Category Archives: life

Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues

I’ve often failed with new year’s resolutions, this isn’t exactly a resolution, it’s just something I’ll be attempting starting 2016.
I recently came across Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues. Simply said, he came up with a system to practice one thing (I would call it a value) for 1 week, then moved on to the next, for 13 weeks. He repeated those 13 virtues 4 times a year, which makes it 52 weeks, exactly how long a year is.
What I loved about that is that:

  • The virtues were general enough to be applied to many aspects of one’s everyday life.
  • One can effortlessly sustain probably anything for 1 week (unlike a month, which is sometimes too long for some of us).
  • You can choose your own personal virtues which are even more relevant to you.
  • This is a great way to practice improving things over and over again, until they become natural.

Here’s a quick brief of Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues:

  1. Temperance: “Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.” Easily applied to eating habits. This doesn’t necessarily have to apply to alcohol.
  2. Silence: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.”
    Cut out complaining, gossip, and anything that you’re just saying to seek attention, give yourself that love.
  3. Order: “Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.”
    Simply said, work hard, play hard! We often take either/or for granted. Could also be applied to physical objects around your house.
  4. Resolution: “Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.”
    Get shit done!
  5. Frugality: “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.”
    Become more aware of your spending habits and any resources you might be taking advantage of (electricity, water, food …)
  6. Industry: “Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.”
    We spend way too much time on Facebook and other platforms.
  7. Sincerity: “Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
    Don’t be an asshole, practice compassion and empathy.
  8. Justice: “Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
    Think of the consequences of your actions, you might be free to choose for yourself, but don’t hurt others on the way.
  9. Moderation: “Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
    Stop the drama.
  10. Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.”
    I would easily apply this to the useless clutter I usually have on my desk, and in my room.
  11. Chastity: “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; Never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
    Even though the word directly relates to sexual intercourse, in our society we can apply it to how we treat our partners and appreciate them.
  12. Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
    Stop fussing over the small things. Find a way to connect with yourself everyday, whether that is getting in touch with nature, meditation, writing, or prayer.
  13. Humility: “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
    Find your own inspiration, stay modest, be open to others’ differences.

How Franklin Documented:

Benjamin Franklin kept a daily journal, he didn’t write about his experience, he just made 1 dot for every time he fell short on one of the virtues for that day.

This is a great way to keep things hassle free, simple, and easy to compare when you’re repeating the process. The most important part here is awareness and honesty.

I encourage anyone who’s interested to share their journey with me as well.

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Ideal You, Ideal Me

We often get consumed in the idea that our expectations are the same as everybody else’s. Growing up, we have a hard time figuring out ourselves and what we’re comfortable to be deep down. It’s difficult enough to come to the realization that, “the more we know, the more we know we don’t know,” nevertheless accept that thought, and act proactively rather than passively. Right after we start getting the hang of it, we apply our experiences to others, and only our experiences, or the past experiences of those closest to us, the ones that have moved us the most. We also apply others’ experiences to ourselves if it’s new to us. We miss out on, not one, not two, but hundreds of other sides and stories.

I lived most of my life thinking I’m an extrovert. I enjoyed myself being a crazy, out-going, silly, loud person, and I thought I got most of my energy from the people around me, be it my friends or family. I only set aside 10% of my time for reflection about my life and experiences, and I always needed those 10% because that’s when my noisy life finally became quiet. But sometimes I forgot to set aside that alone time, and I ended up crashing and burning, sick for a few days in bed, or completely confused about my life and feeling gloomy.

Living an extroverted life gets you to meet more extroverts, get along really well, and it makes your extrovert circle bigger and bigger, making you think it’s the norm. You feel great because people look up to you, they want to be like you. However, extroversion is not the norm, neither is anything else. And that’s the problem. Being the way you are through the experiences saved up in your conscious and subconscious memories makes you forget that others don’t have to be wrong when they’re different, they can just be different. It also doesn’t mean you’re strange or not living life to the fullest if you’re the opposite. Yes, I know you know that, but I think you really don’t unless you’ve been through it.

A bit over two years ago, I met someone amazing. This personality was totally new to me. I admired his focus, passion and ambition. We got along so well from the very start, and it felt great, because I thought that this person was just like me. I didn’t know though, that this person would turn out to be my exact opposite (or at least what I thought was my exact opposite back then), a complete introvert. I also didn’t know that I would see that as a strength, and learn so much from it. Finally, I didn’t know that someone’s comfort in their own skin could inspire a person who viewed extroversion as the ideal, to come to terms and actually want to be more introverted, even if not fully.

