“Wow! The craziest things always happen to you, don’t they?” She shakes her head, as if I purposely run after the crazy moments that fill my life.
“Yeah, SubhanAllah. I’m just always surrounded by…” I try to think of the right word to describe what I have thought were normal occurrences.
“Adventure. No wonder you’re a writer. You always have a story to tell.” She laughs.
“You have no idea.”
Maybe I knew it in the back of my head, but I wasn’t completely in tune to my “adventures” until I got to New York and it became more apparent that every step of my life is strung together in a series of unexpected, and sometimes unfortunate, events.
I believe it’s normal for plans in our life to never go exactly the way we expected. For me, it’s more than a normal occurrence. I have learned to welcome the unexpected. In reality, aren’t all of our lives just a series of the unexpected? No matter how well we plan, God’s decree will shine through and we need to learn to accept it and move forward. I have to admit that I’m partly thankful that I am no longer harshly fazed by the craziness that surrounds my life. If I freaked out about every single moment that didn’t go as planned, fell through, or even completely changed the course of my life, it would best for me to find a cave and hide. I say “partly” because I do still need to be affected and motivated to keep moving forward in pursuing what I need and want. Instead of finding a secluded cave, I have learned to find new ways to cope with my obstacles and actively work to climb my hurdles and conquer my challenges. Always keep moving and inshaAllah Kheir (if God wills it) goodness will come. That’s my motto in life.
I honestly believe that the way I choose to see my unexpected challenges in life – by doing the best I can and placing tawakul (faith) in Allah swt – has lead me to push through this risk I’m taking by being in New York and has allowed me to assimilate a lot more quickly than anyone thought was possible.
Despite this, I can’t deny that for the last three months and three weeks, the unexpected has seriously been kicking my ass. While it’s comforting to hear the support and awe in the voices of friends and family when they express, mostly in surprise, how proud they are of how well I’m doing over here, a part of me still carries a feeling of failure as I continue to hide my struggles from loved ones.
My worst enemy is myself and I know that too well as I try to control the uncontrollable in life. I’m often told by friends how stressed they are or by family how their anxiety is sometimes too much to handle, but then there’s me. Sometimes, I wish I was just stressed or facing anxiety. I know what it’s like to have a panic attack and feel like I’m suffocating and losing control; so, I’m not in any way saying that stress and anxiety are easy emotions to handle.
My greatest challenge is myself. I don’t stress as much as I become frustrated and angry… at myself. Recently, that part of myself reaches to an extent where it shuts down and I need to step back, breathe, and seclude myself to evaluate the extent to which I believe I’m failing and work to move through it to reach a point of stability. In these moments, I strive to see the light through my struggles. The blessings in disguise are usually hidden within what I view as failure but are actually little accomplishments on my way to success.
This month, this comes in the form of a reminder of the purpose of this entire life I have taken. I arrived in New York exactly three months, two weeks, and four days ago. I surpassed November 16, the three month mark, the mark that was going to define my failure or success. Of course, that didn’t include all the unexpected challenges that quickly knocked me into a completely different path than I had set for myself in San Diego.
Three months. That was my deadline. My parents gave me their support for the duration of one to three months in New York to work on my writing, make connections, and find employment. One to three, and not just three months, because New York is a completely different country to Californians and especially San Diegans. So, no one thought I would want to stay more than a month. Almost four months later, here I am, still moving forward while preparing for a winter that I have never had to experience for the first 26 years of my life.
Coming here, I knew that things weren’t going to go as planned, but I honestly never thought it would derail me in the way that it did. In my last post, I shared the adventures of my first week in New York and why I ended up in Princeton, New Jersey. While I did want to share my experiences in New Jersey, it now just reminds me of the month and a half long gap that was stolen from my trip. Commuting for four hours round trip between Princeton, New Jersey and Manhattan, New York was exhausting. This is not to say that my time was uneventful. I won’t neglect to mention that it was filled with story worthy experiences I faced walking and taking the bus everyday – from the guy who disgustedly tried to run me over on the side of the road to the old man who creepily tried to pick me up in his red car from the bus stop. I won’t go into details about the dead raccoons and deer I had to step over between my cousin’s house and the bus stop. Taking the bus in the small town to work around Princeton University wasn’t any easier – everything from the crazy bus drivers to the inconsistent bus times, rates, and the cash only rule. Princeton was nice and I was blessed to be among family, but I felt myself aging by the minute, hindered from placing all my time and energy into the goal I came here to reach.
