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A Quarter of a Century

It’s that time again, when I sit here contemplating things that have happened this past year, things that could happen this coming year, and things I’d like to happen.

I don’t even know where or how to start. So much has happened since my 24th birthday. So much has changed. But here’s what has stayed constant:

  • The massive flow of Facebook birthday messages.
  • The amazing friendships that I’ve sustained.
  • The amount of love, comfort and support I received from friends.
  • And of course, the efforts by my family to make this day as special as possible for me.

I turned 25 yesterday. I don’t feel any differently than I did two days ago. I’ve come to realise that birthdays aren’t an occasion meant to make you feel older – you’re the only one who can make yourself feel that – rather, they are an excuse to celebrate, and a reminder to you of the special people in your life. They also give you a valid reason to feel special and be the centre of attention for at least one day of the year. Here’s how my day was spent in a nutshell, and some of the things that made me smile:

  • I was invited out for a fun girl’s coffee date at Emirates Palace (you haven’t had coffee until you’ve had it with gold sprinkles). Thank you Karolina, Nada and Melissa!
  • I came home to a sweet balloon and birthday display at my bedroom door.
  • I received a package from friends that included a wonderful bouquet of red and yellow roses, a divine chocolate cake from Coco’s and more balloons.
  • An hour later, I received another package from friends. This one much bigger and filled with gifts and goodies.
  • Ending the day with a special family celebration, the night finally came to a close with cake, food, tea, and lots of presents.
    Gold-dusted coffee

    Gold-dusted coffee

    My box of goodies.

    My box of goodies.

    The array of food and gifts on the side.

    The array of food and gifts on the side.

So, in honour of my 25th birthday, I’m going to give you 25 things I’ve learned in my time on this planet, in no particular order:

1. Deep Breaths.

Don’t stress. Breathe it all out. Learn to breathe, to take it easy. Breathing is the key to staying calm, and balancing your internal system. You cannot be more in tune with your existence and yourself than with breathing. You are in the here and now only when you breathe. Focusing on your breathing does not allow you to think ahead, to skip steps. It forces you to think of the present, to focus on the now. “Deep breaths are the only form of living in the present that I can truly understand.”

2. Be Healthy.

Nothing in this world matters more than your health. Being healthy does not only mean taking vitamins or drinking enough water or being ripped or having a bikini body. It’s about lifestyle choices, eating smart, becoming more active in your daily life, getting enough sleep, getting rid of any negativity in your life, learning to be at peace with yourself. So, eat well, stay fit, exercise, sleep early, don’t smoke, drink less and clear your head.

3. Don’t let life get the best of you.

Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes, you will find you’ve hit rock bottom, you will feel helpless, and powerless, and absolutely paralyzed. It can make you feel like there’s noway out. But there’s always a way out. There’s always something you can do to change it, someone you can go to that can help. Look for that light at the end of the tunnel, I guarantee you, there’s always one.

4. Keep busy.

There’s nothing worse than feeling useless. Always find something to keep you occupied. Read, shop, travel, write, work out, join a book club, take dance classes, learn a new skill, anything. Keeping busy helps give you a sense of purpose and drive. Days pass so much faster when you are busy.

5. Always prioritize.

I’ve learnt this the hard way. What is important to you, is not necessarily important to others. Consider your priorities. Marriage. College. Family. Friends. Work – and not in that particular order either. You don’t have to marry and have children straight out of college just because that’s what your parents did, maybe your priorities are different. Maybe you want to work first, or travel the world. Maybe you’d rather be a stay at home mom, even though you have a legitimate university degree that you worked hard to attain. No one can make those decisions for you. So think about it.

6. Nurture your spirituality.

If you believe, if you have faith, then you need to practice it. Think of faith as a muscle, the more you use the muscle and work it out, the stronger it gets. The more you let it go and neglect it, the weaker it gets. Pray more, put aside more time to remember your faith (whatever it is), to ask God for forgiveness, or to give Him thanks, or to ask him for or tell him anything, to recite prayers, to meditate and so on and so forth. The stronger that muscle gets, the more at peace you will be.

7. Family.

All you are ultimately asked and expected to do is to love and respect them. No matter their flaws or shortcomings. It’s the least you can do. Love your family, you only have one.

8. Rekindle friendships.

Stop putting things off. Start planning and going through with your plans. Your rain-check balance is way overdue. Facebook doesn’t count. Whatsapp is not enough. Get out, see your friends, sit with them, rehash old memories, and make news ones.

9. Get out of the house.

One of the unhealthiest things you could do is stay at home for long periods of time. No matter how down or lazy you’re feeling. Get off your ass and take a walk to the nearest supermarket, even that 5 minute walk can be rejuvenating to the self.