The Extrovert Ideal:

I recently read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. I’ve seen and heard great things about the book before I started, but a part of me always used to get offended by the phrase on the outside, “The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.” What’s that supposed to mean? Is the author implying that extroverts can’t be as intelligent as introverts? Is she implying that I can’t succeed if I wanted to? When I decided to start reading the book and not be cynical about what the cover said, I realized I had already learned countless lessons about both personalities and the things in between, and that was why I gave it a chance, two years after dating an introvert.

After two years of not reading the book, and after I’ve experienced being with an introvert, he and Quiet made me question my whole life, everything I am or was a part of. They made me think about how I deal with people at work, how I initiate learning experiences throughout my team. It helped me recognize why some people could respond to loving things I do differently than others. I’ve reflected on my time in school, university, student activities and workshops I’ve been to. All of those things had one main thing in common: everything is better when it’s more interactive. But now I know that this is what people think is the norm, even though half of them don’t feel good about that. I can’t conclude that my environment imposed the extrovert ideal on me, just like I can’t conclude that it didn’t. All I know is, what I allowed to influence me was very aligned to it, and I lived in fear of becoming anything different, whether it felt good or not.

I used to be terrified of being alone in public, not because of any dangers I might be exposed to, but because I didn’t want people to look at me and judge that I’m a lonely loser (even when I knew I wasn’t). My friends and many acquaintances were my shield, but I didn’t know it back then, I just felt more comfortable about having more friends, rather than closer ones. I did have a balance between both though, and I genuinely enjoyed my company with most of the people I hung out with.

Now, the extroverts reading this might think I am now rooting for introversion just like I thought the author of the book was doing. However, I am only encouraging self love and acceptance. You don’t have to be an introvert, just like you don’t have to be an extrovert. Also, you don’t have to put a label or a percentage at all, you could be a beautiful mixture of zestful solitude as well as the most popular person in that club. Just don’t miss out on your nature thinking that being the party animal is always better than the romantic book reader.

What I Missed by Aligning to the Extrovert Ideal:

  • Feeling good about myself when I thought others judged me

I used to claim I didn’t care what others thought of me, but years after growing out of the need to prove that, I learned that I did. I knew I was genuinely nice and lovable, and I knew I had smart interests that could impress others. I just never trusted that part of me, and made myself feel bad if I didn’t know enough people, and didn’t go to all those outings/weddings I got invited to. I always convinced myself that I should go up and confidently introduce myself, even when I knew nothing about the other person. This was my view of working on myself and confidence. When I look back, I feel fortunate to have met great people in the process, but I shouldn’t have beaten myself up if I just didn’t feel like getting to know someone new. I thought I always had to want that.

  • Focusing on my passions which are mostly done in solitude

Some people are so extroverted, they’re so good at focusing on people and jobs that require constant communication with everyone around them. This is their type of focus, this is where they excel, and this is what makes them successful. However, success doesn’t have to be set forth through popularity. Success could be translated by commitment, someone who shows up everyday, alone, writing that story or making that drawing. Someone who doesn’t need to be motivated by others to finish their work. It could also be a balance between both to someone who’s in the middle.

  • Learning from my past projects by doing them more mindfully

I’ve always filled up my schedule with things I want to do with others, but never with/by myself. I never set aside the time to write, draw, paint, do calligraphy, or anything else I could do on my own, because that to me was a waste of time. I wish I hadn’t overlooked everything I was truly passionate about though, also only because I was fearful of others’ prejudices.

  • Lots of places I could have gone to if I hadn’t forced myself into becoming sick

Over-worked and over-stimulated by the loud world around me, I always ended up depleting my energy completely and never sitting down to reflect on where I am or what I’m currently doing. I’ve missed a lot of nice places I could have gone to with others, and a lot of intimacy. I’m happy I’m learning to take breaks and remember I don’t have to show up to that birthday I don’t feel like going to.

Here I am again, reminding you as well as myself to be mindful and live passionately. You don’t have to be the expectation of others, but you don’t have to resist it either. Just let who you are fall into place, you will know you’re there when you feel comfortable. Do things you truly enjoy, whether you’re alone or with others, whether you’re part of a team, or prefer doing that thing alone. Don’t judge the person who wants to sleep at 10pm because they want to wake up at a time when they won’t get distracted by others. Live your life fully, whether that means you’re partying or working. Don’t be afraid of people, they’re just people who have the same thoughts and insecurities you might be feeling at the moment.

Oh, and, I noticed I’ve been trying to become an introvert, when I shouldn’t be trying, so my conclusion is, I’m something in between, and I admire everyone else who’s part of the spectrum.

A lot of the reflections here were inspired by Susan Cain’s Quiet, definitely a book worth reading.

