Preparing for Ramadan!

Not having fasted for the last two years because of pregnancy and nursing, I have to admit I was nervous about fasting this year. For one, the fasts will be incredibly long. Sunrise to sunset (roughly from 3am to 9pm) would be 18 hours. My second concern was not having properly participated in Ramadan for the last two years, I may have lost my ‘Ramadan spirit’.

So in search of some motivation and inspiration, this Friday I attended an event in London called ‘Your Best Ramadan Yet’ organised by City Circle. The event featured a talk by Shaikh Haytham Tamim of Uttruj Foundation, followed by practical fasting and health related advice by two medical doctors.

While for some the talk may have lacked the ‘wow’ factor, I got from it exactly what I was looking for.

The main point which the Shaikh drilled into the audience was about the purpose of fasting. Why do we fast? According to him, the abstention from our desires is a prerequisite to connecting with our spirituality. Or in other words, it is only when we silence the constant ‘I want this, I need that’ that we can connect with God.

This is the shared link between salah (prayer), haj and fasting. Through all these acts of worship, we try to create a space for ourselves (physically and mentally), where we can take refuge from the onslaught of our desires, the constant consumerism and media messaging telling us to indulge ourselves in this and that. Although this may sound like an obvious point but a lot of us forget this during our ritual prayers and while fasting. Ramadan is about the victory of the spiritual self over the material one, ultimately restoring the balance between the two.

Inspired by the talk, I vowed to keep my ‘wants’ in check, whether these are for buying things, cravings for junk food or never being satisfied with anything in life. Instead of always wanting and whining, I want to create sabr (patience) and contentment. In trying to live this ideal, I’m finding out how difficult it is.  Take a very small example: I decided to gradually cut down my calorie intake in the lead up to Ramadan. I’m ashamed to report that one day spent at the mall was enough to throw all my good intentions out the window. But I’ll persevere.

Another point raised during the talk which I really appreciated was that we should never forget the power of the mind and how resilient our bodies are. A lot of us have been grumbling about how difficult this coming Ramadan would be. But we forget that if we enter something with a negative perception and anticipation, we will most likely find the experience to be negative. However, if we create a positive mindset and send positive signals to our body, we may radically shift our experience. Positive thinking- feeling hopeful and excited about something- goes a long way in shaping our actual experience.

Finally, being a woman and a mother I also appreciated the acknowledgment on the part of the speaker that sometimes (especially in traditional families and cultures) Ramadan for women amounts to preparing and cooking food all day and clearing up at night while the men go for taraweeh prayers. We really need to take our focus away from this attitude of ‘feasting’ at iftaars and also share the responsibilities with women. He went so far as to say that during the last ten days of Ramadan (considered to be a special time of quiet reflection and prayer) women should not cook at all and families should have take aways. He may have been exaggerating his stance just to drive home the point that women should also focus on their spirituality.

The challenge for me to is to find quiet time for myself when my whole day is consumed with childcare responsibilities and in keeping my super curious 16 month old entertained and out of trouble. The only quiet time I have is the two hours of his nap during the afternoon. Generally I spend this time in mindless pursuits like facebooking and watching tv, or doing essential stuff like cooking or showering. I tend to shy away from any activity that may require me to use my grey cells. I realise that this is an excuse to be lazy.

I hope in Ramadan I can counter this attitude that ‘my day is not mine’ and take control of my time. Instead of forcing my baby to fit into my routine or being totally driven by his, I need to find a balance. For example, while he may not allow me to use my laptop (he wants it himself), I could listen to audiobooks or recitation of the Quran in the background while I perform other tasks. If you have any advice or tips to share with me on how I can achieve this balance, please do share!

Ramadan Mubarak everyone!



I dare to dream

It is ironic that when we are little we dream of all the things we would do or become when we grow up. And when we finally grow up, we stop dreaming.

Some dreams like becoming an ‘air hostess’ or ‘astronaut’ are considered foolish or unlikely and given up. Others are abandoned because we realize that we may not have what it takes to achieve them. For me one such dream was to become a writer. Not just any writer. An author of great fiction.

