Are We Out of the World Cup, yet?

Yes, if you are looking for a short answer to the question posed above. A few hundred million hopes and dreams have been dashed. Careers have ended. No fairy tales, no messiahs and certainly no heroes. Sarfaraz and his men have been runners-up in a race against themselves.

Now to the longer answer. No, we are not really out of the World Cup yet. See, our team is a patch-work at best. We did not even know our best combination until half-way through the campaign. You can attribute this lack of clarity to the think tank but only partly. It is a system-wide failure. For far too long, the cracks in the system have gotten papered over by a chance victory or three at the world stage. When that happens, we all buy into the narrative of the ‘unpredictable Pakistan’. This allows the entrenched mindset in the system to hold its sway thus never allowing in the vim of the youth and the unconventional. Think of World Cup 1992 or Champions Trophy 2017 and you will understand what I mean. It’s the performances after a victory which bring to sharp focus the inadequacy of the system.

In so many ways, our cricket team perfectly sums us up as a nation. We are mercurial: “One minute down the next minute up” to borrow from Nasser Hussain. Our approach to life is that if we win the toss and bat first, we will win the match. The problem is the coin also throws up a tail when opting for a head. If we are asked to chase a target that demands of us to show grit and determination, we tend to creak under pressure and resort to idiocy and self-destructive behavior to get ourselves out of trouble. With shaky foundations, our structures crumble and we end up making wrong decisions. Hello, IMF.

Our collective is such that we do come across world-class talent that somehow doesn’t let us fade away into oblivion. Think Dr. Mahboob Ul Haq, Abdul Sattar Edhi, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis among others. God only knows how many Wasim Akrams have slipped under the radar because the system failed them. Any talk of reforms and your uncle will stop seeing you.

Back to cricket. It is time for us to overhaul the system. It has been crying for it. It is only after a defeat do we start seeing paunchy players and an under-performing support staff. If we do not heed this call we will be out of the World Cup forever.

Just Keep Swimming

Just keep swimming, go with the flow, accept the way things are; these are just a few of the things that we hear around us almost every day. They all point on to the one fact and that is, once a thing is done, there in nothing you can do about it, so let go and let god! However, as easy as it is to say these things, I’m afraid I see very few people who actually practice it too. As a result, people take more tension, become more anxious and irritable, and in the end put their mental health at stake, all because they think they are in control of their future, but are not ok with the fact that they cannot undo their past.

Let’s break this situation a little using a tree diagram to understand how things works:

flowchart one

Here’s the thing, you have a task/situation/chore/mission in front of you and you need to fulfill it. You have two ways to go about it; complete the task in a timely manner with all your heart poured into it, or complete the task half heartedly and get done with it just for the sake of it. Each case will have two scenarios; you will either get to the desired outcome, or the undesired outcome. The feeling of what comes from these outcomes is what will all be different. But what stands still is that you have next to zero control over any of them. Frustrating as it might be, it is the truth of life and you can not do anything about it.

Some of you might believe in destiny and some of you would not. I myself, being the tiny opinionated person that I am, strongly believe that whatever happens has been already written down. The path to choose to reach that outcome is chosen by you, but other than that, everything is already planned for you. So why worry, my friend? Why the despair?

The term “Just Keep Swimming” is my moto to life. It comes from one of my very favorite movies, Finding Nemo. Finding Nemo is an animated movie about a father fish who loses his son fish in the ocean. The father fish, on his quest to ‘finding nemo’ befriends a fish called Dory who has a short-term memory loss, and is usually good for nothing. Throughout the movie, she chants her favorite words of ‘just keep swimming’ which clearly imply that just keep going with the flow and you will end up where you need to be, and in the end helps the father fish find his son. The perfect example of letting go.

Now letting go here does not mean to fold your arms and sit in front of your television watching your favorite show all day because, hey God has everything planned for you right? No. Rather, it means to work hard and pour your heart into whatever you do, and then let go, because at the end of the day, whatever happens, happens for YOUR good.

My father often says that he wants to have my attitude towards life. In any critical situation, I am usually the one who says “chill kerein, relax kerein” and my father is usually the one who cannot sit still and has his forehead all frowned and his heart beat racing 150 km/h. I often tell him to relax because there is nothing he can do about the situation except pray.

