The Bottomless Cup

A generation that thinks it is special

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” – art critic Robert Hughes.

Our generation is often stereotyped as being “entitled.”  I, for instance, belong to an age group of  “millennials” – a job-hopping, easily distracted generation. But we are also the ones who inherited a global recession that is still ongoing. We have to work harder to find our place in the world – you’d  be delusional to think that we have it easy.

But let’s go back to the word entitled – it sure seems like an unfair word to use for a generation that is trying to fix the mistakes of those that came before it – be it the wars or the economic mess. Yet, two years into the workforce, I see that the word, in many ways, makes sense.

It stems from the notion that many of our parents, with good intention, have instilled in us that we are “special.” As an instrument to increase our self esteem, we’ve been told that we are smarter than everyone else and that we are expected to do great things with our lives. We will change the world. Sounds like good parenting? I am not so sure. At university, we are again reminded that we are “future leaders” and that we will be highly regarded as we venture into the world –  an attempt to justify the very expensive education that we’ve just received.

Many of us get caught up in these aspirations that others have set for us and forget that these qualities have to be earned. We all have to start from the bottom – what our dean or our parents told us isn’t going to hold up in the real world.

This means that our first job might not be the most analytical, mind-blowing career that we thought we’d have. It also means that we will have to be at the bottom of the food chain, expecting to do things that everyone else doesn’t want to do. We get frustrated when we aren’t making strategic decisions in our first year of work. At this very moment, many of us decide that the job is beneath us  and quit. Some of us switch jobs and find themselves in the same situation. Others let go of the entire concept of having a job and think that they are too much of a leader to work for someone else.  They soon realize that being en entrepreneur and getting the necessary support isn’t as easy as they thought it would be.

I admit I need to work on my self confidence, and that perhaps I am on the other end of the spectrum. But here’s my advice: keep your head down and work hard. Find ways to show your brilliance even when your job doesn’t allow you to. Bring up your ideas during lunch, and ask to be involved in projects that highlight your strengths.   Do the mundane tasks with commitment, and go the extra mile to show that you can be a leader. No one is going to give you opportunities on a platter, you have to work towards them. Your struggle will never go unnoticed in the long run.

To parents, I’d say that it is more important to tell your kids that they are loved and supported rather than inflating their egos by giving them a false sense of achievement.  Remind them that the path to being “successful” and “changing the world” requires a lot of struggle and time. Instead of telling them they are great, tell them that they have have capability to be great, provided that they work towards it.



My advice: dealing with post-graduation blues.

It is quite common for graduates to give advice on how to become more successful at networking, or navigating around the workforce. All of that is definitely very valuable. However I wanted to write a blog about understanding the difference between the personal development that happens in university and what you learn from the struggles of being out of university. I have just returned from Carnegie Mellon Qatar‘s “Ignite” networking event, and I was asked by a student (forgot who!) “what is the one piece of advice I would give to someone who is about to graduate?”

Source: Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar Facebook page.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar Facebook page.

I would say this: be patient. While at university you have a community of professors and student affairs staff to help you out, in real life, people are too busy to hold your hand and guide you.  There will be  times  when you feel that your life isn’t going as planned. When you feel that way, be patient and continue to work hard.

Post graduation existential crisis: rise to the challenge.

For a long time,  I was depressed thinking about whether the exciting or “unknown” part of my life is gone. When I joined finance, I realized how much I miss the other disciplines, and the option of pursuing them. In university, every day seemed to be exciting because I would learn or be a part of something new.

This only means that more effort is needed to continue to pursue your other interests. Take 15-20 minutes to read about something else before going to bed  and engage in discussions unrelated to work with your colleague. In Dubai, I’ve joined a book club in order to force myself to read for pleasure and meet new people outside work.

Don’t let your work make you feel trapped in terms of opportunity. Every now and then, think about whether you want to pursue something different for graduate school. Just thinking about other possibilities will help you stay excited about the future.

You’re on your own now. Stop comparing yourself to your class. 

Unlike many of my peers, I was not lucky enough to find a full-time job straight after graduation. I had to intern, and then intern some more.  I had friends who were living the dream after graduation, and those in an even more desperate situation than I was. However, keep in mind that that in university, you had a similar goal of getting good grades, being involved on campus and just getting a job. Now that you’ve graduated, you need to pave your own path according to your goals in life. You path is completely unique, so defining your success with reference to your classmates is a futile exercise.

Had I compared myself to the rest of my class on the basis of my salary, I would’ve easily considered myself a failure. However, I love the industry I am a part of and the future opportunities that it represents. According to my goals, I’m finally on track  – but I am sure that many of my peers would consider me not so successful. At the end of the day, if you’re growing in your own eyes, you’re on your way to success.

Your education doesn’t mean as much as you thought it would.

I was surprised that most people here in Dubai don’t know what Carnegie Mellon or Education City is. No one will treat you differently because of your education. It’s the quality of your work, your ability to learn new concepts and your dedication that will matter. Hopefully your university education has instilled those qualities in you. However, never try to define yourself as successful because you have a fancy college degree – your team at work couldn’t care less.

