Every day we live, we learn. Maybe we don’t realize it, maybe it doesn’t really register in our minds that we did, but we do. It may be something trivial that we shrug off within minutes and it may well be a life lesson that will stay with us forever! No matter what it is, it’s something new and it’s something that did register .. in other words, it matters!
When that happens you change, you evolve. Sure, some transformations are more substantial than others, but even small changes are significant when it comes to one’s growth. In my personal experience, the more “out there” the situation is, the more you learn. The harsher and more painful the situation is, the more you learn. The simpler and less complex the person is, the more you learn. The more unexpected and sudden the experience is, the more you learn.
In fact, it isn’t really about the quantity but more about the quality of what you learn. Personally, whenever I learn new things about myself I feel like this new-found knowledge is more valuable than anything else. That mainly stems from the fact that up until my early twenties I don’t think that I knew much about myself at all! Sure, I know the basics about my personality and my character and such, but how much did I know about who I really am? Not much, if at all! I learned about my true passions, strengths, weaknesses, limits, dreams and goals during the better part of my twenties. Yet I do not regret waiting that long to learn. I believe that the timing was perfect. Had all this knowledge been bestowed upon me earlier in my life, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. I probably wouldn’t have even been able to comprehend most of it to begin with! The teens are such overwhelming years, so much goes on in your life and it all hits you at once. Is it really the right time for self-discovery? I don’t think so. In order to evolve you need to be stable first. You cannot build a house without foundation so how can you expect to use the building blocks of your very self on quicksand?
I am thankful that I figured “me” out! I am now able to handle a lot of things that I know I couldn’t have possibly been able to deal with 10 years ago. I am now more in control of my life and who I let in and who I show the way out to. I am now able to stand up for myself and my beliefs and not care what anyone thinks because I know that my opinion is the one that counts and that, as long as I am not doing anything to upset God from me, that’s the only thing that should matter. I am now more confident with regards to raising my children and teaching them what I think they will need in life and what they’ll need to lead them to God’s blessings after what I hope will be a long, happy, healthy, successful and prosperous life. I am now a woman, not a little girl, who is invincible!
So, in light of what I have learned so far (and I have still got a long, long way to go … if God gives me the time), please allow me to share with you the top 30 life lessons that I have benefited from most:
1- You matter! And if anyone in your life does not comprehend that then you need to re-evaluate their presence in your life.
2- Be authentic, no one can do a better job at being you than yourself. Being a copy of someone else or changing for someone else is the biggest disservice you could do to yourself and to the world, which will miss out on your awesomeness!
3- Hear everything that is said to you and that is being said around you but only listen to what your heart and mind tell you to listen to. Hearing is a passive activity, so take what you hear and filter it and only listen to the stuff that matters. Consider the rest to be white noise and discard it.
4- Don’t be afraid to speak up. Even if you are the shyest person to ever exist (my friends used to call me “Tamatmaya”, which means “Tomato” in Arabic, because I blush ALL the time … it happens less now but still happens way too often), have faith in yourself and speak up whenever you need to. You’ve got it in you. You have the courage, you just don’t know it yet.
5- Give second chances, and third, and fourth! But only to the deserving. To the people you truly care about, to those you believe deep down inside are good enough, to those who hit rock bottom and need it, to those who need someone to believe in them. Don’t make a fool of yourself in the process though, and don’t allow anyone to hurt you. Know when to step back, evaluate the situation and, possibly, walk away.
6- Don’t be afraid to walk away. The first step will be the hardest, but a few years into your journey you will look back and thank your courageous self for taking that step.
7- Be kind and give, always. Did your friend talk about you behind your back? Did the love of your life let you down? Did your superior throw your efforts to the wind? Did the cab driver drive right past you? Did that kid make fun of you when you were 7? It doesn’t matter, simply because it says more about them than it does about you! So, be kind, don’t let their harshness change you … be kind. Give whenever you can. Call it charity, call it giving, call it gifting … just give. The act of giving is rewarding on so many levels. The act of giving is an act of kindness!
8- Forgive and let go whenever you can so that God would forgive you in the hereafter. Do it for you, not for the person you are forgiving. Don’t you deserve the peace of mind? Of course you do! Don’t forget though, remember the lesson you learned, never forget that.
