"Speak now or forever hold your peace in pieces."
Even though I have been in this world for a short 19 years, somewhere down the road, I managed to figure out the things that changed my life.
The world didn’t actually change, but it was the way I viewed and appreciated it that did. I don’t exactly know what was my turning point. I wish I had some miraculous story to tell about how I suddenly changed from a demure, childish girl to who I am today. But I guess change is just something you subconsciously realize one day when you’re lying down on your bed at 3 am, unable to sleep. It’s something that happens over time. It’s something that happens after a string of unfortunate events.
A lot of me is moulded after my father. For all the strength that I started my teenage years with, he made it happen. And while it is true that most of who you are is moulded after who you hang around with, I found that it is important to have integrity and decide for yourself what you think is right, instead of just conforming. My father has always been a man who wanted his children to go their own path, so long as it didn’t lead any of us astray, and he has never been less of supportive.
Once you have been influenced, it is hard to get out of it. It’s comfortable to fit in, to belong. After some time being trapped in my comfort zone, I realized there’s more to life than just the box you had been living in and you have to be brave to make changes. Even some that you could never have seen yourself doing.
I don’t know how this article will help anyone in the long run, but I’m hoping it might inspire someone. These are merely some of the things that I had discovered subconciously that made my life better than it has ever been. Who knows, it might help you too?
1. The three R’s: Read, research and re-evaluate
Ever since I was young, I had a thing for reading and discovering new things. I remember I was in Primary 2, the teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. The usual “Doctor! Lawyer! Singer!” popped up, but when it suddenly came to my turn, I said “Archeologist or Cryptozoologist”. Not only did I get weird stares from my classmates who didn’t know what the hell that was, but my teacher was amazed by my wide range of vocabulary.
It has always been in my system, this reading thing, and I waited for the day where it would benefit me. I am extremely curious, to a fault to some, but my inquisitivity has led me to learn so many things. It is a known fact that most of the knowledge we know now is inherited or embedded into us through mass media. How many of us make the effort to actually take the knowledge that we know and expand it into more than just that? Do your brain a favour and set it free. Do not imprison him like that. Our brain has a huge storage capacity and limiting it to only what we have been taught is such a waste.
A lot of reading and self-researching would open your mind to all kinds of alternate universes and different realities. It’s an amazing place to be; in the vast open of possibilities. It’s when you have the different facts and theories at hand, you can finally re-evaluate and get your brain moving, thinking for yourself which you think is right or wrong, true or false. Since your mind is already exposed and not stuck to a certain bias, you can now figure out for yourself instead of just heeding words mindlessly.
Though there is a clear risk in thinking outside of the norm, don’t be afraid to stick out of conformity. Everyone has different opinions and just because yours differ from most, it doesn’t make you any less human, even if people say so. At least it shows you have a stand of your own, rather than following blind truth. The right people will come along and accept your thoughts.
2. Let go of people who do more harm than good.
We all have at least one person in our lives who are like this. For years, I was afraid to step out of my comfortable group of friends because I was afraid that I wouldn’t find anyone else like them, or mainly because I am used to their company. Though I knew that some of them were a clear liability in my life, I still made them stuck around because I thought I knew them inside out.
Bad decisions, bad influences, bad memories. It took me almost losing the love of my life, the trust of my family and the crippling of my sound mind to realize what being friends with this person made me do. I had made some of the worst mistakes of my life being under the influence of a “good friend”, the one who I always thought would have good advice for me, and all I can think about now is how much I regret not listening to my old folks right from the beginning.
Detachment is a big thing. You should either have proper closure, or just leave after an argument, which in the case of this fellow, I did the latter. I finally decided that I would have none of this nonsense ever again, and walked out the door and never looked back. Sure, while it lasted, we were good friends and we shared a lot of memories, but seeing the hazard he brought into my life sends shudders down my spine. Let him be a stranger with some memories. Life is too short to spend it with someone who makes your days difficult.
Sometimes we need to identify and separate the good friends from the bad friends in our lives because a bad friend can be worse than an open enemy.
Now, I’m surrounded with wonderful people and I am at a stage where my relationship with my parents is at its best. These are all people who keep me motivated, not simply those who want to “hang out and have fun” and I like things to be this way.