I am no expert in maintaining my calm in tough situations. But I do know my power of belief, and I wish that everyone did too. It is pointless to put your beautiful heart through so much, so why not practice the habit of letting go once your job is done, and staying happy for the life that is planned for you. Just keep swimming and you will be where you are meant to be.

flowchart two

Surviving Adulthood

My 30’s are already turning out to be weird. I’m a mom, a daughter-in-law, a wife, a mentor (yeah i know, weird), an ever-so-still-rebellious daughter, a friend, an ex-friend, a sister…the list just doesn’t end. That’s how many roles I, like many other fellow adults, have to juggle. See, the thing about life is the one million curve balls it throws at you. One moment you’re on top of your game and the next moment you’re falling apart, because, well, life happens. This may seem like your average day-to-day story, but the fact that you have all these insane roles to play, doesn’t make anything easier. You stop finding the time to heal, the time to process, and the time to move on — not move forward but move on.

Adulthood isn’t easy; it’s about containing yourself when you feel you’ve hit the end of the road. It’s about initiating a brand new start when you physically feel that you won’t be able to live through the day. It’s about making choices that may (did i say may…I meant most definitely WILL) be really difficult but are probably for the best (but you don’t know that yet…which makes it even more frustrating!!). 

Adulthood is an overwhelming process. It frightens you because you are constantly struggling to do the right thing and you keep brushing away the things that give you joy and happiness because it seems like the “right” thing to do (Terrible isn’t it? And you thought your 20’s were bad). 

For the benefit of you 30 somethings, (20 somethings, read and learn) I’ve put together a small list which may help you get through the day, especially when you feel like s*** has hit the fan and there’s no way you will be able to bounce back. I like to refer to this list as the ADULTTS (yes that’s adults with two T’s…): 

1. Always hug your mom – I like to start the list with this because it always makes things a tiny bit better than they were before. 

2. Distract yourself – Sometimes getting away from a situation, or the person causing the situation, or the negativity of your surroundings may just help you think a lot more clearly and objectively. 

3. Understand what is important – Prioritize and tackle each step as it comes. Once you understand what is important you will eventually make sure things fall into place.

4. Let it go! – This is the tough one. The really tough one. Especially for impulsive humans such as myself. It takes a great amount of self-control before you realize there’s nothing you can do to help salvage a certain situation. Once you do let go however, you will be in a more positive head space and will eventually realize that perhaps letting go of a certain situation was necessary for you to grow.   

5. Trivialize it – How difficult and unsolvable a problem is depends primarily on your own thought process. You might need to take a step back and really analyze the root cause of the problem and look into that as opposed to blowing the issue out of proportion. 

6. Talk about it! Cry about it! Laugh about it! Write about it! – Basically get it out of your system. Don’t let it linger on. The more you internalize your feelings the worse the pain will become.

7. Structure a game plan – Once you’re done analyzing the problems and the symptoms, exercise a bit of self-restraint and get into solution mode. A good idea is to structure your thoughts and decide how you will tackle each step. We all manage emotions in different ways and this may be a more practical take on the matter; however, once you get down to it you’ll realize that perhaps there was a pretty simple solution all along.

This list of course is fluid and may take a couple of iterations before you get it right but you get my drift. Lastly, always remember: Nothing and by that i mean NOTHING lasts forever. And if we’ll survive one day, we’ll survive the next one too.

A Tribute to Ours and Theirs

You were born into a family like any other. A family that saw dreams for you, pushed you to grow, and stood by you no matter what. A family that prayed for you, cried for you, and fulfilled all your wishes. You had friends that thought you were crazy, friends that made fun of you, and also those who inspired you to be the better version of yourself that you dream of. You were afraid, wavering, and anxious, but also eager, energetic, and certain. You knew what you wanted from life, and you went for it despite all the struggles you knew you had to face. Your mother’s tears and your father’s silent expressions, your sister’s hugs and your brother’s convincing, there was nothing that was going to stop you. There came the day when you went from being just your mother’s, to being your motherland’s. And you would not have had it any other way!

