Career Transitions: Find your common denominator


For many of us who have switched jobs and careers, our paths and choices may seem eclectic but zooming out we can almost always see a distinct pattern or a common thread. Though individuals mostly pursue career options based on personal and financial rewards, their choices are not as random as they may seem.

For instance, I decided to pursue consultancy after graduating from my MPA program. Although it may seem like a sui-generis career path, it is not something entirely disconnected from my past professional endeavors.

As a physician, I learned how to diagnose and treat illnesses often under extreme pressure with incomplete test results and related information. The skill proved enormously helpful while diagnosing bottlenecks in businesses. Medical doctors learn how to approach a problem and break it down methodically; I did precisely that with my business cases.

My Social enterprise helped me to flex my project management muscles so that I learned how to calculate NPV, strategic planning, and allocation of resources under strict budget and time constraints. I learned how to do regression analysis, cost-benefit analysis and discounted cash flow models. The experience helped to boost my confidence in my analytical abilities. Besides, starting my enterprise and scaling to win international awards and recognition made me believe in the power of setting and achieving meaningful professional goals- something that I fall back on often when the going gets tough.

Additionally, working in the non-profit sector not only taught me how to adjust to a new industry but also garnered valuable lessons in empathy and self-awareness through interactions with disadvantaged women and girls. The opportunity also led to other exciting new directions for me to enhance my communication skills including speaking at a TED Ex event that eventually initiated my love story with public speaking. I started talking about my experiences as a woman, medical doctor and business person and my account somehow hit a nerve and people responded positively.

As a social entrepreneur, the thrill and excitement of seeing females being transformed from a state of learned helplessness where they previously felt trapped, broken and hopeless to individuals who could earn an income and stand on their own feet was a profound experience. Though working in the social sector is exceptionally rewarding, and you meet fantastic people, it comes with its own set of challenges, and while I continued to run my organization, I wanted to explore more possibilities.

Hence, I went back to school.  At Harvard University, I had the opportunity to perfect my leadership skills and perfect my management skills. I took extensive courses at Harvard Business school, Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School. The general management course taught by professor Joseph fuller was particularly helpful in developing better strategies for management and adopted an inside-out approach for general managers. I learned the importance of disconfirming data to off-set confirmation bias and hence discover blind spots that are often overlooked and lead to failure of people, organizations, and businesses.

From an outsider’s perspective, my choices may seem haphazard and somewhat disconnected, but I have learned that there is a common thread in my professional experiences: Creative Problem Solving.

Whether it’s finding the underlying cause of symptoms of the disease or uncovering the bottlenecks in business development or implementing projects for refugee women and girls in Istanbul, the underlying theme remains the same; I love using my creativity to find solutions to problems that seem insurmountable.


Here is how you can find your common or hidden thread in your career path:

– Make a list of all your previous jobs.

-Make an inventory of all your skills acquired during your professional career, go ahead list them all.

– Integrate experiences and look for similarities or patterns.

– Make sure you don’t exclude anything. Every experience counts and acts as a learning opportunity to perfect your future choices.

Now zoom back. Further back and use one to three words to describe your journey. What is the common thread you see?

*Hint: The pattern may indicate your purpose or passion. Interestingly, it may make you acutely aware of the fact that you are not where you are supposed to be.

Let me know what you see and observe.


Sports Psychology and Leadership


As a runner, it’s never easy but you have to take the challenges head-on. After running marathons across three different continents, I have learned that leadership, business management, and running have a lot in common.

” IT’S OK” yelled my coach as I tossed “my cookies” after running up a steep hill on the outskirts of Istanbul. “Throw up but don’t give up” he screamed, “get over it Doc and move on.” I did exactly that!

I remember when I started training for my first marathon. The summer of 2012 was a particularly grueling experience for an amateur runner like me. Luckily, my coach knew how to contain my fear while keeping me motivated. That year, I ran my first ever marathon: Istanbul Euro Asia Marathon. It took 12 months of running uphill in Belgrade forest, five days a week to finally develop the stamina to accomplish my goal.

Growing up in Pakistan, I only ran when the neighbor’s dogs were chasing me around the block. I never thought I could run 2 km, let alone run entire marathons but the human mind is a magnificent organ and psychology provides brilliant tools to nudge our behavior patterns.

After running my second marathon, I started appreciating the connection between sports psychology and leadership; I became acutely aware of how my training could directly influence my professional skills, including my time management and general management expertise. Since then, I have been an avid believer of channeling benefits of sports psychology to enhance team morale and performance both in and out of boardrooms.

Some of the key takeaways from my experience as a long-distance runner are:

– Be specific about your goals because goals can affect outcomes. Vague goals create confusion and decrease capacity to influence change.

– Stay flexible. When you’re going through the transition (downsizing, restructuring, expanding operations) it’s best to keep the goals in mind while adjusting quickly to whenever is needed to improve focus and motivation.

– Keep your energy levels up. Exercise, sleep, meditate, repeat. Depleted energy shortens the ability to come up with creative solutions. For instance, when I learned how to overcome my incessant need to throw up during long distance runs through deep breathing, I also realized how I could develop techniques to be more deliberate and focused as a project manager.

–  I found that running proved wondrous for my self-confidence and self-image. While developing innovative technologies to overcome my fear of failure to complete the marathon in under 4 hours, I also overcame my fear of unknown related to the outcome of projects; many doubts about plans simply evaporated – feasibility, scale, financial wherewithal, staying power seemed natural to overcome, which increased my ability to cope with unexpected obstacles.

Last but not the least, I learned how to stay humble while accomplishing my goals and realized my innate ability to inspire myself and others through my endeavors. #Leadership #Sports #SportsPsychology #Psychology #Marathons #Running #Runners