“Starting at a very impressionable age – I was what, 19 when I started – fresh out of high school; it was quite a daunting experience. I found myself surrounded by men of letters, intellectuals and professionals. How could I stand out in a world that radiated with so much wit, experience and intellect? Here’s how survived:”
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” That is exactly how I felt when I was 22. I have been contemplating about writing something for #IfIwere22 but kept postponing it. And now as I sit back in the stilly unobtrusive silence that pervades my humble abode, I look back at the days that were. Honestly, it’s quite astonishing to see how far I have come from a fearlessly passionate, wannabe writer (albeit a raucously hyperactive one) to someone who has realized many of her creative endeavors (if not all!).
Beyond a moment of doubt you get to learn a lot if life is thrown at you. At 22, I was already working for a leading English newspaper in Pakistan for almost three year. I had started as a trainee sub-editor working on the leisure page. My only job was to select cartoon strips and hand them over to page makers. Time was always rushed – going to the university in the morning, taking three buses and then walking 20 minutes to work. Was it all worth it – Absolutely! Would I change anything, most certainly not!
Starting at a very impressionable age – I was what, 19 when I started – fresh out of high school; it was quite a daunting experience. I found myself surrounded by men of letters, intellectuals and professionals. How could I stand out in a world that radiated with so much wit, experience and intellect? Here’s how survived:
Learn & Seize the Moment
I have always had a boisterous personality which was in hyper mode during my early 20s. But not so in the workplace! Learning means being observant, eager to discover, quick to seize opportunities and most importantly not being overzealous. That started it all. Since there wasn’t much work on the leisure page, it gave me ample chance to work on or volunteers for other projects. A sucker for all things scholarly, the first thing I asked my immediate boss was to tell me who edited the literary page – Tapestry. After my boss’s permission, I began writing for the page. Six months down the line, the section in charge came up to me and asked if I was interested in looking after the page for just a week as he was going on vacation and incredibly wanted me to oversee. Incredulous I was but quick to nod in the affirmative. I was never compensated for the extra work. And honestly it didn’t matter. It was an opportunity of a lifetime and I was only 20! That one week had taught me more than what I had learnt in the past six months. Needless to say I had my way with the page: writing about anything from Kafka’s music loving vermin to the life and times of the sensuous siren Norma Jean.
Never Say No
To this day I never say no to work regardless of how big or small the project potentially may be.
Close to stalking, I pursued section heads and page editors to assign me work, be it an article on spicy food, a hard-hitting interview of the Supreme Court’s chief justice, writing an investigative environmental piece (which ended up being a front page story of the magazine section) or a groundbreaking piece on banned drugs in Pakistan. The point was and always is to explore new grounds and push the envelope further.
Jack of All Trades… Master of none? I totally, vociferously disagree! Contrary to common view, I do believe that exploring new horizons opens up doors to not only a vast wealth of knowledge, it also helps you embark upon a journey to self-discovery. There might be particular areas and path you would invariably be inclined to adopt or follow, but during those early years; take full advantage of the time which is by your side to experiment. And in the process, you do get to learn.
Be Fearless but not foolish! If you start early or are impressionable, don’t let that come between you and success. Starting early means you have to counter a number of things head on. Being a young woman, harassment is one of the biggest issues of them all (of course for men too) – from those who are above you, your peers or mere work acquaintances. By being foolish I mean keeping quiet if someone has wronged, abused or is exploiting you at workplace, merely on the basis of you being a junior. If you really think it’s worth fighting for then go for it. Remember It is not only you who needs to be protected; but so many voiceless others – you are in fact representing – who are too intimidated to come out and speak up. Be the difference, make that change!
What I have achieved
I think it’s more about taking the journey rather than the end result. The sojourn IS the achievement. So #IfIwere22 , I would definitely have it no other way. I would take the unsteady, rock-strewn road, with each pebble telling me a story of its own – making the path vigorously stimulating, peppered with curious anecdotes that serve a lifetime.
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