‘I jumped off the cliff…’

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The title should not come across as too vile. Let me assure there is no viewer discretion needed. (smiles)

I belong to a family in which girls do not generally work. Its not about that it is frowned upon, it is more about having a need. Growing up as kids I always thought that females working equated to necessity, in case a father or a brother is unable to provide for the family or that you are not getting married. It never really occurred to me that you could work for a career.

I thought that I too would follow my mother’s and sister’s path; get married around 20-21 and then the same old handi-roti (cooking at home).

It was not till IBA happened. i saw a whole new world.

yet there was still a doubt: would I break the barriers at my home? would I become the outlier?

till then I  had seen two phenomenal women in my household work; one as a necessity and one for keeping busy… and I saw what it did to their natures; they had somehow a more confident air around them.

And so begun the journey, a journey of which I too wasn’t too sure about myself. Here was I, fresh out of grad school in a new city I knew nothing off. I embraced the change and went on the quest to do ‘something’ for myself. I had worked before, but that too as a mere fact for avoiding boring summer holidays. That ‘something’ was not a thing I was sure about. I was getting paid less and spending more. BUT I was learning a new thing… every. single. day.

Noor giving the presentation on ACCA Brand
First presentation in the professional world

I grew a little and then a lot and then I realised… oh wow.. I AM serious about a profession. I knew what I was worth and I knew it was becoming a part of me. It made me more confident, more money smart, more appreciative of my father’s hard work, more supportive of my mom; trust me if I say it was an AHAAA moment, it would not be wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It made sense to me, this empowerment, this sense of accomplishment. And guess what, some how, along the way, the remaining puzzle pieces also fell in place; from getting married at 27, to having a baby at 28, to carrying on work, for living in a joint family, to travelling internationally and within Pakistan… it all gelled well.

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This guy in the background is my rock; my husband.

I learnt the mechanics of time, of managing my life, of finding a purpose. It might not be all 100% but trust me even 90% is good enough for me… and guess what….. it all happened because i jumped off that cliff…

 

 

 

What have I learnt since starting work at 15?

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What have I learnt since starting work as a 15 yr old?

I always thought Peter Drucker’s SMART goals will work for my benefit when I commenced work coming out of a family in which females, generally do not work. However I learnt that what we read in books might not work for us , more so, when we want to climb the corporate ladder. So I toiled and came to the conclusion, maybe I need to develop my OWN SMART goals which will be, with due apologies, be a bit different than what books tell us. So here are my SMART goals especially for the young, powerful females who are coming out of the university and searching for help.

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S= shock absorber

You got to be the best and you got to do twice as much as a male in your toes. Why do I say this? Its not that a female does not find equality at the workplace. It is that she has the society

too acting as a speed breaker. Decide wisely and be prepared for shocks.

M= meticulous

 

You have to be meticulous at work and not dilly dally. This is a hard learnt fact. Be it making files all day, or direct marketing calls, your meticulous nature and the zeal you put into it takes you places.

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A=active

Your ears should be open along with your eye. Be on the lookout for opportunities to learn new things. most HR policies say ‘we provide work shadowing as a mentoring to employees’ i say you live by it. The MAX you can learn is via observation and you can only do that if you are active.

 

R= resilient

Being resilient is very very important when you are a fresh starter female. There will be pressures of all kinds; home commitments, family events gathering that clash with a work engagement… learn to manage both and for that make sure you have a process ready for each of your responsibilities.

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T=time

The biological and the professional clocks ALWAYS work in the opposite directions.  At 25 you are due for a big career jump but you also have to get married. Look for inspirations around you who have achieved more in less time. Remember you can always do this if you have your process sorted.

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Blending diversity into how we operate

“Diversity comes from maintaining a mindset, not by ticking a box on a rule book.”

pexels-photo-103127.jpegEPISODE ONE:

As a professional working in the corporate sphere for over ten years, there has been one thing that has always been on my mind. How do women make a mark for themselves? We do know that we cannot have it all, but we-can if we-want-to.

There is often this big question that females ask: how will i carry on working after marriage? My independence will not be the same; I will not have the support I need to make a mark; I have kids to look after… the list is endless. This coming from an educated girl who has already in some way fought with the ‘desi’ mindset and gotten on-board the corporate wagon, makes me wonder… “Are we teaching our girls to actually think and act diverse?”

The rhetoric is simple: WE ARE NOT.

So how do we change that? How do we make our girls more independent and how do we not paint a gloomy post-marriage-keep-working picture for them?

The answer: share, share and share some more.

We are a nation that supports stories of abuse, rape, murder, molestation you name the negative and we have made a drama, written an article and published stories on it. How many times have we seen a successful female professional’s story circulate the media sphere?

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So whilst we have hundreds of women doing phenomenally well in the country, we do have a lack of sharing and getting their stories out to the masses. Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo eludes about having a process-flow. Yes you are a daughter, a wife and a mother but you are also a mentor, a co-worker, a CEO, a manager and once you are all that, you have all the diverse skills to be a person worth their salt. When i saw one of those candid videos of her circulating the internet, it made me wonder where I was headed and that really made me lament that is if she can, I can.