The Balancing act – a new challenge

Whenever you feel like the exciting parts of your life are over – think about the new challenges that lie ahead. Using your own salary to survive will make you appreciate how your parents built what they have. Paying your bills while still saving for the future will be hard. Thinking about how you want to proceed with your life, be it grad school, marriage etc will make you realize that the excitement in life is still there, it has just changed in form. Your future will only be as exciting as you imagine it to be. So stay positive.


Is your job supposed to bring meaning to your life?

A month ago, the television show The Office came to an end with a rather emotional series finale. It has been a show that my brother and I have followed religiously and I had waited to return to Pakistan to watch it with him. In that episode, the characters finally say goodbye to the small office floor of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company for good. Most of them seemed to have disliked their work, but they were all having a hard time saying goodbye. When the episode ended, my brother asked me “do you consider these people successful?”

English: Logo of the fictitious Dunder Mifflin...

English: Logo of the fictitious Dunder Mifflin paper company. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had to pause for a moment to answer that question. Come to think of it, a monotonous sales job in a dying industry seems like a nightmare. Yet, I couldn’t possibly say that they weren’t successful. Some of them found their spouses at work, others remembered it as the place where they made their best friends. They all seemed to have grown out of the experience at this seemingly horrid work environment. My answer to my brother was eventually a “yes.”

But what does this idea mean for my generation, who’re about to launch their careers? I personally am on the verge of turning down another high paying job offer, for something uncertain and definitely something with a lower salary. I will never know if it is right decision, but I know that I would not be true to what I believe are my capabilities if I accept it. This also means that I will have to wait longer for my future to materialize into something stable. The idea of that is terrifying.

Regardless of what these job decisions entail, we should always realize that our careers only define one facet of our growth. A friend of mine, Shivani, just advised me to stop worrying about wherever my career takes me and that I should continue to do the things I love.  She told me to “connect back with writing, running and anything else [I] would like to do.” This is probably the best piece of advice I could have gotten.

These words by Andy Barnard from the finale to describe his work environment really resonated within me:

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

We need to realize that if we have a job that we hate, or no job at all, we can still be successful individuals. Remember to make the most of the moment you’re living in.

A Letter to My 16-Year-Old Self

I was thinking about why I haven’t blogged for a while, and it hit me that I have lost confidence in my own ideas. I’m at that crossroads in my life (graduation, career and becoming a completely independent adult) where my future is completely uncertain. With this uncertainty comes a lack of conviction – it’s like you fear in what you believe in because the future might change your belief system entirely.

I realized that there was a time when I felt the same way. It was when I was 16, trying to choose what career I wanted to pursue, what colleges I would want to apply to along with the regular burdens of being a teenager in a school where peer pressure was very, very strong. That was my transition from a boy to a young adult.

I hope that once I write this letter, I’m going to be less worried about the future and I’ll hopefully start believing that whatever will happen, it’ll all be allright (inshaAllah).


Dear 16-year-old self,

Congratulations on coming this far. I know there was a time when you thought that you could never excel at anything and now look at you – at the top of your class. I know saying that things have been hard is an understatement, but look, God gave you this amazing opportunity to come to India and start fresh. And, even though you might feel like you don’t completely fit in, you have friends and you’re making your parents very proud. However, I understand that you’ve been anxious and you have absolutely no idea what the future holds. All I can say is this – you really don’t. What you’re imagining right now, flip that by 180 and that’s where you’ll end up.

My first advice to you would be to stop planning. Things will not turn out the way you set them out to be. You’re not becoming a computer engineer – and even though you told yourself to never touch biology again, you’re going to attempt to pursue medicine. You’re going to fail at it, miserably. And you say that “business is for people who can’t study anything else” – well guess what, that’s precisely what you’ll end up studying.

I know this is might be disappointing news, but this is exactly what the doctor ordered. Here are the good things. You’ll finally feel comfortable in your own skin, and believe it or not, you’ll become a people person. I know right now you feel like you hate almost everyone around you, but you’ll learn to find the best in everyone. And guess what – you’ll travel the world. You can probably not even imagine going to college outside Pakistan, but you’ll literally fly from one corner of the world to the other. You’ll become wiser. And even though you’ll no longer be known as the class genius, you’ll learn to be happy with your accomplishments. That’s right you’ll learn to be happy.

And about her. I know you’re crazy about her, but honestly you never stood a chance.  I know this is hard for you to hear – but trust me, this is not love. And I know you’ll be disappointed when she says no. But trust me, this is not heartbreak.

And with this, I’ll give you my last piece of advice. Never let all this worrying come in the way of your hard work. You’ll have regrets, but you’ll look back at your life and think about how lucky you are. The great things that you’ve planned for yourself won’t happen, but there are greater things about to happen – things you couldn’t have dreamt of. Buckle up.


Present day self

P.S:  I just visited our old house in Germany.

P.S.S: Being the last person to be picked in P.E. class won’t matter anymore.


What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?

Missing in Action

I know this blog appears to have died, but I promise I’ll get back to writing – primarily because I miss those friday mornings when I used to wake up early, get coffee and think of something amusing to write about. In the meanwhile, you can check out my study abroad blog at