As I write this, I am exactly 25 years, 8 months, and 28 days old. There was once upon a time, (not very long ago) when I thought that by this age I would have been married, held a top position in a reputed company, probably done with my master’s, maybe settled abroad, and definitely with one child if not two.
Let’s take a moment while I laugh at my younger self.
In all seriousness though, 25 sounds SO OLD! And in a few months, I will soon be 26. What have I got to show for it?
Admittedly, not much. But if there’s one thing I have learned in the past five years, it’s that life is not a competition, it’s not a race to the end. And as unbelievable as it may seem, things always happen at exactly the right time.
To accept this lesson, to learn it the way I learned my own name, I had to first learn the biggest and most important life lessons of all: my patience is my power.
I have spent much of the past five years wallowing in equal parts self-pity and self-loathing and being disappointed in myself for not being able to become the woman I thought I would grow into by now when I was only 16 years old.
But then, sometime around my 23rd birthday, there came a radical shift in me that knocked my world off its axis.
It happened slowly, mind you. Much like evolution in nature, my own personality grew and evolved and shifted over the past two years. While I still fret about running out of time, I have learned to accept that I have yet to see and understand much of the world around me.
I have learned to accept the changes within myself and understood that as I grew into these adult-sized shoes I was not prepared to wear, both my priorities and the things I wanted from my life had changed.
I will not be modest. I have learned A LOT. I have had to change a lot too. And I am still learning new things every day. As I write these words down, I am opening my heart to whatever surprises life has in store for me, and I want to take a moment to step back and see how far I have come.
Here are the lessons from my 20s, the things I have learned so far, and the things I am still learning.
1. Your Worth Is Not Measured By Your Success
We live in a world where we are constantly admiring people and applauding people for their achievements, and that is okay. But the one thing nobody really tells you when you are young is that even if you are not successful in ways that can be measured, you are still worthy of respect and love.
At the end of the day, the time we spend on this planet is minuscule compared to the vast infinity of the ever-expanding universes. The dream career that you landed, the money you earned, all of it will eventually become meaningless over the course of a decade or two or three. Your material success is not your legacy.
The impact that you have on the people around you, the love that you give, and the love that you get in return–that’s your legacy.
I learned this lesson during the first year of my career, and it certainly changed my own perception of myself and the world around me. If you have read “Transitioning From Young Adult To Adult”, one of my very first confessional-type blog posts here, then you already know how much I had struggled with recognizing my self-worth during the initial few months of my career.
Strangely enough, the realization that my value was not attached to my accomplishments sort of dawned on me while rewatching Lovely Bones, one of my favorite films of all time.
These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections-sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent-that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
2. There Are Many Different Kinds Of Soulmates
If I had to pick books that changed my life and helped me see myself more clearly, The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo would definitely be on that list. While it is quite impossible to completely relate to the enigma that the fictional Evelyn Hugo is, her experiences throughout the novel resonated with me.
People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid
It was through her that I learned and understood that the way we typically defined soulmates in books and film didn’t have to be true. Because there can be many different kinds of soulmates, people who recognize you to your core and love you for it, and that love doesn’t always have to be of a romantic nature.
3. It Is Okay To Be A Misfit Muslim
I mentioned how The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo resonated with me. Well, there was a reason for that, the reason being Evelyn’s sexuality, and the way she discovers it, the way she accepts that part of herself without a second thought.
My own experience was similar and different at the same time. It was different, because as a Muslim being raised in a very homophobic and conservative society, I’d grown up hating and denying that part of me. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I learned to see the flaws in the way Orthodox Muslims practiced Islam, and accepted that part of myself with the same self-love that Evelyn did.
The older I grow, the more I learn to question the world around me, the less I believe in the idea of an Allah who is unkind, unempathetic and doles out punishments without considering each individual human experience.
This is not to say that I do not believe homosexuality is haram in Islam; neither I do have any doubt that my destination in the afterlife are the burning pits of hell.
It’s simply that I do not believe that the Most Merciful will not cast me into the eternal fires simply for my sexuality–I believe he will see the sins I have commited and consider the good that I have done, before making His judgement of me.
