'There's power in intentionally being bored': Naureen Alam

There’s power in intentionally being bored: How engineer Naureen Alam leverages it

An engineer, senior leader, NFP founder and soon to be author, Naureen Alam still finds time to intentionally get bored.

When I call Naureen Alam on a Monday morning at 10am, she’d already been up for about five hours. 

“I went to the gym at 4:30 and then did my emails at 6:30,” she tells me.

“Is this a typical morning for you?” I ask.

Not always, she tells me. Her partner’s parents are visiting Brisbane, and she wants to spend time with them later today. I think about Michelle Obama and her before-dawn gym sessions.

“All the most inspiring and productive leaders in history are morning people,” I say.

“I just love the morning,” Alam tells me. “I get excited about things and that spurs me on.”

No wonder this engineer and entrepreneurial extraordinaire is getting things done. It’s been a few weeks now since she took out the WALA Emerging Leader in Tech Award, where she said during her acceptance speech that her purpose in life was to support other women in believing in themselves.

“This is such a big deal,” she said. “The journey here as a female engineer and woman of colour, the only thing that matters is to believe in yourself. And if you can’t believe in yourself, then tell someone. You will be amazed at the response you’ll get. If you can’t believe in yourself, then go out and tell someone else what you can see that they can’t.”

Alam is the Senior Manager, Future Business and Technology at AGL, a role she’s had since July 2020. She is responsible for bringing together power generation sites across the company’s portfolio and uniting data scientists and machine learning engineers to deliver user-centric solutions.

“Day to day – there’s lots of collaboration on “what’s possible” and using Design Thinking to turn that into a reality,” Alam says. “My favourite part of the job is listening to different people on-site and deeply understanding the systemic nature of problems – then working together as a team to solve the issue.” 

Alam has always been constant-learner and a constant knowledge seeker. She’d often learn new things through reading, and doing things herself. This self-resourceful initiative and intuition has clearly served her well into her adulthood. 

“Throughout my career, I’ve had several roles where sometimes I’d go to work and not be able to understand why I felt disrespected and undervalued,” she explains to me. I wasn’t bullied and people were nice, but there was something not right. I felt it in my gut. I’m a pretty curious person. I came across the concept of psychological safety by reading and researching online. I could now put a name to what I felt was lacking.”

Alam’s compulsion to find solutions to her pondering led her to create her own non-for-profit “Great but How”. The educational non-for-profit translates great concepts to action for gender equality & diversity inclusion – an area she is particularly passionate about.

“There is a need for accessible quality educational material that helps people take action in their everyday lives,” she says. “Great but How” is a free and accessible “how to” guide that empowers people.” 

The young founder is also penning her own book — a cross between self-help and scientific organisational skills.

“I’m really inspired by people like Malcom Gladwell and Brené Brown,” she says. “Those with a scientific background but who speak about vulnerability and focus on values.”

“My book is about how to identify and use your values to solve the greatest problems facing people and the world today,” she adds. “Chatting to people from all walks of life – I’ve noticed a common & recurring issue. There’s a lot of people feeling lost. Feeling as though they ‘should’ be doing something more with their lives. This is compounded by social media and even referenced to as ‘quarter-life’ or ‘mid-life’ crisis (depending on your age). The common thread is that people are trying to make challenging decisions.”

“I found being able to identify your values and using them as a compass can help people navigate hard decisions,” she says. “But what about hard decisions outside our personal lives? How do we tackle climate change? How do we improve gender quality? How do we solve these complex issues?”

With all this, it’s hard to see how Alam has any time to spare. And yet she carves out at least one day each week to “do nothing”.

“I now spend one day a week doing nothing,” she says. “I stay home and recharge as an ultimate homebody with my 5 month labradoodle puppy, Molly.  I watch comedy (like Ali Wong, Rick & Morty and classics like Brooklyn 99). I chill out and fight the impulse to fill my day. I allow myself to be bored so that I’ve got time and space to think. (or not think!)”

In our capitalist, productivity-driven world, it might be useful for us to take on Alam’s advice. Get bored. Give yourself space to think freely. 

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