10. Pamper yourself.

Get your nails done, get a massage, dress nicely, get a facial, keep your skin moisturized, get your hair done. It’ll take years off you. Do it now, make it a habit. You’ll regret it later.

11. Be grateful.

It’s hard to be thankful sometimes when things aren’t going your way, but don’t ever let it stop you from taking a moment to say thank you anyway. There’s always a lesson to be taken. A moral to be made. So remember to say الحمدلله.

12. Be surprised.

How difficult it has become to look around us in wonder. Nothing surprises us anymore. We have become desensitized to the world around us. Don’t lose your sense of wonder. The world is such a beautiful place. Let it take your breath away, let it amaze you. Be surprised.

13. Parents can be wrong.

That’s the hard truth. We grow up our whole lives thinking they could do no wrong, that they are perfect. The truth of the matter is, no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Our parents, God bless them, do the best they could under the circumstances they are in. They raise us to the best of their abilities and try to instill in us all the values and beliefs that they would like to see in their children. At a certain point in life though, we need to be able to stand up on our own feet and make our own decisions, whilst they need to let us do that and trust they did a good job. When all is said and done, we are the product of a life’s worth of hard work and they have done everything they could. One of my favourite lines by Ali bin Abi Taleb (599-661 A.D.) is: “Do not raise your children the way parents raised you; they were born for a different time.”

14. Smile. Laugh.

How beautiful is it when you hear the sound of laughter? When you walk past someone and they smile at you? At your lowest point, if you force yourself to smile or laugh at something, you will feel the teeniest, tiniest, bit better. Trust me. I watch children, and their fascinating switch from heartbreaking sobs over a lost toy or a fall, to spectacular, genuine laughter over the silliest face you make at them. Take a leaf out of their books, and use it in your daily life. Nothing is worth your grim, ugly faces. So smile and laugh! The Simpsons is a good place to start.

15. Find your inner child.

No matter how old you get, always stay in touch with your inner child.

16. Don’t get attached to things.

You will lose your phone. One corrupt file will destroy your life’s savings on your hard drive. You will spill soup or coffee onto your computer. You will crash your car. You will get robbed. You will forget your favorite book or toy or scarf or bracelet or watch somewhere at some point. You will lose your ring down a sink drain. All these things could and might and will happen. Don’t. Get. Attached. It is not the end of the world.

17. You always have options.

No one can put you in a corner. There’s always another option. Always.

18. Stop saying “no”.

Think before you use that word so carelessly. No is such an unhealthy habit. It is not only self-destructive, but it can destroy others as well.

19. Stand for what you believe in.

Not everyone will agree with you. There will be so much push back, but don’t be discouraged. If you don’t stand for what you believe in, who will?

20. Don’t worry about offending people.

Opinionated people tend to be seen as such. Unintentionally, I assure you. Not everyone is capable of handling strong viewpoints. They look at you and think you’re only trying to stir up trouble. Don’t be bothered with such people, they are looking to get offended in order to play the victim. Be strong. Those who revel in and savor your strong perspective are the ones worth your time.

21. Meet new people.

The more people you meet, the more interesting you become. Put yourself out there, socialize, open yourself up to meeting new people.

22. Nothing wrong with being a couch potato (or a bed potato in my case).

A lazy day, once in a while, is totally acceptable. Put aside one day where you can just relax and spend all day and night on your couch (or in bed) catching up on your series, movies and anything else while munching on food. Game of Thrones, Mad Men, How I Met Your Mother, The Simpsons, Breaking Bad, Grey’s Anatomy, whatever it is that you enjoy watching…watch it, guilt-free.


With my gorgeous niece, getting ready to cut the cake.

23. Alleviate the drama in your life.

Don’t argue for the sake of arguing. Don’t complain for the sake of complaining. Don’t go pushing people’s buttons or looking for things to pick on. Choose your battles wisely, if you have to. Drama belongs in one place, and one place only: television.

24. Be respectful.

To yourself and those around you.

25. Talk less. Listen more.

The prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) once said: “The majority of a person’s sins emanate from his tongue.” If you have nothing good or worthy of saying, do not say anything at all. If you can add nothing to a conversation, then there is nothing wrong with just sitting there and listening. Lend an ear when people need to talk. Don’t judge. Don’t interrupt. Sometimes all they want is for someone to hear them out.

That’s it! My 25th birthday is over, but not without a little reflection, and a whole lot of lessons. Take what you will from it, or take nothing at all.


