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(I posted this on my FB the morning after the Nov. 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. I wanted it to have a permanent home, so here it is.)

I don’t talk about my religion and faith a lot, mainly because I firmly believe that it’s something very personal. There are moments in the aftermath of tragedies that compel me to defend myself. Defend my belief. Defend my religion. I feel compelled to remind people that terrorists don’t represent our religion, and by definition, they only use violence to instill fear in others. When I see articles and tweets of Muslims from around the world defending our religion, my initial response isn’t pride. Most of the time, the defense isn’t about educating, but immediately throwing dirt on others. We can’t show kindness, we can’t show solidarity, we can’t show our humanity…by slinging dirt on Christianity. By talking about other extremists groups. By bringing political commentary about how Paris is only getting attention because it’s a Western country.

That’s how hatred spreads. Those are how the seeds are planted. That’s how children can be brainwashed into believing that the world is against them, and that’s how they turn into the people who spread terror. Hate begets hate.

The truth is, right now, humanity is crumbling in every corner of the world. There is terror that is happening every day. There is evil all around us, lurking in quiet corners, taking innocent lives with more weapons than just guns and bombs.

So instead of pointing fingers, instead of throwing mud to show how clean we are in comparison, let’s just practice what preach. Let’s practice kindness. Let’s practice understanding. Let’s shine light in to the shadows. Let’s give the world something more than hate.

I’m Muslim. I’m human. I’m a citizen of the world.

Let's give the world something more than hate

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Thank You & an Announcement

I’ve been thinking a lot about a specific June day in 2009. What began as a normal morning ended with me taking a cab back to my house with my belongings from my desk. In that moment I lost my job, it felt like my entire world had gone up in smoke. I’ve been working for as long as I can remember. I got home and wrote a blog post. I was still using a pen name during that time, and that day triggered a new journey for me. Within a couple of hours, my friends had sent me leads, I had a few phone interviews set up, and by the end of the week, I had decided to freelance full-time.

I’ve written about my journey before, and it’s been a rough one. Impostor Syndrome has been a constant, but so have friends and mentors who have believed in me. I’ve struggled – a lot. But I’ve also grown. I even launched my own small business blog.

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I never thought I’d be at a point in my life where I would say “I’m leaving my team at Google for a new opportunity, a new challenge,” but that’s what I’m saying today.

Yesterday, I accepted an offer for a new contract at a new company. I’ll talk more about the details of that job after I’ve started in December but for now, I just want to say thank you.

I want to say thank you to my friends who’ve never lost faith in me, even when I completely lost faith in myself.

I want to say thank you to mentors who’ve helped guide me on this crazy journey since that faithful day in June, and there are many you who might not even know the impact you’ve had on me with a single word or conversation over coffee. But there are two people I want to especially thank:

  • Thank you, Marie, for taking a chance on me when you brought me on as a Global Community Manager at Fluke, giving me a newfound love for B2B.
  • Thank you, Karina, for reaching out to me about this crazy project at Google that would define my life for 18 months. If it wasn’t for your faith in me, there’s no way I’d be able to take this step now.

As I’ve told my team, I’ll still be the Community’s biggest advocate. I could not be more proud of what we’ve built, and where this team will take it in the next year. Keep an eye out, folks. There are even bigger projects and initiatives coming down the pipeline for small businesses. If you don’t already, give them a follow on Google+.

In December, I’ll be starting a new adventure – and I’m terrified. Mainly because I’m going to have to go from being a hermit to working with a team in an office again. More to come on that later.

Shakespeare

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Leaving My Heart on the Stage: My First Ignite Talk

I write about the uncomfortable“Don’t trip. Don’t trip.” 

These were the thoughts going through my head as I went up the steps to the stage. During pre-show prep, I saw that the carpet where I’d be standing was a little shaggy. I looked at my boots.

“Shit, maybe I should get my flats from the car. My heels will get caught.”

But I didn’t. There was too much adrenaline pumping through my body. I focused on knowing where I’d sit. Remembering my first words. Remembering my last. Forgetting that there were 800 people in the audience that night – not to mention the live stream.

Did I mention this was my first big public speaking gig? I sent the proposal to Ignite on a whim. I’d done that before, and just like the past, I figured I wouldn’t get picked. So many more inspirational people with incredible stories apply every quarter. Why would mine get picked?