Housing in Brooklyn, the borough where I wanted to live all along, came just as unexpectedly as everything else on my trip. I have officially been back in New York for almost two months, and it already feels both like I just got here yesterday and like I have been here forever. While I literally spent all my time balancing between applying for employment, working, and connecting with my new community, there’s this stable part of my brain that constantly reminds that I am no less close to success as I am to failure. A month ago, that voice in my head was beginning to tear away at me… Today, it’s my motivator to push forward with a constant reality check: if I don’t meet my goal of finding employment, my time in New York is strictly limited. As much as I miss sunny San Diego and California in all its perfection, New York and its endless opportunities is beginning to grow on me.
Everyone has their own understanding and measure of success. The truth is while you may believe this measurement is defined by others – such as your friends or family, or by your environment – such as your community or even economic status, or even by your past and future – both of which you have no control over, the measurement of your success is defined by your own limitations to yourself. The only thing you can control is your mindset in the present, the here and now. We must come to accept that everything else is simply not guaranteed.
My measurement of my own success is a combination of how well I am still traveling on the path I have set for myself and personal achievements. I never thought I would be where I am today. I know others will argue that this is true for everyone, and it is. Each of us is facing personal struggles that feel so unique making us ask, “Why am I going through this? Why has God put me in this position and forced me of all people to face this struggle? Why me?” We are always so focused on our struggles as being the struggles to out struggle everyone else’s struggles… Yes, I know that was quite an overuse of the word “struggle”, but I know I’m not alone in realizing this. Right? The reality is, we are not alone. In fact, we are far from it.
As for me, it was only five years ago, I had worked my entire life to become an international lawyer, never thinking I would be sitting here today holding an MFA in Creative Writing that works to overshadow my BA in Political Science (emphasis in International Relations) alongside my minors, having written a novel that I’m trying to find an agent for and publish and working on two more, and writing from a coffee shop in Brooklyn, while trying to juggle time spent on endlessly applying for employment.
Every time I wake up and think that I’m dreaming of actually living in New York, a subway trip in a train that crosses over the Manhattan bridge, allowing me to see the entire city that never sleeps and the majestic Brooklyn Bridge through the window are an exciting reminder that I’m actually here… Still struggling, but still determined to work tirelessly towards my dream.
I am not saying that I am not proud of my degrees and the road that has gotten me to where I am. No regrets, AlhamduliAllah. On the contrary, that slight lack of acceptance with how little I have achieved compared to how much higher I need to reach, is what fuels my determination. Growing up, I knew that no matter where I ended up and whatever career I would choose, I had dedicated my life to one goal – holding a degree that would benefit my community and especially my family. I wanted to travel and experience life, but more importantly, I wanted to make more than a difference. I wanted to create change. More than anything, I wanted to give back to my parents. I will never reach the point in which I repay my parents for their sacrifices in everything that they have provided for my siblings and I – especially their support for my move to New York, but I will spend the rest of my life trying. In the end, this is what keeps me going. It’s more than making my parents proud or happy. It’s providing for them ease after all these years of support and encouragement. I should be the one taking care of my parents and siblings. While it physically hurts knowing that I still haven’t reached that point in my life, I surge forward.
I measure my own success by my level of stability in life and independence. While I do believe that my happiness is not contingent on the happiness of others, I do live my life in continuing to emit positive energy in witnessing the smiles and happiness of those around me, even during my own hardships, which I need to remember are still filled with hidden blessings, even if I do not understand or see them in the moment of struggle. I believe in taking responsibility for how I react and work to conquer my own struggles as well as my own definition of happiness. I have come to a point on this journey where every roadblock in this course I’m taking further motivates me to continue living to my fullest, with the power of Allah swt.
I’m not one to reveal my struggles or hardships to others. I have stated this clearly in my first blog posts in New York. Although, sometimes, we do need to turn to others and loved ones for comfort, I try my best to stay positive. At times, such as when I post sweet pictures of statuses on Facebook pertaining to my time in New York, others may understand it as me having the time of my life, free of pain and challenges. You know what? That’s fine. My hardships are my own. This is not to try to mask anything and make others believe I’m living a perfect life, but rather to show that I’m still striving to take my new city by storm, one day at a time. Trying to see the light in all that I have been experiencing gives me strength and hope.
As I continue on, I will be sharing more of my photography little by little around this marvelous city, inshaAllah. I invite you to share my belief in finding the beauty and blessings in every day of our lives…
During my journey, I do ask for your kind thoughts, good vibes, and much needed dua’.