3. Make friends with the right people.
As I’ve mentioned in the previous point, good friends have amazing influential skills upon you. Once of the biggest reasons why it is important to make friends with the right people. Don’t get me wrong though. It’s not like you need to be picky. You can make friends with all kinds of people, but at the end of the day, make sure the ones you keep closest to you are the ones who can motivate you to become something better.
For a very long time in my life, I believed I was hanging with the right people. Even though my parents complained about my bad choices, I justified by telling them that even though I am friends with people “like that”, I am smart enough to not get influenced. Smart enough, my ass. I was so easily manipulated, especially by people I deemed as great friends. It took the shattering of my life to realize this mistake. As much as we hate to admit, you are the company you keep. And most of the time, this is true.
Sometimes you don’t realize it. You might be going through it right now and you’re in denial. The same way I did. Though it’s not easy to point out if you’re actuslly being influenced by unhealthy lifestyles and bad people, start looking at the way you live your life. Was this how you had imagined your life to turn out? If you feel like you’re not going anywhere, just flowing with the crew, then most probably you are being manipulated. An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; as a wild beast can harm your body, but an evil friend can wound your soul.
I was the ambitious type. I had dreams of my own and for some time, I just floated. I didn’t do anything. I went out in the afternoon and came back in the wee hours of the morning and this went on for a very long time. I was wasting my life away. When I think about it, I truly regret the time I had wasted on people that didn’t deserve it, but at the same time, I’m glad I went through that, or else I wouldn’t have been able to teach myself this lesson.
Be with people who stir you to think, keep you going and make you want to be a better person. People who believe in comfort after hardship. Be with friends who ultimately, you can rely on. Trust me, it will all be worth it in the end.
4. Trust your parents.
I know as teenagers, we tend to get into loads of disagreements with our parents. We want to look the independent type by rebelling, which is ultimately the worst way ever. I won’t deny it though, I do still have arguments with my parents, but at the end of the day, I am still their little girl and they know me best, even when I lose myself.
There was a time in my life when I was lost and confused. But even though I was in a state of confusion, I thought everything I did was right. I stood by my choices even though they clearly made a mess out of everything. I saw it all crumble, yet I said it was the right choice. Every single day I was being pestered by my parents, telling me to think carefully. They never told me what I was doing was wrong, but they always dropped slight hints trying to tell me so. I would brush them off. I would call them annoying. I would say they don’t know how I am. But still they persisted, because I remember in my father’s words, “Parents know best.”
During that time in my life, I would call him conceited for saying so. But now that I have gotten through that phase, I realized that I had never heard such truer words from anyone else. I come from a family that is closely bonded, so who am I to doubt the judgment of my parents upon me? Everything I am is transparent to them. They can practically see through me. Heck, they raised me!
I’ve been with them for 19 years now, and for those who have never been away from your parents, trust them when they say you’re not being yourself. Because they’ve been there your whole life to know you inside out, and when they say you’ve changed for the worse, you better believe so.
5. Pursue your passions.
To me, it is absolutely vital to figure out where you want to go in life. The sooner the better, and it doesn’t matter if your passions change halfway through, just as long as you have a direction in life. And above all, do what YOU want. Not what others think is best for you.
I have met way too many people who were forced into studying something they have no interest in, only to pass for the sake of a clean results slip, and they end up doing something else after they have graduated, or they regret not pursuing what they had really wanted from the start. What you really like and want to achieve is not an easy journey, and while it is important to have a direction in life, it is also important to be willing to surpass the obstacles that may come tumbling your way. “Do wha you love and love what you do” is definitely an understatement. It should be the golden rule of life.
I am still trying, as anyone else. I’m not giving this particular advice because I’ve already reached my destination. I have not. I am still on the way there and I know how easy it feels to just want to throw everything away and start an easier journey. In fact, I am still uncovering what my passions are. And hopefully one day, I will finally be able to stand on a solid foundation of stability.
6. If you’re going to be a friend, be a good one.
I stated in point 3 to make friends with the right people and to me, the best way to start doing this is by attracting the right friends by being one of those right people. Be who you want to be acquainted with. And be it a brief friendship, or years of knowing each other, be the best friend you can to someone. In my article, How To Help A Friend That’s Gone Crazy, I emphasized the importance of a role of a friend in someone’s life when they’re going through a hard time. My rough patch taught me a lot about friends, and how a friend should be, and I have promised myself to be a better friend to others from now on.
Know that you’ll probably go through rough patches. Bear in mind though that sometimes you will have to give them some space so that they can have time alone and think things through. Being a friend means understanding when a little bit of time alone is a good thing.
