As a Kemeni girl in the UAE, I never felt like I truly belonged. When I brought mahamri to school, I felt embarrassed because none of the other kids brought mahamri to school. They would get sandwiches and crisps and Capri-sonne. I was sure they had no idea what that strange dark bread that dark-skinned girl was eating. Summers in Kenya were not any better. I didn’t fit in there either, even though they were fully aware of what mahamri was.
What I regret most from those days is that I spent so much mental and emotional effort trying to fit in when I could have spent it to stand out. In Linchpin, Seth Godin writes, “For hundreds of years, the population has been seduced, scammed, and brainwashed into fitting in, following instructions, and exchanging a day’s work for a day’s pay. That era has come to an end.”
I agree with him; “fitting in” is so yesterday. Nowadays, we live in a post-globalized world where social media has helped melt borders and introduce cultures to one another. And while many people might be tolerant towards intercultural differences, there are still some who are really hung up on keeping their own culture homogeneous so they try to destroy the concept of individuality. In other words, just like you’re born in the tribe, you’re supposed to eat, talk, think and behave like the tribe.
But that’s practically impossible, because we’re all unique. Take an example, ask everybody you know,
“How do you eat your cereal?”
You would expect the answer to be; with cold milk, but that’s not always the case. I’ve met people who never outgrew their love for baby food and like their cereal soggy with warm milk. Others have it with no milk. Then there are those who are sequential eats; they eat the cereal, and then wash it down with milk.
We may have gone to the same schools, hung around the same people, but we all experience the world differently. So today’s post is about celebrating your individuality; a skill that needs to be honed more in our Asian & Middle Eastern & African (AMEA) societies. Here are five practical ways;
5) Mix languages in a unique way. Some people are serial linguists; they use one language per conversation. However, many people in this part of the world are multi-lingual so be unique and mix words from different languages in a single sentence. Speak 3arabenglish for a while. Or as they say in Swahili goes, shoofil qurabu fog ilmabamba.
4) Engage in hobbies you enjoy around people who don’t. Sometimes, we hide our interests and hobbies in order to fit in, because we’re scared of the strange glances and the whispered comments, but we need to be comfortable with those “you’re so weird” glances. And in case you’re looking for a comeback to those who call you weird, you might say, “I’m not weird. I’m just unique.”
3) Be brutally honest. Even if it pisses people off. Especially if it pisses people off. Try talking to conservative aunties about ideas related to feminism and watch the fireworks. After some time, you might even start enjoying pissing people off.
2) Learn to say no without giving any reasons. Many times, we want to please others and end up saying yes to requests we would rather say no to because we’re trying to be nice. While it’s very easy for people to take things personally if you deny them requests, life has taught me, they just get over it and find someone else to do those things. And if someone really resents you for saying no, then – hint, hint – you don’t need such people in your life. So exercise in front of a mirror.
“Because I simply don’t want to.”
1) Be tolerant of other people. Mocking others for being different and judging them is just a sign of a closed mind. It cultivates the sort of environment that makes people bury their authentic selves, hide beneath masks and basically stamp on their own individuality. So basically, celebrate your individuality by allowing others to celebrate theirs.
So what are you going to try today to celebrate your individuality? Whether you decide to mix languages in a unique way, become brutally honest, engage in hobbies you enjoy around those who don’t, say no without giving any reasons or practice tolerance towards others, try it and tweet me on @ahechoes. Also don’t forget to tell me; how do you eat your cereal?
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There’s nothing more annoying than to decide you’re going to journal everyday and then to find yourself sitting in front of an empty page waiting for inspiration to strike. With a hammer.
Since I wrote “Your first step to being a renaissance (wo)man”, many of you have started journaling so I’m posting 13 more prompts — in addition to the 21 prompts mentioned previously to help you discover yourself through writing. Can you guess why I selected the number 13? (Mentioned in the previous post)
If you’re one of those competitive school geeks, give yourself 2 points for each prompt completed and write down how many points you’ve garnered in the comments’ section.
1. Stick a photograph of yourself in your natural habitat. There’s an interesting story behind this prompt. I have a friend who was showing me their personal pictures and when we came across one with them in bed looking rumpled, my comment was, “Look at you in your natural habitat.” The response? “You’re not the first one to make that comment.” So what does your natural habitat look like? Is it hunched over a book in the library? Or with your legs crossed at the knees in a coffee shop? Take a photo, stick it in and write about it.
