Defining success is still a mystery as its meaning varies for everybody

hisham sarwar

You often come across success stories of people from different walks of life. Every story by large pivots around money or monetary success. People take a lot of pride in narrating their financial success, glorifying rags to riches life stories.

From their perspective, of course, it is a milestone achieved — especially when you have struggled to make ends meet and are unable to live a decent life, afford basic necessities of life.

For me, success has decyphered itself, unveiled from the thick shores of desperate times, orchestrating a lesson that will stay with me as long as I am alive.

Before you read on, I want to clarify that if you are looking for a typical Bollywood 3 hours movie where the hero triumphs as a winner and lives happily after, I may disappoint you. Nothing of that sort is about to happen.

About Me:

An average student who struggled in academics for the most part of his academic life, would not be an understatement about me. I hate going to school, getting my hair cut (born and raised in a blessed military family with all basic necessities of a decent life) and my love for cricket is how I can describe my childhood.

Well, teenage life is not different either. As a struggler who was a misfit in a 9-5 job because my second boss (a stubborn old-fashioned Engineer with a brain in his knees and a jealous heart), I was shown an exit door within the first two years. This was the first time I realized that belonging to a blessed family, coming to the office in a nice car (latest model Hyundai Syntro), wearing nice branded clothes is hard for someone from a lower middle class to bear.

The guy had a point (pun intended). If you can not buy these things yourself, what do you come to the office and show off?. Still wonder what does that means, perhaps I am a little illiterate but I will brainstorm his jealously about me some other time.

The story for 1st boss, ahh — that should have been narrated before the second boss, was a little different. I started my internship in a small overseas visa private firm. It was a small shop really, I mean very small. Only me and my middle pass boss who thought I am the one with brilliant ideas whereas I believed, I am hired as an intern who commutes 40 minutes from home every single morning to learn something. Needless to say, things never added up, I waived a goodbye message, not directly, had to request my dad to call my boss and tell him that his son is not coming to the office from tomorrow.

After being laid off from my second job. I came across an amazing opportunity. An opportunity that would open doors to a new life but little did I know that I will be pushed against a wall because I am unable to upgrade myself —a clueless person who does not possess the ability to think unorthodox.

The eagle was destined to doom.

I learned computer software, illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Aftereffects to name a few, and started offering my skills as a freelancer on Guru.com and on the internet. I experienced huge success. I genuinely believe, my success was largely attributed to being “First” in the competition.

In a country, where freelancing was unheard of and where people believed that spending time on computer means chatting on Yahoo messenger or MIRC. By chance, if that suspicion is filtered out, the perception was, one must be playing games (screwing his life and wasting time). Like many, I had to go through these stumbling blocks.

My success on Guru.com was phenomenal. I made a dime for myself, made a good name for my country as I proudly held Pakistan’s flag alongside my name. I was featured on the marketplace home page. A place nicely cemented for the next one and a half years.

As a top seed freelancer, things were on a rise. I ran a decent shop (Infomist, my 1st baby as I call it), at one point, we were 50 plus people shop. I began to behave like a proud leader, one who was falsy praised by his employees for his idiotic posts on Facebook.

hisham sarwar infomist

False pride has a price. If you fall and do not recollect yourself, you’ve lost it. Hey wait a minute, this advice is for one who will fall.

But…

Who is going to pull me down? I have got the smartest brains working for me. Loyal to the core, dedicated to the cause, and standing right aside me, through thick and thin.

No, I can not fall. 

and then the unexpected happened.

I fall down.

Yes, you read it right. I terribly crashed, so did my false pride. It was similar to a blindfolded eagle flying confidently high, believing he can fly with his eyes closed as it owns the space.

Before I go at length and talk about life after the crash, it is important to understand why did I crash in the first place?.

As a freelancer turned businessman, who always thought he has good people working for him, why did sales drop all of a sudden, where did I go wrong, did my people ditched me?

The answer is a mix. I was surrounded by people who did ditch on me, some used me, sales team (commonly known as the business development team in the freelance world) were looking after their vested interest rather than worrying about the organizational sales. Look, there’s no second thought about the fact that a company can’t operate without sales.

Sales are the backbone of any business. If sales drop, you go home as you can not sustain it any longer. A business has to pay salaries, pay bills, and this is done through sales only. Sales bring in money. If sales dry, you shrink and eventually go out of business.

