Thoughts On A Very Millennial New Year

"To assume that you were somehow ‘special’ enough to be able to fix up a mess that was centuries/millennia in the making is downright arrogant"

Thoughts On A Very Millennial New Year

Every interviewer asks candidates as to where they see themselves in five, 10 and 15 years – it is, by far, one of the most asked interview questions and should, therefore, be treated accordingly. Going several steps back, all of us do think about where and how we’d eventually like to see ourselves: careers, marital statuses, children, etc.

And according to my calculations, by the age of 30, I was to be a war correspondent with BBC – being deployed in Iraq, Serbia, Bosnia, Afghanistan. I would also be the author of an award-winning anthology, the founder of multiple street schools in Karachi; I would be a sensational journalist and I’d be speaking four languages like a native – or farr farr bolna, like how we say in Urdu.

I celebrate my birthday in June – a few months ago, as we now speak. And looking back at these plans on my birthday this year, how or what do you suppose I felt?

Disappointment: at falling short on almost all my very grandiose goals?

Guilt: about the laziness: point at the “I either didn’t ‘do enough’ or didn’t ‘live up to my full potential’.”

Anger: at myself / the people around me / or the circumstances that got in the way of my becoming a legendary war correspondent at the age of 25?

No. None of the above.

I only laughed. Why? Because over the course of time, I realised that these were goals and achievements that I could enumerate on a CV and later neatly check off from my (very cliched) ‘bucket list’ and be done with.

Thing is: I used to care. A lot. During my late teens and 20s, I dealt with this pervasive pressure to ‘achieve,’ that is all too familiar to us millennials. This triggered the ‘perfectionism’ that my friends constantly tell me to ditch. But to elaborate: we’re often not too sure of what we wanted to achieve. Was it an important position at a multinational corporation or a big bank? Did we want to start our own business, run an NGO, get a PhD – basically any and everything to ‘make a difference’?

Yes, what we (including myself) only wanted was to make a difference, to 'change the world.' And this mindset changed over time; where I very literally and very consciously stopped thinking that I could change the world.

Don’t get me wrong, there was no cynicism involved. It was a realisation that I, as one individual, did not have the power to change or 'save' the world. I couldn’t stop wars. I couldn’t ensure that no person was ever raped. I couldn’t end meaningless violence. I couldn’t reverse global warming. And I couldn’t carry through any of this in my own hometown, Karachi, let alone the entire world.

But to assume that you were somehow ‘special’ enough to be able to fix up a mess that was centuries / millennia in the making is downright arrogant.

Occasionally, somebody exceptional does come along. Extraordinary people who, by dint of birth, effort, circumstance, and possibly some cosmic movement and conjoining of the stars, pulled extraordinary feats. These were our heroes, revolutionaries, prophets, thinkers, humanitarians, inventors, scientists, artists, and writers – whose names are revered in history books.

I doubt any of these greats ever planned on changing the world. They most likely didn’t talk about it in their college applications or scribble it on any ‘bucket lists.’ But I am pretty sure that they were just going about their everyday lives, doing whatever it was they loved and believed in – not expecting any accolades or honours. Basically: just following their intuition, being themselves.

And that’s one thing everyone has the power to do: being ourselves, improving ourselves, and consequently: have a positive effect on our surroundings.

Think about the simpler things in life:

Recycling trash. Holding open the door for someone entering behind you. Lending an ear to someone who’s had a bad day. Teaching somebody a skill or learning something new yourself. Befriending somebody from a different country; making the world a kinder and more tolerant place by personally embodying these qualities.

And that’s exactly what I did. Realistically, it was the best that I could do; and, in all honesty, it was enough for me. What is the point of beating yourself up over failed ambitions and / or irrational expectations – coming from either or both of yourself and others.

We’ve all been burdened by the expectations of others and what these others will think. It could be as trivial as buying the “right” gift for that random occasion, having to attend that cousin’s friend’s brother’s wedding, wearing the “most appropriate” outfit to a family lunch, or sticking with a job that sucks the life out of you daily.


