Throughout my life, I have always believed that one should immerse themselves in unfamiliar cultures and experiences around the world, to not only learn about how other communities live around but to see the world from a different perspective, and to challenge our pre-conceived assumptions about others. By doing this, we as humans get the incredible opportunity to learn from the diversity that surrounds us, to develop key virtues, that are growing important as we move into an ever-connected, transforming global world:  Empathy, and an inclusive and culturally agile mindset, which can often reduce the unconscious bias that many people may not even realize they have.

Earlier this summer, I found myself thinking about this unconscious bias, and how it may affect my outlook on other cultures that are unfamiliar to me. Based on my purpose, I knew that the only way to overcome that unconscious bias is to dive straight into the unknown. While intimidating, it was hard to ignore the curiosity of exploring a new place. This is what led me to plan a trip by myself to Pakistan to learn more about this country that despite its beautiful and diverse landscape, rich heritage, and diverse culture, it is rarely considered a touristic destination by the majority of foreigners.

As one can probably imagine, Pakistan has not always had a reputation for being safe for a women traveling alone. As soon as I told my friends and family that I decided to go to Pakistan, jaws were dropping, eyes were popping up, and comments like: “Are you crazy?” “ Are you suicidal?”, “Did you say Pakistan?,” “What would take you there if it’s not work?” all sorts of “in denial” type of comments, from everyone, yet, I managed to inspire one of my closest friends who took the leap of faith, and said, because she “trusts me and my choices”, she would want to to take this “adventure with me”. Before even beginning the journey, I reminded myself that, like my purpose, taking the trip requires a lot of courage, a leap of faith, a deep listening to my intuition, and an innate curiosity to be comfortable with ambiguity. What I did not know at the time was the incredible experience I would have, and how my outlook would evolve through my journey to a more profound appreciation of other cultures.|

A Feeling Of Optimism To Begin The Trip
I could not hide my feelings of excitement, mixed with feelings of nervousness when I first landed in the nation’s capital, Islamabad, for about a day to give myself time to learn about the Image00002culture of the capital city. At the time, Pakistan had just completed their most recent election, which ended in a new government, that is not within any one group for only the second time in the country’s history.

Almost immediately, I could sense the optimism that this incredible city felt for what the future may hold under the new leadership. The coming change brought a sense of hope and joy to its residents, while undoubtedly helping to bring their community together. I could not help but think back to my work as an entrepreneur. While my path may not always be clear, I approach it with a sense of optimism for what the future holds, and that could be felt on that day. After my visit to Pakistan’s capital, I flew to Skardu, marking another eye-opening experience in my incredible trip.

 

The Significance Of Disruptive Change
The next leg of my incredible journey took me to the city of Skardu, which is also located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. I was awestruck by the heavenly scenery, a breathtaking lush green valley, by the Shangri La resort, that is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world in the Himalayas. Watching the sunrise behind the surreal mountains was a captivating sight. This was the first time I had seen such a serene sunrise. During the drive across Skardu, we were greeted with several streams, springs, and the hospitality of the local people, from children to the elderly, everyone was welcoming with a warm smile. A 20 minutes walk through the valley led us to the Kachura Lake, and I was immediately struck by the sheer beauty of the lake and its vast surroundings, which included apple and apricot trees all around, bringing me a profound sense of peace and prosperity.

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Before leaving for my next destination, I felt that the pure clear, and cold water was inviting me to get closer, to get a feel of its purity and its limitless horizon, so I made the bold decision to take a swim in the great Kachura Lake, something that is considered very out of the norm, particularly for women to do. It was a truly refreshing experience in all meanings of the word, I could not help but think again of my personal purpose, and how being disruptive is at times necessary, to create effective change. My work as an entrepreneur and a leader has been accomplished thus far through disruptive change, and through that comes positive changes. Swimming in Kachura Lake informed me about my strengths and the virtues that I needed to continue to embrace.

