Breaking Barriers

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Wednesday night, I got to celebrate my younger brother’s 20th birthday with all four of my siblings. The event was beautiful because it was the first time my siblings and I had come together to just hang out as adults.

Being one of four siblings is interesting firstly because we are considered a big family by Western standards. Most people I know only have one or two siblings. Not only that, but the age ranges between us are pretty huge. My older brother will be turning 33 in June, meaning there’s a thirteen-year age gap between the oldest and youngest sibling in my family. I think my parents planned it this way on purpose so we couldn’t conspire against them, but that’s another story.

For us, this meant that we were all at different points in life for much of our adolescence and early adulthood. To put it in perspective, when we attended my eldest brother’s college graduation, my younger brother was still in elementary school. This range of ages caused our family to have very dynamic relationships between siblings. My youngest brother and I are only about three years apart, so we’ve always been very close. I’ve had phases of closeness and distance between my older sister, who is six years older than me. When she entered her tween years, she could not stand me, as is expected of a 16-year-old with a very nosy and destructive ten-year-old sister. My eldest brother and I have not always been able to talk about our lives in detail, a product of age and family structure, but we’ve always had a mutual closeness that similarly resembles the relationship between my elder sister and my younger brother. As my youngest brother has finally entered his college years, we’ve been able to see each other as adults as each sibling goes through relationships, similar struggles, and of course, being able to finally drink together.

My parents were conservative Muslims, meaning we had a lot of unrealistic ideals to follow throughout our lives. Many Muslim-Americans face the same issues as they enter the dating world and adulthood, as there is a strict “no dating, no drinking, no partying” rule that we are ingrained with from a young age. This caused us to keep a lot of secrets from each other. As the age ranges caused a discord in and of itself, we also adopted similar levels of secret-keeping from each other as well. My father passed away in 2011, which caused another dramatic shift in our relationships. I believe our relationships could have gone one of two ways following my father’s death – extreme closeness or complete displacement. The first few years were difficult, with my older brother having to give up on his life plans in order to financially support our family. This built lots of frustration and confusion between our relationships, as we didn’t know whether to still see our brother as a brother or more of a parental figure.

Our relationships changed a lot after I entered my third and fourth year of college, because my boyfriend and I were starting to get serious and the idea of introducing him to my family was starting to become a necessity as our life plans started to merge. After years of keeping relationships from each other and hiding the more intimate details of our lives from each other, I had to go home and tell my family that not only was I dating someone with a different religion and culture, but that we were planning on living together. There was lots of friction, as we had to make the decision to either cling to our old rules and habits or start our relationships from scratch and open up to each other. It was arguably one of the hardest moments of my life and there was definitely lots of crying and arguments, but it ended up being a much more positive experience than I could have ever expected. I received tons of support from my family, and it set a new precedent within our family to start being open about our lives and live our truths, no matter how much we wanted to hide them or keep them secret. Luckily, we’ve grown stronger and tighter as a family unit since then, and I cannot imagine the past year of my life being as amazing as it was without the unconditional love and support that I’ve received from my family.

I think my biggest takeaway after this experience was of the sheer importance of honesty. Telling the truth can be downright ugly sometimes – it can cause disappointment, hurt the people you love the most, and it can feel like every cell in your body is telling you that you’re doing the wrong thing when you finally spit the words out. But honesty and authenticity are all we can use to learn who we can depend on in life, and to learn from our mistakes rather than covering up our flaws. My truths healed my relationships with my family and allowed me to open up to them about the real problems in my life and receive the warm, loving support that everyone needs. It helps to have a parent and older siblings who have already been through it all, to hear advice spoken in retrospect rather than trying to figure it all out alone.

Happy Birthday, Rehaan. This was definitely a night to remember.

Breaking Habits.

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I mentioned in a previous post how I’ve started using HabitBull to track my progress towards the goals I have. For the past 5 days, I’ve been killing it. 

But something happened yesterday.

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Do you see it glaring back at you?

I missed a blog post yesterday. And I cannot go back and fill that darn circle in.

I woke up with an immediate sense of guilt, and a desire to “double up” posts and fill the circle in today. I went back to the subreddit, and found that when you miss a day, you miss a day, and to make sure to complete the task the next day and start up the chain.