Life was tough and it was crazy. Everyday was like a roller coaster ride that would not end. From waking up at five on cold winter mornings with your seniors throwing buckets of ice cold water on you, to running unending laps on the football even though your legs gave up 20 minutes ago; from drinking your food out of your glass because you only had 2 minutes to finish it, to rolling in mud because your shirt was not properly tucked in; from having emotional breakdowns in front of your fellow batch mates, to being the support system to all, you woke up everyday with a smile on your face and hope in your eyes because you were brave and courageous, and you knew you had a whole nation that was counting on you. You never gave up.

You and many other ‘jawans’ had a sole purpose to life, to protect your country and the many strangers that became your family. You had people rooting for you and praying for you from the comforts of their homes. Did anyone really know what you really went through? The constant fear of attack from the enemy and the distress of losing the life of a fellow or even yourself. Did you really love your land so much to go through that? For you, every bruise was an award, every scar a story to tell. For your family, every breath of yours was another blessing to be thankful for, every doorbell a skipped heartbeat.

And you? You entered the ‘enemy’s’ land being the tiger that you are. You were doing only that what you were told was good for your land. You were considered a terrorist, a spy, an intruder. But you did it still, because you knew that every drop of blood of yours would make you a bigger hero, someone who fought for his land and died in the name of it.

I am sat in my bed, all cozy and warm with a cup of tea in my hands and my family sat right around me. Words are not enough when I write this thank you note to the both of you for doing what you are doing, for being our savior and our protector. A world full of peace is what we’d all love to see, but till then, thank you. Salutes to you both.

“Afrad ke hathoun mein hai akwaam ki takdeer,

Her fard hai millat ke muqadar ka sitara”

Pursuing the More Significant

If we look into human history, there has been one question that has been either asked directly or alluded to, in all religions and cultures. This question is: What is the meaning of life? Ever since humans started thinking rationally and analyzing their surroundings, they have been curious about why things are the way that they are. From wanting to know how organisms have evolved to asking more broad questions about the purpose of life, God and the nature of the universe.

What makes life worth living? Is it a life filled with happiness and success or a life filled with purpose and meaning? Is there even a difference between the two? Recently, I read a quote by John Maxwell and the dots finally connected. He says: “Success is when I add value to myself. Significance is when I add value to others.”

While the thirst for success is never quenched, significance satisfies our deepest heart and soul. It allows us to lay our head on our pillow each night confident that we lived a valuable and fulfilling day. The pursuit of significance is a daily practice of priorities. It is when you set out on a path, focused on something important and you work towards it with dedication every day. It can be anything from a tangible goal to the legacy you leave behind one day. It truly does not matter where you begin, what matters is what you achieve at the end.

The purpose of life, therefore, is to create your own meaning  and to bring it to fruition. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer. The truth is, there are untapped sources of meaning all around us—right here, right now. We can find meaning in every scenario, event, occurrence and context. We can find meaning in the sublime, the absurd, the dull and dreary, and in the perfectly wretched in life.

Here are simple ways to pursue significance in your life:

Begin and end with gratitude:

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. Start each day and finish each evening by thinking of three things for which you are grateful. When we anchor ourselves to the abundance in our lives, we uncover that which is most significant to us. It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, it’s gratitude that brings us true happiness and contentment.

Value what you have:

If you need something to believe in, start with yourself. Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. And until you value your time, you’ll do nothing with it. When clearly defined, your values will simplify your decision making process and will create fertile soul for you to flourish.

Dream big, live big:

Clear out the clutter in your mind so that your dreams have room to live and grow. Set goals: Plan, execute and implement them. A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action becomes a reality. Dream big, work hard, make it happen!

Act with meaning:

The purpose of life is not to be happy, rather it is to be useful, honorable, compassionate, make a difference and leave your mark in the world. In the hyper-competitive world in which we live, leaving a legacy is often implicitly put forth as the highest virtue. It is a way in which  we will feel valued and remembered after we have gone. It doesn’t have to always be grand, it could be something small that aids you in leaving the world a slightly better place than when you came into it.  

The Tyranny of Time:

Do not be lured into the premise that ‘someday’ you will take action, since that day may never come. Many people die with their music still in them. You’re never going to be 100% ready and it’s never going to be just the right time. This means that every moment is also the right moment. If you want it, you just have to do it!

If you don’t make the time to creating a life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with the life you don’t want. Remember, we came to this world with a purpose. Find out what that is. It’s going to be hard, but hard isn’t impossible.

