Basically, the idea was to summarise my life in 4-6 minutes in accordance with the criteria for the first speech, called the “Ice Breaker”.
The decision to go into such personal detail was driven by the criteria, but also because I already do a lot of business presentations and I simply wanted to do something different – something that would make me a little anxious. It did.
I wanted to see the reaction and the impact such a speech would have. We often assume that a “revealing” will impact us negatively as professionals. We assume that such personal stories have no place in the business world and as a super “networker” by profession; I do assume that all the contacts I make should be treated… professionally. YET, we know that people buy from people. We know that people need to get to know us as individuals in order to build a relationship, yet we still hide those things WE decide are embarrassing or think are somewhat damaging to our reputation. We live our lives in one big contradiction whilst those that demonstrate transparency, I am sure are living more peaceful lives, regardless of the professional impact, or lack of.
As the speech won me my Best Speaker ribbon award, and the feedback slips were all so positive, I can confidently say, it went down well. I feel just that bit more comfortable with who I am and the “stuff” I have been through. I got a hint of how it’s almost great to have lived through so many challenges and how that means that actually; I have a good number of stories to tell at any time.
Finally, I am motivated to put it into writing here for all to see. Naturally, it has a different feel in writing, but nevertheless, I do believe it has to be done. So here goes:
The title: The Reveal
The Toastmaster theme on this occasion is: Trees.
As soon as this was mentioned, I immediately thought of what trees signify for me. They signify Growth, Reach, Strength, Recovery… only to Grow some more.
This brings me to my story, told in a speech of 4-6 minutes, however, in writing it’s about 13-14 minutes due to written explanations.
I was brought up in a very strict, yet delusional household. My family of three brothers, zero sisters, mum and dad fully believed in the utter freaky control of a girl in order to protect the honour of the family.
I even remember my father telling me that being a girl, it’s my duty to live up to a standard. As a girl, I am the “pride” of the family, and if I don’t like it, it’s tough luck. He told me “you have a duty and if you don’t carry it out, you get killed”.
The duty is to look after the family and its name, to not break rules as this will damage the family in its entirety. My father said “Why should the rest of the family suffer for your mistakes” – a mistake is to break the rules. “They won’t tolerate it, they will simply kill you. You see it all around you, what happens to girls that damage the family name by breaking the rules”.
At that time, as a teenager, it became a regular occurrence, to hear of some girl, Indian or Pakistani, in London or anywhere in the UK that had been killed by brothers, fathers, cousins and even… mothers for refusing to live with the unreasonable and in humane restrictions placed on us girls, all for lacking a major body organ.
Some girls killed themselves, others became whatever they had to in order to live. Very few found their parents to either be reasonable, change with the times or simply happen to find the right person to marry and live a fuller life.
So I thought I had better figure out these rules, as hard as they might be to stick to. I learnt that I must not:
- Have friends (apparently, a girl has no need for them, boys do).
- Talk unless I really have to, like if a teacher is asking me a question.
- Step out of the school gates (“would have said don’t go to school, but unfortunately it’s the law here”).
- Study – as I will be married off as soon as I am 15/16 years old, “so it is not relevant”.
- Read – it’s not my business, apparently.
- Think about a career – the in-laws will not allow it. Apparently, the only job I will ever have is to look after my husband and his family, and yes, that is without any relationship skills!
- Wear makeup
- Cut my hair
- Smile – it may make me look approachable which is not on
- Laugh – regardless of how funny something may be
Some proved difficult simply because of who I am. Some characteristics of mankind simply can’t be changed. For me, I couldn’t help but make friends and then try to hide it. I remember the interrogation should another kid from school shout “see you tomorrow Naheed” as I got picked up from school. I guess it’s a little like the roots of a tree, they keep going, build what you like on them; you won’t stop the growth nor the reach.
The only way to keep control on a person’s actions (especially in teenage years) is to abuse them in more than one way. Like any abusive relationship, much depends on the fear you can create. Here, some of the fear developed with proof of others killing their daughters for stupid reasons, the rest of the fear developed from abuse. I was to face abuse of such inhumane levels, because I guess it was clear, I wasn’t going to find restrictions easy to deal with.
I mentioned that my household was delusional. I say this because the religion was blamed for the restrictions placed on me. The behaviour was all down to religion and even now, sometimes I hear the same words: “That is what the religion states, so that is how it is, argue all you like, you can’t go against the religion”. YET, they missed several crucial religious rules, one of them being the head scarf. They also missed out on all the rules that apply to the men. Finally and most importantly, they missed out the fact that nobody has the right to take a life.