I didn’t expect the feeling of missing a circle to seem like such a failure. But it is. And I have to accept it and let it go. I do feel a sense of urgency now, so I believe this method is working out for me. I think that having specific times to do all these tasks will probably make the process easier since I hadn’t been assigning times for each task.

Wish me luck!

Captain Fantastic and Ego Death.

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Last night, a close friend of mine recommended that I watch “Captain Fantastic.” I’m not a big movie buff (I have an incredibly short attention span and if I don’t find a movie incredibly engaging, I will fall asleep within the first fifteen minutes – thanks, ADHD) but I spent the whole hour and fifty-eight minutes glued to the screen in a hyperfocused trance, and this movie has been the only thing on my mind since watching it.

The film, directed by Matt Ross, follows the life of a man named Ben Cash (played by Viggo Mortensen) who left society with his wife, Leslie, and raised six children in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. We never get to meet Cash’s beloved wife, though. We learn that she committed suicide after three months of staying in a mental institution for treatment of severe Bipolar Affective Disorder. The movie unpacks the lives of the family in a way that gives us hints and clues into Ben and Leslie’s relationship as we follow their grieving process of losing Leslie. The kids are rigorously trained with intensive physical exercise, highly advanced readings, and mature philosophical discussions from a young age. Each child takes turns listening and taking charge of certain situations, and every child’s views and unique characteristics are celebrated and accepted by the whole family. They depend on one another, fight for each other, and are bound by a closeness that is incredibly refreshing.

However, this movie isn’t about the benefits of rejecting society. In fact, the movie does an incredible job of questioning the beliefs of everyone. Ben’s overtly self-assured view of the world results in some condescending and dangerous choices, hinting at the idea that Ben’s abhorrence of capitalist society played a factor in Leslie’s suicide. The kids struggle when they interact with the “real world,” with the eldest son finding himself unable to connect with women his age and hiding his acceptance letters to Ivy League schools and desire to attend college from his organized-society rejecting father, and with the children finding themselves unable to coexist with their suburbanized cousins. The youngest son, Rellian, finds himself rebelling against his father and arguing that they should be able to just celebrate Christmas, finding himself unable to argue his stance to his family.

The family isn’t entirely “leftist,” as we come to find that all the children are well-equipped with weapons, utilizing impressive knives and combat skills to hunt game.

There isn’t an underlying “message” to the whole movie, as we can never pinpoint characters who are inherently right or wrong in their views. Every character has their own strengths and flaws, and every ideological view is represented in a way is both supportive and ridiculing.

This movie led me to question my views on many things. Though I find myself to be incredibly leftist in terms of my political views, this movie offered me a sober view of the strengths and weaknesses of each ideology. In the end, I felt as though I had relaxed my hard views significantly, in a way that reminded me that nothing is ever black and white, and that every decision and choice we make should be rigorously challenged before we can settle into a particular view of life.

 

The X Effect

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Recently, I came across the subreddit “The X Effect” which is a community of people who have discovered a simple habit accountability method. This method involves creating a 50 square grid, with a title of a habit you’d like to implement. This can be any kind of habit you’d like to implement. One of the habits I chose to implement was writing a blog post every single day, regardless of how I felt about writing or if I had any sort of creative genius in me at the moment.

Mel Robbins talks about the importance of getting out of your “feelings” about doing a certain task. She has done extensive research on productivity and found that everything we do can be traced back to a “feedback loop” in the brain.

The X Effect is a great way to start implementing habits, because there is something about the human psyche that dislikes breaking streaks. And how can you implement a habit without tracking how long you’ve been working on it?

I downloaded the HabitBull so that I could easily track my progress in a few areas – writing, working out, and meditating. So far, it’s been working great for me.

Try it out, and let me know how you do. There’s a whole subreddit for “X-effect” grads, and having a community is a great way to stay motivated.

“You must go it alone.” – Alan Watts

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A month ago, I graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a B.S. in Computer Science. On paper, that may seem like I have everything under control. To be honest, I couldn’t be more disoriented or confused coming out of college than I am at the moment.

A funny thing happens when you graduate college. Throughout your whole life, up until this point, you had a timeline that you followed. You went to elementary school because you were told to, you went to high school because you had to, you attended university because that’s what everyone else does. But you quickly learn that “what everyone else does” after college is an absolute free-for-all.

