Inspire like Jaliawala
With 267,274 likes on his Facebook page, 10.6K followers of his Twitter account, can you imagine the influence of that individual? Quite a celebrity, his work, whether as a trainer or as an entrepreneur, is well-known. I bet even you wouldn’t have turned the page to read about his numerous programmes - a video would’ve made a different case. So here’s my piece adding to the 90,000 Google search results this man already has to his name. Richie Benaud, hard work, horrible mistakes, music and breakfast, all have one thing in common: Umair Jaliawala.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
People tend to sort of rewrite their past that suits what/where they are now. Like them, I also tend to forget things that don’t support where I am now. However, I clearly remember my aim in life was to become a commentator. Of course we are a cricket loving nation, but I loved the commentary aspect of it, particularly Geoffrey Boycott, Tony Greig and Michael Holding. It sure wasn’t a usual profession. I remember when I moved to Karachi, I used to ride my bike and make speeches on the way. I think where I am today is very close to what I think - if not exactly - what it was. I think it was the idea of sharing, speaking to people and the mic factor which fascinated me.
A person (past or present) you admire or look up to?
My mentor, the person who invested a lot of time in me, believed in me more than I believed in myself - Shireen Naqvi. She founded School of Leadership (SoL) and what I admire about her is that she’s so authentic, so herself, irrespective of the status quo. I mean she is a lady most likely to do anything as long as it’s not just plain wrong and against her principles. I wish I would be an inch of who she is as an individual.
Doing all that you are doing but being able to enjoy a good night sleep without a worry and waking up as the happiest person in the world. Just the fact that you know you’ve done a great job, you’ve contributed, you’ve not compromised and you made the most of it, I think that’s what success is for me.
One thing you look for in your workspace?
I’m not fond of the conventional workplaces. The one thing that I look for in workplaces is “alignment”. I give this analogy of a child with his play station/Xbox holding a joystick and going nuts over a game. S/he is involved not only physically but emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well to the extent that if it doesn’t work out the child is going to do it again. He is not going to be scared, he would hardly respond to the mother calling him for lunch or dinner, he’ll feel the pain if there’s loadshedding. That kind of involvement, when you are so invested, where your aspirations and your values are aligned with that of the organization.
Biggest sacrifice you’ve made in your line of work?
While both compromise and sacrifice mean giving up, I prefer not to use the two inter-changeably. When you compromise, there’s still remorse in your heart; sacrifice on the other hand is about when you feel happy that you did it. Of course, doing what you want to do involves sacrifice. I don’t think that I regret any of the things that I’ve given up. During my college time, when others would be partying and having fun, I’d be busy with books, reading. It didn’t bother me. I was happy for this tradeoff. I began to work during my third semester at university. I could hardly join my friends for these lunches because I had to ride all the way from Johar to Clifton and worked until about 11 in night when I’d return home and hit my bed. Recently, too, with all the training and travelling, a lot of sacrifice is involved; a lot of activities which I missed and which people without calendars can manage like random get-togethers.
Has learning from a mistake ever led you to success?
Absolutely. Mistakes followed by tough reflection and not blaming it on others, not justifying but just taking the bullet and saying that you screwed up is essential to succeed. It’s essential to learning. If you are not making mistakes, you’re not trying anything new; if you’re not making mistakes, you’re claiming to be god. Humans make mistakes; the only thing one has to be conscious of is not to repeat mistakes because that’s insanity. The last four years, when I was leading SoL as well as Torque, I made some horrible decisions, but they matured me as an individual.
A fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night?
Nothing keeps me up at night. If I’m indoors, I’m going to fall asleep, no matter how big the assignment the next day is. I trust myself to get up early the next morning.
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
I don’t get scared easily. I think I’m very liberated that way. What’s the worse that would happen? It won’t be a good session or I won’t get any business venture to work on. That’s fine with me. Every batsman will score a duck, every batsman will be dismissed for under-10, but you have double centuries and triple centuries; your average should be good, your record should be good then you are good to go.
We’ve come from nature and nature has interesting ways of calling us to itself when we’re in tough situations. One goes to the beach to the mountains. Music sort of puts me back on track and being with some of the amazing friends, who’ve always pushed me to do more and being more, is how I deal with it.
The world needs more of?
Understanding. And that is developed through dialogue. Only if we’re willing to speak to each other without our biases, we would understand so much about each other.
The less we need of is enforcing ourselves on others. It happens only when we’re judging each other and believing that we’re the only ones who are right and we’re the only ones with rights.
