The Bottomless Cup

Category: Personal

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.



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?

An introvert in a very extroverted world

Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature. – Albert Einstein

INTP. Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving. That was the result of a Myers-Briggs Personality test that I took a few years ago, at a time when I felt like my life wasn’t going anywhere. I relied on a test that contained a bunch of “would you rather-”s to tell me who I am. I guess when we’re desperate to find answers we resort to almost anything, even our daily horoscopes to give us some direction.

The test didn’t do me much good. However, one part of the test caught my attention – the “I”. I received a 100 percent score in this area despite my recent, fairly successful, attempts to combat shyness. Again, the test suggested that I do some “back end” work where I limit my contact to people. I’ve heard this so many times that it makes me angry. I like people. I want to be a people’s person. A few years later, I came across a book called “Introversion Advantage.”

I’ve always thought that extroversion leads to happiness and success, especially for a young male venturing out to make a living. I’ve been taught this in Psychology too. This book suggested otherwise. The author argues that most psychologists who do such studies are often extroverts and end up using the wrong factors to measure such indicators. While most of the book was giving obvious facts, there were some eye-opening lessons in there.

Introverts get their energy from solitude. We need our downtime. When we spend a significant amount of time in social situations, we feel exhausted. This reminds me of a moment in Pittsburgh when I would go to my room to just lie down after coming back from a whole day of social interaction. A friend of mine thought I had a special someone to talk to on the phone, who I was hiding from everyone else. The truth is I just wanted to be alone.

Here are some other eye-openers:

  • During the IDC at Harvard, I had interacted with so many people in such a small span of time that I could hardly breathe (i’m not exaggerating!). Furthermore, I could barely find a spot where I could be alone. The anxiety was building up until it was too much to handle. I decided to give myself a break – I walked out of the building towards my hotel. I went into my room, took 5 minutes to recharge, and was back to socialize again.
  • Now I’m sure you’ve seen this. During University hours, I get so exhausted that social interaction becomes impossible. That is when my iPod comes in handy. I just pop in my headphones and exclude myself from the world. I was surprised to know that some people actually call me “the iPod guy.”

The fact is that we live in a time where extroversion is celebrated. “Go-getters” and outgoing people are considered smarter and more ambitious. Introverts have their advantage. We are intuitive people who make great listeners. We tend to be more perceptive and are able internalize our judgments. Just because we don’t talk as much or socialize as much as others does not mean that we are not engaged members of society .

Introverts make up 25% of the world’s population. However, many people who thought they were extroverts might be introverts or vice versa. Perhaps a lot of you can relate to what I’ve said above and realize that you might be an introvert as well. Think about what gives you your boost – you might be surprised.

Famous Introverts — Actors

Clint Eastwood, actor/director

Harrison Ford, actor

Tom Hanks, actor

Sir Alfred Hitchcock, film director

Jack Lemmon, late actor

Bill Macy, actor

Steve Martin, all around talented guy

Noah Wiley, actor

Other Famous Introverts

Johnny Carson, former Tonight Show host

Jane Clayson, host of CBS Morning Show

Matt Lauer, co-host on the Today Show

David Letterman, host of the David Letterman Show

Diane Sawyer, co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America

Barbara Walters, host of 20/20

source of famous introverts:

The things I didn’t expect to learn from College

In 2007, when I entered college, I thought college was all about deliverables. It really was a means for me to get a job and hopefully make good money. Not only did my endeavors change, I learnt so much about what I wanted from my life. I am not even sure if I’ll have a job after I graduate, but I won’t regret being here.

A few weeks ago, I attended the graduation of the class of 2011. I was a bit upset because I was supposed to be a part of the class had I not been so indecisive. In fact, I would’ve been in the class before that. But I’m glad to have gone through this rollercoaster ride at this point of my life rather than further down in my career. If college is about learning about yourself, I have certainly made the most of it.

Here are some of the lesson I learnt along the way. Of course I have a year to go, so there is a lot more I will hopefully learn.

Happiness is all in the head

I think I’ve repeated this a million times on my blog, and perhaps one of the reasons I made this blog. Happiness is not about what you do or what you have but how you think. Over my time in college, I have seen how some of the smartest, most resourceful people spend most of their complaining about their lives and their work. Others, who have less going for them in college still manage to stay happy.

When you’ve seen yourself building towards a career in medicine and see it falling apart, you feel like whatever made you happy just got decimated. But if you think your career is the only thing that can make you happy, you need to find out what life has to offer.

