A gentle revolution - how I took my own positive action to build a career for me.Mar 06, 2020
By Ayesha Saleem-Malik
My name is Ayesha and I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and a registered Time to Think Coach, Facilitator and Teacher. Currently I’m developing two sister brands – The Thinking Soul (coaching, facilitation, workshops) and daalicious®, (award winning organic artisan daal). What follows is a brief account of how I arrived here.
When thinking about where to start, a memory came to mind, and it seems like a good place to begin. A few months prior to sitting my finals, I can recall sitting at a desk one weekend, the sun streaming into my room – definitely anti-revision weather! Bored and uninspired, and as an act of ‘revision-rebellion’, I took pen to paper, and wrote what I’d now probably describe as a ‘mini manifesto’. Goodness knows where this stream of thinking came from. One ‘rule’ I can recall, ‘if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got’. (Recently I came across a saying widely credited to Einstein, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’) I wish I had kept that piece of paper as I’d love to read it now, a couple of decades later. It was the field my inside was seeking and has journeyed to – I just didn’t know it at the time.
At the tender age of 18, I chose to study Chemical Engineering, as I didn’t know what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’. Influenced by the careers advisor at school, ‘Mrs R’, that, ‘they roll out the red carpet for girls in engineering’, I chose a degree where I assumed, I’d be guaranteed a place, a job and elastic horizons. During my secondary years, on Thursday mornings I’d be drawn to ‘The Appointments’ section in The Times. I loved London, most of the vacancies were there and maybe deep down I hoped that somehow, I’d end up in one of them. My tutors at university mentioned my strength lay in the ‘management side of industry’, but I didn’t really know what to do with that, or what it meant practically. During my final year at university, the economy was in recession, and destroyed the myth I had created whilst at school, based on the career advisor's advice. However, during the ‘milk round’ of my final year, I was among the blessed few to be offered a position as a Graduate Engineer, in a privately-owned international manufacturing company, and walked straight into a graduate job a few months after graduating.
Challenges of the workplace
The graduate training programme was great, the company ‘invested in its people’, benchmarked itself against world class manufacturing facilities, and so on. Yet other factors such as a remote location, a pub culture where vital decisions and relationships were governed by pub conversations or golf days, alongside subtle undercurrents of ‘a melanin ceiling’ pushed me into the realization that the future of my career lay elsewhere.
So, from there, I moved into Implementation Management Consultancy, then relocated to London after getting married and embarked upon an MBA. A career change – the honour of motherhood and the responsibility of raising the next generation. At that time, part time work in management consultancy was unheard of, a few other job offers floated my way, I had been volunteering with a not-for-profit charity but it would be more than a decade before I had the capacity to think about ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’
Finding my oxygen
One choice led to another and I discovered the world of coaching and Time to Think. I knew I had found my oxygen and am now building two sister brands (The Thinking Soul and daalicious®) and continue to develop my journey of knowing myself - organic inner growth.
You may wonder, what is ‘Time to Think’ – well, it’s the home of ‘The Thinking Environment’. ‘Thinking for yourself, as yourself’, pioneered by Nancy Kline. Concluding that actions are only as good as the thinking behind them, Nancy asked herself the question, which conditions, create the best conditions for the human mind to think?
Equality is a foundational component of a Thinking Environment – it fosters equality at a different dimension altogether. Equality as thinkers - as people. This is pivotal in creating genuine psychological safety. If Nancy Kline and I were to think together on a topic, we’d share the time equally as we are equal as thinkers. We also promise not to interrupt each other’s thinking and agree to offer each other information, if needed and as appropriate. This frees our minds to think from a different place.
Aristotle said, ‘knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’. I don’t claim to know exactly what this means, only that the Thinking Environment invites me to create time and space to know myself, to sit down with myself, and intentionally access a deeper part of my intellect – maybe the same part which rattled off a ‘mini manifesto’, all those years ago.
Learning to soar
This component of equality redefines a lot of things. You are the expert in you. My presence and generative attention as a Coach, ignite thinking in your mind, allowing you to soar to places I could never take you with my thinking. Together we create a Thinking Environment. And in my experience as ‘the Thinker’, the Thinking Environment puts me in conversation with myself. It puts the essence of what makes us human, at the fore.
On a recent walk to my local coffee shop, I realised that in my very first Thinking Partnership, I answered a question I couldn’t even hear myself asking, and I rewrote a childhood narrative. At the time I didn’t realise what I was doing, or indeed how profoundly important it was. Its only after training as a Childhood Story Coach, more recently, I can identify what I chose to do, in that first Thinking Partnership.
Given it’s a life-long commitment to know oneself, the earlier we start this the better. And if, as Aristotle said, ‘it’s the beginning of all wisdom’ – let’s start young and imagine, a wise world. The Thinking Environment creates the conditions for subtle inner shifts, on purpose. These can be quite powerful. Energising. Empowering. And if I change myself, I change the world. It has the potential to gently revolutionise, but please don’t tell anyone!