Because that is stuff that good, responsible, respectable people do: making everybody, except themselves, happy.

But deep down inside, in our heart of hearts, we often wonder:

There’s something oddly romantic about misery, the notion of sacrificing yourself and your life for the sake of others, without a thought of your own self. You may or may not enjoy being shoved into that role, but society will love you for it. And on the other hand, though, society will not take kindly to seeing you happy, because being happy for somebody else’s happiness is just shameless. But if your actions don’t spring from love or genuine kindness, where your only motivation is to “live up to” some ill-conceived ideal or expectation or the fear of what people might say, then those actions were worth very little – if anything, at all.

Point is: you can’t make anybody happy unless you are truly happy and fulfilled yourself. And it may or may not be the easier choice, because it is sometimes easier to be miserable or more convenient to be the doormat than to stand up for your (otherwise uninfringeable) right to happiness. But it was your choice.

So far, I’ve led a decent life. I don’t know anyone who’s known hunger, homelessness, violence, abuse – unimaginable hardships that are a reality for so many around the world. We’re familiar with the everyday struggles (death, relationship troubles, financial crises), but nothing as shattering, life altering or heartbreaking as the experiences of refugees, prisoners, slaves, children living in war zones, families who’ve lost everything in a natural disaster, or victims of racism or religious persecution.

Given our privileged lives, then, there is really no excuse for self-pity, nor reason to engage in blame games. We can (hopefully) make our own decisions, chart our own priorities, and control the course of our lives with some degree of certainty (putting aside a margin for qismat, of course). The choices are endless: choosing to spend on a holiday rather than a staycation or exercising instead of watching TV. It could alternatively be something more far-reaching: like deciding to move to a new country, taking on a new job, having a baby.

Thing is: we are all blessed, have dreams, and have choices. The aim, then, should be to have the courage to put these blessings to use, despite ourselves.

So, what have I learnt about life in so many years of being alive, thus far? Not much, by earthly accounts. And what I did learn is embarrassingly negligible in the universal scheme of things.

But if there is one thing I’ve figured out (the hard way) and believe with a conviction – it is that life is about living and not entirely about achieving enviable goals, racking up positions, bank accounts, and cars. It’s about being content and finding beauty and peace in the little things – that are seemingly boring. It can be learning a new word every day, trying a new cuisine, finishing an assignment before deadline, catching up with old friends – or dancing in the rain (if you’re like me). The key here, is to understand that your expectations of yourself need not be grandiose.

As an example, I still wish to write a book one day, and / or set up that charity school; I haven’t forgotten those dreams. But I now understand that there is no rush there, nor should I let those dreams dictate or frustrate my present. Once upon a time, I’d walk out of the house with a squeaky-clean face, ready to attend work or dinner events. Now, I very easily and very regularly use makeup. Then, there are the more internalised changes, the ones you can’t really see: I don’t care as much of what people think of me, and I’m a lot less concerned about offending somebody over a nicety – despite regularly being told to be mindful all of this. My bouts with shyness and self-consciousness are now a fraction of what they once were; I avoid comparing myself with others and I try not to be overly self-critical. But most of all, I remind myself to be grateful, and not take life too seriously.

And what of the very idealistic goals I’d talk about during every job interview that I’ve ever attended?

Well, I didn’t fall off the mark entirely when I made those predictions. So, while the award-winning anthology is still a dream, there is a collection of short stories that often goes up on my intermittent blog page. I’m not the director of any charity, but I am good at listening to people, if they want to just talk. And the two languages I’ve got down in the farr farr category, I’m reasonably ok with both. If I do say so, myself

So, all in all, I’m satisfied with the report card that I reviewed on my birthday earlier this year and you should be likewise with yours – at the review cycle that your birthday enables. There’s no need to have regrets about what you could have done and didn’t do; and there’s no need to panic that your “best years” are flying by, so you better make “the most” of them. With good health and a little bit of qismat, every year and every day can be your best, if want it to be.

And this should be your mantra, for every day, of every new year that you are given.