09/20/2016 08:13 EDT | Updated 09/22/2016 10:34 EDT

The Best Career Advice I'll Ever Get Came From This Photo Of My Mom

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When I was 17 years old and applying to journalism school, a family friend told me that if I couldn't find a paying job I could always just get married -- because I was a girl.

It was a joke, and she laughed it off. But it wasn't funny, not only because it was ridiculously sexist, but also because I had heard the "joke" before. Many times.

In slightly different words each time, the half-joke, -half-suggestions always sent the same message: careers are optional for women. It's something that used to be a source of pride in many South Asian cultures; nowadays it's hidden behind quips and passive-aggressive remarks.

As a Pakistani Canadian, I've grown up hearing them. Quitting my education or career could be an option, I didn't need to earn for myself -- in short, my career could be more of a hobby, if I wanted it to be.

Thankfully, I had my parents, who routinely reminded me that my pursuit of a career was not something I could dump if things got difficult.

My mom's career isn't something that just happened. It's something she's fought for and had to re-invent many times.

Raising three daughters, I honestly think one of my dad's biggest fears was that we wouldn't want to work. When I nervously told him of my plans to study journalism, he told me, "Do what you love, so you never quit," -- emphasis on the never quit.

Those words were inspiring, but it was my mom's undying commitment to her own career that really drowned out the voices of others.

My mom grew up in the 1970s in Pakistan, at a time when women -- if they studied past high school -- were expected to get married right after college.

What my mother did was very different. And the story's best told with this photo of my 25-year-old mom working as a chemist in Pakistan. The only woman among men.

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Here's my mom showing off her work to a bunch of men in suits, in 1986.

I've spent a lot of time staring in awe at this picture, especially in recent years as I've started my own career. That picture is the best career advice I've ever gotten. And nothing will ever beat it.

My mom's career isn't something that just happened. It's something she's fought for and had to re-invent many times.

Along the way, she's faced criticism for being a working woman, sexism from co-workers, language barriers, and likely countless other internal struggles she's never shared.

Even though my parents studied together in university, family and friends advised my dad not to marry my mom because she refused to stop working. When my parents moved to Saudi Arabia after their wedding, my mom was rejected for several jobs simply for being a woman. In Canada, she took the first job she got -- selling credit cards at The Bay, even though she was an experienced chemist.


The quintessential Canadian immigrant photo. My parents at their citizenship ceremony.

As difficult as it was, it was her unwavering commitment to her career that allowed her to become the primary earner for our family in Canada, while my dad went back to school.

I've learned from watching her grow and persevere that women don't need to fit perfectly into norms. A woman can be devoted to her career and still have a complete family life. A woman can be warm and kind, but still a badass when she needs to be.

The most important thing I've learned from that photo is that if barriers are there, they are meant to be broken. If people are condescending of your career because you are a woman, that's all the more reason to keep working.

Fighting against these standards, and constantly working to make sure they don't turn into the voice inside your head, can be exhausting at times. It's easier in some ways to accept that a woman's career isn't as important. But my mom didn't take the easy path, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by The Huffington Post Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories -- join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at

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