It did. I got the email right before Kelly Clarkson took the stage at Key Arena on August 12th. I was already an emotional mess because I’d been wanting to see Kelly Clarkson live for 13 years, so I didn’t even have the time to process the fact that my Ignite talk was accepted. No time to process the fact that I’d be standing on stage at Town Hall in Seattle, baring my soul about a topic I’d kept inside for 20 years.

Not that I had time to process it after. Traveling, work, conferences…the next month was a whirlwind, and right before I got on the plane at Cleveland to head back to Seattle, I submitted my slides for the talk.

“Shit, well, that’s happening.”

On September 17, I listened to 6 amazing people go up on stage and give their Ignite talks before me. I started to lose focus. I had to remember to breathe.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 5.11.58 PMI made it on stage without tripping, grabbed the microphone from Scott Berkun and then was transformed into a Charlie Brown cartoon. My own words sounded like the teacher’s garbled speech, the audience like the background drawings that stay still. I made the mistake of glancing down at my slides once, and it threw me off. I glanced up at one point and noticed my friend’s husband in the back row (but didn’t focus enough to see her.) Three of my lovelies were in the audience that day, plus a few of my friends watching at home.

Once I got off the stage, I sat down. One of the other speakers gave me a hug. I grabbed my phone. There was one more speaker between me and intermission. I tried to hold back the tears. My friends were posting funny screenshots of the live stream on my Facebook. I smiled through the tears that inevitably came down my cheeks. At intermission, my friends found me to give me a hug.

“Did I say words? Were they in English?”

Audience members came up to me, thanking me for my bravery. For sharing my story. The guy who was in charge of the slides told me that I was right on point – I must’ve practiced meticulously.

I remembered that there were 800 people in the audience that night. My knees buckled.

A good friend asked me what made me choose to share my story – this story – now. I told him that it was time. The reason I hadn’t shared it is because I’d been scared, but I have bigger fears I tackle every single day to survive.

Besides, I said I wanted to do more public speaking. What better way to start by ripping my heart out and leaving it on the stage for the world to see?

 

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Saying Farewell to Dot

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“Dot is going to outlive me.”

That’s the comment I’ve been making to people every time someone would react to her age. “Wow, 16. She doesn’t look it!”

And she doesn’t.

Dot 1I first met Dot a couple of years ago when I met my best friend and her dad. Dot was his cat.

When I came back from my road trip this past fall, after my best friend (and Dot’s) dad had passed away, she became a fixation in our apartment and my life. When she ran away from our apartment, in a neighborhood she wasn’t familiar with, my heart stopped. I couldn’t do anything but worry about her for those two days. I ran around our neighborhood. I tweeted. I prepared fliers, ready to plaster them all over town. It was then that I realized she became a part of my heart. When she came back to us, I could breathe again.

So, when I moved into my own apartment in December, she came home with me.

If I stayed out all night at a friend’s, Dot would be there to greet me when I walked in through the door in the morning. When I sit at my desk to write, Dot is right there, keeping my wrists warm. When I get home from a trip, Dot is there to tell me everything that had happened when I was gone.

Her health, for the most part, has been solid. Except for the throwing up. I thought it was because her hair was long and she was giving herself too many hairballs. The throwing up kind of stopped for a bit after she got groomed. And then it began. So did the pooping out of the litter box. Watching her throw up and seeing tears form around her eyes from the force tore me apart every time.

A couple of months ago, a tumor appeared in her ear. dot 2

She kept losing weight.

“She’ll be fine,” I kept telling myself.

The other night, I woke up to her throwing up – twice. And then again in the morning.

In my gut, I knew it was time.

It’s the hardest decision I’ve made in my entire life. I could be selfish. I could put her under anesthesia to have the tumor removed, put her on meds so that she’s by my side for another few months. Maybe it’d just be weeks.

But I’m not the one throwing up. I’m not the one who’s sick. I’m not the one who can’t communicate my discomfort and pain.

So I made the call.

Tonight is my last night with Dot. Tomorrow morning, my sweet girl will go to sleep and finally get some rest.

Saturday morning, when I wake up, my apartment will be silent. There won’t be a paw on my lips, trying to get me to wake up.

