Top 10 things I learned in my mid-twenties

A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me to mention something I’ve learned the past year. So many things came rushing to my head; it was hard to pick one. The past year was a challenging one for me, but it is a year I learned and grew a lot from. I don’t consider myself to be “wise” by any means. But these are some things I’ve learned in the midst of my mid-twenties. They may or may not seem obvious to some of you, but I’m hoping they can be somewhat useful.

  1. Things won’t always go the way you want them to. It happens to all of us, and it’s the reality. We might pray, wish, and do everything we can to make something happen. But sometimes, no matter what we do, it doesn’t happen. Stop waiting for a specific outcome. Don’t force it, yo. Always prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. If what you want doesn’t happen, there just may be something better in store for you someday.
  1. Everything happens (or doesn’t happen) for a reason. I truly believe all interactions, situations, or people we encounter in our lives are not accidents. Whether it’s something good or bad, we must always look for the greater reason for why something happens or doesn’t happen. Treat everything as a learning experience. There is always a valuable lesson to be learned. We just have to find it.
  1. Struggle makes us stronger. Experiencing heartbreak, losing a loved one, being a victim of abuse, being robbed, being broke, losing one’s job, getting hurt or injured, being diagnosed with cancer, etc, are all painful struggles to endure. Many people endure these things. I have endured a couple of them myself the past year. All of these things have the potential to break a person down. It is easy to slip into dangerous thoughts of wanting to give up on life. But these struggles also give us a great opportunity to become stronger. It is only when we make the conscious decision to fight that we can overcome them.
  1. Have a support system. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need support from loved ones. Alhamdulilah, I have amazing friends and family. Anytime I am feeling down, they have magical powers to lift me up in one way or another. They have also empowered me to see my own value that I could not see. They helped give me strength and hope. And of course, I also look to The One for comfort, peace, and light.

My grandpa (Sido) and my baby cousin Mohammad

  1.  Transfer hurt into good. Always transfer your feelings of hurt and pain into something positive. Put your energy into improving yourself. Work on improving your character. Exercise, eat healthy, and take care of your body. Read things. Write things. Create art. Volunteer. Help others. Spend time with loved ones. Focus on strengthening your skills. Strengthen your relationship with God. Do what you love.
  1. Sometimes it is better to let go of friendships and relationships that hold us back. Letting go of people you love is never easy. But if a relationship is unhealthy, sometimes it is better to go your separate ways. It is better to keep your dignity and self-respect and leave, rather than maintain ties with people who constantly put you down and do not value or appreciate you in their lives. Take the lessons learned, and if you’d like, keep the good memories with you. But most importantly, don’t dwell on what was lost. Move forward and focus on healthy relationships in your life.
  1. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. Sometimes it’s okay to opt out of something if it damages your physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual well-being. In particular, I feel like many people overlook emotional health. It is not selfish to realize you need distance and space when you feel overwhelmed or drained. And it’s okay to stay home, de-stress, relax, get a massage, and eat ice cream once in a while.

Amazing Vietnamese cinnamon caramel ice cream from Bellyshack in Chicago

  1. A lot of what you think matters doesn’t really matter in the end. Money, prestige, and what other people think of you ultimately don’t matter. Sometimes it’s like we put other people on pedestals and they must be pleased with what we do, what we wear, and who we marry. We often get caught up in this world, when ultimately what matters is not this dunya. We must realize that this life is short and there are more important things to be done and work to do.
  1. Be selective about what you put your heart into. No matter how many times people screw you over, it is important not to make your heart into a heart of steel. Keep your heart warm and soft and gooey. But make sure you don’t put your heart into the wrong people or things. Be very, very careful with your heart. Put your heart into things that truly matter.
  1. Practice justice in all aspects of life. You cannot be an activist for justice only in Palestine and nowhere else, for example. You must fight against injustice wherever you see it, whether it be homelessness on the streets of Chicago or when your friend is being abused. Stand up for what’s right in every situation, no matter where, no matter who, and no matter how big or small. If we want a better world, we must start with ourselves.

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