Earlier this year I started a friendship with a young woman at one of the retreats I was facilitating. Other than a great instant connection we shared, I appreciated the friendship because in many ways it allowed me to revisit my 30 year old self again. As I got to know my friend Feebie (not real name), despite the striking differences related to the relative privilege and power she had compared to myself at 30, the encounters with her gave me a window into my past. As strange as it may sound, as I listened to her and the things she was angsting about, I recalled the 30 year old Shamillah. The young woman that on the outside was so confident, and looked like she had her ‘ish’ together, but in many ways was unsure, burdened with responsibility and struggling hard to just survive (let alone thrive) in a world that was changing really fast.
I remembered the things that she was preoccupied with, and the things that she had to navigate. In the wisdom that I now have access to as a result of the many trials and tribulations that I have overcome in the course of my life, I was imagining and reflecting on what I wish she could have heard at that time to just motivate her, support her and cheer her on. After much reflection, I really wish that somebody had told her this:
# 1 Don’t take yourself so damn seriously all the time
I remember myself as being super intense and taking everything seriously. I was that person that would get upset or try to address every issue in every situation. It took me a while to realise that I was wasting a lot of my energy because there were moments where it was ok to let things go. Taking myself so seriously also meant that instead of just laughing at myself at times, I would often find the areas where I would be really hard on myself. I wish someone had shown me how to cultivate the balance between seriousness and lightness.
# 2 Everything is not yours to fix/solve or take responsibility for
Many of the people who know me, also know that I had this heightened sense of responsibility. While this was definitely something that has allowed me to develop and grow, it has also meant that I did not step back and allow others to do the same. The sense of responsibility also became a burden later and at times when I felt others were not equally stepping up, it built up resentment. It was only later that I realised that I would not be seen, loved or valued more because I had the capability to navigate and move through challenges.
# 3 Its ok to not know what you are doing
I was always someone that felt I needed to have a plan, or a roadmap. Not having one often made me feel vulnerable. At the same time, I sometimes felt ashamed to admit that I do not know. Over time, this is probably something I had to work with the most. I have learnt to own up to areas where I feel less competent and to ask for either help or build competence if that was what I desired. In terms of an uncertain path, I believe that my greatest learning has been to embrace spontaneity and to leave room to be surprised or for the journey to configure itself.
# 4 Somethings life will suck, but it will get better
Although I have a fairly decent ability to bounce back, I still struggled with the downs I experienced. In a moment of low, it really tested me to not blow the ‘low point’ out of proportion. I have since learnt to embrace it, sometimes I seek help when I am struggling to move through it, but overall, I have learnt that things will get better. I have also found a gratitude practice to be the most helpful and grounding strategy during my low points.
# 5 Put effort into loving yourself – that’s your most important job
Not surprisingly, I think I spent a lot of my life, and even early 30’s waiting for myself to be truly loved. I waited for someone to love me the way I deserve to be loved! Ironically, the one person that needed to love me the way I deserve to be loved was myself. It took me a long time to figure out that if indeed I am able to love myself through all my edges, that in fact any other love I receive is just a bonus. Without self-love, any other form of love feels somewhat unbelievable too. I wish someone told me this when I was a teenager and even taught me how to do it earlier in my life.
# 6 You don’t have to figure it all out on your own
Similar to a bad habit of fixing and rescuing, I also struggled with asking for help. My mother told me a story of how it started with me as a child sitting in a corner refusing to ask anyone to help me figure out how to do my homework. She shared it quite proudly on one hand, yet I also sensed a desire within her to be asked to help. This habit of doing everything by myself became my badge that proved my independence. Yet, later it became unhealthy because I was unable to distinguish when it was ok to be independent and autonomous, and when to ask for help. I have since learnt to cultivate the practice of asking for help. It’s not easy, but it’s something I work on intentionally.
# 7 Take care of and enjoy your body
When I was younger, I did not pay attention to my body, nor did I appreciate my body. I felt this deep dissatisfaction with my body and constantly criticised it for its shortcomings. When I look at earlier photographs of myself, I marvel at how amazing I looked. At the same time, I think I did not care for it in terms of exercise, healthier work patterns or being more considerate of my eating habits. Some of those habits have accumulated and I see now the effect of this lack of consideration for or appreciation of my body.
# 8 Make time to play
I remember that I was always focused on the end goal. I would often sacrifice the now, and instead focus on what it is that I needed to do, or accomplish. In the process, I missed out on many opportunities to just be joyful and present in the moment. I had a particular mantra of ‘one day when…’. I think about 12 years ago I realised that the ‘one day’ was now and since then I work on making time for play (my version) and on being more present.
# 9 Surround yourself with people that genuinely want what is best for you
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I have learnt over time has been about surrounding myself with people who give me energy, who give me joy and who just love me. In other words, people who allow me to be in all my weirdness, who see and love me even when I do nothing but exist in the world. I have also found the people who challenge me, and sometimes tell me the truths that are not always good to hear. The ones who tell me so in ways that embody love and compassion, but also the vision of me in the fullness of my being.
# 10 Try different things – explore more
Lastly, I remember meeting someone once upon a time who asked me ‘when last did you do something for the first time?’. I was so confounded by this question, not because of the question itself, but because I realised that I could not remember the last time I did do something different or new or pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Since then, I have learnt to ask myself that question often as a way to remain open and curious about the world, myself and life.