None of us know how to do the ‘life’ thing right. We learn from others, we learn from ourselves. I put together these 22 things I’ve grown to live by, things that have persistently worked for me after much trial and error. It’s my personal opinion, humanly impossible to work for everyone. But if it clicks with a few of you, we can split a cookie and discuss.
1. Don’t be someone by association. Don’t be someone’s wife, sister, mother, daughter only. Find your own identity and then be whoever you also want to be. Wholeheartedly embrace yourself first and then wholeheartedly embrace those other roles. If you go to get froyo, you can also get the chocolate sprinkles. You don’t have to choose just one.
2. Always be self-assured. As someone who used to be painfully shy, wanting to be confident felt like trying to convert my passion for watching cute puppy videos into a career. I always imagined myself to never fully become the person I could potentially be because I was never as confident as everyone else. With time I realized I don’t have to be outwardly confident to make it in life. All you have to be is self-assured. You could be shy, outgoing, reclusive, whatever you’re most comfortable being – and still have a quiet certainty about yourself. Self-assurance lets you know yourself and understand that regardless of what life throws your way – failed exams, broken relationships, fame, popularity, success, french fries, anything that can distort your perspective of life – you’ll figure it out because you know who you are. Know your character and your abilities. And remind yourself of it when you forget.
3. Own what you love. You love pink, own it. You don’t love pink, own it. Value what others love. Don’t stereotype or pretend to fit one yourself.
4. Don’t try be a man. Our world often conditions us to believe that identifying with the male gender more than our own is the way to resolve the middle eastern crisis. Careers, independence, all to be tackled just like a man. No one really says, ‘Take this guy on your team, he’s as good as a woman’, but we’ll say that about women all the time. Both men and women will do that (one thing we share equally). Don’t we want to know what our gender is actually capable of, if we work on our own strengths and condition our female friends and children to believe the same? If you don’t own what is natural to you, you’re going to be suspended between two places, never fully internalizing the magic of each.
5. Be kind to yourself and to your gender. Don’t ridicule the female gender. Don’t encourage silly jokes that only extend the female stereotype. Don’t be the ‘boy’ of the group at the expense of the girl community. Be nicer to women, especially if you are one yourself.
6. Be independent. Our part of the world is going to take a while before women can actually have a home between that of the parents and the spouse. So physical independence is basically a rare, mystical creature (like Ryan Gosling’s airbrushed abs, I’m currently in denial that they’re real). But does independence really just mean living on your own and doing everything yourself? Nope. Your independence of mind is the most important and can often not even exist for someone who’s making their own money, running their own life. Know your mind, what you want in life, make your own choices. Be financially dependent if you’re a stay at home mom, but be mentally independent – it will help you be independent in every way if/when you have to be. Be free enough in your mind to know when you’re in a toxic relationship and who’s not right for you. Be independent enough to take a stand for yourself when everyone’s saying no. Independence is not a to-do item, it’s a state of mind.
7. Be a feminist and understand what that means. There’s no room in today’s world to not be one. Be smart enough to acknowledge it’s women with men and don’t distract yourself with the contrived warfare of women against men. Educate those who don’t understand and ignore the ones with terribly outdated slurs only around your hormone levels. Use your voice carefully and don’t be a feminist just because it’s hip to be one. It’s critical to be one and therefore be a feminist.
8. Don’t say you don’t get along with women, because they bring too much drama. Instead of writing off all female humans, be more choiceful about your relationships. There are incredibly amazing women out there and they make fabulous friends. Fix your woman radar and find the right ones. There are women who bring drama and there are women who don’t. Then there are men who bring drama and men who don’t. Doesn’t mean we need to be in a virtual group hug all the time; people don’t get along, that’s fine. But don’t write off an entire gender because of a few biological disasters.
9. Don’t body shame. Nope, not even celebrities. Because when we do, our children hear us and they hear that it’s okay to do that. Don’t body shame a human, period. Height, skin color, weight, ‘disproportionate’ facial features, nothing qualifies. The next time you hear yourself shaming someone about the size of their nose, stop yourself and focus your energies on something positive (preferably cheese fries).