At age 10, I was a prolific letter writer, or correspondent shall I say. I regularly wrote to my grandparents, especially Daddy, my maternal grandfather. When my best friend moved from Abu Dhabi to Pakistani, I used to write her long detailed letters almost twice a week.

Around the same time, inspired by the newspaper the sisters in Little Women write together, I started a little book with my three sisters called *ahem* TAWZ (the first letter of each of our names)  to write original ‘articles’, poems, stories and also copied stuff that we liked, including gems such as ‘limericks’. We also shared comics or drawings. I was a bit of a dictator in getting my sisters to write in it and even at that age (my sisters all younger than me), we knew it was a bit lame. Predictably, it didn’t last long.

Well into my teens I wrote poetry. Most of it of the rhyming variety. Not all if it was bad. But it definitely wasn’t good. I stopped when I realized that.

At around 14, I attempted to write a book, but gave up when it started to become a Pakistani version of Sweet Valley High. I was dismayed and put writing fiction out of my mind forever. I told myself that if I could write at all, it would be non-fiction.

What has brought on this nostalgia?

Two things. A friend posted on Facebook about a Creative Writing Workshop that will take place in LUMS in August. The workshop is aimed at 18-26 year olds. I wish there were such workshops targeting younger writers because by that age, most of the kids who used to write, like me, may have already given up. I know as a kid, I would have given anything to attend such a workshop. Who knows, I may have continued to write poems and fiction.

The second thing that made me acknowledge this dream was a cute little book I recently read called Live What You Love and from which I shared an excerpt recently. The book is about a successful entrepreneurial American couple who started many different businesses together, their latest a gourmet restaurant in the Caribbean. While they had their ups and downs, they just continued to take an unusual path in life by working together and doing what they loved.

In the book, they ask the reader to acknowledge their dreams. And when I first read that, I was almost annoyed at them because I couldn’t think of any ‘dreams’. I asked in a huff, what dreams? I could think of goals, ambitions and plans, but not ‘dreams’.

So the last few days, I’ve been deliberately asking myself that question: what do I dream of? Or rather, what did I used to dream of? In answering it, I’ve started unearthing stuff like wanting to be a writer, travelling the world, being an astrophysicist and so on. For some past dreams, I may have missed the boat and they don’t hold that lustre any more. But others, like wanting to be a writer, still make me ache with longing. It is something I did not even share with others for fear they would ridicule me or worse that I may jinx it by admitting it.

I realize that I should not just rely on past dreams. I should come up with new ones. By writing this, I am dusting off the cobwebs and I dare to dream again.

‘Retrospective Perspective’- excerpt from Live What You Love

We’re all very, very busy. We have e-mails to answer, planes to catch , and we’re constantly reshuffling schedules to squeeze in new meetings, each more important, more urgent than the last. But every now and then, we get a signal: life should be more satisfying.

Have you ever found yourself counting up the days to the weekend– and it was only Monday?

You start searching for daily pleasures to reward yourself for just getting through another day: ice cream, shopping, or going out for dinner. Some people even believe that a two-week vacation once a year is enough to keep them feeling happy and fulfilled.

Is it right that we spend so much time planning our next escape?

When we were small, we blew out the candles on our birthday cake believing that all of our hopes and dreams would become real. And when Jiminy Cricket urged us to wish upon a star, we all tried it, at least once. So when exactly did you stop wishing? When did you start doing the things you had to do instead of the things you wanted to do?

When did your dreams get buried under the responsibilities of adulthood?

Now you sense than something needs to change, but you’re too busy to stop and think about what it is. You long for those forgotten times when each day’s accomplishments filled you with energy and enthusiasm.

When there were a million special days.

The first day of school, the night before your fifth birthday, summer vacation, your first kiss…all of these were momentous achievements that made you feel almost giddy inside.

But now you sometimes feel as if you’re stuck in a great big rut and, as the years go by, the rut keeps getting deeper and deeper. You sense loss, understanding that you were meant to do more.

Your dreams feel so far away and always seem to be just out of reach.