About smshamma

"I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle, but if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." - Marilyn Monroe


11 thoughts on “A Quarter of a Century

  1. سعاد حبيبتي احببت ما كتبت ..كما أنني استمتعت في قراءتة ..اتمني ان تكوني في ال ٢٥ عاما القادمة اكثر وعياً و إدراكاً و حكمةً …بدون أي حوادث أليمة و لكن من خلال تجارب شخصية أو من قصص أشخاص شاركت في وجود حلول لمشكلاتهم …هكذا يصبح الإنسان أكثر حمداً للة و قرباً لة على كل النعم التي يملكها و لا يملكة الأخرون ..و أهم هذة النعم الصحة ..فهي إن ذهبت لا تستطيعين الإستمتاع بأي شيء في الدنيا …أدام اللة عليك الصحة و العافية و كل عام و انت اكثر قرباً و طاعةً للة…

    Posted by ghada talib younis | February 8, 2013, 23:34
  2. It would be cool if you can add “26 things to do before I’m 26” list,a sort of to-do list for nxt year in’shaAllah. Glad you had fun on ur birthday, enjoy!

    Posted by AH | February 9, 2013, 10:08
    • Thank you =) 25 just seemed like a milestone, which is why I opted to do it this way. Not so sure about 26, but maybe before my 30th I’ll think of making a to-do list of sorts. Would be interesting for sure!

      Posted by smshamma | February 9, 2013, 18:53
  3. Let me begin by saying you should get in touch with the high school where you graduated from and offer to be a guest speaker for students preparing to graduate off to college this semester. Would you consider sharing a version of this in person with a class? I can’t imagine what high school counselor wouldn’t be thrilled to have you give this insight and build up their class of 2013! It’s motivational and true. For an 18 year old just getting ready to meet the world these are like a pocketful of shiny quarters from a person who has traveled back from 7 years in the future. Think about it.

    There’s a class I’m visiting with tomorrow morning for career advice. With your permission I’d like to tailor my chat directly quoting this post and crediting your blog the following way:

    – No. 1-5 and 19-21 when I open with the topic of My Vocation
    – No. 6-8 and 13,15, 25 switching to the topic of Go Gently
    – No. 9-10 and 16, 17, 18, 22, 23 going into the topic of Musing the Mind
    – No. 11-12, 14, 24 closing with the topic of Good News, Bad News

    Any feedback I get from the class about your 25 after the presentation I’ll certainly include in a separate comment.

    Have you ever made a time capsule for yourself? It can do wonders for you as you navigate troubled or calm waters this year. Take some time to put aside objects that remind you of people or moments that left an impression on you. Let your innermost thoughts be put on paper and folded away into this capsule. All that you put inside of it will stay hidden for another year until you are ready to remember. Then year by year each time capsule will house pieces of you. You’ll notice they all somehow come together to resemble a chart with the routes you took, stops you made along the way, moments you shared with other travelers and visions that came your way.

    You might not feel any different having gone the distance of a year while being out on the ocean that is your life. These pieces you keep away in the capsule will help you to feel differently. When you touch them again after a year your heart and mind will begin to recall more than you would expect. It’s like that place between sleep and awake, that place where you can still imagine dreaming? You’ll know where and how your life and self has blossomed through the seasons. I’ve got a time capsule that needs to be opened soon. Believe it or not I can’t clearly remember what I put inside last year. We’re human beings and it’s in our nature to forget every now and then.

    Not too long ago a librarian friend asked me to come in and read Peter Pan to a group of kids. Do you know the story? In it the stars were beautiful but they could not take an active part in anything. They could only look on forever. It was a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that no star knew what it was. The older stars became glassy-eyed and seldom spoke (winking being the star language), but the little ones still wondered across the night sky. Make yourself a promise that you will not only look on forever, and that you will be like one of the little stars that glow with wonder.

    I hope you feel excited and can barely sit still. I hope you feel the excitement that a person of wonder can feel, a person on a long journey whose conclusion in uncertain. Here’s hoping you can transcend any and all borders that come your way. Here’s hoping you see your friends, shake their hands and warm up in their hugs. Here’s hoping the waters you find are as blue as they have been in your dreams. To close with a line from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: “So come with me, where dreams are born, and time never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!”

    Posted by Ballad | February 9, 2013, 15:39
    • Hey Ballad, that sounds wonderful. You definitely have my permission, I’m actually very honoured by your request, and would definitely be interested in hearing the feedback.

      I never actually thought of becoming a guest speaker at schools for students preparing to graduate, but now that you’ve mentioned it, I think it’s a great idea.

      Peter Pan is one of my favourite books, but I have not read it in ages. You’ve brought back memories, makes me want to pick it up again to read.

      “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning!”

      Thank you for the superb feedback, and for sharing your thoughts. You have a lovely way with words yourself. =)

      Posted by smshamma | February 9, 2013, 17:03
  4. Thank you for sharing this. Surely served as a reminder in some instances. :)

    Perhaps 26 can be “Always keep your promises”

    Not to take away from anything you wrote but the second line in point 6 needs to be corrected to “…or to ask Him for or tell Him anything…”

    God bless you!

