2017 — The year that defined me.

The first 6 months of this year were hard. The last 6 months were the biggest blessing ever BUT it’s important to reflect on the lessons you learned along the way, whilst celebrating the blessings that happened too… so here are some thoughts and ramblings!

Mental health

I’ve always been worrier. I overthink and panic. I used to think this was just a the “Arfah way” until I started realise there is thing called anxiety and the worry cycle. I reluctantly decided to seek help. It took 6 months for my first appointment to come through and those 6 months were not easy. I realised what was contributing to it was a toxic situation that I needed to remove myself from. By the time the appointment came along I was in a better place but I wasn’t okay just yet. I had a whole range of worries and thoughts, as I was about to go away to America for 5 weeks for my fellowship and away from home for the first time. The appointments did help and it did give me coping techniques, so I guess the lesson here is to seek help and not be ashamed.

Closed doors lead to new ones

I left Makers Academy this year and if I’m honest with you, I didn’t think I’d be leaving the place anytime soon as I’m excited by where they are heading and it’s where I started my career… but I got to a point where I realised it just wasn’t for me anymore. Startups are known to change and evolve and scale up, so it naturally would no longer be a fit. I was however in a fortunate position, as I had just landed a travelling fellowship granted by the Winston Churchill Trust to explore organisations and companies. In particular, I was to look at what they were doing to get more women, minorities and young people into tech, as well as meet other muslim women in tech to bring out role models.

By living at home I was able to take a break from working life to research and go on a bit of a sabbatical before resuming professional life. As a friend said to me, closed doors lead to new ones, and after I had left, the most magical blessed 6 months of my life began.

The Fellowship

I had never moved away from home or been away for a significant amount of time from my family but this year took me away from all my comforts and challenged me loads, ultimately leading to a lot of happy memories.

America

All my vlogs from America are up and from them you can see all the amazing people I met along my journey but it wasn’t easy and there were times I felt really lonely and homesick.

Most of all this tech geek got to be a tech tourist! I was the girl from East Ham who ended up in Silicon Valley! I look back on all of this and I’m amazed that it all happened. Although the country has a very racist president, I met so many beautiful Americans who were nothing but welcoming. The best part was that I lived like a local but got to be a tourist too. I visited DC, LA, San Fran (left a part of my heart there) and New York!

Pakistan

I always knew it was going to be special visiting Pakistan after 7 years. I had been to Pakistan 5 times before that but was always within the family bubble. Experiencing it this time was just so different with local Pakistanis, and making lots of friends along the way who showed me, a whole different “scene”.

From re-connecting with family to exploring the technology scene here in Pakistan to the friends I made through IYSL. There is so much amazing talent here and I’m excited to see where the young people will take Pakistan. Lahore, the city of my fathers birth was buzzing more than ever but woke me up to the reality of climate change due to the smog. Islamabad was a scenic beauty with pockets of inspiration and Karachi was interesting, having not started off well due to some political instability that led me to not being able to leave the house for over a day. It eventually turned out to be lots of fun. I literally can’t wait to go back to Pakistan. I always had a love and hate relationship with this country but this time I’m in love.

UAE

I had been to the UAE before on holiday but this time it was part holiday, part work.

On my second night in the UAE, I was in Abu Dhabi and I remember having the worst day ever, crying on the phone to my best friend in London because damn I felt lonely. I had gone from being surrounded by people in Pakistan to being on my own and with that came all the thoughts of “What am I doing with my life?!” The awesome thing was that it passed and the rest of my time in UAE was lit, thanks to having social media friends who welcomed me into their homes and lives. I also learnt how Dubai is getting ready for the future. Found myself at a Youthhub randomly meeting inspiring individuals and ending up in conversations around cryptocurrency and brain hacking!

Every conversation I’ve had through travels has influenced me in some way or another. Travelling definitely broadens your horizons but it also allows you to discover who you truly are but also learn to stay true to your values.