So start sharing… not only with women but with the men around you who need to be your support structure. Diversity is in accepting women as a lead force and letting them rise and shine. This does not mean making the matters easy for them but on the contrary it means not making it hard for them to carry on working and making a mark for themselves.

More to follow.

“I need to be the one to show these children that they can achieve what they want to achieve.”

I happened to meet a dynamic lecturer from Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, amidst a group of young girls who had set up a stall at an entrepreneurial set-up in Islamabad. Its all in selfish gain that I go and meet with such groups as youth attracts me, their stories inspire me, guiding them makes me feel fulfilled.

20180311_164434.jpgThe event was the Women in Business Festival in Islamabad, an exhibition encouraging start-ups to come and showcase their products and services. So whilst I saw some renowned brands there, mostly there were enterprise owners who had just started off on this whirlwind journey of being their own bosses.

 

Skimming through the 100 plus stalls I saw this beautiful young girl, clad in her veil, her eyes twinkling and welcoming the guests to her stalls. It was a simplistic display of handicrafts she was sourcing from Southern Punjab and also some veils that she had on display.

I asked Sara why is she here. “I am pursuing my bachelors degree and have a year to go but I want to explore the avenues of setting up my own business.” She responded, not a worry in her mind, not with the slightest of vagueness.

This is a young girl from Mardan, rising from the rocks, pushing away the thorns and carving her way out. Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) is considered to be an orthodox province of Pakistan, but that does not mean that it is rigid.

“We have set up our incubation center at Abdul Wali Khan University (AKWU) about a year back and we are in the process of letting our students embark on the entrepreneurial journey. Sarah is the first startup we are incubating and we have one more in the pipeline with the boys. The University attracts students from Swabi, Charsadda, Nowsehra, Mardan, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, Northern Punjab, Kohat, Southern parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the extensive Tribal region along the boundaries of the Province. Most of the young students of these areas who have the intellectual capability of receiving higher education can not avail this opportunity due to extreme poverty and this is exactly who the university is catering to.” Detailed Shah Hussain Awan, a management sciences lecturer at the AWKU.

As soon as he made these remarks I wondered, about more than a decade ago when I passed out from one of the leading business schools in the country, our minds were not so broadened to explore opportunities beyond the corporate sphere. What intrigued me was, imagining this young girl Sarah from KP in her 20’s today and then thinking about how she will go places with this support system behind her.

“We suffered a lot this last year but this is not the end. I wanted to bring these young girls here so that they can take this message back and tell others about the world of opportunities that exist for them back home.” Remarked Shah.

Sarah plans on setting up an ecommerce model of her business that she has named Hashtag by S&A. (Business link). Shah continues to strive and support these youngsters however he can.

Sky is the limit. The thought puts a smile on my face. Does it do the same for you?

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The writer is a social entrepreneur by profession and runs her own organisation Mind Works International20180311_154154IMG-20180311-WA0032. She can be reached on ceo@mindworksinternational.com

 

My ‘wonder women’ mind map

The story within.
Inspired by the fable, Huma, a mythical bird of Iranian legends and fables, and continuing as a common motif in Sufi and Diwan poetry. Although there are many legends of the creature, common to all is that the bird is said never to alight on the ground, and instead to live its entire life flying invisibly high above the earth.

Often I wonder if what i do with life is enough. Whether its the perfect house or a perfect workplace or the perfect car or the perfect vacation or raising the perfect child or being the perfect child or the perfect wife.

Do we really have it all sorted?

Not really. Perfection is very subjective and while we are at that… overrated.

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For me each day is women’s day as I go back to the drawing board in search of my perfection.

I have to my benefit the company of many WONDER woman who pop in my wonder women mind map… let me show you.

This brave woman who is a young widow with 2 adorable girls to raise; who just a year back had a perfect home and a perfect husband only to loose him to a deadly cancer.

This resilient woman who got married early and resumed studies at 45 only to specialise and go on to become a psychologist. oh and she is also a grandma.

This talented woman who has not studied but is skilled as a beautician and is an entrepreneur of sorts and who runs her household amidst a nonchalant husband.

This outlier of a woman who broke barriers and not only studied but also worked in a claustrophobic city where women are mere home commodities, in addition to running a house and raising very able kids.

This strong woman who too is a middle aged widow who took care of her husband like a baby when he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and lived only 5 years after that.

This Herculean woman who at 70 does not ever say no to help anyone, be it her husband, her children or her grandchildren.

The list does not end here. But to each woman above, I cannot tell you all enough how much you have impacted my life and made me who I am today. And for you who are reading this… Happy Women’s Day to you and to all the Wonder women in your life.

 

The writer is a social entrepreneur focused on the areas of financial inclusion, enterprise development and diversity. She can be reached at noorulain.zafer@gmail.com