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Your Guide to Rise & Shine When Your Community Lets You Down

“Medical school isn’t free.” 

“If I follow my dreams, will my family be satisfied?” 

“I have made many mistakes in my life, can’t make another one.” 

“Why can’t I find a good guy at the age of 28?” 

“I’m not in love with her. Should I still marry her since everyone is pressuring me?” “Can’t become an artist, only a doctor.” 

All of our human minds have doubts like this once in a way. 

What does it mean to have a successful life? 

This is one question that I find myself asking whenever I feel down or find myself in a difficult situation in my life. Doubting myself whenever I think about my choice of career, thinking about my future being, worrying about my future family. 

Growing up in a South Asian culture, I have always heard about the “perfect” plan of having a “successful life.” For a woman, it goes like this: graduating from college quickly, getting your diploma, framing it up in the wall, never looking at it again, starting a hunt for the “right one” afterward, getting married by the age of 24, having a kid within a year, and being a housewife. Long process, isn’t it?

For a man, more often than not, it’s like this: graduating from college, becoming the “man” of the house, getting a job within the next month, beginning the search for a woman to get married, see if she meets the look requirements (fair and skinny), making her into a housewife, having kids, and taking care of two families at the same time.

That’s a load of crap — especially when there’s a blueprint printed out in front of you and has your name attached to it without your permission.

Imagine having a life that is all planned out for you without anyone asking you, “What do you want?” “What do you want to become?” “Who do you want to marry?” “What age do you want to marry?” Those questions are rarely ever asked. 

As we grow up into the individuals that we are destined to be, we all develop our own set of ideas and beliefs about what success should look like. Maybe for you, the South Asian community idea fits in your idea of success. But for me, it’s the complete opposite, no hard feelings. Some people associate success with money, some people associate success with achievement, and some with pleasure. Through my personal development, I’ve formulated my own success — sometimes.

These beliefs tend to come alive when we begin our second family, whenever a hardship falls upon us, or when we’re pushing through our own difficult life path. But, after all, we all have our own desires. 

Neurologically 

Human minds are different and unique in their own way. Something new happens in the human mind when we achieve what we want. When we imagine what goals we want to achieve, we often do so with the expectation that we will accomplish them. 

Neurologically, when we get something we really want, we just start wanting more, start craving more. But, we tend to get over what we have achieved or what we have created and want to achieve something new or want to create something much bigger and better. 

It’s “never coast, as in, relax, let things roll for a while”. It’s more of “think, plan, create, act. Repeat.” 

Every day, we produce and manufacture a lot of things due to our creative minds. For example, phones that were first developed had that little wheel you swirl right and left to make a phone call.

Then, out of nowhere, came the flip phones with which we would text using our fat fingers and play the ball and brick game. Now, we have touch screen phones where we can watch YouTube videos, FaceTime people all across the globe, and find the location of others on our “Find Your Friends” app.

We have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and much more. As time passed by, furniture, buildings, and clothing style have changed as well. Humans have the desire for perfection, and due to that desire, we keep striving more and more and try to find things to improve on. We improve everything that we are passionate about. But the strange part is that this quality, this spirit, is not found in animals and no other species. Only human beings have this quality within themselves. Isn’t that strange? 

As a human, how are you able to understand this reality? 

For me, my Islam helps me contextualize this inner phenomenon? Surah An-Nur 24:35

In Islam, our Ruh (soul) was once in the company of Allah SWT, the company of The Perfect One. The desire of wanting to strive more and more happens because we have seen perfection with Him and were once in the company of Him. But somehow, we lost that perfection after we came here on Earth. Allah SWT created us in a way of searching for the truth, looking for our inner need, and discovering who we are. This pursuit for perfection is a spiritual trait, and we don’t even realize the many forms that it can take. We don’t know how it manifests in our everyday lives. 

Have you ever noticed that you’re not happy after receiving A- on a test? You keep saying, “Man, if I could have switched my answer to question 5, I would have gotten an A+.” Someone in class would say, “Hey, stop crying, at least you passed.” And that statement just triggers you. Well, it does to me for some reason. But anyways, that’s because your heart is never satisfied, your light is never enough, and your desire is never fulfilled until you experience something that’s perfect. 

Our Ruh wants to be caught on fire. It wants to shine and go all over the place!

Let me draw imagery to break things down for you. In Arabic, they call their oil “zaiyt.” In our country, we have all sorts of oils such as sunflower, avocado, canola, and those sorts. But in their country, there is no other zaiyt but zaitoon, which is their one-of-a-kind oil from an olive tree. So picture there is a lone olive tree, imagine it. The sun rises, and it shines from the eastern side and when the sun sets, the sun soon changes sides. It beams on its western side.

The trees grow best because they get to have all the light, of course, science. Allah SWT says here that the olive tree is neither eastern nor western. The tree has been sunbathed constantly, so it can produce the purest oil, the zaitoon. Our Ruh was once in the constant presence of Allah SWT, and He has created our Ruh at the same time when he created Prophet Adam AS. We humans have been baking in the light shined by Allah SWT for a long time and when we are on Earth for a limited time, we tend to still have the same light. After being with Allah SWT, the oil was once put in the lamp, and now it’s put in our rib cage on Earth. 

Our Ruh wants to be caught on fire. It wants to shine and go all over the place! Although the fire hasn’t touched the oil, this oil does not even need fire; the lamp does not even need fire to lit up. It’s already shining. Just take a look within yourself. 

Allah SWT guides to His light whomever He Himself wills. Allah SWT will continue to guide you until you are willing to stand with Allah SWT again. 

Allah SWT will do it for whoever wants it and whoever He wants it for. Allah SWT created us in this way for a reason. 

