For years, I struggled to express and define myself without fear of being judged or criticized. Little did I know during my underclass high school years that my “friends” were girls who masked their insecurities beneath heavy layers of make-up. Yet, I aspired to be just like them and quickly fell victim to the “halo effect.” I didn’t know how to define or conduct myself because I lived within the confines of my own fears. As I had recently begun wearing a hijab, I was afraid of being ridiculed for who I was or how I dressed. Making a transition from dressing liberally to wearing clothes that expressed my religious devotion required me to redefine my persona. So between all the confusing times that I’d wonder why I found social interactions stressful, I eventually found healthy ways to express myself and build a positive self-image. Many of the subconscious decisions that catalyzed my self-growth are choices that I consciously make on a regular basis. I strive to surround myself with a diverse group of confident and intelligent students. I also run and work out several times a week to promote my well-being, solve personal obstacles, and celebrate my health. Reflecting on who I am today—a self-assured and independent woman, a prospective college student, passionate writer, avid athlete, and more—I am so thankful to have overcome the obstacles that shaped me into who I am.
I constantly reflect on how I felt during my Adobe Dreamweaver Certification exam that I took yesterday. The girl who sat behind that computer desk is someone I never would have imagined myself to become. Dressed in a beautiful golden-tan hijab and rich ruby-red peplum top, this student overcame doubt so many times that being confident became a habit.
I am thankful for all the praise I continue to receive, as my friends and family kindly tell me that I am beautiful, intelligent, and mature. But I find that these compliments only acknowledge the qualities I possess now, not how hard I worked to attain them. The latter subject demonstrates a form of strength that is often overlooked. I am perceived as someone who stands at the top of a hill, not someone who exerted the strength of her heart, mind, and body to reach its peak.
I neither blame nor criticize those who express uplifting words about who I am. I just want people to understand that this transformation didn’t happen overnight. I fought self-esteem issues and other personal obstacles to reach this point in my life. I mention these adversities not because I want you to feel sympathetic toward me. Rather, I mention the idea of overcoming obstacles because it is a form of strength that we don’t acknowledge. As with other beautiful, intelligent, and successful young women, I don’t want people to wonder, How does she make it look so easy to be confident, strong, independent, etc.?
My friends, teachers, and other members of my community would find it shocking if I were to disclose some of the adversities that I have undergone. This astonishment is the result of the surface-level perception people form of who I am; standing at the top of the hill, not fighting to get there. The obstacles we overcome throughout our lifetimes play such a crucial role in shaping us into who we are and building the type of character that people admire.
A thank-you to everyone who encourages me to become a better “me.” But please understand that any successful person you admire did not gain success with the simple flicker of a light. When you compliment someone, you should not only praise her for who she is but also the journey she travelled to become a better version of herself.
During one of my classes, a friend asked if I wanted to play computer games. I immediately accepted his offer and sat at the desk next to him. As I became mentally immersed in a game called Agar.io, I let the sound of my laughs carry throughout the walls of the quiet classroom. The students around me knew I was playing games on my computer because I had finished all of my classwork. But what they didn’t know is what those gentle, light-hearted laughs symbolize. Freedom from years of struggling to express myself. Freedom from irrational fears deeply rooted in social anxiety. And freedom from uncomfortable uncertainties. Not knowing how or when I would find a way to define myself; find friends who celebrated and accepted me for who I was, not someone who strived to achieve something unattainable. So let me share these laughs, this joy, with the boy who invited me to play computer games with him… because he let me be reminded of how alive it felt to be wrapped in so many certainties. Knowing that I have the strength to shatter countless personal barriers, express a limitless happiness as we enjoyed a simple activity.