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The Heaven and Hell They Didn’t Teach Us At School

The following definitions were copied from the Oxford Dictionary of English.

heaven |ˈhɛv(ə)n| noun, a place regarded in various religions as the abode of God (or the gods) and the angels, and of the good after death, often traditionally depicted as being above the sky.

hell |hɛl| noun, a place regarded in various religions as a spiritual realm of evil and suffering, often traditionally depicted as a place of perpetual fire beneath the earth where the wicked are punished after death.

I grew up as a mediocre Egyptian kid. In school, I was taught that we’re only here for a little while, and what we do in our short journey is going to either send us to heaven or hell. Back then, this is how I thought about heaven. Everyone wants to go there, and of course, all the adults I know are going there, except the ones who have done bad things like drinking and other taboos. As most people, and most adults, I was afraid to question. I was fearful of hell, that horrible place where you’re in constant, excruciating pain you cannot escape. Will I fall in the fire pit, or flash across it? I wanted to go to heaven, because it was extraordinarily unimaginable. I dreamed of how I will make my life perfect in every way, yet still not be driven by extreme dogma. I thought about what it would look like, and always stopped myself when I couldn’t envision this magical place.

I hated religion classes, especially when my teachers talked about the signs of the end of the world, or even worse, how we’re all going to be naked on judgement day, but how no one would care about looking at you. On those days, I always left school with a sinking feeling in my stomach, too scared to even consider discussing my agitation with my parents, thinking they thought the same. Instead of educating myself and forming an opinion, I just told myself I’d get concerned when I’m older, and I numbed out my thoughts.

Today, I’m older, and I have a contrasting mental picture. If you’re reading this post right now and you’re getting fired up to judge, or argue without being open to read something different in the first place, then don’t waste your time reading on, and save your breath. You’re free to believe in whatever you wish, I am also free to be confused, even if that’s foolish to you.

However, if you have a wide imagination, and are willing to question something you might have been ignoring until today, or looking for someone who, perhaps, shares your opinion, then I hope you enjoy this.

I don’t have all the answers, and my knowledge of this universe is infinitesimal compared to how much I will know in 30 years. Values, ideas, and thoughts we’ve grown up with are difficult to change. Our brain’s power in storing knowledge and forming habits is immense, and I’m sure we are all aware about how old habits die hard. But I’m challenging my brain, and I’m in the phases of reassessing how I see this world and how inconsistent my views are now versus my childhood. I am using my brain’s competence as a strength, not a weakness. I am naïve, I am confused, and I admit I have a lot of doubts writing this, choosing my words vigilantly.

After reading many articles and books about religion, spirituality, psychology, productivity and philosophy, I’m starting to experience heaven and hell as metaphors, not as inevitably existing places. One of my most recent inspirations is The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. I was skeptical as I began reading this book. I thought that anything that becomes this popular just cannot be deep enough, it cannot be talking to the outliers, it must be talking to the ordinary. However, to my surprise, I’ve found inspiration in this book, and even though I still can’t identify why it was a page turner, I accepted the fact that it just was.

This is an excerpt that caught my attention because of how simply it was written, and how it sent out the meaning of what I believed in with tremendous skill.

“Did you know that Shams says the world is a huge cauldron and something big is cooking in it? We don’t know what yet. Everything we do, feel, or think is an ingredient in that mixture. We need to ask ourselves what we are adding to the cauldron. Are we adding resentments, animosities, anger, and violence? Or are we adding love and harmony?

We all know we’re going to die. Some people believe there’s a non-physical afterlife, and some don’t. I think, that whether there is or isn’t an afterlife, heaven and hell are symbols, and the huge cauldron can be turned into heaven or hell, where ever you are, whatever you’re doing at this moment. Heaven and hell are like the self and the ego, calm and anger, love and hate, and happiness and sorrow.

The ego forgets about the cauldron, it forgets that you can’t possibly hurt someone else without hurting yourself, it doesn’t even have to be karma, it can be here and now. How can you possibly hurt someone by anger, yet not suffer from this anger? Anger poisons you, more than who you’re angry at. Do you remember the last time you chose to be in hell? Wasn’t it hard to escape after you’ve chosen to let it in?

The self is at peace, the self is heaven. The self remembers the cauldron and its impact. It remembers that good things bring about more good things. It remembers to give love, because love fills us up when we share it, it never makes us feel empty. Have you never felt this invincible? Have you never felt, that you’re so grateful to that source of light inside you? Didn’t it feel like a reward for a seemingly insignificant decision?

Yes, our deeds take us to heaven or hell, but heaven and hell can be all around us. Heaven is not necessarily/only above the sky, and hell is not in the Earth’s core. Heaven and hell are mindsets. Or maybe, the heaven and hell you’re living now are a tiny example of where you’ll end up, when you’ve fed heaven and the positive has become the norm, your cheerful everyday. Or when you’ve fed hell, until you’re unaware about being on your fatal autopilot.