The worst was yet to come. Since I do not come from a business kindergarten, I had no idea about how to cope with downstream, especially – when chips are down. My real nightmare was to pay salaries as 6 months passed in a flash.

I made the biggest mistake of my life. Instead of downsizing, I opted for a business loan.

Clearly, I did not foresee what is coming. Perhaps the money I borrowed was a solace to my false ego of running a medium-sized shop with a handful number of employees. As a self-made CEO, I thought, if I hang in there, things will get better. I did not think any other way around.

The flipside I ignored was, If sales drop for a longer period of time, surely there’s something wrong in the business. Going through motions would not help, even with additional money because the real emphasis needed to be made on bringing in sales. Sadly, my oversight landed me in no man’s land.

Clueless, I got myself in a deeply dug hole. Some employees resigned as I used all the loan money and had nothing to pay. Luckily. some stayed because they believed in me.

There came the first lesson after failure. Not everyone understands your vision and stands with you in tough times. People have priorities and they make a call when that priority triggers.

I lost some good teammates, ones I thought were loyal to me and my company. In true spirit, they were not even closer to that idea.

Never trust anyone blindly.

One day, I checked the emails of employees who resigned. I was shocked. They’ve been getting projects from my freelance profile and were getting the job done outside the company.

The question was, why did they cheat on me?. What harm have I caused them to experience this?

Finally, some sanity prevailed after a small conversation with my mentor. Hamid Farooq was our neighbor and ex-CEO Warid. While giving me a reality check, he asked questions I had no answers about.

  • How could you be so stupid?
  • Why was there no system in place?
  • You were running a 15k monthly (US$) shop and you did not have any proper systems in an organization?

hamid farooq - hisham sarwar

Notice the time stamp in the above image. Sir Hamid had few conversations with me, in my office and in his drawing-room at home. He made me realize that instead of blaming people for cheating on me, the blame falls on me as much as anyone else, perhaps more than anything else. My 1st baby (Infomist) was being pushed to the ventilator and this was killing me inside because the buck stopped at me and I did not see it coming.

I learned my lessons:

I learned my lessons. To begin with, upgrade your skill-set and solutions. We were very robust in Drupal solutions and offered it as a one-stop service to our international clients but as the demand for drupal dried in different freelance marketplaces, just because we did not learn new technologies, our sales dried.

Another takeaway from our discussions was, it is okay to trust people but never trust them all the time. Always keep a check. Not everyone is ethically raised to avoid corruption at the workplace. This may sound a bit harsh but sadly it is true.

Another lesson was to learn new skills. If a computer software comes with an upgraded version, why don’t we humans improve?. We must improve with each day passing by.

Here I am, back to the drawing board, and the education I always hated brought me back to it. I started reading books, following podcasts, and watch videos of successful international entrepreneurs. This opened my mind and I realized what a fool I’ve been all my life. The world is different, it is a stage for people who evolve. The fittest survives.

Revamping myself:

I am under debt, banks are after my skin to pay it off. As a self-made person, I am forced to go back to my family and ask for help. Something I never thought would happen but such is life, strange times. My family helped me out in that crucial time period but there’s a lesson I’ve learned. I will not use this money to keep people in my company.

The pride is long lost and I am no longer proud of the fact that I have so many people working for me. Heck yes, it’s all about my survival now. All these years, I’ve always thought about my people first but look where do I stand now. A completely confused person, who has lost his way, feels defeated and dejected, clueless about his future. I have got a family to feed. A daughter who deserves a decent life as much as my parents provided me. I’ve got to do things right.

I used that money to invest in myself. I learned new skills. I started getting comfortable in my skin again. I began to spend a lot of time equipping myself with the latest tech knowledge with the hope that I will make money. The challenge here was, the course of events must unfold quickly, I am struggling.

Needless to say, I had no choice but “hustle”. It was a race against the time.

I learned Digital marketing, Social media marketing. I started to like this new experience. As a computer savvy, these fields began to excite me. During this time period, I met Aamir Atta.

Aamir is the founder of ProPakistani and convinced me to start a blog. My younger brother helped me in choosing a name for my blog. Being a Salman Khan fan, he advised going for “BeingGuru”. The name Guru was chosen because Aamir was kind enough to publish my story on his blog that attracted huge recognition and fame on social media. People began to tag me on Facebook as Guru.

Fame was good. I will be honest, I began to like it. Coming from a corporate background, the social media world and its acquittances was a new experience for me. Here, I had two options:

  • Stay in my comfort zone and spend time learning new things
  • Cash on this new opportunity and network (make things happen).