Biggest overall lesson you’ve learned in this profession?
Work hard. If you’re a professional athlete you have to spend time at gym; work on your fitness, change your diet and discipline yourself otherwise you don’t win gold medals. Being a great trainer means you are constantly working hard on yourself. Just one caution: make sure your strategy is right. One could work hard with screwdriver trying to bring down a tree, but it will not get results no matter for how long it is done.
Best piece of advice you were given when you were starting out and by whom?
Back in around 2009/2010 when I was doing an assignment with Engro, I met Asad Umar at an orientation. I told him I’ve started this company called Torque, please give me one advice. He said, “Exercises are overrated; work on your content.” I think it was a fantastic advice and it has stayed with me all this while.
The other one, one of my teachers who used to teach me Visual Basic (a programming language on Windows) whereas the other students were learning GW-BASIC (a programming language on MS-DOS), which was much easier. When I asked him for the reason, he told me: “you’re not in competition with anybody else.” I think it resonated with me strongly. In fact to date, I don’t feel like I am competing with anybody.
These companies or individuals who saw me training at a young age were like, “Beta internship kar lo”, “Management Trainee programme mein aajao”, “yeh kaam aese nahi hota” “tum bohat jawaan ho iske liye aur tum phans jaogay” and “this is not going to pay back and you’ll regret not being part of a great organization, not growing, not having a career path”.
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?
It’s always a good question what would you do differently if you had to restart. But you have to understand that if I am saying what I am saying right now, I am saying it because of the journey I’ve been through. It’s my strong belief that anything that happens is contributing to you, it’s developing you, and so if you take back a part of you, you wouldn’t have been able to be the same person. I wouldn’t want to do anything differently. I’d do it the same way.
Which of your traits are you most proud of?
I’m really grateful that I’ve not lost the common touch. I wouldn’t mind sitting out with my friends at a dhaba and enjoying a cup of tea. I wouldn’t consider anybody a maila. Yes, you can have likes and dislikes, but to say “this is not my type” or “I’m beyond this” is not who I am and I like that about myself.
Quotation or saying which motivates you to be yourself and do what you love?
Always be a first rate version of yourself rather than a second rate version of somebody else.
Your no-fail go-to when you need to get out of a creative rut?
Music. I can manage my mood with music I listen to. I’m not much fond of melodies and compositions so yeah good lyrics are a plus.
First thing you do every morning to start your day?
I start my day with gratitude, being thankful that I am up again and have another day to live.
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
I’d probably divide them equally between my family, my personal development, and getting back to people faster than I do.
What is your personal or professional motto?
My mission is to turn people on (inspire in other words), irrespective of the assignments, to get them to realize that this is the only life they have. All of us are blessed with great potential and the only way forward is to stop complaining and start doing.
Where were you when you decided to become a trainer?
It was a gradual process. I was working with SoL in 2005. It wasn’t until graduation that I decided to be a trainer. Meanwhile, I interned at Unilever in 2007; It was great learning and I liked it but I wasn’t inspired to be working like that.
What tool/ritual could you not live without in your workday?
I can’t live without breakfast. It’s the most important meal for me in the day. I can skip lunch or dinner. But a day without breakfast with a nice Pakistani style karak chai won’t do.
Another thing is to learn a new idea. I have to have something meaningful in the day. You know, at times you’re working with the same content, similar questions that you are getting back to. There should be something exciting coming up, some questions or some hypothesis that you’d like to test.
Three things you like about yourself.
1. Me staying on the ground and not losing the common touch
2. My confidence and at times over-confidence
And three you dislike
1. I’m too pragmatic about other events (e.g. weddings), which matter to other people; family, relatives need our time as well.
2. I’m unorganized; I take on a job and then struggle. I am always on the run, making last minute preparations and getting the team together to make it happen.
3. My practice of not getting back on time or getting late, especially because I keep getting so many queries and I’ve to pick and choose; people take out time to email or ask query or leave comment and I sort of owe it to people to get back to them.
Advice to younger self and readers
You should not waste this time of your life. Being young is great; you have lots of energy, you have dreams, you have amazing groups around you. You have little responsibility; you are not married, you don’t have to make money for your family at this point in most cases. Your biggest task during this time is to at least find things that interest you and start developing your knowledge skills and attitude around it.
If you are not able to do this at this age, you would struggle even after graduation, and probably hate yourself for doing things much later in life. Young is when you can experience, try things out; the bucket list coming into place. I completely endorse partying hard but make sure the day is well spent and productive.