Photo courtesy of Reema Zaman.
This past weekend, I attended the Girlboss Rally in New York, and I had the chance to hear numerous luminaries share their hard-won lessons. Arianna Huffington, Bozoma Saint John, Noria Morales, Maryellis Bunn, and Elaine Welteroth, among others. Elaine said something that really resonated with me: “You are a series of dreams realized. Never let yourself be defined by one definition.” I wholeheartedly agree.
I embody a handful of monikers: author, speaker, daughter, sister, woman, feminist. But before and beyond it all, I define myself by the truths I live by. Today, I’m turning 35. From being born in Bangladesh, to immigrating to the United States by myself at 18, to living as an actress and model in New York before becoming a writer, to surviving, healing, and rising above sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and anorexia, here are 10 truths I’ve learned that make me who I am. I offer them to you, with love.
1. Your inner voice is both your anchor and your lighthouse.
The most important relationship in your life is the one you have with your inner voice. Spend time in dialogue with this voice. Learn to trust its wisdom. If you find yourself questioning it, ask yourself why. Answering why will always lead to an interesting fork in self-awareness.
2. Healing is the foundation for everything else.
To varying degrees, we have each experienced broken expectations and perhaps even betrayal and abandonment from people we’ve loved and trusted the most in life. Take the time to understand the mark left by these wounds. Taking the time to understand is not wallowing; it’s part of the necessary self-awareness, healing, and rebirth process. If ego or fear keep you from looking into and healing your wounds, you run the risk of not growing into your fullest wingspan, emotionally, creatively, spiritually, and intellectually.
Healing and self-awareness are necessary components for emotional intimacy, truly fulfilling friendships and relationships, and for falling into one’s highest potential in life. Examine your wounds, peer into the stitching, make sure the sutures are clean and healthy. Everything else is built from there.
3. We become the story we choose to believe.
Decide whether you are a victim, survivor, or warrior. Your choice in identity will determine your trajectory in life. Connected to your identity, there will come a time when you will have to decide your purpose within the larger human family. Your purpose informs your sense of belonging, legacy, the currency you wield, and the value you contribute to the larger pack. Now, this decision may be a choice you don’t make consciously, but it’s definitely something part of you decides.
Does your purpose have something to do with fleeting physical attractiveness, money, status, and popularity, or, something more authentic and lasting like intelligence, service, wisdom, compassion, empathy, connection, integrity, kindness, and love? Choose wisely. Your purpose informs your quality of day, mental health, relationship health, and ultimately, the footprint you are remembered for.
4. Own your beauty, but don’t be owned by it.
Beauty isn’t invulnerability, immortality, meaning, or true freedom. Physical beauty is largely an illusion and, like everything, its presence in your life is made of the value you assign to it, little or big, toxic or healthy. Like any power, if you love beauty too ardently, the power will become your prison.
5. You are not a bad decision; never settle for one, either.
Numerous factors had to align for the creation of you. You are a result of countless serendipitous choices, reaching back generations. You are not a thoughtless happenstance. You are not a bad decision. Therefore, never settle for one.
When you meet that person (you know what I’m talking about) who is the walking embodiment of a bad decision, listen to your inner voice. Your inner voice is the part of your brain that was formed and honed through generations of human evolution. Your libido, on the other hand, is a reckless teenage nitwit. Listen to your higher voice when she says, “You deserve more than a bad decision.”
6. We grow to the limits or limitlessness wherein we place our identity.
This is one of my favorite lines from my memoir, I Am Yours. Make sure your standards for yourself and others are high. Make sure your dreams are audacious. Settling for “okay,” or “good enough,” whether that’s with your habits, work-ethic, career goals, a partner, a relationship, or the quality of work and contribution you can expect from team members can lead to unrequited potential, lost or botched opportunities, and profound regret. And if we never speak up or neglect to set high standards and expectations for ourselves and others, the fault is our own.
Speak up. Dream, stick to your values, live with integrity, work with unwavering focus, and ask with a forthright assertiveness that others rise to meet your level of vision and character. If they are unwilling or unable to, then they aren’t your fit. Find those who are.
7. The life-partner you choose will affect the limits or limitlessness of your life’s legacy.
After our relationship with ourselves, the single most impactful decision we’ll ever make is our choice in life partner. In a life partnership, your partner’s personality, the scope, and scale of their confidence, ambition, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, centeredness, empathy, maturity, accountability or lack thereof will profoundly impact your quality of life, and, your potential in life. They will affect your aspirations and decisions, overtly or covertly. When it comes to personal, creative, and career growth, you can grow comfortably to match the height and bandwidth of your partner, and they to yours, if they’re willing. Any growth you aspire for beyond that will be at best a challenge, at worst a compromise and negotiation.
Be very conscious and deliberate about choosing the person with whom you want to evolve through life. Make sure their scope and scale of character, ambition, talent, and potential match the scope and scale of yours, your goals, and your dreams.
This is a truth I had to learn the hard way. I went through an abusing marriage in my mid-20s, that I write about in length in I Am Yours. Not only was he cruel and manipulative, but being inside that relationship meant I would never reach my potential. If I wanted to grow, I had to leave. In the end, I chose me.
8. Befriend your inner dragon.
As you evolve through life, cultivate relationships, and scale from one level of your career to the next, your greatest hurdle will not be “time management” or “boundary setting” or “work-life balance.” Our greatest dragon, the one we all have to befriend and keep at bay continually, is ourselves. For you, your inner dragon may manifest as punishing perfectionism. Or, comparing yourself to others. Or, anxiety, imposter syndrome, or the inability to trust others. All this to reiterate that the most vital relationship in your life will always be the one you forge with yourself.
The most crucial use of your time is time spent understanding, befriending, and learning to calm and care for yourself. Invest the time to identify and examine your triggers, fears, blind-spots, repressed memories, and pain-points. Trace their origins, get to the bottom of them. Heal. Once you build this foundation, every other goal, relationship, and success becomes all the more attainable, sustainable, and enjoyable.
9. We are one family.
Every human being has been through pain. Every human being harbors a complex story. This in itself is reason and inspiration for empathy, connection, compassion, generosity, and kindness. Remembering this also helps alleviate the loneliness that can arise in the racing pace of life. It mitigates jealousy, competitiveness, and feelings of not being good enough.
We are all individuals, living out our unique stories, threads in the larger fabric of human life. We were born to help each other in little and big ways. If we were meant to live solitary, self-focused lives, we wouldn’t all be alive on the same planet. We share the same home. We share the same home.
10. The voice is a muscle. The more we use it, the more time and love we give it, the stronger it grows.
Another favorite truth from I Am Yours: the first ‘No’ is always the hardest. The first time you assert your truth will feel as daunting and impossible as lassoing the moon. But tethering and drawing the moon close to you is a feat you can indeed achieve, for you were born to do this and so much more. You were born to speak change into being, and within your cells, you harbor a wild wisdom to guide your path. Such is the song of your inner voice. Listen. Learn. Raise your voice as an anthem of truth.
When all else fails, place your middle and forefinger against your neck, wrist or chest to feel your pulse, breathe, and remember that you are here. You are as singular as a fingerprint. You exist for a purpose larger than yourself.
You matter. You are loved.