HE found himself seated inside an office of a Pakistani bank, bored by an accounting job that paid him really well.
It didn’t matter to then 25-year-old Safdar Hayat that his profession was highly sought after, and that it could lead him and his future family to a better life. Banking simply wasn’t a perfect fit for him.
A lawyer by education, but was discouraged later on, the young Safdar then sought a different field, where he could excel despite an apparent uncertainty.
“There was a lot of pressure and I somehow didn’t like the working atmosphere in the bank; it was depressing,” Safdar said in an interview with the BusinessMirror. “I wanted to leave the bank, but my father wouldn’t let me unless I got a better job.”
So, he applied for civil services, which required him to take an examination. Safdar described the civil-service exam as very competitive and strict, given that thousands of candidates apply each year. It involves a written test, a psychological assessment and a series of interviews.
“Luckily, I succeeded and I ranked 63rd for the whole of Pakistan. There were 6,000 candidates who applied and, out of that, only 120 were selected for foreign service,” Safdar said.
Foreign service was not his priority back then. He was eying a spot either on the district administration, police, or customs, but instead, passed the test for prospective consuls.
“I was a bit apprehensive at first because foreign service seemed to me very aristocratic. It would mean that most of the time, I would be outside of my country—it was something that was totally new for me,” Safdar said.
Fast forward to today, Safdar heads the Embassy of Pakistan in the Philippines, a position he never imagined he would assume when he was just a teenager.
“To be frank, I had no clear plans at all. I wanted to be an air-force pilot, but I flunked. When I did not succeed in that, I thought maybe I could become an engineer, but I did my bachelor’s degree in Economics, and then law,” he said.
He practiced law for a while, but was discouraged by his mentor. He then found himself working in one of Pakistan’s largest banks, and then serving as a consul to another country.
“You never know what is in store for you in the future. I never thought of being an ambassador,” Safdar said. “I never had such dreams in life. But the dream was to become someone, to acquire knowledge, to be successful in life. There was no set field that I wanted to excel in.”
Just like his career, he had no specific qualities of a girl in mind. He married his second cousin, Fehmina, at 25, and had three children with her.
“I met her at quite an early stage, but at that time, I didn’t know she was going to be my wife. It was an arranged marriage, but my family still asked for my view. I agreed, and the two families visited each other,” he said. “Marriage in Pakistan is the meeting of two families, not just two individuals.”
SAFDAR grew up in a very conservative society. Pakistan’s family system is very strong where relatives are closely knit.
“The family system is very strong and conservative: We follow the instructions of our parents. This was something inculcated into us—that respect for our parents is essential.”
His father is an architect, while his mother was a housewife. He has a younger sister, but wished he had more siblings.
His father, Sikandar Hayat, is one of his inspirations in life. He somehow owes his success to his father.
“My father was a self-made man. He started from a very humble background. He was from a village; he then moved to the city. He started on his own, but slowly and gradually, he reached a high level. He is the epitome of a self-made man who started from scratch,” Safdar said.
“The more I tried to understand his life, the more I realized that such people really become your role model because they are the people who really work hard to reach their place.”
Safdar was also inspired by his uncle, Aman Ullahkhan, who somehow had the same background as his father.
“My uncle started as the lowest level of the police; he then headed the intelligence unit of the police,” he said. “Such examples really inspire you.”
“I was lucky because I had their guidance and then the environment that I grew up in was much better than theirs,” he added.
Humility is key
BUT despite all his achievements in life, he still believes that humility is the key to living a good life. This, he said, should be one of the musts for a millennial’s attitude.
“They should keep their eyes on the prize, but still try to keep their feet on the ground. If their feet are not on firm, they will lose their balance. Millennials are too ambitious, and with that they lose sight of their goals,” Safdar said.
Because millennials have too many goals, they think they are jack of all trades—that they know everything, he said.
“It’s good to be confident, but all confidence is not positive and they should not go for the short-term. They should try to follow the path which leads to the top,” he said. “The role models that I had, they reached the top through hard work and not through a shortcut. If they reach the top and fall down like a rock, that is more painful.”
“There is no shortcut to success. People must work hard, and try to be less ambitious than they should be,” he said.
Safdar added that his three kids, all of whom are millennials, continuously learn all these from him. They are also being raised under a milder Pakistani culture, but with high emphasis on religion.
“The new generation—they are more independent. They do not accept too much supervision and control. They want to have their own experiences and learn from them,” he said.
Unusual retirement plan
SAFDAR will retire in five years, and given the opportunity, he will launch his own social work in Pakistan. He describes his plan as something unusual.
“In some countries, I have seen eunuchs who are not given their due share in the society. They are often ridiculed, not accepted and, as a result, they indulge in inequities that are below human dignity,” he said.
“It is also happening in Pakistan, and I am not aware of any non-governmental organization that looks after their well being. I want to do something for them because they are one of the most neglected sectors in society,” Safdar added. “I would like to make them useful citizens of society. How it will happen, I do not know yet.”