When the COVID-19 pandemic began and I started working from home, I bought into the uproar on social media about having more free time. My first, and perhaps only, resolution for this “extra time” was to read more books, and, in line with everyone’s suggestions about learning new skills and working on one’s own self, I thought I’d try and get two birds with one stone.

As it so happened, I came across this new book on social media: “Dare to Be You — Pakistan’s First English Self-Development Book” by Shahzad Malik. I was very intrigued and immediately went to the website and ordered it. The book arrived a couple of days later and honestly, I was blown away when I took it out of the packaging. It looked better up close than it did in the pictures. The cover design is beautiful — it’s very minimalistic and, quite like the book itself, it’s not in-your-face. It’s powerful in its subtlety.

It didn’t take me very long to finish the book once I started it. It’s not very long but, more importantly, once I started, I was hooked! I didn’t want to put it down. In fairness, I had not expected this when I bought the book or picked it up. I’m very wary of self-help books generally because they always feel very preachy to me. “You’re living life all wrong, and you must do x, y, and z if you want to be successful.” It almost always leaves a very bittersweet taste in my mouth. But, luckily, “Dare to Be You” isn’t like that at all! It’s very real and very candid. Like the author’s sitting right there talking to you. Like a conversation between friends.


I mean, of course, it is a self-development book, so of course, it’s going to include certain preferred acts and traits. But when I say the book is very real I mean that the author isn’t minimising what you’re going through. He seems to be well-aware of it. And when he talks to you, it feels like he’s talking to you as someone who has been through the things you’re currently going through, has managed to come out on “the other side”, and is now reaching back trying to pull you there too. I’m not one to take everything at face value, so I was a bit skeptical of whether the author actually “made it” and a few Google searches showed me he really had. And after reading the (deeply personal) incidents he’s narrated in the book and how he navigated through them, I really have a new-found respect for him.

“Dare to Be You” is built around one central idea that resonates throughout the book; all of us have the potential to be better and to do better, and we owe it to ourselves to try until we get to where we want to be. In certain places, the book definitely adopts a tough-love attitude, where it actively engages with the excuses we sometimes buy into. But the tough love is fair game, and, honestly? It really helps. Because it really makes you face what you’re running away from, while also guiding you to the support and confidence you need to win (think of the coach in any famous boxing movie pumping up the boxer before the big fight).

The book discusses a number of topics, all the way from overthinking to fear to finding one’s passion. It addresses the idea of mindfulness, of allowing ourselves to listen to our emotions rather than let ourselves be overwhelmed by our thoughts and the discouraging voices in our heads. This idea also flows through the book, and we are reacquainted with it at various points along the way, helping to really ground it in the reader’s mind. And in anxious times such as these, this has been game-changing. The book also lets readers explore how we can change our default way of approaching situations, by allowing for greater awareness of our internal frameworks. For instance, it allows us to explore the fears we carry, that hold us back, and lead to us minimising ourselves. This, in turn, allows us to see them for what they really are and shed them off, taking away their power over us so that we are not perpetually afraid and encumbered.

One of my key take-aways from the book has to be from the chapter on happiness. To quote from the book:

“I had become scared of feeling happy because I thought good things didn’t last. Think about it. It seems so simple when I write it down, but it was such a profound realization for me – that I could be afraid of happiness. That I could be afraid of something beautiful, simply because I was afraid I would lose it.

The book really invites readers to give themselves a real, honest chance at happiness — both in the small everyday joys and as a mindset — that can become the basis for a more content and resilient life. And once you’re no longer afraid of happiness, the journey to discover your passion becomes a lot clearer (the book helps prevent the associated overwhelm by providing a structure to navigate your journey).

It’s been nearly a fortnight since I finished the book. And over the past two weeks, I’ve found myself thinking back to the book, and even picking it up to re-read certain parts of it. For a relatively light read, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how it has stayed with me (almost on a subconscious level), allowing me to already start changing some of my habits that have just always been there. I find myself taking down my internal barriers one by one, and actively trying to do away with the voice inside my head that’s always more-than-happy to tell me I’m not good enough.

Granted, I haven’t yet achieved everything I wanted to and I haven’t arrived at the pinnacle of my life’s work. But “Dare to Be You” has certainly allowed me to start walking down the path I’ve been avoiding for a very long time. The path to a self-aware, authentic and meaningful life.