9- It’s OK to show people the way out of your life, or even let them find it on their own. Poisonous, hateful, arrogant, egotistical, closed-minded, cold, unsympathetic, back-biting, lying, conniving and ill-wishing people have no place in my life anymore and shouldn’t have a place in yours. It took me 28 years to convince myself that it’s OK to let certain people go, and boy does it feel great! If they take away from you, if they don’t appreciate your presence in their life, if they try to break you then why have them in your life? Leave them on good terms though, or at least try, that way there will be no bitterness associated with the relationship that was.
10- Make “me” time. Having me time is important for your overall well-being. You need to slow down, forget about your responsibilities and worries and focus on recharging yourself. You need to nurture yourself and reward it from time to time. I always put others and their needs first but I, only recently, came to understand that if I don’t take care of myself properly there is no way I’ll be able to take care of those who need me and love me (thank you Charlotte W., Dina S. and Yasmina H. for that lesson). Having even a few minutes to yourself every day is essential and you’ll feel and see the results reflected immediately on yourself and those around you.
11- It’s OK to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean you failed. It doesn’t mean you are weak either. It means you are human! Asking for help is normal, what’s abnormal is doing everything on your own. You’ll be surprised to see how much those around you actually want to help you, only you weren’t letting them! Delegating will alleviate some stress off of you, which will in turn allow you to do more. It will also make others feel useful and needed, and who doesn’t want to feel that way?
12- When it comes to your faith and your principles, don’t compromise. Being sworn at, having made fun of, being stared at, having a can of soda thrown at and being treated with disrespect and outright aggression didn’t make me reconsider my faith or my choice of Hijab … not even for a split second! If anything, it made me proud of who I am and of being a Muslim because it showed me how beautiful my religion is. We are instructed by God and our prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) not to hurt others, speak good or remain silent, help others, never judge, live peacefully amongst others and practice tolerance. I am better than those who choose to treat me the way they do, so why back down? And when it comes to my principles, they are the foundation of my personality, character and manners … if I compromise them I, essentially, cease to exist!
13- Work hard, really hard, even if no one is watching. In my religion, work is worship. Do you want to worship God half-heartedly? Of course not. Do you want to take the money you are paid knowing that you earned every penny or do you just want fast cash? Do you want the money you earn to be blessed or do you want to spend it on something like illness or other bad circumstances? Do you want to be proud of yourself and your achievements or do you not care?
14- Don’t do or say anything in secret that you would not do or say in public. That includes not talking about anyone in a way that you wouldn’t right to their face. Don’t be a fraud, even if no one else knows it, you will!
15- Practice empathy and compassion, every single day. We all have our struggles, we are all fighting our own battles. No one in this world is passing through life as if it were a breeze, so keep that in mind when someone wrongs you or lets you down … you never know what’s going on in their lives.
16- Don’t envy anyone and don’t be jealous. Jealousy is like a flesh eating bacteria! It will literally poison you, body and mind. Those you envy may very well be envying you back for something that is completely skipping your mind. No one has it all, if someone has something be 100% sure that there is something else that they are lacking. As Islam says, we all have 100% because God is fair but how those 100% are distributed in our lives are not exactly the same for each and every one of us. Your neighbor has that humungous bank account? You’ve got the laughter of your children filling your house and they don’t! Your sister has a ton of friends? You’ve got a few but they are loyal to you. Your colleague got promoted? You have better health than he does. Rest assured that somewhere out there someone else is thinking that you have it all too, so don’t envy anyone.
17- Choose your battles wisely and fight them till the end. If it’s something substantial, something that needs a stand then go for it. If it’s something that can be resolved otherwise or even completely let go of, don’t bother. Never let anyone else fight your battles for you, they won’t be able to do the job like you would.
18- Don’t be in someone’s life if they don’t have a place for you. How many people are or were in relationships where they had to, literally, fight for their spot? I’m not talking about romantic relationships only, no, friendships, kinship, partnerships, whatever sort of “-ship”. If someone doesn’t have a place for you in their life then they don’t deserve you. It doesn’t matter if they are the air you breathe, you deserve better.
19- Don’t kill children’s innocence. Way too often do I see parents screwing up their own children thinking that they are helping them be cool or classy! Remember that children were born innocent for a reason, sooner or later they will grow up and be as wise (or even wiser) than you. Don’t rush children into an early adulthood, that’s not what’s supposed to happen. Cherish their innocent moments, get down on your hands and knees and be silly with them. Hear their problems and take them seriously but never burden them with yours. Let them choose their outfits but be their protector and make sure they are age-appropriate. Have faith in them and teach them to be independent but keep your protective eye on them.
