What I Know For Sure

I'll be another year older soon. I've never written a blog around my birthday, but given how eventful the past year has been, I feel the need to. And when I say eventful, I mean this in a positive way! While it has also been emotionally challenging, and on some days it continues to be, I've learned an incredible amount about myself, who my circle of friends truly are, and of course, about marriage. And these lessons have been absolutely priceless.

Over the past month, I've been feeling much more confident than I have been over the past year. As I've blogged and posted on Facebook recently, confidence is something I've struggled with. And who hasn't? But recently, I'm starting to feel like myself again, but in a new re-invented way. I'm learning things about myself that I didn't know before.

One of the biggest discoveries I've made is how experiencing the small things in life makes me immensely happy. It ranges from random conversations with people who live in my apartment building; to seeing couples out and about and seeing how their love is mutually shared; to the time spent with friends, even those I rarely see or talk with; to seeing a friend's name pop up on my phone when they call or text message; to seeing little kids skip happily in a mall while their parents keep out a watchful eye; to feeling the sun on my face when I'm outdoors. Life is made up of an infinite number of these small moments, moments that many people (including myself) would have taken for granted. But they're so precious in and of themselves. And not only because there are people who yearn for what we are blessed to have, but also because those random conversations and people we see when we're out, we may never have another chance to speak with or see them again. Life is incredibly fleeting and seems to be moving faster than it used to. We may think that we'll get another moment or another chance, but in some cases, we won't.

My ex-husband and I didn't share many small moments together. I think it's because these moments require a strong emotional connection, and he wasn't comfortable with that. Perhaps it made him realize that we didn't really have a connection, and whereas I was willing to work on that, he was not. All that mattered to me was simply our presence together. I'm not in the least high maintenance, yet to him, I think having to be emotionally attuned to me was high maintenance. Moving forward, I'll always maintain that in relationships, simple moments are the best ones.

And with life overall, this holds true for me now.

Oprah Winfrey has made a lot of money saying that she knows a few things for sure. And so do I! Here's a rundown of the things I know for sure at the almost-age of 33:

1. It's not your experiences that define you - it's what you take away from them that do.

I'm a divorcee, but I'm not jaded about marriage. I'm not bitter towards all men and think that marriage isn't for me. I can separate what I've been through from my perspective on it. I think the best thing you can do is take away what you need to (mistakes, triumphs, areas for improvement) instead of generalizing your past experiences to future ones. It can be easier said than done, but I really do believe that those who can "let go" will make faster and further gains in their healing. I see people who haven't reflected on their being hurt in the past, and they seem stuck where they once were years ago. It's hard work to get through this, but it's worth it.

2. Don't be afraid to speak up, even in the face of adversity.

My job has taught me a lot, but if anything, working in this community has taught me to be assertive. I've been called a liar, trouble-maker, and all sorts of other interesting names...yet I don't and won't back down. Even if I'm seen as naive for believing in social justice, since so much of what I fight for is for others, this doesn't bother me. If you strongly believe in something and have the information and skills you need to back yourself up, then don't back down. It pays to have a backbone and God will also inshallah be on your side if your intentions are genuine.

3. Spend time to build self-awareness and empathy.

There's nothing more bothersome than seeing 30-something year olds lack self-awareness and empathy. I call this selfishness. It's when all of their conversations and stories revolve around them; when they demand attention by being consistently loud and demanding in social situations, pretty much hijacking all the conversations; when they refuse to see past their own needs and opinions; and so on. Self-awareness not only refers to how and what you're feeling and thinking, but it extends to the impact you have on others. This is also known as empathy. And too many people lack it. Both self-awareness and empathy are not skills that we are born with, they are learned. Unless we use them, we'll lose them.

4. Don't settle and don't give less than your best.

It's incredibly important that we have high standards for what we accept into our lives, and the standard by which we give effort to what we care about. Having high standards does not mean that we have to be arrogant - it means that you know what your boundaries are for acceptable behaviour and you're not willing compromise. The same must be said about the endeavours we choose to partake in. If we're not willing to give them everything we have, this says something about how committed and invested we really are. And more scarily, what are we willing to give more time and attention to?

5. Be human - it's OK to be vulnerable.

In the age of social media, we're forced to show our best sides and best sides only. Not many people are willing to share their struggles, which I think is unfortunate. Even if we don't share our struggles on social media, we should be able to share them with those we are close to. If our friends can't be the support we need, then turn to professional help. But the first step in all of this is admitting "that you need help". It sounds cliche, but it's true. And it's a lot harder than it sounds. But the danger of not dealing with our struggles is even worse: too many people stuff down how they're feeling or use less than healthy methods (i.e. not solely substances, but indulging in work and everything else to keep busy and prove to themselves that they're "OK") to try and deal with their "stuff".

6. Surround yourself with positive people who share similar values.

I've always been the type of person who prefers to have fewer, yet closer friends. I'm not a social butterfly in the least and find it awkward to maintain superficial friendships. I don't have a poker face, remember?! I've recently discovered that my personality type is "INFJ", and socially, I'm somewhat of an introvert in larger settings. The older I've become, the more selective I've been with who I spend my time with. We all need to be surrounded by positive friends who accept us for who we are and share similar values. As a close friend recently reminded me that we don't need people providing critical feedback when we're sharing our stories and being incredibly vulnerable.

7. Be honest, open and real.

It astounds me to see people act in a way that is deceiving and misrepresentative of who they are. I've seen this in friendships, the work place, and within relationships. Whatever happened to honesty? So many people lack this trait and resort to passive-aggressive tendencies, flat out lying with how they communicate, and/or pretending to be something that they're not. Or they'll say what they think others wants to hear. I think that part of the problem is that people cannot be true to themselves, and they therefore have a hard time being honest with others. It takes guts to shed your armour and be real with another person, but if you can set that precedence in your personal and professional relationships, then you will also receive honesty from those you interact with. We attract what we are.

8. Learn when to say no.

I'm still working on this one and it's harder than I thought. This applies to me more in the workplace, but it absolutely has a place in relationships. Setting healthy boundaries can only be done by using the word "no". In a society that values quantity over quality, this can be challenging. But we're not superheroes and we are not expected to be people pleasers - yet we continue to be doormats because we're afraid of hurting people's feelings or how we may appear to them. But saying "no" is empowering and is the definition of self-respect. We need to stop thinking about what others may think and do what's best for us.

9. Be there for others.

One of the hallmarks of a good person is someone who is willing to give unconditionally to those they care about. It's not about keeping tabs of what someone has done for you, so that you're able to only give that amount back. We all have battles we're fighting, among our peer group and strangers we may come across in our lives. Taking a few minutes to show compassion and empathy, if not only a smile and "hello", CAN go a long way. Both towards those we know and those we do not.

10. Do what makes you happy.

This sounds oh-so-cliche as well, but unhappiness can have serious health consequences, both mentally and physically. I cannot imagine waking up to go to a job I didn't love. I'd be miserable! Self-reflection skills can help guide us to where we really want and need to be. Sometimes there are signs along the way, guiding you to where you belong. In some cases, you'll need to try things out and carve your own path. In either case, focusing on your passions and playing to your strengths can't take you down the wrong path!

Overall, I've come to realize that life as an adult is much more complicated than the view of adulthood I held as a child. Isn't this always the case?! We never fully understand or appreciate a situation until we are in it ourselves. And yet we have to remember that we are blessed with so much, and often, much more than what the majority of people have.

So in essence, number one should have been "Express gratitude each and every day".

But I'm getting older and don't have the energy to go back and add this in ;-) I'm sure you'll figure out what gratitude means!

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