AB talks… to JDEED | Anas Bukhash on how to be your unapologetic true self

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If first impressions matter, Anas Bukhash certainly knows how to make a good one. Perfectly on time to our shooting location, exuding good vibes, he sets the tone for what would be a fun afternoon getting to know him better.
A “serial entrepreneur” as he describes himself, Bukhash accumulates successes from hosting AB Talks, his confessional-like talk show where celebrities tell all, co-owning Bukhash Brothers, a digital marketing and PR company and Chalk, Dubai’s coolest hair salon, nestled in Alserkal Avenue.
With a community of over 400.000 on Instagram, multi-talented Bukhash knows the power of his influence. “Addressing the elephant in the room” as he told us, is what he does best, encouraging thousands of people on the way to acknowledge, understand, feel better, do better.
That day, some Reggaeton music is blasting in Mashael Alsaie’s studio, a young Bahraini photographer who catches the moment like no other and doing so on Flick, the genius disposable cameras launched by Muhammad Murad. The atmosphere is laid back, Bukhash poses like it’s second nature, our talk goes smoothly like we’ve know each other for a while; Above all his successful ventures, we pinpointed the real magic of Anas:  Being himself, unapologetically.

Interview and fashion direction/Cynthia Jreige
Photographer/Mashael Alsaie using FLICK by Muhammad Murad
Grooming/ Omar Ahmed for Chalk
PR & Communication/Dima Ayad Consultancy

Bomber & shorts/Valentino

What would you say is the most provocative thing you’ve done?

Just being myself. I think being true to yourself sometimes highlights your uniqueness as a person. Another provocative thing is that I discuss topics that need to be discussed; everybody is talking about it but at the same time nobody really is, which is weird. People would think about them, but nobody thinks “I need to address this” or “I need to have a conversation with my kids” or with their partner. But I will personally always point at the elephant in the room. And to question. I think it’s extremely important to question why we do things, why we think a certain way. We were blessed with brains and I assume they should be utilized and we should use them to ponder “is this tradition good or not?” “is this way of doing good or not?” “is this way of fixing a chair the right way or is there a faster way?”
I think it’s the simple things like that; once you put them on the table and people have that kind of conversations, it opens eyes and you can then decide “no I don’t want to change” or listen to the other option and believe it’s a better way for you. Otherwise you just have one way.

Would you say you overthink sometimes? Do you think people might think you look into things too much?

I’m detailed. A few days ago I said I’m not an overthinker and my brothers looked at me and they were like “mmmmmh, no. You are.” But overthinking is not a stress to me, it doesn’t give me anxiety; I enjoy the questioning, I enjoy thinking of little things and I think that’s why my “AB Questions” before “AB Talks” were popular because I never brought something new to the table. I brought something that we all experienced but nobody made me sit down and said “let’s talk about this”. So people related.

Full Look/Dior

Why do you think people are so reluctant to address, as you said, the elephant in the room?  What do you think holds us back?

I think the first challenge is human nature who wants to be inclusive. You don’t want to be the odd one, you don’t want to be the black sheep. People genetically like to be part of a clan or part of a group, which we all need. There’s a beautiful Arabic saying that I always say “Jenna doun nass ma tendas” which means “even heaven without people is not worth stepping into”. You want to be part of a group and want people to understand you but that’s where people might overdo that. You could be sitting with all your friends who say “This movie is amazing” and then they look at you saying “It was really amazing right?” and even if you don’t think so, you kind of feel like saying it was. It takes a bit of guts to say “actually no.” Most people would say “yes, I really enjoyed it too.”  But then we can agree to disagree. I always associate honesty to courage because to be honest you have to be brave and you have to accept that people might not like what you say or include you in their little clique, because you think differently. And it’s fine! You’ll reach a point when you know some people like you and some people won’t. Once you’re at peace with them not liking you, then you’ll flourish more.

It’s definitely a stage that I’d love to reach.

All of us!

“I always associate honesty to courage because to be honest you have to be brave and you have to accept that people might not like what you say.”

I tend to be too much of a people pleaser.

We’re brought up like that as Arabs, much more than in the Western world because we’re used to being told literally from our earliest age “habibi don’t do this, your aunty will be upset” “this is 3ayb”, “this is wrong”, “what will your father’s friend say” so we have this over cautiousness to just be ourselves because we want to please every single person in our community, society, country. A westerner has a very different upbringing than an Arab. We’re bound to overthink. Are we expected to be unique? No. Are we encouraged to voice our opinions? It’s rare.