But they’re silly dreams, you tell yourself. Get real. After all, you have a job; you’re earning a living. You have responsibilities. You can’t go off chasing crazy dreams.

Besides, it’s scary to think about going out on a limb.

But the dreams just won’t go away and they keep popping up. If only dreams came with a guarantee. Then you’d be as secure as you are now. Your job is secure, right?

Wouldn’t it be awful to live your whole life and then say, “Wait! I need another chance. I just wanted to try this one thing.”

Remember how scared you were to take the training wheels off your bike? Or how much courage it took for that first kiss? Nothing stopped you then.

So what’s stopping you now?

– Excerpt from Live What You Love by Bob and Melinda Blanchard, emphasis mine

– Thank you Arsalan for gifting us this book! :)

Is Sheryl Sandberg really an inspiration for working mothers?

Earlier last month Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, admitted that she’s been leaving work at 5:30pm to be able to have dinner with her kids. While she’s been doing this for many years, it is only in the last two years that she felt comfortable about admitting it publicly.

The fact that this admission made headlines brings to light the huge hidden costs and informal penalties associated with choosing flexible hours, even if they are on your company’s official books. Sandberg was widely lauded for making this public admission, but it must be noted that she only did so at a stage in her career where she may be considered ‘unpenalisable’.

Sandberg has made it her mission to support women. She frequently gives speeches about promoting female leaders and what women must do to take responsibility for their own careers.

In her iconic speech at TEDWomen in 2010 titled Why we have too few women leaders’, viewed over 1.3 million times, she suggests three things that women must do to make it to the top. First, they must ‘sit at the table’ in the literal but also the figurative sense: Very often women stay on the sidelines and are not as proactive in seeking opportunities or negotiating their careers as their male counterparts. Next she asks women to choose partners in life who will support them in not only their career choices but will also split housework and childcare responsibilities. And finally, Sandberg argues that women stop playing the game way too early, sometimes when they’re even just trying for a baby. They need to keep their ‘foot on the gas pedal’ until it is truly and finally time to leave.

In this talk, while she admits there are institutional and external barriers that women face, she only wants to focus on what women can do themselves. This has been Sandberg’s unwavering stance at other forums as well and is summed up well in what she said in her Commencement Speech at Barnard College last year,

Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face—and there will be barriers—be external, not internal.

As such, Sandberg proposes what some have called “a private solution to a public problem”. Her efforts seem to be targeted to a certain elite group, or dare I say class, of women.

Sandberg’s uplifting and inspiring speeches have touched the hearts of many women. She herself is a living testament to the merits of her advice: If you’re determined, ambitious and don’t give up, you can make it to the top.

However, we have to acknowledge that other factors of a woman’s circumstances also come into play than just her attitude. Women from disadvantaged backgrounds, working low-income jobs, or from ethnic minorities are given less chances and opportunities in life. Or stated in the language of Sandberg’s TED talk; they are never presented with a table to sit at; they have less choice in the matter of choosing a partner who will enter into 50-50 household and childcare responsibilities (or like Sandberg, be able to afford a full-time nanny); and less choice of when, or even if, to leave their jobs.

Given women’s differing circumstances, a change in attitude or behaviour can be quite inspirational for some women, but it may not be enough for others. It only addresses one side of the problem by not taking into account systemic reasons and structural causes for women’s career struggles.

Factors such as legally instituted paid maternity and family leave, childcare support, provisions for breastfeeding at the workplace and health insurance cover are vitally important to support women, especially mothers, in their careers.

By not addressing these external factors, Sandberg puts the onus of responsibility on the women themselves. Women can continue to play the game as hard as they can, but they won’t be able to overcome what Sandberg calls a ‘stalled revolution’ until the playing field is levelled.

Structural and institutional factors determine the ‘choices’ women can make in their lives. For example, take the issue of maternity or family leave. The United States is one of the few developed countries where workers are not guaranteed paid family leave, according to a recent report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled “Failing its families: Lack of paid leave and work-family supports in the US”. HRW noted,

“Having scarce or no paid leave contributed to delaying babies’ immunisations, postpartum depression and other health problems, and caused mothers to give up breastfeeding early. Many who took unpaid leave went into debt and some were forced to seek public assistance. Some women said employer bias against working mothers derailed their careers”.