Some people choose to find a job close to home. Some find a job elsewhere. Some decide to make a start-up. Some decide to get married. And some decide to make a run for it, ditching society and cultural norms to become a forest hippie (my preferred plan of action).

And whatever you choose is okay.

I recently read the book “The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. This is arguably the best and worst choice I’ve made since graduation. Manson does a great job of reminding us that we are not special, and that we’re all inevitably going to die. This means giving up the idea of chasing success, because the idea of success doesn’t accurately represent the suffering it takes to get there. We need to get over the idea that we’re inadequate. Not because we’re amazing, but because we actually ARE inadequate, and the only way to ever improve is to accept that we suck. Instead of visualizing the pleasures we want (since most people want the same thing) we need to visualize the problems we want to deal with. For Manson, that meant becoming a broke blog writer after college, because to him, writing was worth the pain of not being financially secure.

As I’ve now made the blasphemous choice to start a T-shirt company, program for fun, photograph everything, write like hell as I’ve wanted to do since I was a child, and take my first real steps to figuring out the problems I want to have, I feel a sense of freedom that I’ve never felt before – the freedom to fail, and the marvelous ability to not give a fuck.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mark. You’re a lovely disappointment panda.

Why Certainty is Wrong

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Recently, I’ve experienced conflict with different people in my life. In the past, when I have experienced conflict, I’ve held grudges and looked for all the ways that proved I was right, and I used to surround myself only with people that agreed with me.

This time around (and I seldom experience conflict because I have a tendency to avoid confrontation – an issue in and of itself) I took the time to reflect. What resulted was a series of ego-shattering realizations that allowed me to have true clarity.

I was wrong.

It’s easy to get caught up in emotions during conflict. What you feel can have a heavy impact on how you perceive a situation, which is why it’s so difficult to get to the root of problems sometimes.

The Crash Course Philosophy series on Youtube has undoubtedly been one of the best resources I’ve come across when it comes to critical thinking and seeking truth. The course walks you through some very tough topics in an environment where you’re forced to set all of your biases aside. This series helped me reach a few truths in my life while I was watching the videos, but it also taught me how to ask the questions that lead a person closer to the truth.

The problem with being “right” or being “certain” is that we really can’t be certain of anything. When we are certain about something, the progress of that thing must end because there is no reason to doubt a certainty. In other words, we can never progress if we never question what we already believe to be true. Because of that, progress must always be made in a state of uncertainty. Because of that, every belief we hold in our heads must be ingrained with a bit of uncertainty, because uncertainty is the key to truth.

So what did that mean for me?

It means I had to take a good, hard look at myself. It means I had to re-evaluate my actions, my values, my perception of reality, and it meant I had to swallow my pride and apologize. The result was a sense of undeniable calm, a sober view of life, and a motivation to better myself rather than shift blame. I spent less energy focusing on who was right and who was wrong and who should apologize to who, and I channeled my energy towards studying more, improving my mental and physical health, and becoming a more virtuous person. And I think it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

How to Eat a Plane

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I recently watched the Ted talk by Stephen Duneier called “How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals.” Stephen Duneier has literally cracked the code to achieving goals – he has completed marathons, learned German in a short amount of time, holds a Guinness record for crocheting the largest granny square, learned how to fly a plane, among other insanely ambitious feats. However, he brings his successes back to who he is as a person – someone who cannot focus on anything for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and someone who was a C student throughout his life.

When I was taking Data Structures during my undergraduate career, my professor made a point of showing us a video on Youtube of a man who has literally eaten a plane.

The thing is, anyone can do any of these things. (Though I cant conceive of a reason that would justify eating a plane). The trick is to approach each and every problem in life with small, broken down steps in order to achieve a greater goal.

Whether you want to run a marathon, finish a degree with all A’s, or even practice your writing skills, the key is to break the steps down into the tiniest steps you can conceive of – getting off the couch, closing the Facebook app, opening up your laptop, opening up your word processing app, and just. writing. one. word.

That’s it. That’s the key. Work for a few minutes,  and then go do whatever you want. But come back to the goals you’re trying to accomplish by going back to the smallest step necessary to keep moving forward.