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This Is What It’s Like Leaving Dentistry To Run A Startup

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I graduated from a private dental college in Lahore in 2014 and went on to do my house job, a twelve month paid internship, at the hospital associated with my college.

In Pakistan, a career in the health care industry is considered an illustrious one, but once you graduate, you realise that a basic MBBS or BDS degree doesn’t hold much value on its own. The more credentials you add after your name, the more your value increases. Keeping that in mind, I pursued the most lucrative career option, taking the US licensing exams. I cleared the first exam in 2016 on my first try, exhilarated that I was well on my way to achieving my goal of becoming a DDS certified dentist.

However, my life took a different trajectory when I returned to Pakistan to prepare for my second exam; I got involved with a digital media production startup, ProperGaanda, that had just launched. I’ve had a passion for writing since school, but I never pursued it. And by the time I graduated, I had developed a keen interest in photography and videography as well; I would often find myself appointed the official photographer at family weddings and birthdays. Naturally, I was ecstatic to finally have the opportunity to play around with content on the side while I furthered my studies.

Joining a startup that envisioned to highlight Pakistan in a progressive and positive light was invigorating enough, but the added opportunity to explore my creativity was icing on top of the cake.

Fast forward roughly two years and I am the co-founder of ProperGaanda.

Leaving, or more correctly, putting my further education as a dentist on hold to work at a startup has been an eye-opening experience to say the least. With time I realised that the rigorous training I underwent to become a dentist equipped me with the skills to not only see a project from start to end but always be self-critical and seek improvement.

Working in both fields also allowed me to draw up interesting comparisons between both these worlds that are quite apart but share some similar qualities.

In dentistry or health-care, our approach as a nation is very conventional. We shy away from newer ideas, losing out on the opportunity to grow. We do not incentivise the younger crop of health-care professionals to take charge or be proactive, instead, we bring their potential to a halt, forcing them to bend to the age old ways of doing things. And even though we have come leaps and bounds from times when male doctors dominated the health-care scene, there is a slight undertone of sexism that we still haven’t been able to shake off.

On the other hand, the startup culture of Pakistan, which is a bubble in itself is much more progressive.

The whole idea behind startups is to innovate and think differently, to find a solution to a problem that people may not even be aware of at the moment. But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, when you’re trying to establish something solid out of nothingness, there is no time to rest or take a breather.

While there are many incubators and investors actively helping out, the startup space of Pakistan is a niche market that is difficult to tap into; there is an overall lack of awareness about the extent of opportunities present at home and abroad.

Seldom do we recognise the good our government is doing as it is either being ridiculed on the media or overthrown by dictators but one such initiative is Punjab Board of Information Technology’s brainchild ‘Plan9’. Plan9 is a tech incubator that houses startups for a period of 6 months, giving them all the tools they need to emerge as an established company once they ‘graduate’. Getting incubated at Plan9 was a turning point for us at ProperGaanda.

430 startups applied, out of which 12 lucky ones were selected, our startup being one of them.

Personal growth apart, in our neck of the woods, society also plays an important role in the form of ‘log kya kehenge’. When my career changed trajectories, I heard the same run of the mill comments. I was lucky that my team members were so passionate and their ideas so big, that most of the time, when I was in the dumps, they helped me envision the bigger picture and stay focused.

And I’m glad I did. In the past one year our campaign on sexual harassment awareness has been featured by The New York Times, we have been interviewed by Pakistan Today and locked campaigns with MNCs such as Pepsi and Mountain Dew.

I wouldn’t want to toot my horn too much, since there is much to be done and we are still at the initial stages of establishing our startup. But if anything, I’m glad I took the risk or chance when it came along. For far too long we have hung on to the idea of doing things conventionally or walking the strait and narrow, afraid to take a leap of faith for something that we’re passionate about. We often step back from things we want to do because we’re afraid how people will react or because it’ll be difficult.

Every time we take one step back due to fear, we lose a bit of ourselves.

Ultimately, success and happiness don’t lie in a picking a singular career path, they lie in struggling for what you believe in. And sometimes, limiting yourself to one career option doesn’t suffice.

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