5. You Can Grow Separately Without Growing Apart
As I grow older and walk down a road that’s completely different from my friends, I learn time and time again, that we can grow separately without growing apart. It doesn’t matter if I speak to my friends after months, or if we meet after years. Our friendships always seem to pick right up where we left off.
I have felt this strongly at every reunion, but recently it hit me harder when I watched three of my friends get married and start an exciting new chapter of their lives. Although our journeys have taken us down different paths, somehow time and distance have lost meaning when it comes to the love and adoration we share for each other. And that, if I am being honest, is one the things I am most grateful for.
6. Settling Down Isn’t Easy And It Shouldn’t Be
Remember how I said earlier that by 25 I thought I would have been married with two kids? It’s hilarious, really. Especially because somehow, over the course of the years gone by, I’d transformed from a young girl who wanted to be a mother someday to a woman who is not sure she ever wants children.
That’s not all, even my perception of the ideal relationship, of the ideal partner, has changed dramatically. And I have learned to accept that within the next 5 years, my mind might change again.
After all, it’s only natural that at different stages of our lives we will want different things. At 25, being responsible for creating a family is the last thing I want.
I want to be reckless, I want to take risks, I want to spend money on travel rather than on diapers. I want to fall in love–that has not changed–but until that happens, I want to have fun as a single woman too.
Settling down isn’t easy, and it’s not supposed to be, because doing so requires great responsibility and maturity. And at 25, when I am still trying to build up my career, I want to enjoy my independence and enjoy my life without restrictions.
7. Money Is Hard To Keep
One of the things I learned during A Levels Economics is that when an individual’s income rises, their demand rises too. Back then, I thought it was just a basic generalization–surely, if I am truly the kind of person who wants to save, I will not overspend even if my earnings grow.
Alas, I was wrong.
One of the biggest and most unexpected challenges I faced right after starting my career was saving money. I am so happy to say that I have learned better by now and have finally managed to limit myself to a proper budget plan. But during the first year of my career, this was very difficult to do.
And for a while, I was quite disappointed in myself, for I’d always been proud of being sensible with my earnings. With time though, I learned to accpet that I made a few lapses in judgement, but it was hardly the end of the world, because I recognized my own problems and learned to do better.
8. It’s Okay To Be Clueless
Adulting involves making so many decisions, some bigger than the others but all confusing nonetheless (don’t even get me started on taxes). But it’s comforting to see other adults struggling the same way. It’s okay to be clueless in your 20’s about how to do things, or what to do next, because the truth is everyone else is also winging it and learning on the go. Your 20’s the time to make bad decisions, find out what works and what doesn’t.
9. Forgiving Yourself Is The Hardest Thing To Do
One of the worst feelings in this world is regret, and there’s so much of that in your 20’s. Even last year, I used to have a very negative mindset where I looked back on the mistakes I had made and felt regret. It took a while, but I learned to change my perception: I made mistakes, so that I could learn and make better mistakes in the future.
After all, it’s not like there was any handbook for adulting given to me. I had to adapt on the go. If a few bad decisions were made, it was so I could know what not to do later on.
To understand this, I had to first learn to forgive myself. I had to show myself the same compassion that I had reserved for others around me. And that was one of the hardest things to do; I still struggle with it sometimes, but on most days, I find myself at peace because I have learned to stop criticizing myself for the smallest of errors.
10. Your Patience Is Your Superpower
All of these lessons that I have mentioned here required me to learn the biggest and most important life lesson of all: the power of patience. At every step of my life since the moment I had turned 20, I needed to have patience. When things were at their worst, I had to be patient for them to get better. When I was working hours on end for a job that I wasn’t fully satisfied with, I had to be patient.
Even now, when I am at a very important transition stage of my life, I am learning to patiently persevere. And when I look back on the younger me, I am proud to say that my patience has finally brought me peace.
It’s okay if my dreams are on hold today, for right now, in this moment, I am living in prayers that have been answered. Instead of wondering when it will be my turn next, I am now learning to be grateful for what I have and eagerly waiting for what else is to come.
I’ll end this post here saying that there is still much more left for me to learn. At 25, there’s much left for me to see of this world and everything it has to offer. But I hope that as I grow, I will learn to do so with grace, that I will always be able to hold the world to its best and see the blessings that had been given to me, and not what has been taken from me. Here’s to growing older and wiser every day.