"A Life of Meaning & Purpose"

 

Shireen Naqvi talks talk about her love for developing people, and discusses some profound questions about life and work in the process.

 

“There are never demotivated people; there are only people with boring goals.” Shireen Naqvi is an alumnus of IBA, having completed her MBA in 1993 with a gold medal. She is one of the founders of School of Leadership - first of its kind youth development organization in Pakistan. Currently a Senior Associate at Carnelian, she endeavors to “Convey Meaning and Create Significance,” so that people live a life of purpose, with gratitude and a spirit of service.


You are one of the pioneers of the training and development industry in Pakistan. What motivated you to pursue this field relentlessly - and continues to till this day, 20 years later?

The reasons are twofold: One; it was the Vision statement of the company (Carnelian now; but in 1996, when I joined, it was KZR) - “Developing the Human Factor,” that made my blood rush with excitement.

Secondly, it’s about people - in particular, the people of Pakistan; I am in perpetual awe of the substance we are made of; the potential we are endowed with. But, like I learnt from a CEO of a multinational company in Lahore, ‘Potential and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee’ - that’s all it’s worth. When explored and expressed, it’s the key to respect, progress and prosperity. Yet, when I began the journey of developing the human factor, the terrain was tough. I found our disempowering mindsets too entrenched over decades of mistrust, laziness and cultural and traditional lax stemming from rote statements relating to leaving everything to kismat (fate). By now, the mass of people that Pakistan has become, in my estimate, it will take four centuries to turnaround. This mega-challenge is what keeps me fully devoted to my, not only profession, but way of life.

Any brilliant idea takes tremendous motivation, perseverance, and effort to materialize. The School of Leadership was your brainchild. Tell us about how and why SoL came into being?

The same awe I had for people in general, I experienced and admired in our youth. When my children were teenagers, they and their friends struck me as beyond the ordinary. When asked what it is they planned to do with their lives, 99% had no idea. This was a sad situation; when one has so much and doesn’t know what to do with it. It made me angry. It is said, “Anger is the energy of virtue.” My anger drove me to discover ways to exploit this brilliance. The Global Young Leaders’ Conference held annually in New York was my inspiration. “Why not organize such a learning event for our youth?” Toying with the idea opened avenues and stimulated possibilities. Bouncing it off many experts, I came up with the strategy to design a leadership program for our youth, ages 18 to 24. In 2002, we held our first YLC (Young Leaders’ Conference) in Karachi, which, since then has become the most sought-after learning conduit. In 2003, SoL (School of Leadership) came to be and then the flood happened, the revolution of honesty, respect and love began.

Today, SoL is being led by one of the youngest CEOs in Pakistan, with a team of below 30 years. They have scaled the Vision manifold and expanded to the remotest parts of Pakistan with the promise that, not in 400 years, but in 20 years, the change we dream of, will happen.
 


You are now heading Carnelian - a corporate training consultancy. How has the experience been different from working with the youth? Which of the two has been more fulfilling and why?

Young minds are idealistic. The energy to discover, learn and experiment; to become confident people, to seek one’s identity is, seemingly, much more fulfilling. But that was never my motivation, I couldn’t care less whether I got such fulfillment, it was too mediocre an aim. I was utterly complete in the exploits of digging into hearts and minds to watch them unfold; to transfer my love and energy and to intensely feel the immense gratitude to be able to do so.

There is a slightly different flavor to corporate, public and social sector training. With people already in jobs having responsibilities to perform and deliver results, it is wondrous to experience the transformation from the old to the possible-new way of engaging one’s mind, heart and spirit. It is equally fascinating to see how adults are stubborn about their disempowering beliefs; holding on to being ordinary; sabotaging their capacity to excel; ensuring they justify the level of ‘survival’ they lived - a pathetic state. Our defenses deny us the possibilities to evolve and advance by shutting out the inspirations that surround us. In that state, too, we can exist. Connecting with the spirit sparks enthusiasm (the God in you), and an awakening happens. With some this takes the form of growth, with others the denial is too strong for the flame to last.

The 9 to 6 Corporate life is hectic and disliked by majority employees across our country - and perhaps, even across the globe. Why do you think is that? Is it the work culture, nature of work, or our attitude that is to blame - or all three? How can the situation be improved?

That is mostly the case, yes, because we are doing a job instead of fulfilling a calling. The 9 to 6 effect ends when purpose begins. We look at our education and our jobs too narrowly. As children or teenagers, we are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The answer is engineer, doctor, teacher etc. The question is narrow, so the answer is trivial. Instead, ask yourself, what do you aspire to do with your life. The answer can be much broader, example being ‘serve humanity, eradicate poverty and make money’. That means, you want to be a social entrepreneur - a much wider scope.

You have to lay down the terms of your employment, but first, you have to bring yourself to that level. The drive comes from knowing your calling, then build your vocation accordingly.

“Why should we spend even 6 hours sleeping, when we can do something great in that time?”
I remember you saying those inspiring words. Does that mean you are not a believer in the concept of ‘work-life balance’?