The B Word

In a day and age where social media has become a virtual daily performance and the work atmosphere only extols the virtues of people who are charged up, switched on, working 24/7, racking up numbers, meeting targets, achieving, achieving, achieving- it becomes very easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle. ‘Work-life balance’ is merely a phrase with no meaning, ‘working hours’ are no longer ‘9 to 5’ but ‘as long as it takes to get the job done’ and ‘rat race’ is something that you are simply a part of.

When work takes its toll on your mental and physical health, your family/social/love life, and leaves no time for your personal interests or hobbies – you will inevitably fall prey to the dreaded ‘B’ word: burnout.

Coming back home at the end of the day feeling physically and mentally exhausted is a recipe for disaster and not a sustainable lifestyle. If you find yourself in such a situation, and want to try to avoid burning out, here are a few steps you can take:

1. Organize yourself: Take out some time at the start of every work day and make a small to-do list. What calls you have to make, what documents you have to review, what meetings you have to attend. Whether we realize it or not- without a plan of action, we end up spending a lot of time procrastinating, and as the day ticks on, we find ourselves becoming overwhelmed by an increasing pile of tending tasks. Make a concerted effort to wrap up as much of your work as possible during your work hours, and make a strict rule to not look at any work once you reach home.

2. Move around!: Take a walk, do some yoga, go for a run/ swim/ bicycle ride. Forget the physical health benefits, the clarity of mind that comes from physical activity can be a great stress relief and help you disengage from your mental stressors.

3. Make time for the important stuff: The things that get most overlooked if you are constantly busy with work are your relationships. Do not underestimate the quality of time and attention that other human beings require from you. You don’t have to do anything drastic! Simple steps; such as having tea with your family (during which you keep your phone on silent and in another room), keeping the weekend solely for family (and not mindless errands) or making sure you meet your friends at least once every two weeks. These may seem like small things but will go a long way in keeping you connected to the people you love,

4. Go easy on yourself: There is no shame in taking a break to recalibrate yourself. A day off if you are feeling overwhelmed, a short vacation to reward yourself for the hard work you have done.

5. Nurture your hobbies: whether it’s reading, flying kites, cooking or anything else that brings you joy and helps you unwind- don’t sacrifice it for work. You have to be selfish about your hobbies, keep a chunk of time aside to do the things you truly love, and protect them from any outside interference.

Avoiding burnout, somewhat ironically, requires some work- but a practical and disciplined approach to utilize your time effectively is what will get you the right results.

The Cloak of ‘Practicality’

What I have observed in the last twenty eight years of living in Pakistan, is that our ambient culture is polluted with aspects that take us away from a sense of responsibility and harm our integrity.

Our status quo is riddled with examples of disconnect between the ideals espoused fervently and what we actually do. This dissonance is very evident in some families and institutions. Sadly, all the good stuff that is expressed on social or professional events, often falls on deaf ears, resulting in daily practices of individuals and communities being at odds with the soundbites, which are meant to guide our behavior in a positive direction.

Let’s look at duality as a feature of our culture i.e., saying one thing, but meaning another – saying ‘yes’ to a request from your friend or boss, even though in the heart of heart, you have no intention of doing what’s needed.

I recall that some years ago, a senior lawyer and an acquaintance, requested me to act as a witness at his son’s wedding. I would have obliged, but due to another commitment, I couldn’t be available on the date of the wedding, which was scheduled a few days after my departure from the city. The lawyer comforted me, “That’s no problem.” He opened his briefcase, swiftly took out a document (nikah naama), and suggested without batting an eyelid: “Please sign here as a witness.” I was surprised, “Sir, how can I sign, when I will not be witnessing the happy occasion?!” He was perplexed with my question, and replied, “This is just a formality, and having you as a witness, even though you will not be there, will be an honor for our family. I see this as a practical solution!”

Such a phenomenon begs the question: How has duality become a norm? One of the many reasons that has made this hypocritical trait so routine, is our choice of words, which serve as ‘pain-killers’ to describe an errant act.

Our conscience, which is normally alive and vocal, when it detects incongruence in what we say and do, is conveniently silenced by high sounding words like ‘practical’ and ‘expedient.’ Such words become palliatives and are very effective in silencing the voice of our conscience, whenever we violate personal or professional ethics.