    Posted by A gambler bilguw | February 10, 2013, 18:03
  5. A belated happy birthday! There are some good things there in your list. Finding your inner child definitely helps get you through your life and everyone needs to spend time being a couch potato :)

    Posted by Pete Denton | February 11, 2013, 19:19
  6. As promised here are the responses I got from several of those that were there for a career advice talk. I asked them to pick one of your 25 lessons and put together 2-3 lines with their candid thoughts. I had told them that I’d send it on to you.

    Without a doubt they clearly related to the way you expressed yourself in your own quotes:

    “I definitely feel talking less and listening more is a good thing a lot of us can do. I’ve been looking out for my friends and they trust me because I always hear them out. I’ve even taken it to student council gatherings where people can often bicker over ideas. So kudos to you for putting out what’s true.” – Mary Beth

    “I do a lot of theater and could really relate to alleviating the drama in your life quote. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that happens behind the curtain on a show. All us actors are a little insecure when we audition. We get more insecure when we get to rehearse and make it work. Drama belongs on t.v. and I’ll add also on the stage too. Thanks!” – Matt

    “I’ll stand for what I believe and thank you for making the point! It’s just tough with everybody telling you what they think is good for you won’t let you get a word in edgewise. Only I can show others how I feel. I’ll try not to back down next time.” – Rami

    “I always feel like I’m out of options but then just before giving in I pull up my socks and squeeze out an opportunity. I gotta say it’s like hanging off a line because it may not work next time. Thanks for saying there’s always an option. I need to hear that.” – Clara

    “I walked into this class not a happy camper. Then when I read your smile and laugh quote I began to think of the guy that just gets me smiling when I’m hanging out with him. I need people that build me up. So I’ll try to breathe and smile through the day. You’re right I suppose it can only help.” – May

    “Mashallah all of this is a huge boost to my day! I think my favorite was the spirituality quote since prayer takes me into my own world of peace. Since I gotta pick one of these lessons for my note I’ll choose to be grateful. Thanking people for big or little things has always made me better as a person. Friendships are made with gratitude too. So I’m gonna say thank you to you!” – Madiha

    “I can’t pick one lesson so here’s two I thought were terrific: Don’t life get the best of you – I thought I had hit rock bottom back in December when my family was in real tough situation. I didn’t want to see friends or anybody because I was ashamed. Then a teacher noticed and got me talking. Talking got me out and moving again. I’m not all back in heart just yet but I think I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel for me too. Family – I do love them. It’s not they make it hard for me but I wish I could do more to help them. Thanks for saying we have only one family.” – Freida

    “Wonder is wonderful!! I’m a little afraid about leaving friends and family to go overseas. The world feels a little scary when I think that I’m going to be away for a long time. I guess it’s only if I close myself up that I’ll be scared. So I’m going to try and amaze others and myself in the coming months.” – Tarik

    “I juggle a lot of different hats with curricular and extra-curricular things in my life. I’ve also learned to prioritize myself and the time I am given. But it’s not just that, I don’t want to be a xerox copy of someone else’s life and choices. I wish others could value what I care about but more often than not it doesn’t happen. Thanks for making it so clear that those decisions are mine own to live with.” – Ricardo

    “Maybe I’m not completely sure what career to make but I know what my core values are and that’ll be true always no matter where life takes me. So if I stress out over where I’ll end up or what’s around the corner I’m just going to breathe like you say. Your quote just makes terrific sense! I can visualize my problem when I slow down and think it through. All I wasn’t doing was breathing the way you say. So thanks for deep breaths!” – Alia

    P.S. I really think it’s worth a try introducing yourself to different kinds of high school counselors. They’re probably planning and looking to schedule speakers from the community for their classrooms. I hope they would welcome a conversation with you so you could propose fresh and engaging presentations for students.

    I’m not sure how you’d feel about it but think about matching a story or anecdote drawn from your life with each of your lessons. People remember stories and through them the lessons takes on memorable hues.

    I could go further and recommend that within this year you edit and introduce a collection of creatively written works for each lesson. It could be these lessons or perhaps others you have in mind. You and other observant writers from your circle of inspiration can put together an anthology. The spirit of the conversation would be built around these 25, for the lack of a better phrase, roads not taken. It would unravel each lesson through stories of lives that can or were changed. Robert Frost’s poem The Road not Taken could be a little inspiration if you give thought to putting together such an anthology. If the idea motivates you then make it a published book that’s not too long or too short but just enough to be a companion for hearts and minds.

    Posted by Ballad | February 13, 2013, 14:41
    • Thank you so much for this. It is absolutely wonderful to hear such positive feedback.

      Makes me very happy to know that I could connect with individuals in such small, yet meaningful, ways.

      I appreciate your lovely words of encouragement and suggestions. They definitely get me thinking. Thank you :)

      Posted by smshamma | February 13, 2013, 23:29

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