Religions and Cultures can coexist

The state of the world might suggest otherwise. However, when you’ve been welcomed so warmly in a church in Pittsburgh and Rwanda, and when you see cultures coexist in a multicultural campus, you know that there is still hope. When you’ve been a part of a melting point of diversity and see that society working, you begin to imagine why this can’t happen at the macro level. Read about my experience at Mt. Ararat in one of my former posts.

You can’t live your life window shopping.

Window shopping to me is like looking at everything but not committing to it. The american education system allows you to explore your options, but be sure to realize what you have to offer to others. In a place where there are talented people from all walks of life, people want to know what perspective you bring to the table. For me, it wasn’t anything to do with the numerous majors I pursued; it was global development. While at Harvard attending the International Development Conference, I realized that my passion alone was enough to make me participate with leaders in the field.

You can still hear me talk passionately about Rwanda or any other topic I have read or heard about. It makes me describe myself without really describing myself (how boring would that be?). We all need to find one thing we can interest the world with. And that can only be something we’re passionate about.

It is Ideas rather than Money that can make a difference

Since I’ve been a kid, my mother, with the best of intentions always told me that “If you make a lot of money, you will be able to give more back.” While at college, I have realized that it is not true. Considering the amount of donations and aid we give out, poverty would’ve long been eradicated. The world needs ideas. Ideas such as those that come out of the “Entrepreneurial Finance Lab” at the Harvard Center of International Development or from the MIT Media Labs (One Laptop Per Child?).

People need to be empowered, and charity does the opposite of that. The world is realizing this now.

Accept the ‘unfair’ facts of life and be fine with them

People complain about how people “pull strings” to get into college or get that awesome internship or job. That’s life; accept it. Pure meritocracy only exists in a utopian society. We live in a world where connections matter. Accept that and build upon them.

Being selfless can reap the highest gains

Last summer I read a book titled “Never eat alone” (very sad, I know!). The book gave me one of life’s most valuable lesson: if you don’t expect anything in return, you’ll build a connection that will last a lifetime. Give a helping hand to whomever you can, because somewhere down the line, you’ll need one too.

Everyone has a story

This is something that a friend of mine taught me and it is something I’ll always hold close to my heart. She said that there are no bad people in this world, just misunderstood ones. Take a moment and listen to their stories, and you’ll realize where the bitterness is coming from. I try not to take people at face value, although it does become a challenge sometimes. The trick is to have patience and listen.

During my recent candidacy for an internship spot, I was asked about how many finance courses I’ve done. Unfortunately, I had done zero. Not undermining the importance of vocational skills, the life skills I’ve learnt will be invaluable to me.

A year from now, I’ll be graduating. And I can say with confidence that I’ve learnt so much more than I expected.

Recipe for Happiness 6: Happiness Tea and Loving Yourself


I’ve been depressed. You know the feeling when you give your everything, and are so sure that things will work out but they don’t? make that ten times worse and that’s what I’ve been feeling. I was empty, and the little self esteem I had had been crushed. The past few days have involved me sleeping endlessly, getting up only to feel more depressed and going back to sleep.

I was determined to do something about this, because deep down I knew there was a lot in my life worth celebrating. So, I headed down to Virgin Megastore and looked at some books that would help me deal with the worthlessness I was feeling. Perhaps if I learnt a bit more about destiny, or some “rules on how to lead one’s life”, i could get some closure.


I then thought about my blog; and all the little advice and observations I was sharing with the world. I felt like a hypocrite. It’s easy to preach positive psychology when you’re at a high point in your life. It’s almost impossible to do so when you need it yourself. I therefore decided not to buy any of those books. Instead, as I lay in bed, I started thinking about what all my friends said. “If you are depressed, there is something wrong with you, not in any other person” and “love yourself”.

One of my friends was helping me get over this phase, but I told her that I still need some more time be sad. What I realized is that I didn’t deserve this sadness, that I had done nothing wrong, and that I don’t deserve to be punished. I realized that if you are depressed, it is probably because you have a low perception of yourself, and once you realize that you deserve better, you’ll get out of it in no time. Don’t say its ok to be depressed, hit yourself and snap out of it.

Maryam got me this  “Happiness Tea” to make me feel better.





What the tea said was extremely silly, and it didn’t taste special. But it worked; just because while I was drinking the tea, I realized that there are people out there who care about my happiness.

So in a nutshell, if you’re feeling too sad, love yourself. If you have no success to celebrate about, know that you are being hard on yourself. Redefine your success. As one of the speakers at TEDxDoha said, define your success by just being alive.