Consider this: Dictionary defines ‘practical’ as an idea, plan, or method likely to succeed or be effective in real circumstances. Hence, achieving a desired outcome becomes a priority, without any regard to how it is achieved.

If ethical considerations and values prove to be impediments in the path to achievement, they are easily sacrificed at the altar of another word – expedience. Note that the word ‘expedient’ means ‘convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral.’

Anything worth doing is difficult, and being in integrity in all interactions, is a challenge that we need to embrace. By exercising wisdom and upholding principles, in tough situations, personal or professional, we may not achieve our goal in its entirety, but we will sleep well at night.

Life is a minefield of temptations. Each indulgence promises pleasure, which is short-lived. The cost of betraying self is incalculable.

Hiding behind the cloak of ’practicality’ may benefit you in the short term, but will compromise your being in the long-run.

The Power of Questions

Most often, we do not allow our children to think. Have you ever given a case study to a three-year old? If you do, you’ll be surprised at the speed with which they answer, the quality of the response and the number of alternatives they can come up with. Ask children for their opinion on any matter, and they will have one – but no one is asking. Every question you ask a child builds their repertoire, or the mental muscle. As exercise builds physical health, stamina, resilience and strength, questions are exercise for the brain. If questions are about Math, History, Science etc, i.e. the syllabus in school, the brain will respond accordingly. Similarly, if questions are about life, the brain will answer. These answers make the “unfamiliar familiar,” constructing ever-new mental models. The more the mental models, the more the perspectives, the lesser the problems and stress and the richer the life. This positive state of being can trigger the “reward” neural circuitry, building the fortunate habit of self-rewarding, instead of being dependent on others or a system to validate or reinforce.

Similarly, at the workplace, are you asking your juniors questions or giving them instructions? Even if you have the answer, asking questions is a people-development leadership style that enables people to think for themselves. Else, they will remain dependent on you – which, of course, secures your job, but doesn’t do much for your promotion or your team’s empowerment.

We are born with the capacity to do wonders. Every child is a genius in her own way. When this capacity, or potential, as it is often called; is developed, many a times through questions, the child/person becomes able. That’s when capacity transforms into capability. The word ‘capability’ is two words, capacity and ability. When one is capable, then can we be responsible.

The brain makes up 2% of the body weight but consumes 20-25% energy. To conserve energy and be efficient, it builds neural pathways. The human brain is estimated to have 100 billion neurons which can connect in trillions of ways. The richer the exposure, the more the connections as there will be greater associations from the past to compare the new and be more empathetic toward receiving and accepting it, instead of rejecting the unfamiliar and losing opportunities. It’s these unconscious habits that directly affect our ability to make choices and decisions from the higher brain. The narrower the choices, the more we fear. Fear leads to stereotyping people and situations, narrowing opportunities to what is “acceptable.” The larger spectrum of choices provides internal psychological safety, making the individual more secure and confident. A person with a narrow spectrum will rely on external safety stimuli and will remain psychologically insecure.

Such a condition of internal uncertainty puts the mind in a state of constant conflict, mostly about the question, “Who am I?” Since the mind has not learnt to think, there is only a prescribed answer – the one we have been brought up with.

Having observed parents and how they react to their children’s behaviours, it is more often that parents are not nurturing children. Mostly they are conditioning them, that too with fear and shame; while the rest of the upbringing involves indoctrination. This psychological doctoring centers around ages-old social norms and customs of what is acceptable behaviour. The curriculum is different for girls and boys; for different economic strata; varies geographically and prescribed by religious and personal belief systems. And so the child acquires a pseudo personality, complying with what is acceptable. Others become the source of acceptability and respect, to validate the self. Thus, we get rid of the confusion and conflict aroused by the annoying question, “Who am I?”

With this comfortable formula that the brain acquires of getting respect from others and having the neural pathways conserve energy and work efficiently with this habit, we lose our ability to self-respect; or rather, that never quite develops. This ‘hanging on’ to others for one’s self-concept and identity breeds outward-looking mental models, on which we rely for reward and acknowledgement and turn into a ‘complaint’ society. Such peoples often are followers of the dictates of others.