Having met lots of amazing Muslim women through my travels and seeing them having supportive husbands it made me realise one thing. Not to settle! That it’s possible to have it all and that I’m not asking for too much.

Catching flights not feelings

I turned 26 this year and as an asian girl, the pressure started, everyone around me was getting married and having babies. I always thought I would be married with a child by this age and now I laugh at the thought! It’s no secret I’m “looking” so are my amazing kick ass friends too and if I’m honest with you up until this point I had lost hope. This year I caught flights not feelings. There have been suitors, potentials, bad rishta stories but not being obsessed with finding someone has allowed me to fall in love with myself first, focus on me and be comfortable with actually being alone.

I was very restrictive with my criteria: “London only” was one of them, but now I’m like the world is such a big place, full of such amazing people so he could be anywhere but you’ve got to be open!

I truly believe what’s meant to be will be and everything has a time and place. The biggest lesson however is not to settle. It doesn’t matter what’s happening around you and if all your friends are married whatever you do don’t settle. Put your happiness first and when you thrive as you, you’ll attract the right person to come into life (I haven’t attracted him yet but I know if I carry on living 100% my truth, it’s only a matter of time!) maybe in 2018 I’ll catch those feelings but I’ll still be catching those flights…this time with a +1. Ha.

Family

My Amazing Family (minus my younger brother as he had to be at university ) in Geneva, Switzerland.

One of the biggest things I’m grateful for this year is my parents support for my fellowship. 2017 has also been a great for my family. I went to Spain, France and Switzerland with them. I found that actually travelling with your parents, it forces you to spend time with them. It forces you to ACTUALLY get to know them. How many of us have been guilty of sitting in the same room as them every day but not really having a conversation? It’s a bit of an intergenerational problem, especially in our community but I found a change of scenery has, alhamdulillah, helped build a better relationship with them. I never moved away for university or work so I’ve always been just there, never really had a significant time away from home until this year. I spent 5 weeks in America away from my family for my fellowship and then later this year nearly 7 weeks in Pakistan and Dubai. Those everyday phone conversations, no matter how tiny they were forced us to ask each other how our day was, and to try to bond over something. I’m truly grateful how this year has really brought me closer to my family and in doing so, has made other parts of my life run much smoother.

Other things I’m proud of

Lastly a special shout out needs to go to the Muslamic Makers community, who have unlocked a massive passion in me, which has led to many good friends being made. Running the community and the fellowship has led to plenty of speaking opportunities: from panel discussions around youth roles in the Islamic Economy, to talks at EY, to going international and speaking at Habib University in Karachi and seeing my face on a poster there, to doing an inspiring talk in a government school in Pakistan in urdu(something I always wanted to do as a kid), to coming back and killing it with a presentation at Tech Inclusion at Google about my journey.

In the past, my speaking skills were criticized but I do believe I have the power to inspire and motivate and raise aspirations, so alhamdulillah for that.

I’m also really proud of my story telling skills this year from the mini blog posts I’ve been posting on Instagram, to the vlogs I’ve created through out my fellowship. I’m no marketer, I’m a storyteller.

Throughout this journey, I would have been nowhere without my parents support, but most of all I’m grateful to Allah SWT for everything He has given me and the blessings that have come my way. I’d like to say thank you to everyone I met this year. From the hospitality you showed, to changing and challenging my mind, and to broadening my horizons. I hope to see you all again very soon!

I pray Allah SWT allows me to use the knowledge I’ve gained and do something incredible with it.

So what does 2018 hold for me?

I have no idea, but alhamdulillah I’m in a blessed position to have way too many ideas and lots of different avenues I could go down. Figuring which one will be the right one for me will be the hard bit! For me, it’s less about what I do, as I am a multipotentialite and enjoy doing lots of things, but it’s more about my work having a purpose and meaning. So if you’re after someone with heaps of energy, a passion for diversity, experience in marketing and tech education, contact me and let’s talk!

@muslamicmakers co-founder | @adaventures Angel | Fellowship Programme Manager at @GDSteam | @WCMTUK fellow. Full of random rambles.