Trust each other. Be trustworthy. Be loyal. Work things out in hard times. Spend time together. Share laughs. Learn to listen. Avoid expectations. Accept that sometimes, friends grow apart. And most importantly, let your friend have other friends too.
Would you want to be the friend where parents warn their children about you? I’m pretty sure not.
7. Be thankful and appreciate everything, everyone around and everything about you.
Just like everyone else, I too complain sometimes. Be it about how annoying a family member or a friend is, or how I feel so unlucky that I wasn’t born into an ultra rich family, or why am I not born with bigger breasts. Everyone complains about something.
However, when one stops to think about it, there are so many things that we can and should be thankful about. If you have a house to live in, a family to love you, friends to care about you, an internet connection, a bed to sleep on; that’s already a start. Very few people take time out of their day to inhale the good things in their life and they only concentrate on what they lack. I mean, who doesn’t wish for a fancy car or the latest phone model? But should these material things define your life for you? No.
In fact, think about it. You might be jealous of someone’s wealth, but that person might be jealous of your loving family. You might be jealous of someone’s fancy car, while that person feels incompletel because they’re infertile. You might be jealous of someone’s results, but that person wished he had your talents. The possibilities and endless. Just because people don’t say out loud that they are jealous of you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not. Everyone lacks something.
Besides the material stuff, one of the things many people, especially teenagers, don’t do is appreciate themselves. While reflecting upon yourself, feeling guilt and remorse is good, doing it excessively is extremely unhealthy. Love yourself. It’s so important. I cannot emphasize it enough. Love yourself for who you are. And how you love yourself would teach others how to love you.
I know of a lot of girls who just sit and mourn and wallow in their “ugliness” and wait for a man to come by and love them and make them feel beautiful. But the truth? Real men fall for real women, and real women know their worth. Men like women who know themselves, test their limits, are confident (not conceited) and are brave. Your desperation for love and the need to feel beautiful will draw in the likes of immature boys, those who would use your insecurities to their advantage, knowing how much you want to feel loved. If you’re wondering why girls these days keep saying “I keep falling for jerks”, it’s because they’re making yourself vulnerable to everyone. The worst part? They let it show, openly, in social media networks. If you respect yourself, people will respect you. Love yourself before you love others, because, why would someone want give their all to you, when all you have got to offer is half of your broken soul? A person can do so much for an insecure girl, until they just get up one day and walk off, because despite all that they do for the girl to feel beautiful, she still tells everyone she feels lacking and horrendous.
The right person will come along eventually. I never understood why teenagers always want to rush love. Is there a race that we’re on that I missed? Why is it that so many people say they’re so “lonely” at such a young age, when there’s so much things to do besides looking for love? Besides, you shouldn’t even be looking for love, because love will find you. For me, I always believed it took time for things to fall into place. Rushing love usually leads to an ugly ending. Everything is so beautiful when developed slowly, and smoothly.
And when this right person comes along, they will love you in your entirety, no matter who you are or what you look. Why try so hard to impress someone now, when you can just be yourself and eventually meet someone who loves all your quirks and perks and kiss all your imperfections? Wouldn’t that be nice? It would, in fact, be perfect.
There are so many things to love about yourself. And it’s up to you to look inside you.
Remember to appreciate everyone while they’re still here. Remember to treasure everything around you. Remember to love yourself endlessly.
8. Do everything in moderation.
My father always told me this, that now it has become one of my core rules in life. If it’s one thing I realized, being extreme on either ends is not only extremely annoying for people around you, but also harmful to yourself. There should always be a balance in everything, never indulge too much or disregard it completely. No one likes extremism, radicalism and fanaticism. Too much of anything is never good, the same way how having too little oe none can be dangerous, be it religion, studying, or working.
9. Slow progress is good progress.
Related to point number 8, besides doing everything in moderation, it is also important to keep moving at a steady pace. Slow and steady wins the race, but the early bird catches the worm, they say. While it’s true that working fast gets you to your destination quicker, but for me, working slowly from the bottom has always been better as you start yourself off on a more solid foundation. It’s like constructing a building. If you rush through it, your building ends up being wobbly and not sturdy. Just look at all the greatest buildings in the world? They weren’t built in a short time!
