Monthly Archives: January 2014

Savoring the Small Stuff

I wrote this article last week, and it took me a while of contemplating whether I should publish it or not. I guess a part of me feels a bit “too” positive, if there’s such a thing, but I thought I’d take the chance anyway even if it’s not my best article. Would appreciate positive or constructive feedback.

I just went on a 5 minute walk, and I never thought it would be that pleasurable. I wasn’t walking to burn fat, I wasn’t walking because I was bored, I wasn’t looking for something, or anything. I was mainly walking because I had been sitting for too long, and my body was starting to ache. My day at work has been productive, and it’s a chilled one. I’ve been focusing on enjoying the tasks I used to feel apprehensive about, and I just decided that I will experience them with life. I was walking because 10 years from now, I don’t want to have health issues arising because I sit for too long, I don’t want to feel like I’m stuck in a white box all day long. I wanted to somehow get out of the system.

This walk has been inspiring though, because when I savored the small stuff, I’ve discovered that the tiny street I once viewed as poor, old, and value-less surprisingly is special after all. The street is narrow and short, there isn’t much scenery, there are just a bunch of grey buildings, no effort put in their design, but they do what they’re designed to do. I came across some lovely wood work though when, instead of driving by the buildings unconsciously, I walked slowly and looked at the cramped up garages. Each building had a different door on display. Shamefully, most of the old trees are harshly cut, they are leafless. But in spite of the fact that they’re the farthest from green, these trees are so old, their stems so sturdy and thick, and their branches and limbs intricately hugging one another exquisitely. It’s something you might see everyday, but you don’t notice or appreciate. I’ve discovered that the embassy of Cuba is on the corner of the street, I had never seen it before. I loved the fact that there was minimal security, it felt safer. There was just one security guard taking a smoke across the street. Instead of an uptight, formal vibe, he gave a casual one. I also stumbled upon a retirement home called Beit Al Habayeb, (Home of the Loved Ones), and I could have sworn I saw the 40’s in there. The residents were spending some time outdoors since the weather isn’t too cold today, and the sun is shining. It seemed like an old fashioned tea party as they settled on the worn out wooden chairs. You could see they’ve given up on life, yet not in a bad way. They were still alive, but they’ve gotten over the fear of death which a lot of us possess, and that makes life better, I think.

Despite the many existing “newer” road and building signs, authentic calligraphy was chiseled in other metal signs. They were rusty and genuine, overpowering the bogus blue ones. I wish there were more of them around.

Life is all about savoring the small stuff. Instead of rushing through it, we should take it one step at a time. We often look back and feel like a part of it has passed us by, and that’s mainly because we forgot that we could turn even the simplest things into something that is better than neutral. My walk is just a metaphor, and maybe mostly developed in my imagination, because I had decided to see those things around me in that way. We take our senses for granted, and we forget about gratitude. Our lives are precious, and the things existing around us aren’t just there to exist, they’re there for a reason, if only we’d see it.

The Thin Line We’re Trying to Find (and Cross)

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that this post is about most Egyptian parents, not all of them, and not parents all around the world, Egyptian parents. However, it doesn’t mean that some of the examples don’t work for other parents. Also, no offence is intended by this post to any parents. We understand you love us, but we’ll never learn if you don’t let us.

At twenty-something, when you’re still living with your parents and younger siblings, it gets you to question the independence you so desperately crave. You start wondering about the lots of different scenarios you could have been in if you and your parents were different, or had a more open/limited mindset.

I’m a 24 year old who still lives with her mom and 2 brothers, I love them to death, and I appreciate everything they do for me, as well as being a part of this family, but a lot of the time I just want to escape. And no, not escape in the sense of lock myself in my room and let no one in. But escape in the sense of being in total control of what I’m doing, coming home whenever I please, without having a curfew, and deciding to travel with whoever I want out of the blue. Escape mentally and emotionally, and not worry about what they want or don’t want for me. I’m not even that extreme.

