Mariam is a young, Pakistani, Muslim Australian businesswoman, but she hasn’t always been identified that way. Here’s how Mariam fought against the odds, followed her passions, and found her place in regional New South Wales.
I was born in Wagga Wagga in 1999, a (then) small city of about 40,000 people. My parents are from Pakistan, immigrants who came here as skilled migrants and contributed to the economy while also raising five children. But for some odd reason, even after being born in Wagga, I didn’t feel ‘Australian’ enough.
I went through a tough schooling period with low social interaction, got implicitly reminded about how different I was for not wearing short skirts like the rest of the girls—as I was Muslim—and how I must be a smart girl because I’m brown and wear glasses.
I knew I was creative. But creativity meant something like a hobby back then. And sometimes, it still does. I got my first Australian Business Number when I was 16 years old and started my photography business. I learned about business, interactions, hardship, deceit, invoices and taxes. The kinds of things that most jobs don’t teach you at 16. But as I said, it was just a hobby in the eyes of my parents and family.
To everyone’s surprise, I failed my Higher School Certificate, badly. An ATAR of 57 made me cry and feel like an even bigger failure than I thought I was. Now that I look back, I realise the schooling system doesn’t cater for minds that like to think outside of the box. Instead, it focuses on those that can stay within the lines of the syllabus.
But hey, thank god for early entry into a course you don’t even care about, right? At least my parents wouldn’t be totally embarrassed with my choice of career. I studied a Bachelor of Accounting for one year and it didn’t take me long to realise that this wasn’t my calling. I mean, I didn’t even do maths in Year 12 so why was I following the cycle of getting a big sexy HECS debt?
My parents and I were in Pakistan for a holiday. We sat at the top level of a restaurant for lunch that overlooked Lahore city. “Mum, Dad, I cancelled my uni course.”
At first, they thought I was joking. But they soon realised I really wasn’t.
I don’t know what came over me the night that I cancelled my course. For once I didn’t actually care about what anyone else would think, because I truly knew that I wasn’t happy. I was down in the dumps because I didn’t know what I wanted, I didn’t love who I was and, most importantly, I didn’t value myself. I stopped my self-pity and took control of my future. Because frankly, no one else would.
I had a whole year of going full-time with my photography. I travelled, I marketed, and I was under the pump. Getting business in a saturated market in a town like Wagga Wagga was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I persisted.
My brother was a huge driving force for my persistence. He reminded through long deep-and-meaningfuls to stop feeling sorry for myself because no one could get me out of my rut other than me. It seems harsh, but it was reality. I stopped putting my hope in others to make change for me. Fast forward two years and I now run a successful branding agency in Wagga Wagga that services brands worldwide.
Many people told me that this town had no hope. That it would always remain the same and it’s going to be hard to find big projects. But who was going to change that? Was I going to complain and leave it to someone else with more money to decide the future of my home town? If I want change, I’ll be the one to start the chain reaction.
The respect, love and experiences I have gained from this town has been second to none. I get invited to speak at schools, events and community workshops to share my story. I never in a million years would have thought that I, Mariam Rehman, would have an inspiring story. That story only became inspiring when I decided to take control of my future.
Throughout this process of finding, questioning and doubting, I began to know who I was. I am a 20-year-old Pakistani, Muslim Australian businesswoman who wants to spark curiosity in the minds of people so that they can push the limits and create change in whatever career path they choose.
I hope to continue the growth in my town of Wagga and allow young creatives in the tech and creative fields to have the opportunities that I had to seize myself.