I chose the second option, decided to cash on that opportunity by exhibiting myself as a Guru of freelancing. There was a huge vacuum in the country about skill education and making money online. Luckily, I was widely accepted for my knowledge in the field of freelancing and internet-based business.

While all seem to work according to my plan, things were still moving forward at a snail’s pace, especially on the financial front. The agony of not having enough money was a pain. At times, I had nightmares —getting up in the middle of the night, sweating hard, scary, and wet all the way to my feet, I would often repeat a question I’ve been asking regularly  — Oh God, why me?

Then comes another reality check.

By the end of the year 2015, I had a conversation with my mother that proved instrumental in reshaping my life forever. She gave me a piece of advice. She asked me to help others with all the knowledge I have. She quoted Ishfaq Ahmed, “teach others whatever you know“.

I decided to open my YouTube channel and upload different videos teaching freelancing.

I recorded a handful number of videos but no one noticed. The videos hardly had any views, except mine and my teammates.

Hey, hold on, if you are about to drop a comment saying 20k plus views are neat, these views came in the middle of the year 2020, I re-opened my YouTube channel and started doing SEO of my videos.

Luckily, I did not stop. I was approached by Ignite to appear as a subject matter expert for teaching Freelancing in 2018. This was an exciting offer, I was getting back on my feet but still not out of the woods. I accepted it with a condition that I will charge them but the course will be free for the students. Luckily, the program was formulated on these lines already, we were good to go and I moved to Lahore for the next 5 months to record my lectures. To know more about that journey, read this article.

Digiskills turned out to be a mega success. The stories of successful new freelancers after the very first batch were overwhelming. I decided to escalate the training to the next level. I created a Facebook group. In my closed group, I used to spend a lot of time delivering LIVE lectures, discussing people’s problems, and provide a solution. The foundation of a new source of income, for me and for others was laid down. Many new success stories were surfacing up. Somehow, out of now where, I began to get better business opportunities.

I reopened my YouTube channel. Started recording videos again and all the skills I have learned over the past decade, I started teaching them in different playlists. This was a real turn the tide that changed my life. I began to understand the meaning of success.

For me, success is when you are content with whatever you have. You sleep peacefully, all through the night. You spend your days well.

On the business front, new and amazing business opportunities began to knock on my door. I started getting new sponsorship offers on my blog and YouTube. Thankfully, Infomist is getting new business. My 1st baby is back on its feet again and already planning to provide more job opportunities in 2022, InshaAllah.

The good news is, Yes; I’ve paid back my bank loan off completely. This was something I always prayed to God, please help me do this when I am alive so my family does not suffer; once I am gone.

Conclusion:

The real success is, seeing all the success stories of my students. Allah made me do something I could have never imagined, not even in the wildest of my dreams. Today, people are making money, the country’s annual IT export is increasing and somewhere, I may have contributed and played my part.

When you help others, Allah saves you from spreading your hands in front of others. There’s a purpose to our existence. One of the purposes is to live in the heart of others, help them, show them a path, to teach them so they can find a way and live a blessed life.

All these years, I thought success is being financially strong, afford luxuries, show-off branded stuff, I was wrong. Success has many facets, the best face is when you see others happy. They look into your eyes with gratitude, often unable to thank you verbally, still end up saying a lot. That is karma hitting you positively.

It feels heart whelming to know that someone who wanted to commit suicide is brought back to life, has an office of their own, a divorced mother with kids does not have to beg people for money, her kids go to school and she can afford their tuition fees. This very feeling of helping others hits you home, the eyes get wet, well – pretty much the same way as I conclude this note.

Being loved requires sacrifices but once this happens, there’s no better feeling. Build homes in the heart of people, help them and see how God helps you in mysterious ways. The whole idea of opening up to help others can never execute if fate is not on your side. Without God’s blessing, it is not possible. One has to give up their ego, stay humble and build an attitude of gratitude for all the blessings.

Most importantly, life is organic, it is not linear. Never give up on yourselves. Surely, Allah has better plans. Live for others, you’ll begin to live in their hearts.

You do not have to be a superhero to make a change in this world. Remember, not all heroes wear capes!

Written by Hisham Sarwar

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAi5HVJbixQ

That is all you ever need to know about me but let me warn you, freelancing for me is a journey, certainly not a destination :)