Besides, you can’t just jump from point A to point B in a matter of seconds, minutes or days. Change and progress takes time to unravel, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
One of the best examples I could give was a few years back when I did not pray and started due to peer pressure. I suddenly decided to pray all 5 times a day and my father told me “Be moderate.” During that time, I felt quite disappointed because here I was trying to change and my father didn’t seem to be supportive. But after a while, I understood what he meant. I stopped praying again eventually, and my father told me I was trying too hard. How can I go from a girl who doesn’t pray, to one who does it religiously, the next day? He taught me to take slow and steady steps, and eventually I will reach my goal. And true enough, he’s right. I’m taking baby steps, a slow progress indeed, but I’m eventually getting better and more consistent at this.
It doesn’t only apply to the above situation only. To me, this advice would be best for those being rushed into a good future. Take time to develop skills, knowledge, to plan and to build. As long as there’s progress, it’s always good progress. They said “Patience is virtue”, and that is true.
10. Be brave.
As I am writing this right now, I have just returned home from one of the most encouraging experiences of my life. As some of you may know, my article, Hijab: Compulsion or choice?, was made viral a few weeks ago. It received tons of mixed reviews. That article has attracted Marina Tun Mahathir and her organization, Sisters In Islam, and I was invited to her Hari Raya open house this afternoon, where they gave me such encouraging and inspiring words on how courageous I was to be able to post that article. I was told repeatedly “Keep it up” and “Don’t stop writing”. I am so honoured and flattered, I could not have probably asked for anything more at that moment.
I’m not trying to ask anyone to be like me. I will admit, I am not the most courageous person ever. I shake even when I’m meeting new people! I get nervous too easily and I always think a thousand times before I want to convey something online (though there have been many instances where I just release, and regret it). It’s just that, the experience I got earlier this afternoon has shed so much light on how our society is lacking brave people these days. Many just hide behind the face of conformity, afraid of speaking up or sticking out, in fear of being ostracized, ridiculed or made fun of, and I admit, I tend to be like that as well. It’s much easier, much simpler, just following the crowd, so that you won’t be alienated. My article has made me the target for humiliation, hate messages and the likes of it, though I’ve learned to live with that. It gets extremely frustrating at times, but what can you do about them right?
Be brave. It doesn’t have to be anything worth making the news. Sometimes, doing things for the self is considered bravery. Do something different. Do something you never thought you would. Confront your fears. Think; what are you afraid of right now? Are you going to succumb to to fear and let it dictate your life, or are you going keep it at bay? Fear is subjective. Fear is imaginary. We all fear something, but it’s about whether we want to confront it or not.
I’m constantly working on myself. I want to be a brave person, and I’m starting with being able to reserve restaurants through phone calls (yes, I am that much of a coward!). I don’t want to be brave only through social media (which I hesitantly agree), I want to be brave in person too. As I have mentioned in point 9, “slow progress is good progress” and as long as you feel an improvement within yourself, I believe that is a good enough reason to pat yourself at the back and say “Well done!”
And last but not least, one of the most important points:
11. Learn to forgive yourself.
We all have done something we regret. We all have done something that has built a lot of pent-up guilt inside you. We all have done something that wakes us up in the middle of the night, taunting us, teasing us. Our guilty conscience never really sleeps. It’s always there to remind us of a past that we want to forget. Guilt is anger directed at ourselves – at what we did or did not do.
Up until now, I am still haunted by images of things I had done that I truly wish I hadn’t. Oh, how these things have destroyed me so. I ruined the lives of people I love and I lost the trust of people who mean most to me. There are days where I can’t sleep, bawling my eyes out remembering what I have done to the people that I love. I am still in the process of forgiving myself, but slowly I am learning to forgive myself. Don’t let your guilty conscience eat you alive. Don’t let it be the reason you can’t trust yourself, because a man who can’t trust themselves, can’t really trust anyone else either, and that will lead up to a string of other events. We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. While it’s healthy to feel guilt (because it shows you still have empathy), don’t let it cripple you or hinder you from moving forward. Take it as a lesson, to improve, to be better.
Remember, there are no mistakes, only lessons. Love yourself, trust your choices, and everything is possible. In the words of Coco Chanel, “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.”
I don’t know how any of my words or advice would help someone, but I am really hoping some find it useful. These are the principles I vow to stick to, but as any normal human being, I sometimes fall too. Here’s to creating a better future, for us and also those we love! If you have any other principles that YOU live by, feel free to share as well. I’d love to read it.