In admitting that there is no such thing as a work-life balance for working mothers, Sandberg famously said that she used to pump breast milk while on conference calls at Google. While this admission shows that things are not easy when you’re juggling a high-powered career with family life, the fact that she was able to do so was a privilege and not a legally guaranteed right that other women in her country could also take advantage of.

Compare this to a low-income worker in the US who was interviewed by the Human Rights Watch in relation to their above-mentioned report. This woman was denied a place to pump breast milk for her baby when she returned to work after a six-week unpaid maternity leave. She had been mistreated by her employer during her pregnancy, did not have any health insurance and was later even denied time off for medical appointments for her sick baby. It is no surprise then that she suffered from acute postpartum depression. Would it have made a difference in her circumstances if this woman had taken on Sandberg’s 3-pronged career advice?

Sandberg is right about the fact that individual attitudes and choices are vitally important to help women succeed in their careers. Unfortunately they are not enough. These must be accompanied by societal changes, policies and laws that support women in the workplace, especially those who are less privileged.

Sheryl Sandberg has inspired countless women to seek ‘real equality in the workforce’. Frequently listed as one of the most powerful women in the world, Sandberg has the massive success and public leverage combined with her charming personality to achieve incredible advancements for women.

If she truly wants to see women leaders at the top, she must concern herself with women who are at the bottom.

This article was first published in the Express Tribune on 12 May 2012. You can find it here.

Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love is one of those books I’d been wanting to read for a while but just hadn’t got around to. A few days back I saw it on a friend’s bookshelf and asked if I could borrow it. It’s been a great read. It’s a woman’s journey of self discovery: to find happiness, pleasure and love in her life. Or as the book’s subtitle reads: ‘One Woman’s Search for Everything’.

Liz Gilbert seemingly has everything anyone could ask for: she is a successful writer, is married, has a beautiful house and great family and friends. But at age 31, she finds herself broke- financially and emotionally.  After a long-winded divorce and simultaneous love affair that ends in disaster, she’s left horribly heartbroken and depressed. To pick up the pieces of her life she decides to just leave everything behind and travel for a year to the three ‘I’s: Italy, India and Indonesia and spend four months in each of the places.

She travels to Italy because she has always wanted to learn the Italian language, not for any other reason but that she finds it beautiful. Her journey in Italy was my favourite part of the book. It is dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, which in her case is in the form of lounging around in the sun near beautiful fountains and gardens, exploring the different cities in Italy at a leisurely pace (but mainly Rome where she is based), making friends, learning and practising Italian with new friends and strangers; and most importantly eating massive quantities of amazing food: fresh pasta and pizza, farm fresh vegetables, fish and meats and amazing gelato and pastries. She would just go to a restaurant based on recommendations and without even looking at the menu and ask the proprietor to bring her something great to eat and most of the time, she would be blown away by what was laid in front of her. Reading about her experience, I just wanted to visit Italy again and experience everything the way she did.

She had been introduced to a spiritual healer through her ex-boyfriend and had started meditation which brought her solace. So she decides to go to the Ashram of her guru in India and devote 4 months to spiritually cleanse her life. That part of the book was not an easy read and its not meant to be either I guess. She talks about her spiritual experiences, beliefs of the Yogic practice and her struggles with certain practices which were a reflection of her own ego or inner state. Having lately been struggling spiritually, I realize the importance of spirituality in one’s life to fill an internal void. I wish the book had inspired me enough to whip a prayer mat and start my own prayer/meditation, but unfortunately as I could hardly relate to some of her almost out-of-body experiences, this wasn’t the case. I agree that in such cases, having guidance and someone to talk to really helps.

Her last stop was in Bali, Indonesia where she had been a few years ago and had found the place the most beautiful she’d ever been to. She figures that after her indulgences in Italy and her abstinence in India, she will use her time in Bali to find balance in her life in beautiful surroundings. As the names alludes to, there she not only finds happiness but also love.

