30 things I’ve learnt in 30 years

1.      Take care of yourself. Take care of your mental, spiritual and physical health. Good health is one of the greatest blessings you can have, it’s a crown on the head of the healthy, that only the sick can see. Having suffered from ill health for many years and battled through, I appreciate my health so much. Take care of yourself- we’re only given one body, one mind, one soul - & one life on earth. 

2.      Understand that you absolutely can change who you are, where you’re going and what you want, mostly at any given time. It’s rarely too late.

3.      Find happiness and seek beauty in simple things, the sunrise over a lake, a smile, the breeze, a book, laughter, a swim, a wander, people watching at a café, a good night’s sleep…. 

4.      Give back. Sometimes I feel like being a community worker and committing myself to the service of others, is my only saving grace. What I gain in return from the people I work for, often those living on the fringes, is far greater than what I give (I gain perspective, inspiration, stories, love & boundless hope). Give freely -without expectation, humble yourself before others.

5.      Don’t let the bastards grind you down. If you’re a woman of colour, this is especially relevant/ important (even more so if you’re visibly Muslim). Being a ‘minority’ is great on so many levels, but it’s also really goddamn hard. We live in an injustice world, where discrimination is rife- and often the system is designed to make you fail. You have to work twice as hard to prove your worth, you’re constantly judged, overlooked or underestimated. On top of that, you have to put up with unending bullshit from your own community. But despite all this- don’t let the bastards grind down. I’ve been interrogated at airports, escorted onto planes, made to feel less than human by a whole number of institutions, faced immense rejection, endured countless heartbreaks and been deemed a failure by many for not conforming to society’s version of success - and sure it’s taken a while, but I’ve finally learnt how to rise up above it all. Become better, not bitter. You’ll be happier for it. 

6.      Spend time with nature- wander through forests, climb mountains and speak to the sea. Nature equates truth- it possesses the power to heal, to reveal and to bring us back to true ourselves- to our fitrah.   

7.      Don’t be afraid to take risks and to fail, and to fail again. There’s beauty in the struggle. You’ll learn to grow through your failures- each one will bring you closer to where you’re supposed to be. 

8.      Don’t wait around. Don’t wait for your circumstances to change, don’t wait for something to happen or for someone to come along and show you the way. Don’t wait for people who always make you wait. Time is so precious, and life is so short. Don’t wait around.   

9.      Be kind. There are so many lost, lonely and broken individuals in this world- strangers, travelers, elders, our neighbours, sometimes our friends and members of our own family. Be kind to people, you never what anyone is going through at any given time- extend your kindness towards the living creatures we share the planet with and the planet itself.

10.   Disconnect often. In a world where egoism and vanity are rife, have the courage to disconnect often, to be rendered anonymous. Social media really doesn’t mean a whole lot- real connections are far weightier. If you use social media, use your platforms to inspire and to encourage. Be mindful of what you put out into the world. Sometimes it’s better to be quiet and use that time to work towards your goals. 

11.   Create. Create for enjoyment, because it’s good for your mind and your soul. Create for yourself, for no purpose at all. Over the years, I’ve written so many books, worked on hundreds of projects, undertaken courses in pottery, stained glass, illustration, painting, you name it, for no reason except maybe to learn something new and to have fun. Enjoy the process of creating- it’s enough. It’s okay if you never become a published author or a renowned artist. Your work is still valid, beautiful and worthy.

12.   Remove people from your life who are constantly negative, who constantly complain, who belittle you, disrespect you, hurt you and make you feel small. Remove toxic people, unapologetically, from your life. The dark clouds will clear away, the light will catch… watch as it spreads…

13.   Be alone often. I’ve always been a bit of a loner/ outsider at heart – it’s something I’ve learnt to embrace. Being alone gives you time to work on yourself and on the things that bring you joy. Find peace in solitude and you’ll remain free, self-sufficient and grounded.

14.   Age before beauty- growing is good, growth is good. don’t be afraid to grow up. Working with older people puts so much in perspective. The older we get, often the better we become, we become happier, wiser, more comfortable in our skin and accepting of our quirks. There’s much to look forward too! Think seated Tai Chi class and banter with pals, think a freedom pass and an end in sight.  