I’ve been raised to be independent. Isn’t that how most people are raised when their parents aren’t super protective? I mean, I remember my first day at a new school when I was only 5, and I remember crying when my mom dropped me off. She didn’t want me to cry, it was about time I become unattached to her at my new school. Little did I know I would then love my school and impatiently wait for classes where we practiced our hand-writing, not only recess. This went on with everything in my life. Our parents teach us to eat alone, ride the bus alone, eventually do our homework alone, so on and so forth until we’re happy enough about this freedom.

But then we grow up, and start really thinking for ourselves. We question the values we’ve been raised with, and even though there’s always this phase of fear of letting go and admitting to ourselves that we sometimes disagree because “our parents are always right,” we then realize we’re old enough to make this our life. I think this story’s pretty much relatable. Some people reach that point before others, some people’s parents are a lot more loose, and others are a lot more protective.

Teenagers abroad are usually let go after they start college. A lot of them travel to other cities or countries for college anyway, and their parents knew that all along, so they’ve gotten themselves ready for it a long time ago. So here’s our challenge, when do we get that? Where is the thin line that we all so miserably want to find and cross, or better yet, destroy?

Before you think I’m ungrateful, I am aware of the perks of not being let go. We don’t have to pay rent, we usually go home to a clean and tidy house, and we find homemade meals ready to be eaten. We still do some chores, but they’re nothing compared to living with messy room mates (if we don’t like that) or having the responsibility of a house other than our studies and being out almost everyday because we have the energy for that. But isn’t there more to life than this stuff? I think I’d rather be fully independent and teach myself to be mature enough to take care of the mundane tasks instead of completely overlooking them and just seeing living with my parents a good “deal”.

Getting back on point, the thin line that I still haven’t found. Is it an age thing? If it is, my argument is, I’m 24, I’ve finished university (and I’m thankful you’ve paid for it, but I’m sure you’re not trying to emotionally blackmail me into paying you back). I’ve been working for over 2 years, and I’m willing to still make stupid mistakes and learn from them, or live differently than you did. Every time I try to draw the line, they react as if I’m a child, even though they were married before 24, and they had me soon after. That’s too damn early!

Okay, let’s say it’s not an age thing. Is it a marriage thing? Really? You’re only going to let me move out when I’m married? What if I’m not married until 35? Would I still have to live here and abide by the 11 pm curfew? Or will it be extended? This whole thing confuses me!

Moving out is out of the question, unless you’re moving out to another city or country, and they’d only let you because they don’t want to kill your career, but even for some people it’s not a choice. I would also say it’s easier for men than it is for women, because men are the ones who traditionally bring in the money. And it’s more important for a woman to find a good husband than to find a fulfilling career.

I was raised to respect my parents, and I do. I just sometimes feel like I want to live my life the way I imagine it. I want my values to be mine, not because that’s how I was raised, but because those are the values I’ve chosen to stick to, and I’m completely convinced. What’s the difference between 24, 25, and 30? Even 40? Yes, you have more experience at 40, but that’s mainly because you were let go, and the sooner that happens, the faster you’ll learn, because you’re not learning to please anyone, you’re learning because you’ve been through the heart-ache, pain, confusion or pride that comes with all of it.

I love my parents, I would never like to disappoint them, but we all do sooner or later, unintentionally. I still haven’t found the line, but I’m starting to believe it’s only an illusion.

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How I Made 2013 My Best Year Yet (And How I’m going to Make 2014 Even Better)

I’ve started 2013 spending the night on top of a mountain, after a tedious hike I wasn’t prepared for neither mentally or physically. I was suffering from the cold, and I was dreading the fact that in a few hours, I’m going to wake up and hike all the way down that same mountain. I had no choice, there was no easy way out. In the morning, after getting some rest, waking up and experiencing the scene in full sunlight, I remembered that I’ll be done shortly, and that I should work on keeping a positive mindset. Back then, I didn’t know I was going to learn great lessons from this challenge, but after numerous reflections throughout 2013, I’ve realized that this trip really did inspire me even more than I thought.

2013 began on a positive note. I arrived home on the 1st of January tired as hell, however, never in my life have I felt this victorious. Not only did I hike up the highest peak in Egypt, but I also learned about how much our perspective on things can make an experience good or bad. Also, that every physical challenge is based on a mental or emotional test.

