes while you visit the mosque.

This year’s Women’s Leadership Lab annual sail is the coast of Turkey. As there are no direct flights to the southern part of the country, we have to connect through Istanbul. In this article, I share the restaurant I’m looking forward to, the shops I’m looking forward to, the spa I’m looking forward to, and the cultural institution I’m visiting –the Hagia Sophia.

I’m creating my vision board for the rest of 2023. When I looked at mine, I was delighted to see how many things had come true already. Join me Saturday morning 10am EDT June 29th on Zoom (or in person) to come share yours. 

Dm me at joya@joyadass.com to join.

The old French primary school, run by Dominican monks.

The old French primary school, run by Dominican monks.

The modern day Ecole St. Pierre

The modern day Ecole St. Pierre

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