Be aware, be alert, be compassionate. Everyday is a new opportunity that can make you happier by being mindful. Everyday, you can nourish your body and mind with pieces of heaven. Remember, that it’s never too late to exit hell and enter heaven, all it takes is one thought that is slightly better than your current, until you’re overwhelmed with virtue. It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’ve got your whole life ahead of you to have a happy journey.

“How about you, dear Ella? What ingredients do you think you are putting in the collective stew of humanity?”

References:

Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary.

Both quotes/excerpts mentioned in this blog are derived from The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

Other Relevant Inspiring Resources:

The Secrets of the Power of Intention, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

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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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Where I Think Courage Comes From

I recently started training with the amazing CaiRollers, we’re the very first roller derby team in Egypt. Before I started training, I literally knew very little about derby, I still don’t know the rules of the game very well, and I only attended my 2nd practice today, and I also had no idea that the moves so effortlessly performed by the more advanced girls are so difficult!

During the first practice, I literally fell as soon as I put on my skates. I hadn’t skated in years (at least 10, if not more) and I remembered this to be easier, a lot easier! I was happy with my first fall because it was quick and not painful at all. Eight falls later, I was laughing it off, wondering about how many bruises I’ll have on my butt and thighs when I get home. Even though I got the hang of skating quickly again, I realized that my perspective on this whole thing is what helped me do that, not the fact that I used to skate when I was younger. I didn’t have the memory of bad or serious falls before the first practice.

Derby needs courage in the beginning, and that applies to everything else in life. But the beginning doesn’t only mean that the first time’s the hardest, because on your second time, memories of the first time could either make it easier or harder.

I got to my second practice today, and as soon as I put my skates on, I didn’t want to get off the bench because I was too scared that I was going to fall. I looked at the gravel underneath my feet, and I was certain, that I was going to fall as soon as I got up. I felt uncomfortable and out of control. I eventually talked myself into it, got up, and actually didn’t fall. The thought of falling was still on my mind though. All I could think of were the 9 times I tripped last time, turning my own spinal cord into an accordion, the sounds of cracking bones replacing real music. I dwelled and lingered. I skated, almost freely, but then again, I dwelled and lingered on the thoughts of falling. Until I thought to myself, “Don’t think, don’t try, just do.”

I’ve heard this saying a few years ago, and I don’t specifically remember where I heard it, but I recall it was something related to the law of attraction. Now when I look it up, I can only remotely relate it to Horace (Roman poet). Before you start wondering, don’t worry, I won’t be telling you more about Horace in this post.

When I first heard the saying, I didn’t really feel like I grasped it. I was automatically skeptical about the not thinking and not trying parts. Why can I not think? Actually how can I not think? And isn’t everything really about trying? And trying again if you fail? Well yes, but not quite.

Now I know this is paradoxal, how can I agree and disagree at the same time? This honestly confuses me probably as much as it’s confusing you right now, but hear me out.

We’re raised up to always think about things before we do them, decisions before we take them, people before we become friends with them, and practically everything else in our lives. We’re warned about taking hasty decisions, and we’re labeled as “too emotional” when we base decisions on our feelings or intuitions. We must always think logically about things. All of that sounds safe, just safe.

Also, when we’re attempting things for the first time, this is just what it is, an attempt. We try and we fail, and then we try again and maybe even fail again. And this is exactly the problem. We expect failure. Isn’t that negative?

If you haven’t already noticed, I’ve been really repetitive in the paragraph where I was telling you about the story of my second derby practice. I’ve done this on purpose, because this is exactly how we think when we’re thinking about things we shouldn’t think about.

Thinking makes us miss out on the good stuff. It’s good to be prepared, but it isn’t good to obsessively check whether you are or not. I was prepared today at practice, I had all my protection gear on, and it was very unlikely that I would get injured when I’m covered from head to toe. My thoughts about falling held me back. I wasted some of my own time, and I reached my goals in a longer time than I should have. Maybe it doesn’t matter that much when it comes to playing derby, but it matters a lot more when it comes to other things in life that need courage. Derby’s just a small example.

Trying makes us focus on failure. We focus on failure more than we focus on success. Trying gives us the option to fail, not taking into account the fact that if we don’t even have that option, and if we gather up courage, we’re actually more likely to succeed.

By the middle of today’s practice, I repeated this in my head, again and again, “Don’t think, don’t try, just do.” I skated freely, I attempted a correct way of falling, I fell, not perfectly, but I stopped myself from thinking and just took a leap of faith. I should do this again next time (and more often in my life.)

This is where courage comes from.

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