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.
Sometimes the person you have to stand up to is you! There I was, rewatching the Miss Universe 2019 competition. Which I do for inspiration from time to time. (No, seriously!) There is something about seeing women on stage, in full-on glam mode, and speaking with confident assuredness that really lights my fire!
I have seen this Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa win this crown so many times before, but something about this particular viewing, her delivery or her words, touched something inside me a little differently. At that moment, I truly believed, with complete conviction, that she lives what she speaks.
The announcement was made, the audience cheered, and the crown was awarded. The light was dazzling,, she looked stunning, almost blessed. The judges made the right call with 2019's queen.
Reflecting On Myself
Suddenly, the YouTube video ended. And I was left looking at a black screen. In the darkness of that screen, I saw my reflection and I began assessing what I saw, asking myself, "What have I been doing with my life?" It may seem like an overly dramatic question, but at that moment, I had to ask myself seriously… What have you done? The fact that I couldn't come up with a solid, confident answer gave my inner-cynic license to quickly spiral into self-criticism.
This went on for quite some time, until I got up. I stood up and walked to my mirror to have some serious one-on-one "Queen Talk." I needed to get out of that self-critical mindset, and I know that physical movement is something that help disrupt a way of thinking. I needed to remind myself of who I really was. The negative feelings I was experiencing at that moment were not reality.
Here are a few reminders for whenever you need some Queen Talk!
1.) Comparison is truly the thief of joy.
This saying feels like a cliché. That is, until it's applicable to you. At that moment, this "cliché, becomes self-evident. Comparing myself to someone on a stage with years of experience in an area I know nothing about is not only unfair but straight-up mean. A part of my comparison comes from me wondering, "Would I have the ability, if put in that position, to perform at such a level?" The answer is totally and without question, yes. I excel in the field I work in now, and I know that if I put that same energy towards something else, with practice, I could do just as well. No joy can come from comparing yourself to someone in a completely different field!
2.) Never forget the blessings that have been bestowed upon you.
Every single day, I am blessed to have the opportunity to wake up with all ten fingers and toes and choose to create the kind of life I want to live. There is so much power in that alone, but sometimes it's easy to take it for granted. Let us not forget those who are unable to make that same decision every day of their lives.
3.) Appreciate how far you have come!
I've been very intentional for some time to be kinder and gentler to myself. I need to realize that I am human. Being human means that I will not know everything, and I will continue to make mistakes.But I must let go of the need to always be right. I feel empowered when I can see the growth that I've made, regardless of the mistakes that may come in the future. I don't react to every little thing that bothers me, because I have learned boundaries when it comes to dealing with others and myself. I truly value my time and my energy, and, for that, I am proud.
4.) You Can Be Who You Want To Be
If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it in reality. I saw myself when I looked at the women on stage, when she smiled, the way she talked, her elegant walk. For a moment, in my self-criticism spiral, I forgot that we are all connected. Debasish Mridha has said "I may not know you, but I don't see any difference between you and me. I see myself in you; we are one." I will not sit in the mentality of lack, there is more than enough opportunity and good fortune to go around for everyone. Her win was not a loss for me, but it can be a nudge from the universe for me to go ahead and dream big!
This Queen Talk was not easy. There may have been some tissues and tears involved but giving myself an honest yet compassionate talk is sometimes what I need to bring myself out of some bad head space. In these moments of doubt, you truly need to be your own best friend.When times get rough, criticism won't always come from outside sources. How you speak about yourself internally is crucial to how you see and feel about yourself. As Beyoncé once sang, "I've got Me, Myself, and I." We must put forth every effort to be there for ourselves. I look forward to more Queen Talks when some negative emotions arise. I am grateful for the person I am today, but I am excited to see the women I become.