This month I’ll be turning 24 and before I know it, I find myself knocking at the door of my mid-20s. I don’t really know what to expect from the rest of my 20s but for now, just for a moment, I want to reflect back on my younger self. The stories contained in the pages of my journals allow me to have very vivid memories of age 14 onwards – where I was at each year and what advice I would give to my younger myself.
Age 14 – ‘You gotta be a little bit nicer & a little bit prouder’.
At age 14, I remember my school life and my home life were becoming drastically different. At home, my siblings and especially my mother took the brunt of my angsty/ moody teenage phase. At school, I was having a lot of fun with my friends but I remember very distinctly that around that age, I wanted to just blend in with everyone else. I had a huge fear of being seen as different, not fitting in, and being left on the sidelines so I hid some aspects of myself that I was embarrassed about.
Advice: I would say, be nicer to your mum. At this age, you have tunnel vision and you don’t take the time to see things from your parent’s perspective. One day you’ll realize that she was just trying to protect you from all the things that could lead you astray from your culture and religion. Everything that she does, she does it with your best interest in mind so be nicer to her and your siblings. Also, be proud of your Somali culture and your upbringing.
E.g. growing up in a refugee camp isn’t embarrassing. Those early experiences have installed in you values that you will carry with you your entire life.
Age 15 – ‘Puppy love is hard to ignore’
I think no teenage girl’s journal will ever be complete without mentioning ‘that one guy.’ I’m embarrassed to admit but I definitely shed quite a few tears for someone that I liked for the majority of my high school years. I knew it was hopeless from the very beginning but it’s very difficult to get over someone you see and interact with on a regular basis.
Advice: Even at this age you realize that you may not have a choice over who your heart beats for but you do have a choice on how you act upon those feelings. If the opportunity presented itself and it was no longer unrequited love, you fear Allah (SWT) too much to do anything haram. You should feel proud of yourself for exercising that level of integrity at such a vulnerable age. Just know that in a few years, you’ll graduate and your feelings will naturally dissolve with time (out of sight, out of mind). From that moment onwards, you will keep your heart safely guarded for many years to come.
There are so many things you love to do like writing stories, drawing, playing the flute, learning about fashion designing, all of which are hobbies that will stay with you even through your adult years. Trust me you’ll benefit more from focusing on your hobbies and learning new skills than worrying about boys liking you.
Age 16 – ‘No need to fix what God already put his paintbrush on’
At the age of 16, all I can say is that I certainly didn’t fit into my own definition of ‘beautiful.’ I was an avid reader of ‘Girlfriend’ and ‘Dolly’ magazine and I didn’t realize until much later just how much reading those magazines tainted my body image. Feeling the need to wear make-up so I can feel pretty and perhaps measure up to other girls is a reoccurring theme in my journal at 16. Overall, I was just so self-conscious about my appearance and would constantly nit-pick all the things I didn’t like about my body.
Advice: Your self-worth isn’t tied to your physical appearance and wanting to wear make-up just so others find you physically attractive is an extremely superficial thing to aspire to. Sadly your body image is something you’re gonna struggle with for the next few years but eventually, you’ll reach a stage where you’ll finally, finally feel comfortable in your own skin and you’ll grow to love your natural appearance. It’s hard to imagine now but you’ll get there and you’ll discover that there’s so much more to you as a person than chasing after superficial beauty standards.
Age 17 – ‘A or B or C, pick one instantly’
Here I am, in year 12 and the pressure to make the right decision about the next chapter of my life has me paralyzed. When you’re a child of immigrants, there’s a huge emphasis put on formal education and going to university, following the conventional path to success, the so-called ‘right track’. Even when I knew my parents would support whatever decision I make, the fear of following my passion, perhaps failing, and not having anything to show for it in a few years felt like too big of a gamble. There’s also the pressure of knowing I studied really hard this year and choosing to pursue a career in the creative industry almost feels like I’m flushing my ATAR & all my hard work this year down the drain.
Advice: Once you’ve secured your place at university, take a gap year and pursue a qualification in fashion design just to see if your dreams will blossom. Unfortunately, you’ll spend the years to come being consumed by what-ifs. Don’t feel like you need to give up one dream in order to pursue another. Don’t box yourself in, allow yourself to flourish, to have as many dreams and goals as you want. Always remember to follow your heart – deep down you know the right decision, the question is, are you willing to take the risk?