I didn’t have a specific new year’s resolution, but I was so fuelled up, that I decided that I will always keep challenging myself, and never again take the easy way out. To be honest, I still haven’t mastered that, but I have made a lot of progress. Learning about the benefits of challenging myself created an abundance of other lessons in only 1 year, and that’s a pretty short time for transformation!

Here are some of the things I learned, and how I plan to beat the awesomeness of 2013 (with all it’s ups and downs) in 2014:

1. Taking Risks:

I’ve taken so many career related risks this year, even though I strongly fear the lack of financial security. I’ve quit 2 jobs, without having an exact plan, but if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to independently work harder and gain extensive freelance experience in a very short time. Take a risk, quit your boring job if it isn’t what you’re passion about, and pursue what you actually love! Even if you end up broke for a couple of months, you will definitely be happier without money and in the comfort of your own home (or maybe a friend’s) than at a depressing office stuck behind a screen, realizing you’ve been sitting for too long.

2. Perspective is Everything:

Yes, it really is. We all have good and bad days, but I guarantee that the bad days aren’t necessarily negatively eventful. We all sometimes forget to focus on what we have rather than what we lack, and we give in to our negative emotions. I am not saying we shouldn’t acknowledge our problems, I’m just saying it would turn our results into more positive ones if we call those problems challenges instead.

3. I Am in Control of My Actions and Reactions:

This is very related to the previous point. I’ve been going through road rage a lot since I started driving 3 years ago, and it’s never a good thing because it only affects me. I have never been a person with a short temper, but it was becoming so bad that my friends were starting to refer to me as a driving monster, they said I transformed as soon as I got in my car, and I honestly don’t blame them. This has been causing me a lot of unnecessary stress over the past year, but I’ve decided that enough is enough. I am in control of my own actions, as well as my reactions. I’m going to remember that anger only negatively impacts me, and it would rarely change the behaviour of anyone around me. It’s ever more likely that they’d become more stubborn if they see it.

4. The More You Know, the More You Know You DON’T Know

I’ve been reading a lot this past year. I’ve bought several books, and I signed up for an Audible membership of 2 books a month. It quickly turned into an obsession, a thirst for knowledge, which taught me that there’s so much in this world we know nothing about. It really is true, just when we start thinking that we know everything, we notice that what we know is really as much as a drop of water in an ocean. Remember to enjoy it, even though it’s probably always going to offer with abundance. Read, travel and thrive!

5. Happiness is a Choice

For me, happiness is one of my top values in life, and it’s definitely a journey. This was surely an interesting find to me (check out http://www.happify.com). It is scientifically proven that when you maintain those 5 things in your life, you become happier. So remember to:

  • Savor: To savor is to truly live the moment and enjoy it! Savoring can turn even the most mundane tasks into enjoyable ones. Instead of dreading that long walk from your house to the metro station or the closest road you can get a cab, walk slowly and look around you. Look in places you’ve never looked. Savor the nature, or the lack of it, bring out ideas, or simply just appreciate an old building, it could really make your day.
  • Thank: Did you remind yourself to be grateful today? If you haven’t, remember that you have a roof over your head and a place to stay warm on this cold night. We take the things we have for granted, and we completely forget about the others around the world who still don’t have the basic human needs like food, clean fresh water, and a place to live. I’m not telling you this to make you feel guilty, because I’d be in that line as well, but I’m just reminding you that gratitude is better than complaining.
  • Aspire: We humans are greedy, we always want more. I don’t see this as a bad thing, as long as we want more of something meaningful. Aspiring reminds us that there’s more to our precious life than what we’re doing right now, which we will eventually grow out of, so make your dreams big, because one day you’ll find yourself close to accomplishing them, and you will!
  • Give: Giving is like listening, which is something I am planning to do more often this year. It makes us feel a lot better, and it flows right back inside of us and increases every time we share. Remember to give more, and you will definitely feel that you need less.
  • Empathize: It keeps us sane and reminds us that where we are right now might not be that bad after all. Also, that by being in a better situation, we can find more ways to give and help others, and no matter what their reaction is, it’s theirs, not ours.