Anyone who’s owned an animal knows the unconditional love that they have for their humans. Yes, cats are fickle animals, but deep in my heart, I believe that Dot has always been an introvert like me. Her love filled up my heart, and on my loneliest days, just having her near me helped.

My sweet girl lived a long, full life. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been a part of that life, even if it was just for a few months.

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doppelgangerAlthough the concept of the doppelgänger usually refers to more of the physical attributes of a person, I’ve been thinking a lot about the personalities we come across or invite into our lives. I met someone recently who reminded me a lot of a person from my past. It wasn’t so much the physical similarities but the personality quirks of this person that are similar to a friend from a different lifetime.

It got me thinking about the people that come in to our lives. No matter how much I grow or change, I seem to be drawn to certain personalities. Sometimes, their presence in my life is fleeting – maybe a conversation that lasts as long as it takes for me to drink a pint of beer at the bar. A passing conversation. A person who won’t be a lasting part of my life but that short conversation can awaken a feeling, thought, or untie a knot that’s been tangled up in my mind.

This is why, even as an introvert, I try to make an effort to talk to strangers when the time is right. The other night, I was sitting at the bar and one of the girls ordering a drink was asking for a recommendation. I spoke up with my thoughts and next thing you know, we were talking about road trips for an hour.

Another conversation led me to meet a couple who had just come back from a trip to China and they were both creatives, so we ended up talking about art and writing for two hours on a random Saturday night.

I walk away from most of these conversations inspired.

People can surprise you. Yes, that can be a negative surprise too, but the beauty of these fleeting conversations is the ability to walk away. If you’re feeling more drained than inspired, walk away.

If you meet someone who has the same kind of spark of a friend from the past, embrace it. Maybe it’ll remind you of good memories. Maybe it’ll encourage you to finally send that email you’ve been wanting to send. Maybe it will remind you that there’s a reason the past is the past and you should delete that email that’s been sitting in your outbox and move on.

The world is constantly talking to us but we hardly listen. Once in a while, it takes the Doppelgänger Effect to make us stop and pay attention, even if it’s just for the duration of a short conversation.

It’s easy for me to get lost in my own head, until a conversation with a stranger sparks a thought, debate, or clue to help me find my way back to the right path.

When was the last time you paused long enough to listen to the world around you?

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Big girls do cry

Last night, I cried. It was unexpected. It was inevitable. It was necessary.

Ironically, it was after an incredibly fun night with my awesome friends. We’re in a mini golf league this summer, have I mentioned that? Last night was the first night. We drank beers, laughed and hit balls. Afterwards, we went for food and drinks. It was a good night. It was a great night.

Then I walked home. It was a full moon. It was a beautiful Seattle night, with the smell of the rain still lingering.

I came home, undressed, headed straight to bed – and started crying.

There’s been this loneliness creeping underneath the surface. This pain that I don’t talk about, and try not to think about.

My life is good, I remind myself daily.

I’m loved, my friends remind me.

I do good work, my coworkers tell me.

I’m not alone, but I am often lonely.

One of my best friends and I were having a conversation a couple of weeks ago and I teared up a little. We hadn’t had a one-on-one in a while. She reminded me that being independent and building the life I want can be, ironically, lonely.

That’s the way it goes.

Crying is good. It’s cleansing. I’m emotional – it’s part of the package.

The loneliness, though? I don’t know how to overcome it. It’s the biggest irony of my life. An ambivert with an independent soul that craves solitude to recharge – but also craves the intimacy provided by other people.

So, sometimes, I just cry myself to sleep.

The next day is always a little better, even if my heart is always heavy.

a good cry

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#Wanderlust

the world is my siren

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

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Nyctophilia

In one of the stars I shall be living

I’ve always preferred the night to day. I spent much of my childhood looking up – at the clouds, but mostly seeking the stars during the day. When they came out at night, my inspiration was revived with them. I found escape in the night. In a house full of chaos, my favorite time was the night. When everyone went to sleep. When I was left alone with my thoughts, for better or worse.

When I moved out and moved into a room that was essentially the size of a closet in a house full of 4 other people, I waited until everyone went to sleep before tip-toeing downstairs with my laptop or book.

The night and I became best friends. Worst enemies. The quiet in the night became my confidante. The internet brought me friends in different time zones, hundreds of blogs to read when I got lonely because the world was too quiet and my demons too loud.

