Mediocrity the Pakistani dream

A seth sahab gets into his Mercedes and drives off to his villa-home to his wife. They Skype-chat with their two younger kids in NYC; both are art majors while their elder brother helps out his father in the factory.

The seth stands by his window, looking through the glass, as he smiles on what he has built and repeats “Alhamdulillah”. There. That’s it. That’s the Pakistani dream – to rise above the day-to-day worries, to have achieved enough to fulfill the offspring’s dreams and to have a backup plan in case the dreams turn to despair because there’s always daddy’s business to save the day.

It is not a substandard dream to build your life around and certainly no less of an achievement if you start from scratch. But if you’ve climbed, worked and achieved the position where you stand today, why not go beyond? No, it is not money that I ask you to run after – that never should be the drive or the goal of life but what I am focusing on, is a growth mindset. Why be complacent about being a big fish in a small pond why not scale up? Why not capture the world market and flourish way beyond the second-tier home products?

The fact is, we have all settled down, settled down for being mediocre without the slightest hint of disapproval of our fixed mindsets; we’re sufficiently complacent about it. Heck, we brag about it. We’re bragging about being mediocre. It’s always about how much we’ve done and never about where we want to go or need to be; it’s about the car I drive, the school I send my child to, not the dream of being the best in what I pursue. Or more importantly if I am making a difference for the rest of the people, for the underprivileged class or the needy? Or am I working towards creating jobs, getting my companies or the country’s name in the top 10 of this year or the next ten years. The conversation nearly always ends up in “Allah ka dia sab hay, bohat hay”.

We seem to be a nation of mediocrity swallowed up in our anxieties. Something our neighbors have risen above from and slowing nowhere till they have risen to the top. The Pakistani dream always has a cap and once filled, we stop. You will have no trouble jotting down names of local brands which maybe a household name for us but unknown beyond these borders. Can you name ten entrepreneurs that expanded their business from Pakistan and stepped into other countries and made a billion dollars? 10 household names that we don’t need to google to see. But we are very familiar with names like  Infosys, Tata, Bajaj and Amul.

Have we even stepped out and did an effort to push that boundary?

The seth style of governance doesn’t make it any better: a child who inherits his father’s business, often, does not go the distance. His Pakistani dream has already been handed to him in a silver spoon and well, who cares for the golden spoon? I firmly believe the people who can save Pakistan are going to be clever rich people, that’s what we need people with money and a will to go beyond set up funds, invest cleverly, start building something. It will only take one rovio, one zynga, one facebook to make it and change our mindsets and that is what we need.

And that’s the top end of the ladder. Let’s talk about us. We, the real mediocre. We get a government job and there is a celebration in the family: the safety net of a pension is a dream fulfilled. Everyone else is looked down upon.

I remember after my father passed away and how every other person’s question was why didn’t I get bharti in his bank because that would mean a permanent job, a pension and all that jazz. And I’m sure a lot of us have met that aunty once in a month – at least. Safety nets and supporting wheels is all that we want for ourselves and for the people we care about.

And then there are those who are the pride of the herd. The ones who got out of the country and ‘this system’ only to be proudly mediocre somewhere else. Getting into a company, getting the car we couldn’t afford in the Pakistani mediocrity and settle down for a gora mediocrity with a substandard 3 series.

If we were a product, our tagline would boast ‘Mediocre middle managers come and get yours today!’ – and perhaps, for a lower price than our neighbors.

We teach our children to be mediocre with our anxiety. So how many of you born and bred Pakistani men reading this took an Army entrance exam? Is it because of your profound love for the country, for protecting your Pakistani fellow men and women, for its sovereignty and progress or is it for the plot at the end of retirement? Or the chance to be brain-dead for a couple of decades so you don’t have to make hard decisions about your life to do this or to do that: a defined path followed strictly under order going straight to heaven. Let’s assume for a second that it is the right way to go and all the stars are aligned for it, how many of us get promoted beyond a colonel? I’d be interested to know how many people retire at what-post in the army even in a defined process where you go from ABC to Z like a straight arrow. But the fact of the matter is, we get tired at D but are sufficiently happy, sitting comfortably in our sarkari car and the canal in DHA.

If progress was key we wouldn’t be entering a department with no revenue or part in the GDP. We send our children to be army men because it’s safe, secure, stable and like a CMMI defined process that is aptly streamlined. It is the perfect sanctuary for a Pakistani.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we are lazy, less talented or dufuss. We are simply scared and if we’re not, someone else will make sure that we end up scared and made to follow a traditional path leading to the dream.

There are outliers yes. There always are. We wouldn’t be a country if it wasn’t for the outliers. But look around you, isn’t mediocrity the Pakistani dream?

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Published by

Fahim Akhter

Fahim is a product manager with over 10 years of experience currently working as product head at MONT5. He focuses on user centric centric design, especially on brand, user experience and revenue product challenges. Prior to joining MONT5, Fahim's has worn multiple hats during his career from game production to product development but the emphasis has always been on creating unparalleled user experience and to help startups to make complex products more engaging. He has worked on diversified portfolio of startups including games, apps, education and e-commerce with product reach of 10M users across the globe. Fahim is a computer science graduate from FAST Islamabad. He volunteers for education and mentors students and startups, to help them grow and drive innovation.

5 thoughts on “Mediocrity the Pakistani dream”

  1. I am a insurance agent. I never had filed income tax returns nor paid any tax. I borrowed 20 lac rupees from my friends and invrested in stock exchange. My friends sent me money through bank by cheque/online transfer. Now FBR has sent me notice to pay income tax for last 2years.
    How I get rid of this problem. please help me as FBR is behind me and my family

  2. We are scared. We don’t take the path less travelled, out of the fear of left alone. We do not have courage to follow the light at the end of the dark tunnel. Perhaps one day, I or you, would travel that far and make it bearable for everyone still staggering at this end ! Just one step to tell others that their might be success at that end too.

  3. It was a wonderful read. The solution(s) you propose are all great.. and have been talked about in great detail on many occasions in the past. They are in fact behaviors which result from a disciplined life… how do we provide an impetus to make people go in that direction? don’t you think the vision part comes later?

    Do I make sense?

  4. Excellent piece… but you don’t propose a solution to this mindset. How can masses be motivated to go big.. any ideas?

    1. Just like rehab, I suppose the first step to a solution is to admit there is a problem. The solution is the simplest thing as a concept but the hardest to implement.

      Be honest. If you are at a 9 to 5 job, be the best at it. If you have a small business, go there on time work to the best of your abilities. Have a vision, everything else falls into place itself.

      We are afraid to succeed at anything, because we’re afraid of failure and rightly so. In even grade one you’re not allowed to explore to the thought that you might fail.

      This is getting long, let me write it up in another post :)

      Also thanks for reading, it was long and tedious to read.

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