Far too much of my adult life has been shaped by what others wanted for me.
My parents wanted me to have an arranged marriage to a (British) Pakistani girl. I did that. It ended in divorce. Badly.
My parents wanted me to get proper qualifications and do “respectable work”. So I got an undergraduate business degree, then an MBA from London Business School. This was followed by a decade of working in startups. But something didn’t feel right, I never thrived in any of the jobs I did.
It led to low self-esteem and a lack of direction and purpose.
There is definitely a dissertation waiting to be written about the pressures South Asian parents heap upon their children to conform. It has a detrimental effect on their mental health. I attribute a lot of my own issues with mental illness down to this pressure to conform. I’ve made it my life’s work NOT to repeat this cycle with my own daughter and I think I’m doing alright at this parenting lark….so far!
However, I’m not here to blame others. I mean, there is blame to apportion to my parents, but still, at this stage, my gaze is fixed firmly in front of me.
I played my own role in the above incidents and many more I do not wish to catalog at this point. Poor mental health, low self-esteem, these and many other factors played a role. But, I made choices.
Choices are powerful. They create vectors that can take you off on adventures. Or can take you down paths that are jarring and unfulfilling, creating a sense of existential angst that will cripple you.
My choices have largely taken me down the latter path. But there’s always time to change. To make new decisions.
What I love about the new path I’m taking in life is that I make decisions that favour:
- Self Awareness
I’m currently reading James Victore’s book “Feck Perfuction”, a book full of wisdom and inspiration. It’s essential reading for creatives, artists and anyone wanting to live a more fulfilled life.
While reading the book, I was struck by a section he has titled “Artists Sign Their Work”.
For my entire life, I’ve signed my name using the exact same style as my father, simply substituting the first letter of my first name with the first letter of his first name.
It seems like such a simple decision, but I feel this choice had massive implications. I chose to let my father influence me with his signature. What started as a small snowball turned into an avalanche as I made decision after decision to please him and win his approval.
As I read this mini-chapter, I asked myself the question:
“As an artist, how do I want to sign my work?”
Here’s the answer:
This is my name “Haroon” in Urdu, the language spoken by Muslims in the sub-continent, where my ancestors came from.
I have chosen my own signature.
I have chosen my own path.
I have chosen to be an artist.
What will you choose?