Shahzad Malik, the author of Pakistanâ€™s first English language self-help book, â€˜Dare To Be Youâ€™, sits down with GT to talk about mental health, the importance of self-actualisation and his journey to becoming a self-help author
Please tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to writing this book.
I was born in Toronto, Canada, but I’ve been raised in Lahore, Pakistan and I’m a Pakistani through and through. I have a business background, but I’m passionate about music and noticing the subtleties of the world around me.
I’ve been lucky to grow up with privilege, but even despite that I found myself stuck in a loop of making sub-optimal decisions. Eventually, it came to a point during my teenage years where I was introduced to self-help books and biographies of people who had ‘made it’ like Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, and Jack Welsh. I was instantly roped in and I started seeing a common pattern of behaviour between all of them. Similarly, with the self-help books I was reading (and have been reading since), I found that each author focused on one particular aspect of self-development. There was no book that really constituted a bit of everythingâ€”a starter kit for someone who wanted to pick up a self-help book and really understand the basics of working on themselves. Looking back, I think it was the combination of the two that led to the concept behind â€˜Dare to be Youâ€™. I wanted people to have a basic platform from where they can begin their journey towards self-actualisation.
Do you think Pakistan is ready to embrace the self-help genre?
Of course! Thereâ€™s no question about it. We, as individuals, are programmed to focus on the negatives. We focus more on our bad experiences, ruminating about them and overthinking about what the future holds. Of course, the news doesn’t help much with it. But, we also see so many Pakistanis who go out of their way to help other peopleâ€”complete strangers even. After all, it’s the people that allow us to collectively become one of the most hospitable nations in the world. Self-help involves the same principles as helping someone else; it’s just focused inward. Through the process of self-development, we’re actually able to not just achieve more ourselves, but also to lift up the people around us.
Mental health awareness is an increasingly highlighted subject. How do you think â€˜Dare to be Youâ€™ will help its readers?
While I was writing my book, I was very conscious of the fact that a self-development book should never talk down to its reader. Thus, the book is written more as a conversation with a friend. It builds upon the already familiar sense of hospitality that comes so innately to all of us. Another aspect about the book is that anyone can pick it up and make sense of it. While it addresses heavy topics, the book itself is not heavy at all. Regardless of where you are in life, â€˜Dare to be Youâ€™ is just the little push you need. It’s a great way to take your first step towards self-development.
How do you hope to reduce the stigma around mental health and seeking therapy in Pakistan?
I honestly don’t understand why the stigma exists in the first place. Mental health is just as important as physical health; they both go together, hand-in-hand. My hope would be that through reading the book and pondering over what the book talks about, more people will become aware that it’s completely human and natural for everyone to have ups and downs in their life. And that we all have the potential to fight through those downs to rise back up again.
If we were to summarise 3 key learnings from the book for our readers, what would they be?
It’s very hard to point out just three key learnings from the book, because it touches upon a number of topics. But if I had to, I would probably say: believing, being grateful and being more forgiving, especially towards our own selves.
â€˜Dare to Beâ€™ you prides itself to be the first English self-development book in the country. How is your debut endeavour different from Qasim Ali Shah’s urdu writings on the subject in the same genre?
Qasim Ali Shah’s writings have inspired and helped a number of people, as do his talks and trainings. I think it would be unfair to compare his works with this book and vice versa. I think the hope is that all such works end up serving the reader and helping in one way or the other.
What do you hope to achieve from writing this book?
My only hope is that it helps the readersâ€”that anyone who picks up the book finds themselves having taken the first step on their journey of self-development, and that they are able to actualise their passions and their dreams.
How difficult is it in Pakistan for a writer with little to no means and relevant network to publish a book?
There are a number of publishing houses that are now operational in Pakistan, which is a very heartening thing to see. This wasn’t the case even a couple of years ago when the book was in its early stages. Now, the internet has made it a lot easier for all of us to express ourselves and put our thoughts and ideas out there, including through publishing a book.
What is next for Shahzad Malik?
Iâ€™ve been involved with motivational speaking and talks, with a recent one that took place in Washington, about how to work in Pakistan and be an agent of change, so I enjoy doing this. People have been asking me about writing another book, but for right now I want to focus on â€˜Dare to be Youâ€™ and work on its Urdu version.
Any parting advice for our readers?
Never ever stop believing in yourself. You are, without any shred of doubt, capable of much more than you let yourself believe. Never give up!
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Outfits: Zuria Dor
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