The book is a great read and thoroughly entertaining even if it is essentially one woman’s self- obsessed ruminations. But that’s where the writer is so gifted: she sustains your interest through her journey of self-discovery for nearly 350 pages. Parts of the book are witty, parts are heartbreaking but most of it is so beautifully written. Her honesty about her failings and her ability to analyze her own life and come out on the other side victorious is absolutely inspiring. She makes you want to throw caution to the wind, pack your bags and leave on your own journey to places where you’ve always wanted to go to and do the things you’ve been storing in the recesses of your mind.

ps. Next stop: I have to watch the film!

30 Day Challenge

Try Something New for 30 Days

I just came across this talk by Matt Cutts where he suggests taking on a 30 Day Challenge. Try something new or take on something you’ve been putting off for a while. I agree with Cutts that 30 days is just the right chunk of time. Not so long that you get intimidated and not so little that the new habit or action would be meaningless.

In my case, I’ve been feeling a bit lost and spiritually disconnected lately. As a Muslim, my prime source of ‘guidance’ should be the Quran but I never find time to read it. While praying I go through the motions and find my mind drifting, making mental to-do lists . More than ever before I find myself asking what’s the purpose of life: what gives meaning to my life. Life seems monotonous and mundane and the only way we all try to escape it is by keeping ourselves busy. And I’ve been keeping myself busy with the most frivolous and inconsequential things. At the end of the day, I still feel restless and dissatisfied.

So I’ve decided to take on my 30 Day Challenge to read the Quran and other sources of inspiration to find some answers to these questions. A quest for inner peace you could call it (Kung Fu Panda style).

Some other 30 Day Challenges I would like to take on (after this one) would be:

– photoblogging

– call a different friend every day (I hate making phonecalls and so don’t stay as connected with friends as I’d like to)

– exercise

What 30 Day Challenge would you like to take on?

Savouring the PTI Moment

PTIJalsaWhen was the last time you felt excited about Pakistani politics? I really can’t remember. But watching Imran Khan’s historic jalsa yesterday I felt a thrill similar to what I had felt watching the events unfolding in Tahrir Square a few months ago. Could this be the start of a Pakistani revolution? I don’t know, but PTI would have us believe so.

It was heartwarming to see that families had come even with young children, putting aside security concerns. Celebrities were there to add glitz and glamour to the proceedings, leading some critics on Twitter to question whether this was a political gathering or a concert. Shehzad Roy was a hit and Strings’ performance of “mein bhi dekhoun ga” worked really well on the crowds, but what brought tears to my eyes was the good ol’ qaumi taraana. And it must’ve been for romantics like me that they played the national anthem twice in the proceedings.

After hours of speeches and song performances, finally Imran Khan took to the stage. I guess people’s expectations had been built to unrealistic levels by the historic venue, massive size of the crowd and the long wait. While there was some substance, a few cricket inspired puns and a bit of wit, overall it was obvious that oratory is not one of Imran Khan’s many talents. Fortunately, on the personality front his star status and charisma somewhat compensates for this. If only he could hire a great Urdu speech writer and improve his speaking skills, we could have our own desi Obama.

Yesterday’s jalsa was historic in more ways than one. Not only was it the largest crowd ever gathered by PTI, it was perhaps also one of the largest ever convened at Minar-e-Pakistan. Also significant was that the PTI crowd was at least a few tens of thousand stronger than that which gathered just two days prior to hear Shahbaz Sharif speak.That’s saying a lot given Punjab is a PML(N) stronghold.

On a more superficial, yet significant note, never before have we seen the urban westernized youth attending a political rally in droves as it did yesterday (commentators have been using the term “jeans wearing” and “English speaking” to describe them). Their presence was significant for two reasons: First, this segment of society, epitomized in depictions such as ‘Slackistan’, is known more for its apathy than activism. Second, and more importantly, the youth comprises about 70% of Pakistan’s population and Imran Khan has been pinning his hopes on them, even dedicating his latest book to them. Many of them would be first time voters in 2013 and if someone can tap into this vote bank, it could really be a game changer.

