I have had and continue to have an amazing journey on two wheels. Many of you know me as a public speaker others know me as a motivational speaker. I have always enjoyed every moment of my work and above all hearing my own introduction being read on stage and it certainly makes one feel accomplished. But I questioned myself, Is that really me? Do I want this to be me? Is that what I aimed for? Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I will come this far. The chains in my mind were much stronger than the chains in reality. My love for humans and passion for humanity helped me break them all. But the best contribution ever is honesty and sincerity. After many Ups and Downs I am raising my voice to protect my legacy. My legacy of inspiring the next generation to be individuals with substance and have a mind of their own. It’s high time to raise awareness around the entire idea of motivational speaking and its reality in Pakistan. And now I leave you to make your own choices for the best.
I am quitting Motivational speaking after giving it a thought for a year and the following are my reasons.
It was never a choice that I made. It’s strange that how a boy is matched with being an engineer, a girl with being a doctor, a disabled individual is matched with being a motivational speaker. I never got up on stage on my own. I was put up (Literally and metaphorically) even before I could figure out the path that I had been put on. It also overshadowed the conscious choices that I made such as writing a book. The space to talk and share more about that got lost and emerged this new persona that I still haven’t figured out.
People ask me about my story and I never fail to disappoint. Because I don’t really have one. Many motivational speakers around the world have tragic stories. They have been through adversities, trauma, have lost what held value. I didn’t lose anything. In fact what is seemed lost, I never really had it. I was born with deformed legs which were later removed. My story is not tragic at all. It was a lifestyle since day one and I’ve come around it just like that. I am expected to make it sound like a Tragedy but how does one talk about late pizza delivery while sobbing? That’s tragedy. In fact the problems that I face are very much what every individual of my gender and age would experience. For example; marriage. I am single not because of my disability. I am single because I haven’t found the one. Just like you.
3) Fake Qualification:
It’s like just because I have a disability I automatically qualify to be inspirational? And if that is the case then majority of speakers on these events should be our grandparents. They have at least one disability, have wisdom, have the best stories to share, are so cute and boy they smile! But that would never happen because as a nation we believe the elderly to be redundant and useless. Another fake qualification was ‘nice’. I am always expected to be the nice, sweet girl on the wheelchair. This sounds great but has caused me so much dent in my real life where many times I went unheard just because my truth was dark and wasn’t inspirational. My belief of being accountable, being even and fair also went out of the window because why would a nice person demand eye for an eye? They should be just inspirational!
4) The Hidden Talents:
No one really sees one beyond their disability and beyond the ability to speak on stage. I have written books, organized many events, challenged policies, have two degrees and enjoy bringing so many ideas to the table. It all gets wasted when all people know me as a motivational speaker and disregards everything that I have done and want to do. During interviews I am always questioned about the ‘struggle of life’ rather than ’10 ways to correct the education system’. Because no one really knows about my work for the past 10 years. I have struggled more as an entrepreneur than as a wheelchair user. But seldom will I be asked about it.
Partially I am also responsible because I just played along. In a time and age where people with disabilities are just seen on the road, I falsely believed that this is the best that could get for me. I was wrong! Sky is as much the limit for us as for anyone!
5) The legacy:
I am a woman who believes in having a legacy. My every act, every word becomes more accountable when I know this can and should be picked up on and followed. Before saying or doing anything I have two litmus test questions:
- Do you imagine any parent repeating the same to their child and asking them to say or do what you are about to?
- Will Ami Baba endorse this?
Sadly I don’t want any parent to tell their child to be a motivational speaker and neither would my parents endorse this because they have seen the true story behind it. The true awakening happened when I heard a young girl with a disability from Gujranwala say,
‘I want to be a motivational speaker’. I wondered why is she limiting herself? Today she has access to education and so many fields are missing inclusion so why not occupy those? Why aim so low and aim for something that is a byproduct of any content medium anyways? It’s like saying that you will grow up to be a French Fries expert when you can be the best chef in the world! But we as disabled people get caught up in the light and see it as our glamorous escape. There is nothing like it. We still have a long way to go to find inclusion and it will be a bumpy ride no matter which path you take so pick the best destination.
6) The True story:
We live in a world that is very commercial. Even the most trusted idol you follow will put you on a product just because he/she was paid to do so. Our values and ethics are at stake and a lot is lost on our way to become self-sustained. We as people with disabilities are used as tokens for platforms to give a softer appearance to it. The buzzword inclusion is just a word because the very same event that you are invited to might not have a ramp to their stage. They will have the funds but they will not have the sensitization to understand the disability. By the time you reach stage, you can be in tears and then they hand you a shield and a bouquet. I wish they handed you a handkerchief too. The lack of sensitization is deeper and getting a disabled motivational speaker is not inclusion. It is re-enforcing the idea of inspirational porn.
This is not an industry in Pakistan. Which means there is no mechanism of pay, no competition, no promotion, no mentors, no laws, no comparison so no growth. It’s like being stagnant in water. As you dive deeper its gets more darker. One day you are being praised and everyone wants to hear you. Then comes a day when everyone has heard your story and the intensity is gone. Then comes another day when another person walks up on stage with a sadder story than yours. Then what? What are we really trying to sell here? It gets sickening with time and we keep raising the bar of tragic experiences. The industry that does exist is that of skills and that comes through patience, experience, mistakes and time. It’s healthier to work on your craft and sell it as an idea or a service. Then come forward to share your story about the journey. I mean did Steve Jobs say, ‘I want to be a motivational speaker when I grow up?’ But he did become one!
8) No-pay game:
If Motivational Speaking is your only source of income. You will need another one. The stage is the biggest gamble ever. You will be invited, asked to deliver but offered no more than a cup of tea. Organizers are always hesitating in paying speakers. You will always struggle to justify why you need to be paid for this. Why waste so much energy? It’s better to ditch the disability, focus on your passion and get a career in existing industries and demand value for your contribution. I have yet to see a wheelchair user Fire Fighter.
Gender always plays a role and once again takes a shot at me. I realized I am unable to deliver content that would entertain the audience. Pakistani audience is not mature enough to accept the content and disregard the gender. Throughout my moment on stage I was always conscious of being a woman and thought about what would be the consequences of my every word. And I always had to face them sometimes right there and then and sometimes at home via social media. I always delivered talks holding on to my grace but that would bore the audience. It’s like there was this expectation of me entertaining the crowd which I did not sign up for.
I am not an Entertainer.
I am an author and a CEO.
10) The Sunrise:
With all being shared I don’t mean we don’t have good speakers or all experiences were bad. We actually do have great speakers and most of the credit of my success goes to my supporters who invited me to speak. But we need a new Sunrise! Our education system needs to nurture students to be storytellers. People who can craft not just their own but any and everyone’s story. They can gather and share stories from around the world and across time. Instead of their story being praised over and over, their style and delivery should be praised. Following this I will now focus on gathering stories through my job at Hashoo Foundation as Manager Entrepreneurship Development, as a writer, as a traveler and many more interesting mediums to come…
Picture by: Faiza Iqtidar