Full Look/Valentino

Growing up I was the only Middle Eastern in my community, physically different, just oddly standing out and it always encouraged me to think in a different way and this is probably why today we’re trying to do things differently at JDEED today. Is there a specific moment that helped you break these molds or is it something innate and you just felt that you were the one who was going to address those problems and do things a bit differently?

I wouldn’t say there was a certain moment or experience that made me suddenly switch. A lot of my way of thinking is influenced by my mother. She’s extremely open-minded and non-judgmental which makes you look at life with its colors and its differences. A lot of my life education came from her. At the same time, we’re extremely different people, it’s funny. The values are very similar of course. Then I would say me experiencing the typical route of going through corporation and corporate jobs and trying to be typical and then learning that this is not me; it’s so important to learn what you’re not, what you don’t like, sometimes more than what you like. Because you don’t always know what you like or what your passion is but you know what you don’t want to do, what food you don’t like, what countries you didn’t enjoy.
I think that going through a typical career path made me wonder “what is the difference between going to the office at 8am or 8:03?” and why am I getting a verbal notice although I work hard? A lot of these things started playing in my mind “why, why, why” and that’s how I did AB Questions.  When I click on the questions it goes way back! I don’t realize how far it goes.  

AB talks in on now a Youtube show. Would you say that all these human connections that are now so focused on being online is something that scares you? Because I have a feeling you’re all about talking to people, getting to meet them in person…Do you think that social media is bringing us together or driving us apart?

I think social media is a double-edge sword but I think it’s a tool. I don’t like when people blame social media. Blame yourself. If you don’t know how to control yourself, you have a problem. You don’t know how to moderate or manage? You have a problem. Stop blaming everything and everyone. “Oh this guy made me smoke.” No, you smoked. This guy made me stay out late. » No, you stayed out late.  I think we need to be accountable for our actions and it goes down to social media. Social Media is a tool, I can connect with everybody and know what everyone is up to. I met so many people I would have never ever met in my life on social media. I hope and know my content is helping a lot of people that I will probably never see  but because they have access to the internet, they can watch a video with a guest that they relate to. But you can’t be on your phone 8 hours a day, then have lunch with me and be on your phone that’s extremely disrespectful, it’s like I’m not with you.  Look now I don’t look at my phone, i’m sitting with you, I have no notifications, they’re all switched off. But that’s my way to moderate. I use it as a tool, I don’t let it use me.
Some people say they go on a social media « detox » for 3 weeks and then they go back crazier, so I’m thinking, what did they do ?  They detoxed, yeah ok, you had a spiritual moment but then what ? I think social media is here to stay. Your phone is extremely valuable, your life is on it, your passport copy is on it, your credit card. Just learn how to use it.

Full Look/Dior ; Chair/Local Industries at The Third Line Gallery

So you have AB talks, you also have a hair salon Chalk, your run a Digital Marketing and PR company, you do so many things : were you always an entrepreneur at heart and how do you deal with running all of these things at once ?

I had a panel discussion recently and they asked if being an entrepreneur is something you’re born with. I would say maybe the seed you’re born with, I’m not sure, nature versus nurture dilemma, but I do think that the fact that I question things has a direct correlation with being an entrepreneur because, if I didn’t have a problem with how the corporate world or eduction is ran, I wouldn’t care so much or be passionate so much about doing it my way. But the fact that I question and I want to have a certain work style, I think that’s entrepreneurial. But am not just that. I’m a serial entrepreneur. Every time I do something and it succeeds and it’s sustainable, I want to do something else.

Your heart doesn’t belong specifically to one of your businesses ?

The main thing today is Bukhash Brothers but what I’m most passionate about now is AB talks, absolutely. But to answer your question on how to manage all of these businesses, in the beginning you really have to do everything. And that’s what people don’t understand. They like the idea of being an entrepreneur but they don’t realize how annoying and difficult it can be. They say, I believe, that an entrepreneur should be able to work 80 hours per week compared to a 40 hours normal job. And it’s a fact. I can send messages at 3, 4 AM. Your brain is not stopping. You’re doing procurement, you’re doing finance, you’re doing marketing, you’re doing content. It’s not for everyone. And I have family members like my dad or my brother who are great corporate guys and it’s ok, that’s them. I’m not. And I need to get credit to my team. If you build a good team,you can breathe and know things still run where you’re not there. This is why I’m sitting with you now. I’m not worried, i know my company is in good hands. But it takes time. Building a team is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

“A westerner has a very different upbringing than an Arab. We’re bound to overthink. Are we expected to be unique? No. Are we encouraged to voice our opinions? It’s rare.”

You said people in your family are corporate people ; Are you afraid to be misunderstood or you don’t care?