6. It’s Okay to Be Alone

For some reason, a lot of us are raised to believe that being more talkative, social and outgoing is always better. I have to admit, that’s what I used to think. I never understood introverts, I always used to place them into the “shy” category. But this year I’ve gotten to know a very special introvert, and he’s taught me about how being alone and being totally okay with it makes a huge difference with my peace of mind. I’ve decided to feel confident about being alone, because it doesn’t mean that I’m lonely. It’s great to be around people, but it’s also great to sit and meditate, think, write, reflect, or simply be.

7. Don’t Dwell, Move On and Try a Different Method

We all get stuck at some point, or a few, but that’s totally okay, as long as it doesn’t turn into a waste of time with nothing out of it at the end, not even a lesson. When you’re feeling lost, give yourself permission to feel that way for a certain period of time, and then decide to snap out of it. You don’t have to lie to yourself and tell yourself you’re happy if you’re not, even though that’s sometimes a way out. However, you can try different things that you think could bear positive results, breaking you out of your misery. Don’t just sit there and cry, watch a funny sitcom or hang out with a friend who can make you feel better. I’m sure you know that this is just a metaphor, but it really is all about doing again and again until you reach the point of realizing what was missing all along.

8. Believing in Yourself Goes a Long Way

If you don’t believe in yourself, you’ll never get anything accomplished. In this scenario though, it’s totally okay to lie to yourself, or fake it till you make it. Are you overweight and trying to become fit? All you need to do is believe that you actually can, not that you’ll “fail like all the other times” you’ve tried. That would just lead you to the same exact things that didn’t work for you. Instead, focus on your ability, and you’ll find yourself trying until something works.

9. Old Habits Die Hard, but New Habits Can Replace Them

Habits actually never die, they are always there, but you can create new habits to take their place if they’re negative ones. Habits stick for 3 reasons, 1. A cue (But I always order unhealthy takeout at work!) 2. A reward (Oh yes, I feel so fulfilled right now.) 3. A craving (I can’t get over how crispy and salty those fries were, shut up and take my money!) That’s a bad habit though! And you probably want to quit it. Well, you can! All you need to do is think of alternative rewards and cravings for the same cues. Instead of ordering takeout, bring a homemade salad, and get creative with it, use dressing that adds flavor! Even if it’s a bit fatty, it’ll never be as bad as takeout, and if it’s good, you will crave it once your habit is consistent. (Check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)

10. Rules are for the Times You’re Demotivated

This is derived from the previous point as well. Everyone sets rules for other people, but we don’t always set rules for ourselves, and even when we do, we give excuses. Rules are not meant to be broken, they’re actually for the times you’re demotivated. If you’re integrating a new habit in your life, it probably needs dedication and consistency. If you have been failing with it previously, it’s probably because you haven’t been consistent, and that’s the role of the rule. Respecting yourself and your own rule will help you stick with your new habits and feel good about yourself instead of the consequences of feeling crappy, and that’ll be your reward!

11. Change is the Only Constant

As cliche as that sounds, change really is the only constant, nothing else is. Your life won’t be constant, and you probably don’t want it to be. We’re not designed to love boredom, we’re designed to get rid of it as soon as we can. This could be done by being open to change and going with the flow, or by working on developing and improving ourselves to add more and more meaning to our life. Instead of resisting it, embrace change!

12. Documentation Pays Off Infinitely

Finally, I wish I had more specific and vivid examples for some of the previous points, but unfortunately I don’t because I haven’t been documenting enough. The best part about documentation is looking back at it and seeing how much progress you’ve made. We usually document things like our outings or our weight, but we should think about this deeper and document things like the books we’ve read, the most influential people we were fortunate enough to meet, and/or the new realizations and discoveries that changed our thinking and our attitudes. Imagine looking back on December 31st, 2014, wouldn’t you like to see how clueless you were on the same day last year and be proud of how much you’ve progressed.

How will you make your year awesome?