Pakistan: A Love Story

You have not lived your life if you have not hopelessly fallen in love with someone and even better broken up with them. There is an old world charm about unrequited love as it makes for legendary stories – the kind Shakespeare punctuated with imperfect, insecure, deluded but generous, loud and strangely optimistic characters. From the moment you start courting someone till the time you are cast out of their life; you experience emotions you thought you were never capable of feeling. In some sense, these themes of unrequited love also seem true for my love for Pakistan. 

Pakistan and I started our fling back in the 90s. I was young and carefree. My fascination with it began when we won the Cricket World Cup in 1992. To me, Pakistan, at the time, was only limited to a few mili naghmay, sports and a bloated sense of self-worth that we were better than our neighbour to the east. As I moved from city to city for education and work, I realized that Pakistan was as enchanting as a reverse swinging Yorker ala Waqar Younis. I just could not get enough of it! It was in those days that I fell head over heals for Pakistan. 

The obvious next step was to sit the beloved on a pedestal. It was impossible for me to imagine how anyone could not love Pakistan! In my vulnerability, I started feeding on the jingoistic piffle dished out by many and thought politicians were the quintessential evil mother-in-law who just did not approve of the choice their daughter had made.  

As I thought my love was about to culminate in the union with my beloved, then the 9/11 happened. It felt as if Pakistan had come crashing down from the pedestal. The romance of 90s seemed to be fading away. Pakistan had become cranky and a bit impossible to like. But I still persisted. How could I let the 15 years of my labor go down the drain. I clang on. I thought I would get it back the way it was and everything would be great again How silly of me! What ensued, as I tried to reconcile with this new reality, was a period of skepticism, low self esteem as a Pakistani and just general apathy. Deep down inside I was trying to play the sympathy card. You show your love interest how miserable you are in the hope that they will come around. Only they don’t. 

A few months ago, I had a moment of clarity. I felt incredibly stupid. It was not Pakistan that had become cranky. It was me who had changed. I was not willing to make those compromises – yes, compromises, that one has to make to woo the beloved. I had become self-centered and my priorities had changed. I was enveloped in this strange sense of entitlement where I treated others as a stepping stone to a fancy job and a big house. I watched Karachi burn; Lahore bleed, Peshawar weep, Quetta on its knees and still said nothing. Imagine how your beloved would feel if they lost an arm and you abandoned them! 

In the months leading up to this August, I have done a lot of soul-searching and believe that unlike a Shakespearean tragedy, Pakistan as a love story still has a hope of a revival – the sort that will one day unite the lover and the beloved. It will take me to put the collective in the mix again, take more responsibility and maturely start to get rid of the unwanted parts (jingoism, sectarianism, corruption and other ills). I will have to put my biases aside and start the process of rebuilding with love and care- without the expectation of wanting back. 

I need your blessings!

Excavate: Superior Conversation Techniques

Human beings are like icebergs, what you see on the surface is often a very small part of the story. ‘Excavate’ focuses on discovery, curiosity, overcoming biases, making connections, and moving people to action. Whether at home or in the office, you are always dealing with people. This program focuses on providing you with the tools and techniques necessary to make the most of every interaction.

You should attend if you:

– Manage a team
– Are part of a cross-functional team
– Work with people from different fields
– Sell products, services, and ideas to customers (internal and external)
– Want to enhance your ability to influence

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.

Distressed to De-stressed

There is a thin line between being ‘productive’ and being ‘stressed’. In our day-to-day lives, consumed by the demands of the rat race we are in, many a times we cross this line, and in the process, we end up hurting ourselves. Stress is not necessarily bad and this program aims to highlight this fact by addressing four aspects of stress: what it is, what it does to us, what causes it, and how to manage it.

This program is for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the amount of work he/she has to do everyday, especially people who work in teams; people managers as well as individual contributors.

Energy Over Time

Time management is undoubtedly an area which seems to be of grave concern to us, both at a personal and professional level. Whether a busy professional or a house wife, a student or a man working on the road, the common factor they all share is the pressure of time. One of the participants in a time management session rightly said “We are very unfortunate not to really enjoy the divine gift of life by cherishing and living every single moment of it rather we are trapped in a blind race which leaves us with an exhausted body, mind and soul”.

