This month, we spoke to GirlDreamer Co-Founder Amna Akhtar to get the low-down on everything we have ever wanted to know from, professional advice, her wellness journey, personal growth and her practice of self-care. Amna shares her top tips on navigating adulthood in the western world as a WOC.
- Presently, what is your objective with GirlDreamer?
I think at the moment, it’s about acknowledging and analysing everything we have built, then taking that acknowledgement and moving forward to the next phase of growth. It is a little scary, but I feel like it’s ‘good scary’, like when you’re excited and nervous at the same time. Understanding the needs of the different communities we have at GirlDreamer is key for me and ensuring that those needs are met as best and as qualitatively as possible is an objective for me.
- What is the ultimate goal for GirlDreamer?
I think for GirlDreamer to be a staple name amongst millennial and gen Z women of colour dreamers. For example, when a young WoC is navigating life or navigating her dreams, I want them to think: GirlDreamer may know, or GirlDreamer should be able to support me with this. GirlDreamer is the go-to place for dreamers and we’re here to support that journey!
- What are you most proud of regarding GirlDreamer?
Making it to the five year mark!
What makes me so proud is that with GirlDreamer, we’re not just about quick service. You don’t just join a programme, and then it’s goodbye. For us, once you enter our virtual doors, we want you to make yourself at home and form strong bonds so we’re able to support you throughout your life and dream journey. So, I think those proud moments come to me when GirlDreamers write to us 5, 6, 7 years later, and they still remember us and the impact they felt from GirlDreamer.
Hearing back from the GirlDreamers when we are not expecting it and when they’re no longer involved directly with our work is incredible. Recently, a GirlDreamer who we mentored in 2015 wrote to me and said that she’s so thankful for us building the courage and belief in her to go off and chase her dreams. I think those messages and calls change my entire day. When I hear from GirlDreamer’s like that, I need to take some time to digest their messages because it’s so wholesome and overwhelming.
They grow and go off into the world with the tools that we give them, and they still think of GirlDreamer and being able to trace those moments that shaped the way they now think or live their life is incredible and makes me really proud.
- What are the best and worst things about being a Co-founder?
I think the best thing about being a Co-founder is that there is almost a duplicate of yourself. Whenever you need a second opinion or advice, it’s great because it is like having two versions of the same person, but with different skills and talents. Also, a lot of the time, we are very opposite in that if I don’t want to do a public talk, Kiran will want to and, so it works out in that way. That is the great thing about being co-founders, all of the things that I don’t enjoy or want to do, Kiran thrives in it and vice versa.
The worst thing about being a Co-founder for me is that as Kiran and I are best friends, we sometimes lose focus of our friendship. We were BFFs way before we started GirlDreamer, but now GirlDreamer takes most of our time and priority. While we see each other all of the time, the time we spend together is as colleagues and not as playful as we once were. This became boring and we set some better boundaries in place that now allow us to work separately and only talk about work during work hours. The rest is all fun and friendship again!
- GirlDreamer is five years old now. Where is the company today compared to how you imagined it five years ago?
If I am entirely candid, back when we started with the limited knowledge and mindset that I had, I thought it would be a success very quickly. Instagram and Twitter influenced this heavily and made it all seem much more straightforward than what it was. Holding these expectations left me disappointed, and I had to learn to stop comparing myself to the success people showed online.
I am very proud of where we are today. I don’t have that kind of regret in thinking we haven’t achieved what we initially wanted to. Because I know that we have done ‘it’ and we are meant to be here, even though we didn’t do it in the way ‘success’ typically looks like on Instagram, for example. We took our time and believed that good things in life take time as much as a cliche as it is; we understood this and committed to this. Patience has really been a teacher in this process.
- What was your mindset in developing and growing GirlDreamer in the past and has it changed?
My mindset has changed 100% and I think it came out of not having a business plan. Even though we always joke about it, not having a business plan as a foundation and staple meant that there was nothing solid to navigate towards and we suffered a lot mentally going in any direction opportunity presented itself in. We pulled it off though and worked solely from passion and drive and I think that was pretty cool. I love how we did everything in GirlDreamer non-traditionally and without following any guides. However, now I value those practical and formal pillars and ways of working in business that traditionally speaking, you should have in place before/as you start your venture. There is a lot to be learned from others and there is value in existing frameworks and structures that give you a sense of direction and understanding. The dream is forever alive, what has changed is our approach to achieving those big, wild dreams.
- How do you see GirlDreamer growing in the next few years?
I visualise holistic growth in that we are growing outwards and upwards, I imagine a spherical shape rotating and expanding. Our growth is with and in our community, it’s not just about ourselves, but facilitating and fulfilling the needs of our community.
- How do you ensure that what you are doing for GirlDreamer remains authentic and purpose-driven from the goals you set yourselves.