This state of being can spread through society making most of us depend on each other for our self-esteem. Since ‘each’ has not much to ‘give’, as that ‘each’ is looking for it in the ‘other’, the alternate becomes to ‘take’. To take away from the other. I’ve seen grown men celebrate, clap, cheer when the other looses. These cheering men did not win, but they find solace in the loss of others. That is a glaring sign of a hollowness typical of a pseudo existence. Backbiting is another good method of pulling the other down so as to self-aggrandize. This becomes the neural pathway for reward.

Through history we can see such societies and even civilizations carrying on for hundreds of years in this state of survival. Many self-destruct, where the ego (the embodiment of selfishness), becomes all consuming. Such emphasis and focus on appeasing the form and neglect of the spirit, shrivels the soul, causing the entity to implode. Where are the great Greek, Roman and Mughal empires?

An indicator of fear and shame-centric societies is that they are consumers. Research and development and invention, innovation require a high level of patience, faith and perseverance, an elevated state of service for the larger good.

How can we come out of this downward spiral and become what we ought to be? Just for one day, ask questions. This requires you to acknowledge that others, too, know, and may know better. This vulnerability makes you powerful and them stronger. Be patient with their answers – remember you are facing generations of indoctrination. You cannot break neural pathways by asking once only. Keep at it. Results may not happen in your lifetime, but the transformation has begun.

Lalaland

A legend in his own right, Sahibzada Muhammad Shahid Khan Afridi a.k.a Lala a.k.a Boom Boom, has decided to hang up his boots after an illustrious career spanning 21 years of international cricket. A born entertainer, Afridi captured the imagination of his wide base of fans since THAT innings. A bowling all-rounder or a batsman who could bowl a few fast leggies, Afridi never ceased to amaze and bewilder. When his bat went silent – and that was a usual occurrence, his bowling would come to his rescue. And when both his batting and bowling went down south, his on and off field antics would make the headlines.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, except for may be once when he decided to retire from Test Cricket mid-tour in 2010 while being a captain, Lala struck anxiety both in the hearts of his opponents and fans alike. He is one of the most decorated cricketers of Pakistan having won the man of the match award for 32 times.

Here is a look at five of his most memorable performances:

102 against Sri Lanka at Nairobi Gym, October 04, 1996

The innings that made Afridi into a household name in Pakistan though that match was not televised live on national TV in Pakistan. The late evening news or the Khabarnama at 9 PST, was usually a dull affair but on October 04th, it wasn’t. Most of the Pakistanis found out about a certain Pathan boy from Karachi who had hit a world record fastest 37-ball century punctuated with 11 sixes and 6 fours and helped Pakistan win a crucial tie against Sri Lanka. His world record stood for 18 years and was broken by Corey Andersen in 2014. The impact of that innings was such that each time Afridi stepped out to bat, he was expected to hit the bowler and his dog out of the park.

141 against India, Ist Test at Chennai, Jan 28-31, 1999

After scoring 11 in the first innings of the first test match between India and Pakistan at Chennai, Afridi came back to get 3 wickets on a helpful surface to peg India back. But it was his batting in the second innings that inspired confidence into a batting line up that consisted of Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq and a young Muhammad Yusuf (Yousuf Youhana at the time). He scored a pulsating 141 on 191 balls against the likes of Srinath and Kumble. His 141 runs were the cornerstone of one of the most remarkable test victories of the Pakistan test team. Though Saqlain Mushtaq took 10 wickets and Sachin Tendulkar made a century, my man of the match was Lala.

51 against South Africa at Nottingham, 1st Semi-final, ICC World T20, June 18, 2009

After winning the toss and electing to bat, Pakistan soon found themselves in a strife at 28-2 in 2.3 overs. That the team actually reached this far into the tournament was a mini miracle in itself. Interestingly, it was an Afridi wonder- catch off the bowling of Umar Gul against New Zealand in one of the previous matches, that many believe, had sparked the stuttering Pakistan team into action. It was a now or never moment for the team as they had lost to India in the finals of the previous edition of the tournament in 2007. Afridi strode out to bat and minutes later was commanding the proceedings. His boundary hitting trail against Johan Botha where he hit Botha for four consecutive boundaries set the hearts racing. He was finally out for 51 in 34 balls. Later that evening, he came back and broke the back of the South African chase by bowling out Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers. Man of the match Afridi had finally taken his team to the finals of the world cup.