I purposefully don’t go into policy, strategies and substance in this post. PTI achieved yesterday’s milestone after 15 long years of struggle. So before we ask hard-hitting questions and poke holes in their agenda and policies (or lack thereof), let us allow them this moment of glory. It is only fair.

No matter what one’s misgivings about Imran Khan and his party, one thing cannot be denied: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has finally arrived.

The gift of a mother

imageA man came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, who among the people is most deserving of my good companionship?’

He said, ‘Your mother.’

The man asked, ‘Then who?’

He said, ‘Your mother.’

The man asked again, ‘Then who?’

He said, ‘Your mother.’

And once again the man asked, ‘Then who?’

He said, ‘Your father’

I could quote things like ‘Behind every great man is a great woman’ but such wonderful gems are just being overused on holidays like Mother’s day. I would like it on record that I detest the idea of a Mother’s Day. It simply shouldn’t exist. Every day of the year should technically be Mother’s Day. We should wake up each morning and think of how best to show our gratitude to the greatest woman in our lives. We should look at ourselves each day and be reminded of who spent 9 laborious months bearing us, and every day ever since, catering to our needs with barely a whimper of complaint.

How can we express this gratitude? The truth is that there really is no way. There is no way to possibly repay the love a mother has for her child, and though this may be expressed in different ways, the immeasurable love always is present.

I read the story of a man who was paralysed, unable even to defecate without assistance. He spoke of how his mother would literally have to remove the waste from within his body day in and day out with her bare hands, without ever a complaint. There are many doting fathers who sacrifice much for their children, but it is only a mother and her blessed natural instincts that could ever dare to go to such lengths for any human being.

Take a less extreme example. Take the least possible extreme example. When you complain of so much as a headache and immediately get two panadols and a glass of water thrust towards you, this is just one example of her effortless love.

The beauty of a mother’s role is how much she actually accomplishes without us even realising it. If my mother were to complain every second of every day of every year for the rest of my life, I would still call that under-exaggeration.

Then why is it that we find it so hard to show how much we really do appreciate these most nurturing angels? Why is it that when your mother asks for a favour, it feels like climbing Kilmanjaro and when she repeatedly inquires about your health, you heatedly raise your voice as if she were an enemy?

There are many challenges we face in our lives, not the least of which begin when we actually start our own families. Perhaps it is then that we get a slightly better understanding of how spoon-fed we truly are. When we are thrust into independence, the absence of all that direct care and nurture is finally felt.

We cannot ever imagine completely paying off the amount we are indebted to our mothers, but after receiving showers upon showers of warm love our entire lives, let us try to sprinkle a few drops in the reciprocating direction.

It is human nature that in moments of inspiration, we get riled up and will to change, but only moments later we forget. I only pray that I can start increasing the amount of gratitude I show her, and in moments of forgetfulness, that I do not ever hurt her the way I might have in the past.

There is one woman that bore us. Leaving out any external factors, let it be known that she truly is loved, for it is the very least she deserves. The very least.

Shehroze Khan, our new guest blogger, is studying Mathematics at University of Nottingham. He is Tamreez’s cousin.

In pursuit of happiness

Mulla Nasruddin was searching for something in his garden. When his neighbour asked him: “What are you looking for Mulla”.

He replied that he was looking for his house key.

Wanting to help him, his neighbour joined him asking : “Do you remember where you dropped it?’”

Mulla answered: “Of course I do, in my house.”

“Why are you looking here?”, asked his neighbour confused.

Mulla Nasrudin replied: “Because there is much more light here than in my house.”

imageIt’s amazing how accurately this famous Sufi parable depicts our search for the “life we want to live”. Be it job satisfaction, ideal relationships, stability in financial situation or simply happiness, we always seem to be in a struggle to find that key to success.

Who likes to wait in a queue if there is a fast track to the front of the queue. Mulla Nasruddin also wanted the easy route to success but unfortunately, it doesn’t always work in life. To achieve something you need to work hard and search for the keys in the right places, irrespective of how difficult it may seem.

