People 18 May 2017
Huda Alvi's story is one that doesn't get told often enough. It's one of pain and perseverance, of a journey through hardship, and one whereby a marginalized woman turned an adversarial life around to become a successful entrepreneur and blogger, who's now encouraging others to share their difficult stories.
Having found herself in an unhappy and verbally abusive marriage at the tender age of 18, Alvi was looking down the barrel of a sad and grueling life married to an angry ex-drug dealer. Before long, she had given birth to two children and realized she could no longer accept the bleak circumstances of her and her children's lives.
Leaving the life she knew behind, she moved away from then-husband and began anew. A single mom of two for five years before she met her new husband, she grew as a person and as a businesswoman, now the proud owner of a business, blog and an exceedingly happier life. In light of her success and her decision to share the more difficult aspects of her story with the world on her blog, she began a campaign in November of last year to engage with other people's stories in cyber space. Her #iammore campaign focuses on promoting people's stories globally in an initiative that hopes to get people talking about themselves publicly and send their stories throughout the internet. Below she talks to SWAAY about her experiences with business and the campaign.
1) What inspired you to come up with the “#iammore" campaign?
I Am More is a movement inspired by the idea that our lives are our legacies. The messages that our life stories convey are lessons to be left behind for others to learn. It's a collective of honest, real-life experiences - a step out of the box that defines us through limitations, and step into our own limelight. It's about encouraging people to see themselves as creators – as powerful storytellers.
2) What was the most moving story you've heard someone share as part of the campaign?
Aghhh this is hard because all of them are so touching in so many ways but for me it would be Asha & Michele's stories which you will see soon. Asha talks about self-love and how long it took her to find that love and all the phases she went through to find it which I feel related to me and can relate to any woman who has ever looked in the mirror at herself with pity, fear or felt like she couldn't do it. It's a great one. Michele's story left me sobbing. Her story was about the loss of her daughter and how she struggled to be a mother after she lost her. It was heartbreaking but also filled with strength and courage. Truly remarkable.
3) What are you hoping to achieve with this campaign?
I Am More serves as a platform that encourages social media users to complete their online stories with their offline realities so we could get to know more people “behind the screen".
4) Do you think there should be a change with how people use social media?
People are hesitant to open up about such things because we are conditioned to only show our “good side", especially on social media. If we were more honest about the good, bad and ugly sides, wouldn't our lives be more relatable? Our life stories include messages that could support, inspire and empower others. The more honest we are, the more genuine online connections can be.
5) Do you think social media can be harmful in any way? If so, how?
From a woman's perspective, social media can be harmful if too much focus is set on one's appearance and outer qualities. I believe there needs to be a balance so that we are not just objectified by how we look. Social media has the ability to reach masses and us influencers should think twice about the messages we are portraying.
6) How do you personally balance the work / family combination?
It's all about staying organized and being mindful of my priorities. I schedule everything well in advance and reserve particular dates for tasks that need attention on a weekly basis. Before I commit to anything, I take the time to think about whether it needs my presence or if a conference call will do. I am also save time by only choosing to attend events that I will benefit from professionally. Most importantly, I keep my weekends open for family time.
7) You started your first business at the age of 18. What was that like - are you different in your approach to business now, perhaps more wary?
I was stepping into the business world and adulthood at the same time so it was definitely overwhelming. I may have been inexperienced, but to this day I never feel intimidated to ask questions or ashamed to ask for help. I highly recommend doing this because it is one of the best ways to connect and learn from others. Although most aspects of business are very technical, following my gut and intuition have never failed me. When your goals are clear, it becomes a matter of trusting what you know and feel is the right move for your business.
8) What is your personal business philosophy?
Taking the first step is always the hardest, but everything after that becomes easy. With so many tools and resources readily available, there's really nothing stopping you from finding the answers to your own questions and educating yourself. I believe in growth and movement, and if you ever feel stagnant in your personal or professional life, there is a book or seminar out there that could help expand your mind.
9) What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs trying to make their way in this industry?
Once you see how outnumbered we are you may start to question yourself, but my advice is to ignore it. I can guarantee you that there is a huge support system behind us that has been built by other women. I have found that the way we are made to nurture has translated well into the business world. I have not come across a woman who isn't ready and willing to provide support and mentorship. We may not have strength in numbers just yet, but the wave of female entrepreneurship is definitely on the rise.
10) What makes your business model different and stand out from the rest?
It is common to associate the business industry with competitiveness and being cutthroat but I have been able to uphold my belief in honesty and sharing. I'm not afraid to admit when I am wrong or when I need help, and this sets a precedence for others to do the same. The core of business is about trading, whether it is about assets, ideas, information or material goods - it would not be possible if we refuse share. I feel that accepting this is what has made me successful and stand out so far. These little things go along way in earning one's trust and making a mark for yourself.
11) What does social media mean to you now versus when you started using it?
In 2016, I joined Instagram as a fashion blogger and it wasn't long before I felt that I was meant to share more than my outfits – I was meant to share my thoughts, stories, my life. My role as an online influencer helped me find my voice and its my purpose to help others do the same. With social media's ability to reach masses, it's important to be mindful of how our messages impact others. It is a useful tool that could be better used to invest in to education and wellbeing.
12) What does 'influencing' mean to you?
To be able to foster change, in any shape or form for greater good. For me, if I'm able to inspire or change ONE individual's life by my experience, my story or my words I would think I've made a difference.
13) What would you say to aspiring Instagram/Facebook influencers - is there a smart move you wish you had made in the beginning?
The social media scene is very saturated and you could easily get pressured into following the crowds. Although that's the way I started things, I quickly realized that I wanted to influence ways of thinking/living, not just fashion. It is so important to know yourself – your morals, values and message – and to stay true to them no matter what the world looks like on the outside. When you can sync your existence and accept who you are on the inside it will exude from the outside and that's when you will truly be able to influence in any online or offline space.
"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.