54 Not Out against Sri Lanka at Lord’s, Final ICC World T20, June 21, 2009

A rampant Sri Lankan team that had staved off every challenge on their way to the finals found a familiar opponent in Pakistan at Lord’s. Sri Lanka had been flying high as their top order and their mystery spinners were having a ball. They had already beaten Pakistan in one of the group matches and Shahid Afridi bagged a golden duck in that match though his bowling was stable and he took 2 wickets for 23 runs in his allotted 4 overs. It did not matter on the big day though. He walked out at No. 3 into a comfortable situation and took charge of the run chase. He ran hard, hit sixes and most fittingly remained un-beaten at 54 in 40 balls. Ian Chappell, the famous Australian Test Captain and a broadcaster, later said that Shahid Afridi deserved to be the man of the tournament. Shahid Afridi came back home to a hero’s welcome and people started likening him to the charismatic Imran Khan.

Biting the ball against Australia at Perth, Jan 31, 2010

An incident that refuses to leave Afridi, biting the ball was a bizarre thing to say the least. Pakistan were on a long tour of Australia in which they had lost all the matches, some even from winning positions. Afridi was the stand-in captain in the fifth ODI of the 5-match ODI series at Perth. Pakistan were in a position to win as they had Australia 7 down for 178 while chasing 213 to win. In an attempt to perhaps get the ball to swing or seam or do something silly like he did, Afridi decided to use his teeth to change the seam on the ball. Later he pleaded guilty for tampering and served a two match ban.

Rewrite Your Script

“Magar, aap jo keh rahe hain iss ka hamari company se koi relevance nahin hai,” (“What you are saying has no relevance to our company,” – a participant told me in one of my training sessions a few years back. I had two different ways to respond at that point: 1) to assert myself and explain the context a bit further, 2) step back and reflect on what the participant had said and then pick it up with him at a later time. I chose neither and instead got into a heated debate with him and soon realized that the other participants had also rallied behind him and I almost got booted out of the room!  

Later, I recounted the incident to a senior colleague with all the gravity I could muster. He looked at me, smiled and then taking a sip of tea from his bone china cup said, “This is a serious offence that you have committed to yourself.” I was a bit baffled by his response as I expected him to say words that would allay me. Explaining himself further, he said, “Ali, you have done a serious disservice to yourself. You became defensive and your reaction revealed your insecurity.” Suddenly, the edifice of my self-esteem crumbled right in front of me.

That one conversation started a chain of questions and self-enquiry. I was indeed insecure and the need to win others’ approval was a defining feature of my operating system. Upon further reflection, I realised that it was a desire that had stemmed from my early childhood and had played out like a well-written script. I always blamed my background for my low self-esteem. For me, the word “Kaash” had become an existential reality. “Kaash I went to a big ticket school.” “Kaash I was born into a rich Lahori family.” “Kaash I was taller.” “Kaash I was more attractive.” This soon changed into a series of self-destructive actions and I started losing my mind. Then, South Africa happened!

Amidst the majestic mountains of Drakensberg, the world famous trainer Etsko Schuitema conducts a week-long self-development course called ‘Personal Excellence.” My good fortune that I was able to attend the course in September 2016. The calm of the imposing scenery and the slow pace of everything around was enough to challenge my worldview that ‘fast and loud’ was the only effective way to do things. And the Course! It was a Godsend. A true revelation in more than one way, it forced me to explore the darkest and farthest recesses of my heart to find what’s ailing me. The most resonant thought was that we have the ability to rewrite the script we follow on a daily basis.

Let me explain: I was told when I was in college that I was the sum total of my past experiences. But nobody told me about my bias for only focusing on events in the past that beset me. I thus ended up writing and following the same script over and over again, a script that made me the ‘victim’ of my own self pity. I let my past define my present for far too long. Lack of confidence or not being able to accomplish a task was conveniently blamed on my background. There was comfort in that. I did not have to do much. I just had to lay there and blame.

It hit me like a thunderbolt that it is not really our past that defines us but it is through our present that we attach meanings to our past. If I am not giving my 100% or cannot speak in English or cannot win that business contract, I will always find reasons why it did not happen and invariably those reasons would be events that occurred in my childhood. So I decided to put an end to that madness. Enough was enough.