I think it’s by being authentic in ourselves. As young founders, we have to avoid getting caught up in the formalities of the business world. Prioritising our own authenticity helps maintain GirlDreamer’s authenticity. GirlDreamer is an extension of Kiran and me, and as we grow, the GirlDreamer community becomes part of that extension. For GirlDreamer to remain authentic to what the organisation promises to deliver, we have to remain authentic too because of how heavily involved we are in the organisation. GirlDreamer develops with our lived experience in mind, based on our interpretations and outlooks. Authenticity is crucial for us both.
- Do you believe that whatever route your path took you would be here today?
I think I didn’t want to go to university for a reason, it’s as though my future self was secretly guiding me towards pursuing GirlDreamer. I believe that our future selves nudged us to take this path, remain open-minded and do whatever it takes to get to where we are today. It was definitely in our kismat to be on this path.
- What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your professional career and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge in my career was that my family did not understand what I did as a ‘job’. It affected me a lot, and I didn’t know whether it was ignorance or a lack of acceptance or understanding but, it was a struggle. Especially in the early days, culturally speaking, trying to juggle developing an organisation with no tools or knowledge and living in a way that my family expected me to was extremely difficult.
I have got my entire family on board now, and I think they began to accept it more when they saw the success of GirlDreamer. Meeting Barack Obama, Meghan Markle and receiving invitations to do public talks helped them get on board and in a way validate that what I was pursuing was ‘worth it’.
I do feel that there is a lot to unpack with immigrant parents and families wanting their kids to do their best, but in a way that only they deem suitable. They are definitely on board now, and so it is a win for me and I’m grateful.
- Do you measure your success?
I would not say that I measure it, but I do keep an eye on it. It is not at the forefront, but it is definitely in my peripheral vision.
If I’m honest, my success is measured by how I feel. Measuring my success is knowing that even when I am feeling down and low, I remember my purpose and why I am here. I don’t consider how many awards I have won, or how many celebrities I have met, or even that I just made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list as a measure of success, and I declined all of the interview requests because I realised that I do not measure success by an accolade or an award. My measure of success does not come from what the world can determine as a success. But from how I feel about myself and how I grow as an individual.
- Do you believe that you experience regular periods of personal development and self-growth?
Yes, I am very aware of myself and in following my morning and evening rituals. I unpack and reflect on each day and set intentions for the next day to determine what I want to achieve, or even how I want to grow in that day and develop and change my mindset. I like growth to be present every day.
- What is your biggest personal accomplishment?
I think it would have to be not giving up on myself.
- What do you do when you are not working on GirlDreamer?
I recently invested in a personal trainer to give my body the attention that I want it to have. Having been so focused on GirlDreamer for the past few years, it has taken a toll on my body and I want to get back to being active. So, I have been training with her, and it has been very intense and challenging, but also a lot of fun! I recently got into reading this year even though I have never been into it, and I have a pile of books to get through. I love cooking, love travelling, and I love trying new things, be it an experience, food, culture or a new song. I love finding new things to enjoy.
- Do you log off regularly, and how?
Yes, I now log off very regularly. I never used to log off at all. I was a workaholic to the point that I lost a lot of my hair, sacrificed my health by working 20 hours a day and literally never sleeping. I think it was because of the toxic ‘hustle’ culture, which I was exposed to everywhere when I was starting up. Now, I log off every day and remind myself that GirlDreamer will still be there if I take a break. Physically and mentally, being able to log off has meant that I can find hobbies to enjoy, pursue fun and joyful things and take time for myself to make myself feel good. I want to feel joy in everything I do and so, to log off allows me to miss GirlDreamer and be excited to get back to it, rather than feeling stressed and rundown.
- What is one thing in your life that you have set as a non-negotiable
Anything that stops me from being ‘me’ is non-negotiable. If it interrupts me from being and living authentically, I can’t and generally won’t do it.
- What are some of your favourite meals to cook and to eat?
I like and appreciate most foods and cuisines, but a definite favourite would have to be anything Asian! The whole of Asia, East and South, both for cooking and eating.
- How do you practice self-care?
I think it’s by learning the language of my body, so I can actively listen to what my mind and body are telling me, which enables me to strengthen my intuition and senses. Listening to what my mind, body, and soul are telling me is a key to self-care for me. I like to learn about the body, mind and soul as a form of self-care so I’m better equipped and aware of my needs all of the time.
- What are some things that fill you with joy?
Definitely being out in nature, hot days filled with lots of sunshine, watching sunsets, travelling, experiencing new foods, cultures and going on spontaneous adventures brings me great joy. Other things such as art, music, and being active bring me joy, as well as having deep and genuine intellectual conversations lights my soul on fire and makes me so happy.
- Would 12-year-old you think that you are cool
She’d think I am a bad-ass!
- What is your favourite quality about yourself and why?
Hmm, I think my ability to connect to people is my favourite quality. When I meet people, I can relate to and understand them immediately and in a world where everything is becoming superficial, transactional and commercialised, I truly value my ability to connect to people and develop sincere relationships.
Amna is a testament to perseverance and growth in a place that questions your right to exist. We loved hearing her advice, opinions and insight into her experiences navigating the corporate world as a Woman of Colour with a dream!