Sometimes we don’t even know what the key is for, or what it looks like, but we continue to search. You never know, your door to success might not even be locked or the key may already be in your pocket. Realisation of our own potential sometimes comes as a pleasant surprise to many. Rumi beautifully once said:

You suppose you are the trouble
But you are the cure
You suppose that you are the lock on the door
But you are the key that opens it
It’s too bad that you want to be someone else
You don’t see your own face, your own beauty
Yet, no face is more beautiful than yours.

You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness and trust.
You were born with ideals and dreams.
You were born with greatness.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.
You have wings.
Learn to use them and fly.

I’m not giving up on my dream :)

Those of you who read my last post know that I was writing in despair. Although I won’t really take back all that I wrote, it is not completely reflective of what I believe in. All of us go through hard times and face disappointments. Perhaps it’s better not to voice your thoughts in the heat of the moment so-to-speak, but it can also be therapeutic. By sharing my gloomy thoughts, I was hoping for others to inspire me and help me get out of that phase. Because I know that if we stop struggling for what we believe in, there is no point to life. So I was really excited today when I came across this talk by Imran Khan titled "Never Give Up on Your Dreams". It was exactly what I needed.

One of the things Imran said really struck me: the higher the goal you set, the bigger the setbacks you should expect. And if you can learn to deal with the setbacks then you’ll be successful. However, one of the common mistakes people make when they come across a setback or hurdle on the path to their dream is to scale back the scope of their goal. Instead of dreaming big, dealing with hurdles and still working towards the goal; people will instead dream small and play it safe. I’ve found myself doing this a lot in life.

In 11th grade after I’d gotten my chemistry results, the marks were pretty good but not stellar. I didn’t really expect praise from the teacher but what I didn’t expect was for her to rebuke me. I still remember what she said: "These aren’t bad marks, but you know you could’ve done better. You never fully apply yourself". In retrospect, I know how true that comment was and still is. I’ve always worked hard, but never in a disciplined or sustained manner and at the first sign of setback, I’m willing to rescale my goal. I’d rather set ‘achievable goals’ and accomplish them than be faced with failure. I’m very risk-averse and nothing scares me more than failure. Let me give you a few small examples. I failed my driving test when I tried for manual. So instead of retaking the manual test, I passed on automatic. When I used to apply for jobs, I would only apply to those where I matched the criteria a 100% and aimed for entry level jobs even though I knew I was capable of more. Asim would keep telling me to apply for more ambitious roles, but I was terrified of rejections. Every rejection I got really dented my self esteem. In relationships, it’s easy to say "oh my family is this way and we can’t be any different" than accepting that relationships need time and attention and sometimes things aren’t always pretty, but you have to keep at it. So over the years, I’ve learnt that things don’t always come easily in life. More importantly no matter how bad they get, they almost always get better. You sometimes just need to sleep on them and then try again.

Although the talk didn’t go a lot into solutions for Pakistan (there’s so much one can squeeze into a 20 minute talk and we’ve heard Imran Khan speak about his policies on many other forums), one of the things that rang true was when Imran said there is a lot of potential and talent in Pakistan but "the only problem in our way is apathy". He couldn’t have said it better.

So in the context of the last post I wrote, I haven’t given up. Yes, it’s true that things do seem pretty bleak in Pakistan at the moment. But I also know that change is possible, even if all we can accomplish is one little thing at a time. If nothing else, I want to be satisfied that I continue to work towards my dream. My friend Hafsa shared this parable with me. Even if you’re not religious, you will definitely appreciate the attitude.

‘When Nimrod built a pyre to burn Allah’s prophet Ibrahim, the hoopoe carried water in its beak and released it onto the flames from above. An onlooker, asked the hoopoe whether it thought the two drops of water would put out the mighty blaze. ‘I don’t know,’ replied the bird. ‘All I know is that when Allah makes a list of those who built this fire and those who tried to put it out, I want my name to be in the second column.’