Recently, I have come across a very interesting article in the Harvard Business Review “Manage Your Energy, Not Time” written by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. What you read here is mainly an extract from the given article with little personal input here and there.

The subject article underlines two entwined concepts towards time management or broadly taken as life management. One deals with the fruits of living a disciplined life and the other emphasizes on winning time through developing and managing an individual’s energy reservoir.

As mentioned in the article, we are bestowed with four energy springs within our capacity and the best part is the given energy springs will never dry provided we manage them prudently.  Our anatomy is such that we like any another matter in the world are charged and driven by energy, be it physical energy which runs our body or spiritual power which elevates our spirit to its true heights. The essence of a blissful life lies in keeping a balance yet optimum utilization of these God given energy reservoirs.

The Body: Physical Energy

A smart artisan never lets his tools get rusty as he knows compromising on tools means compromising success.

Our body is the ultimate medium through which we exhibit our intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy. Interestingly, this key source of our self reflection is the most neglected one. We are all well aware of the fact that inadequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, and rest diminish people’s basic energy levels, as well as their ability to manage their emotions and focus their attention.

Regular exercise and physical well being sounds like a luxury to be enjoyed only by a very few. Office timings from 9-5 are most commonly known as 9 – none. To be successful or at least to look committed, one must work longer hours – efficiency still outruns effectiveness. No wonder, executives are stressed out and have short attention spans which eventually results in lesser output.

What to do?

  • The first step towards managing physical energy is to identify rituals for a healthy life. Our body, like any machine demands two things for a long life i.e. right fueling at the right time and regular servicing to minimize wear and tear. Watching our diet both quality and quantity is definitely not a very pleasant task but then discipline in any aspect of life requires willingness, courage and commitment and same holds true for a healthy lifestyle
  • Just as a machine needs to shut down periodically to keep it from burning out similarly our body needs proper rest and sound sleep to get ready to face another challenging day.
  • Another key ritual highlighted in the subject article is to take brief but regular breaks at specific intervals throughout the workday. The value of such breaks is grounded in our physiology. Known as “Ultradian rhythms” refer to 90- to 120-minute cycles during which our bodies slowly move from a high-energy state into a physiological trough. Toward the end of each cycle, the body begins to crave a period of recovery. The signals include physical restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating, but many of us ignore them and keep working. The consequence is that our energy reservoir—our remaining capacity—burns down as the day wears on.

Intermittent breaks for renewal result in higher and more sustainable performance. The length of renewal is less important than the quality.

The Emotions: Quality of Energy

A relaxed mind inhibits creativity and self control, essentials of professional success.

Emotions reflect the quality of energy. As they say a “positive person is the one who manages his emotions intelligently”. The key differentiating factor between other living things and human beings “Ashraf ul Mukhlukat (Superior Being)” is the power of choice between a stimuli and reaction. When people are able to take more control of their emotions, they can improve the quality of their energy, regardless of the external pressures they’re facing.

How to manage Emotional Energy?

  • First step towards managing emotional energy is to identify our reaction pattern towards different stimuli. Keeping a close look to how we feel in different situations lead us to self assessment eventually leading to self development.
  • The concept of intermittent breaks during stressful work hours are an amazing recharger and help overcome negative energy. Unfortunately, without intermittent recovery, we’re not physiologically capable of sustaining highly positive emotions for long periods. The high pace of work with long list of challenges, rejection, never ending competition, force us to move to and fro like a pendulum from high to low energy. Such situations can be overcome by breaking the pattern of negative energy meaning diverting our attention to something which rejuvenates us. This is why call centers usually are encouraged to keep an entertainment room to minimize the burnout among agents.
  • Nothing could be more effective than the power of appreciation both for self and others. Never forget to give a pat on the back to yourself and others on accomplishing a task irrespective of how small or big it is. Appreciation is a wonderful ice breaker and instrumental in building relationship at work.
  • Perhaps the most effective way people can change their feeling and reaction to an incident is by viewing it through different angles. The famous concept 3 D technique works miracles in our professional growth and interpersonal communication. 3 D technique means viewing an incident or decision form three different angles with the core intention to comprehend other’s perspective. The three different angles are:
    • Reverse Lens: seeing the world from the victim perspective. With the reverse lens, for example, people ask themselves, “What would the other person in this conflict say and in what ways might that be true?”
    • Long lens:  Analyzing the short term and long term perspective and consequences respectively. Ask yourself, “How will I most likely view this situation in six months?”
    • Wide lens; Thinking beyond immediate outcomes, ask yourself, “Regardless of the outcome of this issue, how can I grow and learn from it?”