He wants us to be the best version that we can possibly be. 

Allah SWT is The All-Knowing. 

This past weekend, I was looking at Maslow’s theory and somehow Surah An-Nur popped into my head. And my sister advising me on this blog, of course! 

Let’s try with theory this time. 

Dr. Abraham Maslow’s Theory 

self-ac·tu·al·i·za·tion — “the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone.” 

On June 8, 1970, Abraham Maslow was writing in his journal by the pool at his house in California. For the past few years, he was observing intensely and formulating a theory that consists of linking self-actualization, self-transcendence with a mixture of spirituality. As his usual routine, his stopwatch went off, which told him it was time for him to go on his daily exercise.

Due to his frustration of not being able to find a solution for his theory, he threw his journal and started jogging outside. His wife, Bertha, was sitting outside nearby and noticed that he was jogging in an odd manner. Just as soon she came up to him and asked him if he was feeling okay, he collapsed on the floor, having his last breath right then and there. The theory, that he has been working on, was soon left behind and forgotten. 

Later in his life, Maslow’s focus point was more about the relationship between self-actualization and self-transcendence, with the variation between defense vs growth motivation. He emphasized less on the hierarchy of needs and more about the self-actualized people that are motivated by health, internal growth, humanitarian purposes, and the “real-life problems.” 

The characteristics of self-actualizing have become more important today than it was back 70 years ago. Self-actualization needs are the highest rank in Maslow’s hierarchy, which refers to the realization and awakening of a human’s potential, self-fulfillment, and peak experiences.

Self-actualized people don’t sacrifice their potential in the service of making others happy. Instead, they use their power in the service of others.

But one thing for a fact: It’s crystal clear that Maslow never conceives self-actualizing people as “greedy,” “selfish,” or “purely individualistic,” despite the misrepresentation by some commenters. 

Question to ourselves: What is self-actualization, and how does it impact us in the 21st century? 

One of the greatest imageries of the meaning of success that I have ever been taught comes from Dr. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist. It’s not about gaining fame, earning money, and achieving dreams — it’s about becoming our “best version of ourselves” — more about experiencing fulfillment by embracing and working toward our full potential. 

“Every person is capable and has the desire to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualization. Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by failure to meet lower-level needs. Life experiences, including divorce and loss of a job, may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy,” Maslow explained.

One thing that I fear is that Maslow’s idea of self-actualization and his innovation of humanity that was prevalent among the ’60s and ’70s psychologists have been lost in this generation. Maslow’s theory is that our basic needs must be met before we are able to achieve our growth needs.

That is, someone could want to get married within a certain age or gain a certain number of followers on Instagram when they have no access to water, food, or a roof above their head — even before pursuing their education. But now, it’s the complete opposite. 

Notice that I don’t say “go find your fulfillment now!” or “achieve your full potential now!” That’s because I don’t believe success is something you have or don’t have. Like happiness, success has its own pathway as well. You, me, the next-door neighbor, we all have our own pathway to walk. It’s a journey, not a destination.

For me, personally, Maslow’s theory remains powerful in a way. One theory, but thousands of meanings. The love of learning is the key to sustainable joy and growth. 

His theory of self-actualization encourages us to continue to learn and grow over the course of our lives. When we find and acknowledge our path in life, we take a great amount of joy in following that path and becoming better at pursing what we love. We also make a meaningful contribution to our community as we become better versions of ourselves. It could be something small like inspiring someone, making beautiful art piece, motivating someone, or even nurturing a child as they become happy adults. 

Being a dark-skinned Indian, I have had so many people bullied me because of something that I didn’t know was “crime.” And from those people, some were my own family members, like my aunts and uncles.

If you desire to do more, then make a charity campaign, make a new invention that helps people in the need of help, bring awareness in the third-world countries — those types of things. 

Now that I’m 20 years old, I hear this sentence more and more often: “Oh, my aunty insists that I get married to the guy of her choosing. She will be upset if I say no and make me the bad person in the community.” Don’t dim your light for some aunty! Let her scream and cry, who cares! 

Self-actualized people don’t sacrifice their potential in the service of making others happy. Instead, they use their power in the service of others. You don’t have to choose either self-actualization or self-transcendence; the combination of both is important to living a meaningful existence. 

It’s hard not to listen to those who put you down, make you doubt your self-worth, and make you feel like you’re strange with your decision-making — those who caused you to feel ashamed of a choice you made.

Sometimes, we tend to take their words and make it into our reality. It’s not easy to let the harsh words, the glaring stares, the fear, the disappointment go. But sometimes, we need to think to ourselves, “were the people giving me advice ever in my shoes before, or are they talking for the heck of it?” “Is it to gain leverage over you?” “Will they be in my life five, ten, and even 15 years down the line?” “Do they really care for me?” 

Being a dark-skinned Indian, I have had so many people bullied me because of something that I didn’t know was “crime.” And from those people, some were my own family members, like my aunts and uncles. I have heard harsh comments such as “Suhana, if you were lighter, you would look so much more beautiful. Suhana, put on some Fair and Lovely, so your skin can look lighter. Suhana, don’t wear black because it blends in your skin. Suhana, don’t wear green, you look like a clown. Suhana, Suhana, Suhana.”

I was only 8 years old, just a child. How could I possibly know any better? I would look at myself and hate on my skin color. I would wish that I had the skin color of my sister and cried to bed. But now, I wish I could go to the 8 year, wipe her tears, and say, ‘You’re beautiful.’” 

Don’t dim your light for anyone that Allah SWT has put inside of us. Don’t limit your potential that Allah SWT wants to see in us. What people think of you is not what Allah SWT thinks of you.

PS: This blog is written for you, my lovely Desi aunties — still love you though!