Reflecting on 2016
2016 didn't go by too quickly or slowly for me so perhaps I'm getting a bit better at living in the moment. Alhamdullilah, I've realised that ever since I've hit my 20s, I'm able to reflect on each year with a more positive attitude. It took a bit of growing up for me to learn that a tough year isn't a bad year and a bad year, isn't a bad life.
2016's major highlights:
➤Learnt a lot about life through grief
➤Ended my 2 year stint in advertising
➤Travelled to England, France, Morocco and Egypt and had the best time of my life
➤Finally felt confident enough to don the hijab
Before I dive right in, I just want to say that we need to get rid of the idea that our lives have to be picture perfect for social media in order to be worthy of celebration. Your life isn't bad just because it doesn't look great on Instagram and your life isn't perfect either just because you've an awesome looking Instagram gallery. Life's incredibly messy; we've to learn that some of life's golden moments take place while we’re not feeling, looking or even doing our best.
Understand that the world exists in dualities; you cannot know joy without experiencing misery. There's nothing 'wrong' with your life just because it isn't smooth sailing all the time. 2016 was life-changing for me; it was the toughest yet most rewarding year of my life and I've been quite honest about my struggles with maintaining a relatively 'normal' daily routine while grieving the death of my cousin. Looking back, I’ve no idea how I survived it all but I did.
While people posted their #9bestmoments on Instagram on New Years Eve, I remembered thinking there’s no way an app could capture my best moments. Because my best 2016 moments were when my phone wasn't in my hand, my eyes were red and puffy and I had my sister's hand on my shoulder. I cannot thank Allah enough for giving me the opportunity to grieve because honestly, it forced me to take a good look at my life and helped me to strengthen my relationship with Him, my family, friends and most importantly, myself.
5 lessons I've learnt in 2016:
#1 Your inner voice is powerful
Sometimes the only obstacle between you and achieving what you want is yourself. You are your own worst enemy so befriend yourself because when times get tough, you need to know how to be your own source of support and motivation. Having gone through many years as a teen with severely low self-esteem, I discovered my lack of confidence was due to the fact I was comparing myself to others and living according to other people’s expectations.
I set the bar way too high for myself and when I failed, I never took it positively and allowed it to be a reason for punishing myself. When you grow up always failing to be this person you think others want you to be, your inner voice that is supposed to be a source of self-assurance starts working against you. Whenever you find yourself self-criticising, ask yourself this question: would you speak the same way to someone you love?
#2 Being authentic liberates you
The first few years of my adult life so far have been strictly devoted to nurturing my authentic self. Upon turning 21, I made a vow I was never going to do anything or be anyone that I didn't want to be; I wanted to be 110% true to myself even if it means disappointing some people. I had to ask myself some pretty big questions along the way to ensure I was always doing what was right for my personal/spiritual growth—NOT to succumb to any pressures.
- What kind of person do I want to be?
- What are my genuine passions?
- If money and prestige weren't in the equation, would I still pursue this path?
- Am I motivated by other people's opinions of me?
- What are my REAL intentions behind this?
Being authentic isn't simply rebelling against what people expect of you. To me, it's about shedding the artificial layers that we've developed so that we can go through every stage of our lives being the best version of ourselves—the version that deserves to be in the forefront, not the back row.
The great thing about being authentic is: you start losing all the wrong people in your life and start attracting all the right ones. Know that sometimes WE are responsible for creating the kind of environment that insincere people thrive in. How can we possibly attract genuine people if we are not honest with ourselves either?
#3 Love changes you.
“Love is an incredible thing. We don’t know love like we should. We always talk about ‘I have unconditional love’. We don’t even know it because if a person stops stimulating us, we stop loving them. You’re not interesting to talk to anymore, goodbye. But that real love; that love that sometimes is difficult to have. That’s love, that’s the confidence builder.” - Lauryn Hill
'Love' is one of those words people like to toss around without really reflecting on its meaning. It was my late cousin's battle with cancer followed by his death, that revealed love to me, in its purest form. It's the kind of love that is selfless, unconditional and effortless.
My ustaz told me: "If you have to give me a list of reasons to explain why you love someone then you don't really love that person."
I was confused. HUH? I asked him why he said that.
"Because if you've to back up your reasons for loving someone, your love comes with conditions. True and sincere love is unexplainable and unconditional."
Sincere love is so pure and I felt it all throughout my grieving period. Friends, family and even strangers offered their support and I just knew right away that it was rezeki (provision) from Allah. The acts of kindness I received from others was simply a reflection of His boundless Mercy and I felt it in every vein and every bone.
There was just so much my family learnt to be grateful for after the death of my cousin. Little things became great sources of joy to us: a small gift, lunches together or even an iced coffee. There's just so much love and gratitude that grief pulls out of you. You become greatly inspired to be better in every way just so that you are deserving of this love that you're receiving. You want to become a better Muslim, daughter, friend, neighbour, citizen—literally everything—just so that you can reciprocate the love that you're given.
I learnt that to permanently change for the better becomes easier when your source of inspiration is rooted in something that means a lot to you. It has to be something that moves you to your core because if it doesn't you won't be able to sustain it long enough to see a difference in yourself. Many people change their ways only to return to their old self somewhere down the line. Why? Because in order to commit to anything, you need to be able to connect with what you're doing on a deeper level.
#4 Don't go against the changes in your life.
How many times have we gotten frustrated over a situation only to realise that our misguided emotions do absolutely nothing in improving the situation? Instead, we plunge deeper and deeper into disappointment. A kite flies higher and higher as it gets carried away by the wind; a ship sails faster when it follows the current.
Have you ever thought that your current circumstances—no matter how ugly you perceive it—could work well in your favour if you stayed calm and let it unfold? How do you know for sure that you're not being led to better things? What has gotten me through many uncertain times is having a good opinion (sangka baik) of Allah's Plans.
#5 Be better, not bitter.
Translation: Be like the fish in the sea. Although it lives in salty water, the taste of its flesh remains unaffected. Underlying meaning: we can't let the negativity that surrounds us affect us.
It's a saying my ustaz always tells me when I complain about being influenced by people's negativity. The whole world is going through a turbulent social/political/financial period and it's apparent that people's good spirits are severely affected. All you've to do is go on social media to see how much hatred is being spewed out. People go out of their way to find reasons to be angry; they can't go a single day without complaining about every aspect of their life.
Bitter people find ways to stay angry; people with a healthier mindset find ways to get out of their state of anger. I've learnt the hard way that the world isn't going to change just for you but you can change your attitude and it'll change your world. You can make conscious decisions to change your way of thinking so that you don't contribute to what's wrong with our society. But if you insist on staying bitter, don't be surprised if your problems aren't going away and you end each day emotionally exhausted.