Our contributor Sehrish Malik writes on chasing dreams, the power of belief in shaping life and careers and the unexpected new avenues those twisting paths lead to.

When I was three, my father used to lift me up on his shoulders so that I could see beyond our backyard’s wall, where a duck used to visit almost daily with its little cluster of babies making all kinds of “quaky-ducky sounds”. That little episode every afternoon used to be the highlight of my day, and then I would spend the rest of the evening making plans with my father of how one day we’ll make a little pool in our front lawn and get a few ducks. My dad would always humour me by making me believe in the possibility of having my own little animal sanctuary one day.

Over the years as life kicked in, my dreams of opening a sanctuary were jaded by much more practical plans and responsibilities. I don’t know exactly when, but one day I ended up in front of a computer screen with headphone on, listening to people unload their daily frustrations on me – Yes, I was a Customer Services Representative for a telecommunication company. With an obviously fake-smile and good-humoured tone, I’d count hours till the end of my shift. It was no wonder then that when I was offered a job in Content Writing, it seemed like a dream come true. I quit the godforsaken job where I had to act as a virtual punch bag for more than 200+ people on daily basis.

I believed that in this new job I would actually be allowed to use my creativity (oh that poor, naive girl that was me) I could utilize one of my passions and skills: Writing! And on top of that, I had a chair that spun! I could sit and write in my own speed and put earplugs in my ears, ignore the world, and actually be appreciated for doing that. Stuff that an introvert’s dreams are made of, eh?

That passion faded away within a year.

Soon that poor, simple girl with hopes and creative dreams found out that no job allowed you to really be yourself. Slowly and steadily I started feeling the “creativity” escape my mind. I was writing scripted, dead-toned articles stuffed with keywords, like a burger with too much ketchup spilling from sides.

Waking up at 7am every morning and traveling through the traffic of Lahore to the office in DHA became an effort. I lost interest in the spinning chair and the basement of my office started haunting me with claustrophobic thoughts – I clearly wasn’t happy, but what else would a person of my abilities do? A girl has to do what she has to do…  In order to keep my sanity, I started working on different failed side projects, one of them being my own animal rights blog, highlighting the animal cruelty that goes on within Pakistan. Turned out the load of my work life was too much to allow me to be creative after work hours. Perhaps the only thing that kept me slightly sane was the fact that I got to paint something every few weekends.

Days, weeks, months and eventually year passed by and I was unhappy. I was taking every first opportunity I found to bunk office. It really hit me that this is not the career for me when HR, concerned, asked me one day of why my days off keep exceeding my annual leaves quota- I knew then that I had to quit now before I became a monotone zombie with no dreams. My husband being super happy in his high-tech job wasn’t making things any easier…

As luck would have it, the same year I finally quit my job, in which I was by now promoted to the position of an Editor, I got a chance to move to London, the city of artists.

I still consider the day I hit send on that resignation email as my Independence Day.

Here was a chance to start all over again – find my passion and make my life in it. First six months in the new city were too overwhelming. I started applying for different internships, took up a few writing courses trying to find my calling – and that’s when I got an email from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, that they were interested in my volunteering application for Supporter Services Volunteer. Here was my chance to be your regular supporters’ virtual punch bag again, but this time I’d be doing it for something I felt deeply for: Animal Welfare. Going to this place twice every week, I got a whole hour to go up to dogs and cats, socialise with them and love and adore them. That’s when it hit me that this is the life for me. Soon going to volunteer every week had become something I was actually always looking forward to.

Six months later, I switched my volunteering post to Cattery Support, and the passion had still not worn out. In my new position I could spend my whole shift with animals – I also started applying for roles in Animal Care. However, I knew that this wouldn’t be easy. I would need certifications and experience before I was hired as anybody in this brand-new field. I started working as an animal-carer and dog walker with different companies to keep the money coming and gaining more animal related experience (and to, selfishly, spend more time with animals). I soon realised that I could deal with people better when there was an animal somewhere in the picture-

Waking up at 7am every day was not an effort anymore, and when I knew there was a furry four-legged friend waiting for me to be with them, it was worth every lost minute/hour of sleep.

To this day, I am volunteering and working as a Dog Walker. I continue to take up certifications. It’s hard, it’s been more than a year since I’ve started trying to be something in this career, and still haven’t got anywhere. Sometimes the struggle (of trying and finding financial footing) becomes overwhelming, but the idea of doing something that makes me happy and warm within my heart keeps me going. Now I have to walk miles daily, walk dogs, and then take care of pets at peoples’ homes, and volunteer with different animal-welfare organisations. My job doesn’t offer me the luxury of spinning chairs and four walls, I have to be on my foot, I have to travel hours daily and brave every grey weather of London – but every hour of this life is far less tiring, emotionally and physically, than sitting in an office typing and proofreading my days away.

I now know what I want – and it is to one day when I have enough knowledge and finances, to return to Pakistan and open my own little animal sanctuary, because that’s where animals need me the most.

The journey is long, but I know I’ll eventually get there if I keep going.

Here’s the thing, if you find something you actually love, grab it, love it, dream it and even let it kill you, but never let it go.