RAWALPINDI: Saadia Ahmed worked for years as an entertainment journalist for an online magazine until the publication shut down soon after the start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic last year.
The 35-year-old correspondent was devastated as she saw massive job losses around the world. But rather than wait for the business to pick up again, she decided to change direction.
“At first, I thought I should start writing a book, but then I felt too depressed to work on a project such as that,” she told Arab News from her base in Perth, Australia.
“Ultimately, I decided to take the advice of a friend who suggested that I should launch my own YouTube channel.”
Armed with a selfie stick and her intuition, Ahmed started making and uploading videos three times a week, focusing on developments around the world and discussing rights issues on a channel called “My Two Cents.”
“Since then, there has been no looking back,” said Ahmed, who was selected for a master of philosophy degree program on the basis of her broadcasts.
The global economic collapse caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has put the futures of millions of people in doubt.
“Sometimes you need to burn the boats. I wasn’t courageous enough to do that on my own, but the shutting down of the magazine did it for me. If you can, you must go for it too,” she added.
Several other Pakistanis have made similar choices.
Journalist Mehr F. Hussain said: “I was standing outside my door one night, staring at the bolted gate, and I told myself, ‘this is it; this is all it takes to strip us of our lives.’”
After many years of finding Pakistan’s publishing industry frustrating, Hussain took the reprieve offered by the pandemic to “jump off the proverbial cliff” and launch her dream project, an independent publishing platform called Zuka Books.
“It was an act of creative resistance to what was happening around me. It was a move for liberation from the old guard. Basically, it was a massive farewell to the pre-pandemic life I led,” she added.
Hussain’s business has published a fashion coffee table book, a graphic novel, and a book of poetry, among others.
“I wish I had taken this decision earlier. I wish I had been more proactive before the pandemic, but it takes a journey to get to a destination. I feel I made the right decision at the right time, and I am lucky to have done so,” Hussain added.
The pandemic also gave 30-year-old corporate executive Sundar Waqar a second lease of life, making her abandon a nine-to-five job at a corporate firm and establish a business selling allergen-free food and baked items.
Waqar, who was diagnosed with celiac disease which prevented her from consuming gluten, realized during the pandemic that she could do something for others with dietary restrictions similar to hers.
“I have been making food for myself for years and have met people who faced difficulties in finding gluten-free food, so I decided to start this,” she said, adding that the pandemic was the catalyst to devoting herself fully to launching a gluten-free food business in Karachi.
“I am so glad I did it. I cannot stress enough that if you want to change something in your life or career, no matter how drastic, you should take the plunge. It is scary and has its own challenges, but it is definitely worth it.”
Financial consultant Jasir Shahbaz, 26, who left his job to teach economics, said: “When you are working from home, it is just you and what you do to make a living. That’s also when you begin to ask yourself if the work you do is what you truly imagined for yourself. Without this time to reflect, I would have continued in that job for a long time.”
He pointed out that the pandemic had forced him to reckon with uncertainty and let go of all the hang ups that had hindered him from pursuing teaching as a career.
“There has always been this negative perception about teaching in Pakistan, that it is not the most preferred career trajectory for men. I decided to let it go,” he added.
A year on, Shahbaz said he felt “great” about his new job, which was a “stark contrast” to the previous one in terms of his sense of fulfilment.
Hussain said: “If the pandemic has done anything it is to make us realize how important it is to live a better and more conscious life.”