20- Friends come and go, except for the real ones. I have friends who I haven’t seen in 15 years. We actually fell out of touch when we turned 14 and each of us left to a different country and got reunited when we turned 29 (thank you Facebook)! We love each other so much to the extent that we feel like those 15 years were 15 hours, absolutely nothing changed with regards to our friendship and feelings towards one another. I also have friends who I met 4 years ago and love them just as much and trust them just as much! It has nothing to do with the number of friends or how long you’ve known them … it has everything to do with their quality. I’d rather have a single friend who I share mutual honesty, trust, love, care and kindness with than a hundred that I don’t!
21- Family is everything. Even if your family members don’t feel the same way sometimes, deep down inside they know it too. Yes, your friends are important and so are your career, money, leisurely activities and another thousand things. But who will be there for you during hard times? Who will be there for you no matter what? Who will be there for you when you are 70, with a bad back and no teeth? Family, especially your immediate family, is everything so make them a priority in your life.
22- Respect, respect, respect. ALWAYS treat people with respect. Don’t love her anymore? Tell her. Don’t like his outfit? Tell him. You talked about them behind their backs? Apologize. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, treat others with respect and they’ll appreciate it, eventually 😉 I’d rather hear truth that hurts than be lied to. I’d rather lose someone I love then have them in my life but feel nothing. I’d rather someone not agree with me and respect me than agree with me and laugh about me behind my back. It’s simple, respecting others means you respect yourself.
23- Take the high road. Never stoop down to the level of others if their level is beneath you, you are better than that!
24- Take charge of your life. Never ever let anyone tell you what to do or how to live your life. Take advice, yes, absolutely … be manipulated, no, never. If anyone starts bossing you around or harassing you into doing, saying or changing anything that you do not agree with, turn around and walk away. Don’t lose yourself and your identity in order to please anyone, no one is worth it and those who are would never allow themselves to do that to you.
25- Treat your elders the way they deserve to be treated. Your forgetful mother isn’t dumb. Your technologically-challenged father isn’t ignorant. That lady at the nursing home who keeps reiterating the same stories over and over isn’t boring. That old man who keeps asking you for the same thing over and over again isn’t annoying. They are old, they’ve aged but they are the same people that raised you, the same people who tried to create a better world for our generation, the same people who if you listen to attentively could help you become a better person. They are living their last days, and maybe so are you, so cut them some slack … you never know when you’ll need people to cut you some slack.
26- Smile, laugh, have fun and fall in love. But not at anyone else’s expense. Smiling alleviates physical and emotional pain and is plain beautiful! Laugh because you can and because you have so many blessings that, if you really sit down and count, will make you realize how lucky you are. Have fun because taking life way too seriously benefited no one. And fall in love because it is the most serene and rewarding feeling you will ever have. It would be perfect if the other person loves you back, loves you as much, but life isn’t perfect. Loving someone in itself brings on immense pleasure and will overcome you with warmth. The saying, “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is absolutely true.
27- Follow your passions. Not many of us are lucky enough to discover where their true passions lie. If you are one of the lucky few, nourish them, let them grow and in turn they will nourish you back. My passions are writing, sketching, spending time in and admiring nature and spending time with my lovely children … not once have I done any of those things and not felt fantastic afterwards.
28- Travel, if you can. Even if it’s to the next town. You will learn so much from others and you will see how alike we all really are. You will learn so much about yourself and the world as well.
29- Take risks. Well, not the life-threatening kind but rather, the hit-or-miss kind. Some of the best moments of my life resulted from taking risks and taking that leap of faith.
30- Be thankful, always. Every minute of every day. Whether it be to God or others. And the more you express your gratitude the better, not just for the recipient but yourself as well. Me thanking others for their kindness towards me, no matter how small their act was, feels so rewarding because I know that I am making them feel appreciated and loved.
There are tons of other life lessons that I learned, but they can all be summed up under those 30 points, one way or another. What are the life lessons you learned so far? Which ones are you hoping to expand on? Are there any that you pass on to your loved ones? Think about it, contemplate your life so far, and I guarantee you that you will realize that you have grown so much within a short period of time.