I know I’m misunderstood and I accept it. Anything that’s different can be misunderstood. So people after they meet me tell me « oh you’re not arrogant, you’re actually very nice and funny. » Because they built so many presumptions and prejudice ; but I can’t blame them. It’s what you see online, it’s how you’re feeling at a certain moment, it’s a perception of someone dressed in a certain way or your perception of an Arab simply and that’s fine. I’m at peace with being misunderstood I think.

Full Look/Dior

You said your mum is not judgmental and I think that’s one of the hardest thing to be in life.

For an Arab mom especially.

Yes, I imagine !

I think that is one of the big reason why I’m confident and I express myself. I look back at my childhood pictures and I’m like « what the hell is happening there ? » like how did she let me leave the house looking like that ? (laughs) but I think that was such a nice thing she did ; she’d ask me if I was happy with what I was wearing, I’d say yes and she’d tell me « Ok mama you can go ».
And I think the more you do that, the more you encourage your kid to be happy with himself, you turn them into a confident grown-up. It’s important to not break your kid’s ego and confidence. I had a moment with my son recently ; I asked him « baba what do you want to be when you grow up ? » and he said « maybe a carpenter » and my first impulse reaction would have been « A carpenter ?! » but I stopped myself and I didn’t say that. Instead I told him « well be the best carpenter. » And that’s where I fought myself because I could have said « carpenter ?? what do you mean ? » But maybe he will be a great carpenter. Maybe he will be an artist. And maybe he will change his mind in half an hour. But I didn’t wanna break his answer.
People need to know that whatever suits them can’t be enforced on someone else to suit them too. If you like something it doesn’t mean everyone should too. A lot of people are guilty of that. I think parents usually tend to tell their kids to be what they themselves think is good. Tell them to be lawyers or doctors, but no. That’s their wishes. Not their kid’s. The point that you made with a mother’s confidence is valid ; apparently the first 6 years of your life determine the next 30.

I read that you wanted to be regarded as the best interviewers. What makes a good interviewer to you ?

Arguably, the best (laugh.) A good interviewer listens, he doesn’t just hear. And I taught myself to listen. Before AB talks, I never really thought I was a good listener. I’m a speaker, AB Talks is me speaking and asking questions. I do TedEx talks, I do lectures, I speak. I never knew I was a good listener until I got into AB Talks and the first few chapters I read some comments that’d say « Anas why are you interrupting ? » « Why don’t you let them finish ? » And I knew while doing these chapters that I wanted to be a bit pushy ; I wanted to be that kind of interview that asks « but why ? tell me more ! » So I used to do that and then read the comments and, trust me, sometimes we shouldn’t completely ignore comments. Some of them are valid and they’re free auditing. So I started wondering if they had a point and I realized I was interrupting. I wondered then if my guests were getting turned off by that and wouldn’t want to answer me anymore. And like anything in my life, when I put something in my mind, God will help me surpass anything that stands in my way. In my mind I thought, I’m going to be the best listener. Everybody will think  « this guy is a great listener » because I’ll work on being the best listener.
After a few chapters of AB Talks, when you read the comments, they changed to « May God give us the patience of Anas » And I proved to myself that I could be the best listener…or one of the best ! To answer you, i think, listening and not judging. And people say they don’t judge but you can feel it. The way someone looks at you when you say something shocking, you can tell. It’s so important to not judge and just listen.

It’s also important to just let the conversation flows and not being too focused on your questions.

I don’t take notes with me. I made a point of not taking notes, not taking an Ipad, and I don’t memorize. I do a mind map and research the person the night before, watch videos, read, check their social media, I’ll try to read between the lines , I’ll write down questions that are part of my mind map, where I want to go from the beginning, all the way until the end and then on the way to the interview I’ll read them once, close the phone and give it to the team.  I have a direction and specific questions however, it allows me to listen more to not have to look at my notes. By listening sometimes I get a completely new piece of information that I build up on.

How do you want people to remember you ?

I want to have a legacy. And the legacy shouldn’t be about me, it should be bigger than me. « This is the guy that did the episode that made me feel better about myself ». If it’s bigger than me, it will live longer. It’s not just about me and my stupid glory. How many people are you influencing in a good way ? Are you giving content that has meaning ? Are you making people smile ? Are you making people feel like they’re not alone ?
I’m enjoying the process and I want to impact people positively.

You are a philanthropist and it sounds like you’re almost doing this more for others than yourself at the end of the day.

I do it for both. If we take a charity example, you’re doing good and helping the charity but you will also feel great yourself because you made a child smile. We do everything in life for selfish reasons and selfless reasons. The goal is that the selfless side takes a bigger part. Then you’re a good person.

Follow Anas on Intagram and get to know him better, right here!