Each of these lenses can help people intentionally cultivate more positive emotions.

The Mind: Power of Focus

Power of focus simply means “being present both physically and mentally. Our intellectual faculty is a product of our focus and observation. The busy office environment demands multitasking, we usually find ourselves juggling with a range of urgent tasks, proof reading a report while answering a phone or tabulating an important information while chit chatting.

What to do?

  • Multitasking can be quite risky; our physiology is such that at times trivial distractions can be costly. The concept of intermittent breaks work equally well for our concentration. The article suggest that one can be more effective at work by giving his undivided attention to a task at hand for about 90 to 120 minutes, try finishing it and then enjoy a little break before one hops on to the next assignment.
  • The worst enemies of focus and concentration are the fruits of technology, a constant beep of incoming mails, never stopping phone calls. Distractions can definitely be minimized to a considerable degree by developing rituals conducive for attentive work.
  • Another way to mobilize mental energy is to focus systematically on activities that have the most long-term leverage. Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute. Prioritizing indeed works wonders.

Spiritual Energy: Power of purpose

“I no longer want to work for money, but simply for the joy of the work itself.”

What could be more motivating than the power of purpose and meaning? Unfortunately, motivation is largely taken as an external factor.

People perform at their best when their job and responsibilities fall in their liking. Work is more than making money; it’s a way to make dreams into realty. They are better charged with positive energy which leads to focused efforts resulting in higher accomplishments. Regrettably, the high demands and fast pace of corporate life don’t leave much time to pay attention to these issues, and many people don’t even recognize meaning and purpose as potential sources of energy

What to do?

  • Self refueling: Every thing around us demands attention, even a garden unattended for an extended period houses unnecessary weeds and creepers. To ensure a lush green garden with colorful flowers, we need to give it time and attention and water it with love every now and then. Same is true for self development. To find purpose and meaning in what we do, we need to take a soul searching cruise. To access the energy of the human spirit, people need to clarify priorities and establish accompanying rituals in three categories: doing what they do best and enjoy most at work; consciously allocating time and energy to the areas of their lives—work, family, health, service to others—they deem most important; and living their core values in their daily behaviors
  • Another way to mobilize mental energy is to focus systematically on activities that have the most long-term leverage. Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute. Perhaps the most effective focus ritual is to identify each night the most important challenge for the next day and make it your very first priority when you arrive in the morning
  • In the second category, devoting time and energy to what’s important to you, there is often a similar divide between what people say is important and what they actually do. Rituals can help close this gap. Take time out for what you cherish and enjoy it fully so you are better charged when you switch your attention to what you are expected to do
  • The third category, practicing your core values in your everyday behavior, is a challenge for many as well. Most people are living at such a furious pace that they rarely stop to ask themselves what they stand for and who they want to be. As a consequence, they let external demands dictate their actions. What are the qualities that you find most off-putting when you see them in others?” By describing what they can’t stand, people unintentionally divulge what they stand for. If you are very offended by stinginess, for example, generosity is probably one of your key values. If you are especially put off by rudeness in others, it’s likely that consideration is a high value for you. As in the other categories, establishing rituals can help bridge the gap between the values you aspire to and how you currently behave.

Addressing these three categories helps people go a long way toward achieving a greater sense of alignment, satisfaction, and well-being in their lives on and off the job. Those feelings are a source of positive energy in their own right and reinforce people’s desire to persist at rituals in other energy dimensions as well.

Managing energy levels consequently results in better time management, no more running around or beating about the bush. An aligned mind, heart, body and soul lead to accomplishment rather than sulking or wasting time.

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.