I feel energized and empowered by the fact that I can associate meaning to an event the way I want to, in the present. If I did not win that business contract, instead of wallowing in self-pity, I now try to look at what I did and what I could do to increase my chances at the next such instance. This allows me to improve without affording me the ‘luxury’ of blaming others. Granted, there are times when I feel as if I have hit a stone wall. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t need to break the wall down and go through it. I can turn back and take another route to circumvent it and that will only happen if I do not allow that stone wall to enclose me within it. My circumstances allow me to rewrite my piece and not follow the same routine script that my ulterior self wants me to. It works!

Let me urge you to review the script you have been following all your life. Is it one punctuated with suffering, self pity, denial and rage? Or is it one full of adventure, learning, growth and love?

Interestingly, the events that make up your script are neutral. You assign them meaning. It is upto you to assign either empowering or disempowering meaning to the foundations of your script.

Who Are You?

It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you. — Rachel Dawes, Batman Begins

Who are you? Take a minute and answer this question. Before reading ahead, just put down whatever answer comes to mind.

The self — has been the centre of attention for centuries. Philosophers, psychologists and religious figures throughout history have debated on the nature of the self. And to good merit, if we cannot understand the true nature of who we are, how are we to make sense of our relationship to the other and the world. Understanding the self perhaps then is the prerequisite to understanding anything. I exist in your reality, only after you exist. If there were no you, there would be no me, at least not for you.

The world around you therefore, is a reflection of who you are. As you change through time, so does the world around you. You may have defined your self as the physical (tall, dark, blue eyes etc.), the social (a son, a cricketer, an academic), the personal (shy, impulsive, out-going, courageous), the principle/religious (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist), or the existential (human being, a soul etc.). Whatever your definition of the self, will form your understanding of the other and the world. Be careful how you define yourself, for it will define your reality. What we will try today is to understand the self and determine how (in)accurate we are.

You are the decisions you make. Not your instincts, not your thoughts, not your beliefs, only actions.

Umair is a good friend. He is in love with a childhood friend, Sophia. Umair views himself as being religious, and he is. Sophia is relatively more liberal. He wishes to spend his life with her, but knows it will be difficult. He tells himself he can’t go ahead and start a life with Sophia. I think that is a lie. It is not that he cannot. He decides. He prioritizes religion, and his own view of his future over his instinct of love towards Sophia. If he keeps thinking he can’t make this decision, he is disempowering himself — he is helpless. I believe he is not, he has decided to give other things more importance than his feelings of love towards Sophia. That is who Umair is. It will be easier for Umair to navigate through life, if he understands that. He will be more at ease with who he is, if he admits to who he is.

Your decisions share a telling story about your reality. What you prioritize in life. What you give importance to. What drives your decisions? List down 5 decisions you’ve made in the past 2 years. Write down what you think these decisions were driven by. Did you make decisions based on personal growth? Or community? Are you driven by fame? Or variety?

Footballers, Doctors and Archers

Success is a buzzword today. Go and ask University students and corporate executives what they want to do in life and inevitably ‘success’ will make an appearance in their answers. The question that comes to mind is: What is success? It may be different things for different people — for some it may be related to family and for others, work; for some it may be monetary and for others about contribution to society. No matter the definition, what is important is that we have one.

What is success to you? Answering this question builds the foundation. Success for the archer is to hit the bull’s eye, for the doctor, it is to cure the patient, and for the footballer, it is to score the goal. What bull’s eye are you trying to hit? What malaise do you want to heal? What goal are you looking to score? Once established, this becomes your definition of success.

Then, there is the essential question of where you are at present. The footballer may think of the current status of his teammates and the opposing team. He will also consider time and location. The archer will consider the wind and the landscape, along with his standing in relation to it all. You need to discover and assess where you are. With respect to things that will help you achieve your goal, where do you stand right now, internally and externally?

Then comes the last step. With cure as the goal and an understanding of the current reality, the doctor may determine that he needs a few more tools and an assistant. What does the archer need? A more slender arrow or maybe extra practice. What is it then that you require, to move from where you are to where you want to be?

This completes your plan. Remember though, this was the event — now comes the process. The event is based on vision and the process requires action. Action. Nothing less, nothing more.