My writing flows the easiest in the quiet of the night. I sit here, with music in my headphones, my cat purring in my lap and my fingers flying across the keyboard. Yes, even alone in my own apartment, I use headphones. It’s how I get in my zone. It’s how I create. It’s my bubble.

Not every night is productive. Some nights, I can’t shut my brain off long enough to sleep, nor can I slow it down to pick out a single thought. Some nights, my anxiety drives me into a panic mode and all I can do is clean and organize. Some nights, the depression is so heavy that all I can do is lie there, staring at the TV, not even attempting to reach for my notebook.

The night and I have a complicated relationship – but it’s a reliable one. As an insomniac, I accept it fully. The nights I can actually go to sleep, my subconscious takes over and I wish for the sweet release the manic nights when I at least feel a little more in control.

I know it’s hard for my friends to grasp. I know that this may change drastically when I find a partner who will be by my side to calm those demons when my nightmares start to creep in. But I can’t deny the truth that the night is my most creative time. As a writer, I try really hard to get into the zone during the day, like a normal person. But the night calls to me like a siren.

“It’s just you and me,” whispers the night. Not a single distraction in the world. No phone calls, no meetings. No sunlight tempting me to come out and play. In the quiet of the darkness, I am free. I am loud. I am raw.

I cut the veins open and words bleed on to the page without interruption.

nyctophilia

 

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The One Where I Turned 30

gut going after dreams

I always post my birthday posts on my birthday. Always. This year, though, I wasn’t sure how to approach it. I mean, it’s a big milestone, and I know it’s a big deal but I couldn’t exactly nail down why. I have a lot of thoughts about it – not necessarily related to the fact that I’m now 30 but just my life in general.

There wasn’t a magical change that happened when the clock struck midnight on April 1, 2015. I was in Scottsdale, AZ with 5 awesome guys who decided that even though I was on a work trip, I wouldn’t enter my new decade alone in a hotel room. On my birthday, I was at a conference, running full speed, doing what I love. To be honest, 30 has been amazing, but it wasn’t because the Earth rotated around the sun for 365 days.

The truth about my life is that in my darkest moments, I didn’t think I’d live to see 30. Even if I did, it’d be as a failure, or in miserable circumstances.

Then I took control of my life. I made an active decision to be selfish. I chose to own who I am, and finally build the life I’ve been stubbornly wanting for as long as I can remember.

My life is made up of the untapped opportunities of the future.

I am needy .

I am the memory keeper.

I am a cat lady.

I am ugly.

I am angry.

I am passionate.

I am an aspiring digital nomad philanthropist.

I am the heaviest I’ve ever been and I’m OK with that.

I am at peace with my tagged photos.

I am an Amplifier.

I am a writer.

I am 30.

I am surrounded by love because I stopped looking for my tribe, and looked for passion instead. A few days after my birthday, I stood in my apartment, overwhelmed. There were about 10 of my closest friends in my home, laughing, drinking and chatting it up. They were there for me – to celebrate me. To get to know each other through me. They chose me the way I chose them.

At one point, my anxiety got the best of me and I didn’t know what to do with myself. My awesome friend Nate took one look at me and asked me what I needed him to do – and proceeded to take control of the party. In that moment, it was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve always talked about looking for the people who can sing back the words to my song when I forget the lyrics.

The moments that matter are when we can’t be there 100% but the ones around us can take charge, like a relay. They’re the ones we trust with the most precious torch of all – our heart.

My lovely friend Jessica made a comment about me being the Kevin Bacon of our group, which made me laugh. (Muslim girl, bacon…ya get it.) But it made me happy. See, the thing about my friends is that I am not the center of gravity in any single group. I’ve always been a drifter, but now, as adults, I choose to amplify the best part about my friends. So when friends I’ve made through the most random circumstance are all in a room together, they can get along without me having to navigate the conversation.

Career-wise, I cannot be in a better place. And honestly, I will be posting a different blog about that.

Ditto to the whole dating thing. I’m taking a break for a while, but that’s a different post for another day.