15.   Don’t lose yourself for another, don’t try to dilute and change who you are so you become more acceptable to another, don’t compromise your values and your sense of self for another.

16.   Love what you do. Do what you love. If you haven’t found what that is, keep looking… Sometimes you have to do a lot of things you don’t like, to finally arrive at what you do like.  I’ve gone through more jobs in the last 10 years than a lot of people do in a lifetime- I’ve been a lumberjack, forager, drug peddler, paper- pusher, play worker, comms officer, dino shop girl, duck shop girl, dinner lady, tour guide, team leader – the list goes on…. Do what brings you meaning and peace. Know that progress is not linear. Sometimes you have to go back ten steps, only then to realise that you missed the turning that was meant for you, and even then, nothing lasts forever (and that’s okay).

17.   Forgive yourself, forgive others, let go, move on.

18.   Have the courage to be disliked.

19.   Live somewhere else. It will open your mind. I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to live in some very different places. From Lahore to Busan, each place I’ve lived in, has opened my eyes, and taught me a thousand things about the world, others and myself. Be a stranger somewhere, lose yourself in translation, you’ll find out who you really are, without your words, away from home, away from everything and everyone you know. Abandon your false sense of security and traverse borders. It will humble you. It’s also really worthwhile to spend time in your ancestral homeland/ place your parents were born and grew up (if you can)– it will instill within you a sense of respect, understanding and gratitude.

20.   Get to know different kinds of people, of different ages, and backgrounds, from different parts of the world. They’ll open your mind to so many new ideas, perspectives and ways of life.

21.   Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. If you’re happy, feel happy and don’t feel guilty for it. Similarly, if you’re sad, feel sad. Know that feelings come and go.  

22.   Your past does not define you.

23.   Be grateful, always. Sometimes you have to take a step back, recognize where you’ve come from and celebrate where you are (wherever that may be.) We have a million things to be grateful for- the air we breathe, the clouds, water, sustenance, earth. Be grateful.

24.   Use your free time wisely.

25.   Don’t give up on life, on love, on miracles and magic. It’s easy to become cynical and jaded, it takes courage to have hope and it takes strength to keep believing in goodness. Keep going, especially when the going gets tough. Cultivate what you seek and work towards a life you envision for yourself. Things are constantly in flux, if you’re going through difficult times, know that your circumstances aren’t forever. You’ll overcome/ heal/ learn and be stronger for it  

26.   Your life is your own, don’t give it all away- keep your secrets and your most treasured memories to yourself. To date my most tragic, magical, life-changing and heart-breaking memories have remained unshared. In a world in which we give so much of ourselves away, both in the real world and on the internet, it’s more important than ever to have things for yourself – to seek solace, realness and understanding in your own memories and experiences. Don’t share the secrets of your shadow self either (we all have one). One day you might find those you confided in, those closest to you have become distant strangers, and you’ll have to live with the knowledge that they know certain things about you. Better yet, to practice self-preservation- you’ll be internally richer and more secure for it. 

27.   Choose your friends wisely. Your friends can raise you up or bring you down. They can make you feel alone, or as though you belong. They can enrich your life or deplete your energy. Pick your friends wisely, because friendship isn’t something you can or should easily abandon. Choose to be friends with people who make you feel blessed and happy to be alive, people who are appreciative, original and have a sense of humour. They’re gold.

28.   Be present- the present is all we have; the past is gone, and the future is a mirage in a desert with no name. Nothing is promised to you, ask yourself often, if this was my last day on earth what would I be doing? How would I be living? Let the answers guide you. 

29.   Know yourself, accept yourself, be true to yourself and love yourself. It takes courage to love yourself. We’re so deeply flawed, so wracked with insecurities and riddled by our own unique and often troublesome idiosyncrasies. Despite this- give yourself a break and learn to love yourself. Our imperfections make us who we are – they make us human.

30.   Stay close to God – to your purpose, to your beginning and your end. Life is transient- things come and go, people come and go, but God is always with you- in a very real way- stay close to God and trust His plan for you. No matter how distant you’ve become and how impossible it feels, it’s never too late to reconnect. This is the most important thing I’ve learnt and continue to learn.