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The dream peddler

June 18, 2012


-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/

I am a professional. I have been in to and out of many a profession – and that in fact makes me a professional professional. And my next choice for a profession is: career counseling. I’ll be doing it to you.

Of course you have the right to ask for my credentials: I trained as an air force pilot, I distributed medical supplies for a business, I’ve been a security guard, a telemarketer, a school teacher, a door to door salesman, an administration officer. I almost published the best coffee table magazine, I worked as an ‘extra’ – more respectably called ‘talent’ – for film and TV productions on weekends, I have chauffeured tourists, I ran a fast food joint. I’ve attended focus groups, donated blood and gone through weeks of laboratory drug testing as a volunteer, all for money.

Apart from these stints, I have been in regular employment for the best part of 20 years, in 10 cities, spread across three continents. I’ve had white bosses and black, and those who didn’t want their true colour be seen. I’ve had women bosses more than men, and have been a boss to more men than women. I have been a part of office politics as much as office parties. I have been a darling colleague and I’ve been equally hated. I’ve come across the most wonderful people and the most undesirable, within my work colleagues.

And so I am qualified to counsel you on anything from choosing a career, to quitting a job, looking for another one, choosing not to work, going abroad for work, returning home, romance at work place, marrying a colleague, divorcing a colleague, extra marital affairs with spouses of colleagues, dealing with the boss, refusing to deal with the boss, courting the boss, maternity leave and its correlation with the fertility of women employees, basement jobs, penthouse jobs, the freedom of being unemployed, the fear of being perpetually unemployed … or anything else on your mind.

I must also admit a shortcoming, professionally speaking that is. Whatever I did, I did it well enough to convince myself that it’s me quitting because I’m bored with the job and not the other way round. But there is one profession, the only one, I couldn’t do well at. In fact, I comprehensively failed at it.

The newspaper ad read: ‘If you are young (tick), energetic (tick), a university graduate (tick), and you have the ambition to pursue a luxurious lifestyle (tick tick), call this number. Visa will be provided to selected candidates’ (just what I need). I called up: I am everything you mentioned in the ad. Take me. ‘Wouldn’t you want to know what the job is?’ a heavy, very distinguished voice replied’. Oh yes of course … ‘What we do is, we sell dreams …’

I didn’t hear a word beyond this though the gentleman’s tone and timber was very engaging. I will be selling dreams? Will they be my dreams or the company’s’? I’ll be a dream merchant, I’ll be igniting their imagination with my dreams … I’m in, I interrupted his smooth explanation breathlessly.

This is how I became an insurance salesman. My immediate need was addressed and I now had a visa to stay on. Then I topped the month-long training session and received a commendation certificate. But nothing happened after that. I drew up lists, made the customary 50 calls a day, secured a couple of initial meetings, and that’s where the process seemed to stall with no chance in sight of a recovery.

After about two months of running around for nothing, when I was contemplating homicidal retribution for the rich businessmen who wouldn’t buy my dreams, I returned to a newspaper job but continued to chase one case that seemed headed for a closure. The man had asked all the questions a prospect can think of and I’d been patiently and diligently providing all the answers. He had little room to wriggle out of the deal now, and I will finally have sold at least one insurance policy in my short-lived career.

I wrapped a bandage round my right hand as an excuse not to sign the documents, and took along a former colleague to sign instead, and technically claim the commission as well. I only cared about my reputation as a professional: I couldn’t fail at any profession, even the one I’d quit. I hope you are satisfied with the proposal, in which case we can go ahead, I put the forms in front of him with my index finger helpfully pointing at the dotted line.

‘Actually, I discussed this proposal with my wife last night,’ he ominously leaned back in his chair rather than reaching for the pen, ‘and she says taking out an insurance policy is like challenging Allah’s will. So …’ But Mr. Prospect, it’s not about insurance, it’s about your future and your dreams for your family … It didn’t work. I had failed at a job and I had to live with it for the rest of my life.

Which is not to say I cannot counsel on insurance matters. A professional professional like me learns from his failures more than victories. There is nothing in the world of work I can not advise you on. But do choose your question carefully: you might get the answer you were hoping against.

Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.