I won’t do a 30 things I learned about being 30, nor do I want to write a letter to my younger self. Every single moment of my life leading up to this point has had a purpose. There’s been a reason. Sometimes that reason was that I couldn’t fight depression and needed to be destructive. When friendships fell apart, the reason was to learn to trust my gut and feel that pain to grow.

beauty of being humanThe magic about 30 isn’t in the moment the clock strikes midnight. The magic is in the moments leading up to it. It’s in the intentional decisions you make in order to live the life you want. They aren’t all life changing decisions, like taking a leap of faith and driving cross-country. It’s in the smiles you share or that hello in line at the coffee shop. It’s in the random conversations you have with someone at the bar while waiting for your friend. It’s in the decision to take a bath and read for 30 minutes instead of going out for a drink on a Friday night. It’s in the chaos. It’s in the moments after a rain storm. It’s the 30 seconds you have before your alarm goes off, when your cat/dog/baby is snuggled up perfectly against your body.

The magic about 30 isn’t about being 30. It’s in any day, any age, any moment of your life.

So take a deep breath, set your intentions, and figure out what it will take for you to be happy.

I chose Seattle. I chose being a freelancer. I chose to stop dimming my own light to make others happy. I chose to heal.

I chose me – scars and all.

Oh and don’t worry – the ridiculous selfies aren’t going anywhere.

me

 

“Ma pensée, c’est moi: voilà pourquoi je ne peux pas m’arrêter. J’existe parce que je pense … et je ne peux pas m’empêcher de penser.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

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Current Status

(Warning: This is a stream of consciousness post, also known as word vomit.)

I’ve talked about how I am always aware of how I feel and if I can’t figure out the root cause of a feeling – I dig until I do. Self-awareness isn’t just a fad for me. It’s necessary. When you grow up with abuse and mental illness in your genes, you either take control or get lost in the depths of fear. I’m a huge advocate of saying yes. Of experiencing life, no matter what. I own my feelings and let them run their course – even the ugly ones. I know what it’s like to deny my feelings, to try to drown them with glass after glass. Being self-destructive was how I got through anger and sadness when I was younger.

People make mistakes. People let us down. People use us for their own ego. People put us down to give themselves the illusion of feeling good.

We can’t control how others act. We control our own reaction, even when we feel out of control.strength

When I was younger, my way of taking control was being incredibly guarded and if anyone got close to the walls, I’d go with the trusted self-deprecation. I could go on and on about all the ways I put myself down, and maybe one day, when I finally write my book, you’ll get to hear those stories.

As I grew up, though, my way of taking control changed. Being guarded and closed off to potentially good experiences for the sake of avoiding the pain wasn’t worth it. It’s not how I want to live my life. I take the good with the bad, the pain with the pleasure. At the end of the day, I can say that I gave it all a try. I let love win.

Besides, people come and go. Experiences, both the good and the bad, are how we define our own strength.

There’s one feeling I absolutely hate, though. It’s one I try to avoid. If it comes around, I do my best to let it go. I know how poisonous it is and I know how it could easily consume me. Unfortunately, like everything else, it must be felt. It must be experienced. I have to let it run its course to learn my lesson and to feel that relief.

Anger.

I get easily annoyed. I get frustrated. I get impatient.

But angry?

That’s a rare feeling for me. The one that starts at the pit of your gut, and like a slow-burning fire, takes over your entire self.

When I decided to write about this, the first quote that popped into my head was the one we all know:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. – Buddha”

But the thing is – sometimes, we have to get burned. If I am feeling angry, that’s what I’m supposed to feel to process the root cause of that anger. It’s unfortunate, but the principle is the same as any other emotion: Telling someone (or ourselves) to just get over it doesn’t work. The longer we deny a feeling, the longer it holds on. Use whatever metaphor you want to but the fact of the matter is, like all emotion, anger must be felt.

I know that I also need to forgive. Forgiveness isn’t always about the other person because they may not even seek forgiveness. Hell, they may not even deserve it. Forgiveness is my reaction to the actions causing me to feel anger. But honestly? It doesn’t happen in an instant. Knowing that I need to let go of the anger doesn’t mean it will run its course any faster. The only control I have over that is to not let it consume me. To continue with my life, stay aware of my emotions and when the time comes, to forgive.

It could be tomorrow.

It could be next year.

So right now – I’m angry.

But I’m also satisfied, happy, loved, and grateful.

That’s the beauty of being human. We can feel conflicting feelings all at once, defining who we are at a given moment by choosing to embrace the positive ones as the negative ones run their course.

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