 


The Importance Of New Perspectives
Our next stop on the road trip was to Gilgit, the capital city of the Gilgit-Baltistan and administrative territory of Pakistan. After a brief visit, we made our way to Hunza, another part of the Gilgit-Baltistan region that borders with parts of Afghanistan and the Image00005Xinjiang region of China. My decision to visit Hunza came after learning more about the people that live in the mountainous valley. Known to be descendants of Alexander The Great because of their location, the people of Hunza are known for their longevity, as well as their ability to maintain a cancer-free lifestyle. Because of this, the average life expectancy for its residents has been as high as 100 years old. Upon arriving at the valley, it was not difficult to see why this incredible community is known for their lifestyles.

It was at this point during the trip where I felt that I truly began to understand the significance of always opening up my perspective to communities and cultures that are different from my own. By having an open perspective, I not only was able to learn about how other cultures live, but how they thrive. In return, I felt a new sense of understanding and appreciation of people from all backgrounds while opening up my opportunity to more deeply connect with new cultures moving forward. I continue to feel the sense of appreciation today.

Having Courage During Times Of Uncertainty
Following my time in Hunza, I had an opportunity to visit one of Pakistan’s well-known tourist attractions, called Hussaini Bridge. Known as one of the moImage00051st dangerous bridges in the world, the bridge is constructed from ropes, and acts as the connection for those living in the Gilgit-Baltistan region to the rest of Pakistan. I had the opportunity to cross the bridge during my trip, and while it was intimidating, as I was walking through the shaky spaced steps, I had to keep my head looking ahead towards the other end of the bridge, I couldn’t look back, nor down, I had to trust my capacity to walk through step by step and that I wasn’t going to trip, or fall. Sometimes, it is difficult to shake the sense of uncertainty in my line of work, but even when the journey feels shaky, I have to remember to have courage in what I am doing, similar to the courage I had when crossing the unsteady bridge. Even if I am unsure of what lies ahead, I will continue to move forward and remember one of my favorite quotes: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear. This is ultimately the feeling that allowed me to complete my walk across the bridge.

 

A reminder of my ultimate goal:
Following my experience with Bridge Hussaini, I was taken to a quaint social enterprise call Karakoram Area Development Organization (KADO) that helps women with disabilities by helping them learn how to make jewelry. This provides these Image00046hardworking, brave women an opportunity to master a trade that they may not have learned otherwise. The organization was created to help reduce the barriers of isolation and development, which were often affecting the livelihood of the residents within the communities.

Upon leaving, I felt an undeniable sense of awe at the creativity and perseverance of the women I had the pleasure of meeting during my visit with KADO. While these women have faced adversities in their lives, they continued to show a level of generosity that I will continuously strive for in my purpose. I was so grateful that this trip brought me closer to the highest mission that I have chosen for myself, which is to build sustainable human capital, with a focus on female talent development by creating spaces for women to thrive, having the chance to spread positive impact to this part of the world, by connecting with the social enterprise, was a truly satisfying experience and I will continue my commitment to creating measurable positive impact wherever my journey takes me.

Image00043As we continue heading further North to the last frontiers, we cross the pristine blue waters of Attabad lake towards Gulmit. Almost immediately after seeing the incredible waters of Attabad Lake, I immediately felt a sense of peace and calm as I continued my journey. This calm is what helps me to continue being successful in my role as a leader and entrepreneur. We would be able to go on to experience another river, call river Indus.

 

Reaching great Heights:
The next portion of my trip involved taking a mighty journey through some of the world’s largest and most treacherous mountains, beginning with the mighty Himalayas. While the Himalayas are known for many things, they are most well-known for homing Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. The Karakoram mountains were the next mountains to come into view. The Karakoram mountains span across the Pakistan, India, and China borders, with the northwest portion of the mountains extending all the way into Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

I was able to come face to face with “The Killer Peak,” Nanga Parbat in Thailchi. Known as the 2nd highest mountain peak in Image00007Pakistan and 9th highest peak in the world, Nanga Parbat stands at an astounding 8,125 meters. Facing an obstacle as profound as Nanga Parbat reassured me of my own journey as an entrepreneur. While the journey can be long, and at times dangerous, the endpoint truly makes the work worth it all. The Killer Peak was not the only peak I was able to see either. As we continued our journey, I was able to experience the glowing in the colors of the spring, which was surrounded by majestic snow-clad peaks, including Rakaposhi, Diran, Ultra, Golden Peak, and Hunza Valley. Each location was a true paradise and continued to bring that sense of peace and calm that I had experienced in the earlier portion of the trip.