Depends what your definition of work-life balance is and what you do to achieve it. For me, there are nine dimensions to a fulfilled life and one has to balance all of them. These are Family, Social, Health, Self-Development, Career, Attitude, Financials, Community and Spirituality. I’ve always worked on all. Nine seems a lot, but I manage to plan well and stretch to win. Often, I’ve engaged my family in my ambitions, or combined community work with spirituality; attitude with self-development and social with health. That reduces the number of challenges to half; takes less time and actualizes multiple goals.

“Do what you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Trainers and inspirational speakers usually inspire and activate their audience to think along these lines. How crucial it is in life to pursue our passion and what inspires us?


Yes, that is true, when you do something you love, the toughest happens. Where there is a will, there is way; becomes applicable. My colleague once taught me, “There are never demotivated people; there are only people with boring goals.” On the path of fulfilling your dreams you may encounter hurdles, fall, reel and suffer failure, but it doesn’t hurt. When you have to do something you don’t like, the slightest stumble will make you cry with pain (complain). Yet, I believe, we live in a country where we cannot afford the luxury to choose to do what we desire - first we have to do what we must - our duty. Make your duty your passion, only then can we prepare the course for our future generations to do what they are passionate about.

How did IBA prepare you for the practical life, if at all?

Classes at IBA taught us how to think and that’s what I will always be grateful to IBA for. Our evening courses, with faculty from the professional world, were amazing. Then, there was the sense of belonging to a renowned institution, the best in the country that, too, makes a difference.

Overall, I am proud to have been at the IBA and endlessly grateful to the Institution for making me what I am today. It is an honor to contribute, through Dr Ishrat Hussain’s visionary leadership, that allows me to conduct Leadership programs at the IBA through the School of Leadership. Thus, my affiliation continues.

There is the famous phenomenon of glass-ceiling when we talk about working, ambitious women. From your experience, is it a reality, an illusion or a self-fulfilling prophecy?
How can women break past it?


There is no glass-ceiling; it is a myth, an illusion, a self-sabotaging enigma. But then I am being unempathetic, as there are hundreds of thousands of women who have multi-layered glass-ceilings to break through. Cultural shackles bind women to traditional roles the pure force of which keeps them bound for generations. Yes, I am fortunate to have a family that not only encourages me but pushes me to do more - so I am free to dream; a rare privilege in our society. I pray most women, and even men, can liberate themselves to realize, apply and deliver their God-gifted endowments to serve humanity.

You are juggling many roles and responsibilities in your personal and professional life, and doing fairly great at it. What are the 3 essential productivity tips that you would suggest to everyone?

I was. My children are now married and husband retired. I’m fully engaged with Carnelian only; with a few assignments with SoL. Yes, I have to look after my mother, at times, and play with my grandchildren. But other than that, I have time to travel, which has been and is my extreme passion. Last year, I went on six tours - the more I see, the more I become greedy. Before this, yes, it was tough; the toughest being the two years at IBA with young children in school. Other than that, it hasn’t been much of a juggle. I’ve always made time for every aspect of my life. I truly believe a mother of young children should not work full-time and devote herself to her children, and that’s what I did. Besides the career thrill, I’ve done a number of stage plays; often been a model in fashion shows or ads on TV; represented Pakistan at international events; taken many courses and attend conferences; been abroad on scholarship for training; been on TV shows; active in sports; done my bit for politics and social work; started 7 businesses (of which 3 are still running) and much more. Life is too short to do less.

Three tips:
1. Dream more
2. Expect more
3. Act more

If you could pinpoint one human characteristic as the key determinant of a successful career/life (e.g. attitude or perseverance) what would that be?

Love - fall in love with people, with nature, with work. Love yourself, love your family, your friends, your country, the world, and, above all, love God.

How do you see your vision behind SoL coming to reality in context of the Pakistani youth, and citizens in general? It would be great if you could share that incredible vision with us as well.

I’m fortunate to have Umair Jaliawala come into my life who has exploded the Vision of SoL and enlarged its DNA deeper, wider and made it more powerful. Our work is spread across Pakistan. You cannot not meet a YLCian or a SoLian when you stop for a night in most parts of the country. With Kamran Rizvi and Saima Khan having stood firm with me at the beginning, there are now dozens of dedicated youth looking after SoL and thousands doing our work in the prime areas of Pakistan as well as its niches.

One book and movie that you would recommend to everyone?


Instead of naming a book, I’ll name my favorite authors - Danial Goleman, who has enlightened me with immense insights into the human mind and emotions; Dale Carnegie, on building human relations; Ayn Rand for inspiring me with her philosophy of Objectivism; then there is Hegel, Spinoza, Kent, Schopenhauer, the philosophers of old; and of course, Ashfaq Hussain’s exemplary method of depicting life clad in easy wisdom. My gurus who have taught me to press forward have been Zaheer Kidvai; Kamran Rizvi; Nadeem Chawhan; Abbas Hussain Saheb; Khawar Butt Saheb; Javed Jabbar; and the hundreds of young people I’ve worked with.

Do you have any message for the students and alumni of IBA?


Learn to enjoy learning; don’t make it a burden to score numbers. You are intelligent people; broaden your horizons. The world is waiting for you, break free and go get it!!!

 

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