Well, I had two choices, either I just commit suicide, or I try to work with the restrictions. Obviously, suicide wasn’t to be, so I had to find a way to understand what I can do that makes life worth living.
To do this efficiently, I had to learn more about the family in terms of what they respected, what wound them up (perhaps enough to kill). I had to learn what I could get away with. So it was through these very people, I learnt what they valued the most and this was narrowed down based on their interactions with others – just so I had proof.
It turned out that the two things they valued, respected and admired were:
Knowledge and Money.
The knowledge had to be more than their own knowledge and the same went for money.
Humans generally need food, shelter and love. Trees need light and water. Yet this family valued knowledge and money. Shallow as it may seem, that is how it is.
From there came my grand plan. I was going to study the religion, purely so that I could tackle the detail of the restrictions over time. Deep down, I felt that if the religion is really that unreasonable, then I would need to step away from it some day. At least for my own sanity, I cannot go believing in something that was so horrid to me, forever! I was also going to have to study something else in order to then earn the money – somehow.
There is much detail here that I have not presented, such as things’ changing over the time it was taking me to action my grand plan. For instance, my brother once told me, you have to study, even if secretly because if you have education, you can get away with a lot more, everywhere. But if you are not educated, you are doomed. It helped that my mother also wanted me to have an education, particularly as the “arranged” (forced in this case) marriage front wasn’t working out. Nobody wanted to marry me! Ha! OK, this was a part of the grand plan but that is a story for another time.
Whilst putting my grand plan into action, I committed about four years to studying the religion. I got a job in the IT industry as my research had shown this to be the most profitable the fastest. I enjoyed the process by bringing home internal parts of a computer, leaving them in my room with a bunch of tools from work. All for the purpose of demonstrating knowledge in something that is alien to my entire family, even though I didn’t actually know what to do with those computer parts!
Eventually, I had more knowledge of the religion than anyone else in the family. I could tackle arguments to such a level, I became the reference point for when either mum or dad found anything confusing. I did enjoy playing with this! Is something wrong or right? Will we burn in hell for some action or not? The tables had turned.
My earnings grew from a mere 11K salary, to 16K, 40K to 60K all in less than one year. Of course, it grew further, but that is not relevant as by then I was free. It was intense, but the market was on my side, my determination to learn fast was on fire, the pleasure of the respect I was now gaining was amazing. I finally took the step of taking a contract in Paris – that was a serious milestone. I moved out and I was free. A three month contract became three years, I had built up a community of friends in France and had a lot of money saved up even with being a big spender.
Years of emotional blackmail via phone and upon visits continued. By this stage even my brothers had gained a lot of success, and therefore a lot to lose should anything strange happen. I simply learnt to handle it gently, knowing, no reply is necessary anyway.
As for those restrictions…
I realised that through university and later through work, I had FRIENDS globally – and this was before the internet came about.
At work, I was presenting to huge audiences, sometimes a hall full of 300 men! So TALK I did.
Using the reason of being head hunted to finally move out – I didn’t just move OUT of the house or school gates, I moved COUNTRY.
I continued to STUDY and still do – as it has been a crucial ingredient to success that I am now addicted to. The STUDY of the religion turned the entire situation around when it came to made up rules, this of course remains.
I try to READ as much as I can to make up for lost time. Even though I still struggle with vocabulary, commonly known phrases, I managed to publish my first book which was indeed challenging!
I have already been through enough MAKE-UP to know that this wasn’t really a bad restriction. The Adam Ant look lasts only so long before you realise your time is more valuable than that.
With all that STUDY and focus on a CAREER…
How could I not…Smile! How could I not… Laugh!
It is ironic that given the restrictions, particularly to not talk – yet Talk is the very thing I do for a living, and it doesn’t stop there, I talk to the globe as that is what Social Media is all about.
In conclusion, I remain thankful to every member of my family, for teaching me how to get through challenges and how to win by continuous learning. They have provided me with a special skill, as continuous learning is a skill in itself.
I stand here at Toastmasters doing my first speech. I am here to learn more about public speaking. And although I have written a book on this very topic of public speaking, I understand that there is still so much to learn and I choose to be open to this opportunity. If you think I am wrong, then it is still worth taking the chance, as I wouldn’t want to miss anything.
The morel of the story is this:
You can achieve whatever you want – so long as you have the drive and specificity of your mission with you – always.
You can achieve whatever you want so long as you are open to learning, even from those you may not like, trust or respect. I did learn from my brother, eventually and still today, I learn who I am from every member of the family.
Your purpose is shown in your desires and in your characteristics every day. Like the roots of a tree, they continue to grow and reach out. The perpetrators can build whatever obstacles they like on top of them; the strength of those roots will eventually knock those obstacles down.