As we wrapped up the final part of this portion of the trip, we had the opportunity to visit Karimabad, which is where the historical splendors of the Altit and Baltit forts are located. Because of their historical routes in Pakistan, the Baltit fort has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List since 2004. We got to see the breathtaking views from the Eagles Nest. Like every other part of the trip, I was blown away by the beauty and tranquility that the country has.

Image00050The last touristic attraction we visited before heading back to Islamabad was Khunjerab. Once in Khunjerab, there lies sand near the mountains and you can feel the sky appearing much darker than usual. At the border lies the Pak-China border monument, where Pakistani and Chinese military officers, as well as visitors from across the border, were seen exchanging greetings and smiles. It truly was a heart-warming experience signature of true friendship between two great countries.; the surrounding scenery with high snowy mountains, glaciers, and my interaction for the first time with the Yak animal, added to this incredible feeling of openness and true friendship. At Khunjerab Pass, which lies at 4,700 metres, we were at the highest paved highway in the world, stretching along the Pakistan and China borders. While the highway could be intimidating at times, it provided me with a renewed sense of courage during my trip. While I may have been told not to travel to Pakistan, I did so anyway to see what it was about, and that is how I approached the Khunjerab Pass. While the highway was high and significant, it was not going to stop me from continuing my journey.

The Mighty Indus: My own breakthrough:
One of the most memorable parts of this journey was the drive from Islamabad to Gilgit, and now that I look back, and after my Image00003reflection and observation around me, it wasn’t just the scariest, longest and most dangerous drive I have ever experienced in my lifetime. While I was entertained by endless stream colorful, detailed decorated trucks that kept cornering our car driver at the edge every time they were crossing, I realized that the one thing that caught my attention and I felt connected to strangely, was the Indus river, one of the largest rivers in the world, as it was streaming across the 12 hours mountainous car drive. I couldn’t be indifferent to the impressive stream, as it was intimidating, wild, and unstoppable, then I remembered this metaphor: “It has been said that in a contest between a river and a rock, the river always wins. Why? Because the river is willing to follow the natural call of gravity, going over, under, around or, eventually, through the rock, to its destiny.” There was my breakthrough…I knew I was seeking a  strong sense of flow in my life to let me cut through those rocks that come in the way as I follow my gravity to the ultimate destination.


A New Sense Of Purpose
As I was wrapping up my unbelievable journey to go back home, I could not help but feel so fortunate that I was able to explore such an incredible experience which can be described as my own VUCA, Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, the Image00045new order of this world, as the digital revolution, also known as industry 4.0 disrupts the way we work, live and connect with the world. I have been working with organizations and leaders on how to deal with VUCA in business, identifying the leadership capacity and traits that will be needed to cope with the unstoppable change and to be constantly relevant and thrive. My retreat in Pakistan gave me invaluable lessons that I can apply to my own life and career. At every destination that I had the pleasure of visiting, my assumptions were challenged, I needed to practice courage, empathy, and believe in my intuition; I had to reduce my consequential thinking, be more inclusive, and focus on the big picture while being present in the moment.  I hope to keep this mindset of a growth and continuous learning as I move forward, that I will continue to apply these priceless lessons in my own professional and personal lives, spreading these virtues around me whenever it is needed.

While I felt a feeling of uncertainty when beginning my trip to Pakistan, I left with a new sense of purpose and appreciation. I am truly thankful to the people who accompanied me in the journey, my very close friend Mina, who trusted my vision and my intuition. I came back from it, grateful and enriched, and I want to thank the ones who encouraged me, guided me, and gave me a sense of security when I was in doubt, and even the ones who discouraged me and were in denial. They triggered my curiosity even more and gave me a chance to come back with lots of lessons for them, about why, we should challenge our assumptions, reduce our unconscious bias, and practice a sense of empathy before we judge others.