Age 18 – ‘Honestly, I wanna see you be brave’
18-year-old Ilhan, I know what you’re thinking. In 5 years’ time, you’ll graduate with a double degree in Law and Psychology. You’ll meet the man of your dreams at university, fall in love and soon after you graduate, you’ll get married and live a happy life. If only life was that simple. You are embarking on this new chapter beaming with so much hope for the future only to discover that these next few years are going to be the hardest. You’ll learn the hard way that life doesn’t always turn out exactly how we want it to.
Advice: Subconsciously you’re treating your life like a to-do list; as if accomplishing things by a certain age is the true mark of success. After the first semester of uni, you know exactly what you need to do – drop out of your law degree, your heart isn’t in it and you won’t regret it one bit. Once you finally do it, it’ll feel like a burden has been lifted off your shoulders and you’ll just wish you had done it sooner and spent that time pursuing your passion instead.
Age 19 – ‘One more small piece of you starts to fall into place’
At 19, I developed a clear idea about what I want from life and what I would need to do to get there. I worked so hard and constantly put myself through challenging moments just to better myself. I recognized that stepping out of my comfort zone and improving my leadership and public speaking skills will be beneficial to my future career and life. My mantra for that year was to just keep pushing through despite how difficult the whole process was and how extremely hard I was being on myself.
Advice: I wish I could give my 19-year-old self a hug and just thank her for constantly pushing through her limits. That year, I took part in many projects, and the challenges that I went through, took a massive toll on me but in retrospect, I’m so appreciative that I went through them. Those experiences opened doors for me and boosted my confidence. Thank you for setting a solid foundation, for facing your fears now so that your future self can thrive.
Age 20 – Carve out your own path / Don’t compare your life to anyone else’s
In 2017, I remember being extremely overwhelmed with everything going on in my life and I went through several slumps. I remember sitting with this feeling that time was slipping out of my hands and everything I did, I did it almost with a sense of urgency as if otherwise, I would be left behind. It was a year filled with loneliness, worries and lots and lots of tears.
Advice: This feeling that you’re feeling of being stuck, like other people around your age are in a much better position in life and you’ve been left behind is actually very common to experience in your 20s. You’re absolutely not behind, you’re just on your own path and you’ll accomplish your goals at your own pace.
Age 21: God has bigger and better plans in store for you
I got through my final year of university, I graduated and for the first time in a long while, I feel a true sense of pride and accomplishment. I promised myself that I’d work a bit, save some money and go traveling but God had other plans for me.
Advice: Right now, you’re feeling very anxious about your future and what shape your life will take after university. Always remember, God has a plan for you, talk to him, confide in him, and sincerely pray for everything you wish for. This year, just focus on strengthening your relationship with God, he’ll open your eyes to all the potential you have bubbling inside you.
Age 22: Stepping into the unknown has its perks
So, I’ve just landed my first full-time job, I have a new routine now, new people in my life and it hits me that now is the perfect opportunity to live more authentically. I now walk with my head held high and I feel more comfortable in my skin. Overall, I feel more confident and competent than I’ve ever felt. At this stage, I notice I’m slowly but surely becoming the woman I’ve always admired and wanted to be.
Advice: Heck, you quit your job in the middle of the pandemic when your friends and family thought you were crazy but you knew in your heart that it was the right decision. In life go forth with this attitude, continue to do what’s best for you and what feels right. Please don’t ever be tied down by money or accolades or have your judgment be clouded by what others will think of you.
Age 23 – ‘No S.O.S needed, no rescuing, she’s fine out there’
This year, I got access to a plethora of opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible had I not believed in myself and taken life by the reins. I developed new interests, new goals, and overall a new outlook on what I want out of life.
The biggest realization I’ve had this year is that I am worthy of being loved, I’m confident that I have so much to offer and I deserve to find happiness in my life. At 23, I see myself in a more positive light and I have developed a more mature outlook on love and life in general.
Advice: You’re beaming with so many hopes and dreams. Your life is moving towards a positive direction, stay grateful and enjoy the total freedom that you have now to focus solely on yourself and your passions. I know you’re becoming curious about finding love but don’t rush to start a new chapter in your life. Be very careful about who you give your heart to. Don’t make the mistake of mixing up infatuation or physical attraction with love and realise that some men may look good on paper but they’re not meant for you. You have a really good head on your shoulders so wherever life takes you from this moment onwards, I’m certain you’ll make your mark.
With love always,
Let me know in the comments, what advice would you give to your younger self?