10. Don’t give a shit about what anyone tells you to do, but make sure you’re confident with your choices. If you want to do something and you’re absolutely certain of it, then do it. You are more than the wants and expectations of the world you live in. If you prioritise yourself first, people around you will accept to do the same – and there’s never any discontent when all hearts are full.
11. Don’t morph your personality for someone else. Put yourself first. Not for a parent, a spouse, sibling or even your child. Only when you’re fully happy with yourself, can you contribute to all other relationships.
12. Wear your good clothes today. Don’t keep things slotted for that one special day. Pull out your good stuff, enjoy it now.
13. Don’t play victim. A parent not letting you pursue what you want? Speak up for yourself. If you’d stand up for a sibling in the same circumstances, don’t self-discriminate and take a stand for your own self as well. If you can’t do that, then between imposition and passion, find a way to do both. Work hard, prove yourself and let people come around. And if you can’t even do that, then own your choices and live with what you have….with spirit. Go through all the emotions you have to and then reconcile. Don’t waste yourself imagining the what-could’ve-beens. Fight for yourself, never with yourself.
14. Think beyond weddings and marriage. Our side of the world is plagued with perpetuating the fantasy of the ‘dream wedding’ and often limiting the life aspirations of girls to climax at just that: the shadi events. If your only goal in life is to find the best gharara, revise your goals. Read, listen, introspect. I’m a huge champion of a fun wedding and a great marriage but only when it’s a part of a bigger, fuller life. Focus less on the events, more on the partnership. Find ways to make your small life bigger for your own self with multiple goals and ambitions. A wedding is a part of the picture, not the entire picture. Some of you may not even get married as quick as others, some might not get married at all. Always remember, you’re more than this, don’t cheat yourself.
15. Always be productive. Whether you’re a corporate bigshot or a stay-at-home mom, when you go to bed at night, ask yourself if you made a difference that day – to your own life or to someone else’s. Anyone can be inadequate in their contribution, no matter what the scale of their work is or what they do. Did you create something that will improve the lives of other humans, did you develop a product that will make someone’s life easier, did you make a healthy meal for your entire family that will nourish their bodies and minds, did you teach your child something that will make them a better person – if you think you did something productive, you don’t need to fit anyone’s definition of whether that was worthwhile. What’s important is your job, not a career.
16. Be okay with being emotionally dependent. The world tells us too much to handle everything on our own. Women in particular will familiarise their personal success with ‘not needing anyone’. It’s okay to be loved and taken care of, as long as you know that you can take care of yourself if you ever needed to. Depend on others, let others depend on you. It’s the most incredible thing to have someone to fall back on, if you can. Love is amazing, don’t deny yourself the wonders of falling apart once in a while.
17. Don’t confess to someone else’s crime. Sometimes people will blame you for their mistakes. Evaluate and understand if that really is true. Don’t accept the shortcomings of a weak parent, an abusive partner, an ungrateful child. Not all familial relationships can deliver. Managing undeserved guilt is a terrible crime against yourself and to all others in your life who deserve the best of you.
18. Don’t stick to a stereotype and don’t make others conform. If some girls want to be loud, don’t question them on it if you won’t do the same to a loud bunch of guys. If a girl wants to be ‘simple’ and doesn’t identify with a style aesthetic that you do, don’t call her a behenjee.
19. Come up with better questions. Move beyond the small talk questions of ‘when are you getting married?’, ‘when will you have kids?’, ‘when will you have more kids?’. If you’re getting to converse with another fellow human, talk to genuinely find out who they are. Ask about what they love to do, where do they want to travel, who do they idolize, what’s their secret passion. When the human mind can imagine the impossible, don’t con it into only generating kitty party questions and how to make sexy biryani (ok maybe discuss that).
20. Learn to do finances. Take ownership of a section of your household, if not the entire thing and learn to manage money. Just do it.
21. Don’t obsess over getting older. Love your age, love your fine lines, love yourself. It’s a roadmap of experience right there on your face, don’t wipe it off. Sure, take care of yourself but don’t let it cannabalise into other parts of your life or take control of your happiness.
22. Love yourself. And see your world change.
Tell me what you’ve got and let me learn and/or steal from you too.