Zainab Syed Ahmed is a graduate of BYLC’s Youth Leadership Bootcamp, 2015. Soon after the completion of the program, Zainab joined BYLC as an Executive in Curriculum Development team with the goal of inspiring the young generation to become leading change-makers in their fields; thereby, creating a positive change in the society. Since then, she co-instructed in four leadership training programs and facilitated in more than 15 programs including Building Bridges through Leadership Training, Building Bridges through Leadership Training Junior, Youth Leadership Bootcamp, and Art and Practice of Leadership.
She completed her Bachelors in Pharmacy from BRAC University and was awarded the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for obtaining the highest CGPA among all the students in Undergraduate program graduating at the 11th convocation of BRAC University where she was chosen to give valedictorian address. In 2017, BYLC recognized her accomplishments by awarding her BYLC Alumni Award in the academic excellence category.
Your academic achievements have been remarkable which reflect your keen interest and dedication towards studying. What motivates you to maintain a consistent performance in your studies?
Zainab: There are multiple factors that are involved. First and foremost is how I have been brought up. Ever since I was young enough to understand, and because I am the eldest child brought up in a middle-class family, there was always a huge pressure on me to do well in my academics. It was not an option – it was conditional – if I don’t excel in my studies, my father will not fund my education. So that was my initial motivator – a question of survival – so the fear factor played well. However, as I grew up, I figured since I have to get the work done, why not enjoy it and put effort to excel in what I do. Standing first in class was definitely not a driving force. As a student, it was extremely important to me that I see a growth in myself everyday when I am studying. From then on, I was motivated to do my best in wherever I put my effort in. I have been following this principle ever since.
Lack of interest in studies is a common problem among most students. What changes, will you suggest, can help them become more committed as students?
Zainab: As I mentioned earlier, for me there was the survival bit initially. This was an external force. But the transformation started when the push was from inside. There was a self-realization that I need to be good, at least in what I do, so that there is no scope for another person to tell me that I am not doing enough. So the biggest message for any youth would be that whatever you do, be it studies or anything else, don’t give an opportunity to somebody else to question your efforts. Since you are going to study for 2-3 hours anyway, why not give in your best? It’s really not the hours that matter; it’s the amount of effort that you put in those hours that count. And definitely, revise before your exams but try never to study right before exams! That is a no-go because it doesn’t justify the effort you put in eventually. What story are you telling yourself by doing that? If you really want to compliment your hard work, then you will have to be consistent in it. I think there is joy in getting your work done in much advance.
You studied pharmacy and now you are engaged in leadership education. What convinced you to change the path and how did you muster the courage to take such a big turn in life?
Zainab: Certain things in life are within my control while the rest aren’t. At that point in life, fate intervened. It sounds very dramatic but it did. I was in my last semester, doing my thesis work, when I attended BYLC’s Youth Leadership Bootcamp. It was in 2015. I traveled alone to Sreemangal and where I had the best four days of my life. Since I have exercised leadership all my life, I wanted to know what this “leadership” was really about. Bootcamp gave me a sense of direction. I realized that what I have been doing thus far, that is trusting my gut instincts, is what I should continue to do. The program gave me the strength to acknowledge that it’s not entirely about the outer world, what we call the outer journey of leadership unless coupled with the inner voices. That is what you need to listen to. That compass was always inside me, but I did not recognize it before. So when I knew what I am doing, it gave me the courage to make a career shift. Had I the knowledge that this work is beyond my scope, I wouldn’t have done it. So after I completed my thesis and internship, I knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to do because my expectations weren’t met. Also, I questioned at that moment what will give me fulfillment. And the glaring opportunity to work with youth and be a part of their journey was a realization that I felt unwise to let go of.
What do you like most about teaching leadership?
Zainab: There are two aspects I love most. The first is the transformation I make the students go through. And secondly, as a result of delivering that growth, the experience that I go through. Every batch is unique and makes me learn something about myself and that makes the day worth it! That is something I look forward to everyday.
What are the three most important leadership lessons that you follow in life?
Zainab: One thing that I have grown up realizing is to be compassionate. It keeps me grounded and makes me realize that I am a human being at the end of the day. Next, I have realized the value of holding myself steady. Ever since I have gotten introduced to the concept of adaptive leadership, I recollect the numerous times I intervened when I could have just held myself back. I believe that if something is destined to happen, it will happen on its own course and not because of my untimely interventions. Lastly, I live in the present, without any regrets, by learning constantly.
What activities do you enjoy for recreation?
Zainab: I love reading novels, particularly mystery, adventure, and romance – reading that fills me up with positive vibes and deep-thinking. I try not to delve into the sciences or politics because I feel that recreation becomes dysfunctional then. And I love outdoor activities a lot! I am a very adventurous person– from time to time, I take time out to explore something new.
Would you call yourself a nerd?
Zainab: It depends on the definition of a nerd. I think a “nerd” is someone that others perceive as one because they have seen you studying for a relatively long time. So it’s really an outsider’s perspective. So I don’t think I call myself a nerd. But if it refers to someone studious, then I think I am studious.
What is one habit of yours that annoys you the most?
Zainab: I don’t use the little time I have at home efficiently. I usually use the time to sleep and recharge myself, only to realize that I could have used it better by spending time with my cousins or those who need my attention or support. So this inefficient time management after I am home annoys me.
If you were to meet your younger self, what message will you give her?
Zainab: I would say, “Thank you so much for taking all the risks and challenges that you took because that gave me the courage to take major decisions of my life, like the shift in my career. Thank you for having faith in your beliefs and values, especially when you stood strong when everybody was against you. However, I wish if you would not have made them your opposers entirely– like standing up for yourself with them rather than going against them all.”