2. Write a fictional adventure story where you’re the hero and your best friend is the villain. This might sound strange as it would make more sense if you portray someone you dislike in real life as the villain. However, they always say the best villains are those that readers can connect to, and you’re more likely to bring out the positive traits of your friends than your enemies. Change the names, add a conflict, and voila, you’ve got yourself a story.
3. Write down your favorite quote (in calligraphy for 1 bonus point). Now write why it’s your favorite quote and was there any situation where you did something — or didn’t — because you remembered that quote.
4. Imagine you’re upset and crying over the washroom sink. Who’s the one person you would call to help you feel better? Now call them to say hello and write about that conversation in your journal.
5. Write about what you wanted to do as a kid. Are you still following that dream or are you doing something else? Is there a common aspect about the two things? Draw a venn diagram for 1 extra point.
6. Let’s say somebody called you up and said they’ll take you to an all expense paid trip to any city in the world. Where would you go? Write down the places in that city you would visit. Find those locations on Google Streetview and describe them in details. Write down the foods you would order. Finally how does this exercise make you feel? Extra 2 points for photoshopping yourself into that location and sticking it in your journal.
7. Write about an incident that really hurt you. Now tear the paper from your journal making sure the tear is obvious. Now, draw an arrow sign pointing to the tear, and write something like, “The pain was here. Now it’s gone.”
8. Desert walk. Write about the first thing that came to mind when you read those two words.
9. Write about something you really wanted a couple of years back that you don’t want anymore. What changed your mind about it?
10. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Do you even care if that tree made a sound or not? What kind of person do you think came up with that question? Write about their childhood.
11. Write about something that really annoys you about yourself/your job/the people around you. Write ten ideas on how to deal with it. Now close your journal and execute those ideas.
12. If January 2016 was a chapter, what would the title of that chapter be? And why? What about February 2016?
13. Read something on the news and do something about it. A long time ago, before radio waves and the internet, people used to do something about the news they heard because they were within its geographic vicinity. They’d hear that a neighbor’s house caught fire and would come together to donate things to them. However, nowadays we’ve become so desensitized with what’s happening because the news is no longer local. Not only are we geographically removed from the people these news happen to, but we’re also emotionally disengaged unless the news is really big and heart-breaking. Since we’re slowly moving towards a small-village kind of world with social media, it’s about time we start caring again, because part of being human is understanding that we influence one another simply by existing. Think about Newton’s law of universal gravitation which states that any two bodies in the universe attract each other with a force directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. So do something about whatever news you’re reading. Especially the smaller pieces of news. Write an email to the writer to ask more questions about an article. Write an email to a featured hero to thank them for whatever they did. Donate for a cause you’ve just read about. Don’t just sit there. Do something. And then write about it in your journal.
So how much did you score in this journaling exercise? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with your progress.
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Since I posted Your First Step to Being a Renaissance (Wo)man, I’ve received emails from some of you about how you’ve started journaling. So what do you do if you feel like you’ve become repetitive in your journal? This post presents 21 prompts to write about in your journal. Why 21? Not because of the “It takes 21 days to form a habit” claim. That’s actually a myth. A study done by Lally et al.  shows that habit forming could take around two months. So again, why did I choose the number 21? Simply because I like the number. It’s a Fibonacci number and what’s not to like about Fibonacci numbers?
Day 1. Draw a blueprint of all the houses you’ve lived in, all the schools you’ve been to, all the offices you’ve worked in….It’s interesting to realize how easy it is to forget the places we’ve spent considerable amount of time in. You could add a descriptive section to this prompt.
Day 2. Take a picture of your favorite dish and write about it. What memories are associated with it? Who cooked the best version you ever had?
Day 3. Write about your ideal day. What time do you wake up? What are you doing? How are you feeling?
Day 4. Write a fictional conversation with one of your heroes. Where are you having this conversation? What are you talking about?
Day 5. Write a letter to your thirteen-year-old self. What are your biggest regrets? What are the biggest lessons learnt?
Day 6. Who are the people you admire the most and why do you admire them?
Day 7. Write a blow-by-blow account of the previous day from the moment you woke up to the moment you went to sleep. Compare this with your entry for Day 3 and see how you can improve your life.
Day 8. Write about one of your happiest memories. What were you doing? Where were you? Who were you with? Is there a picture? If yes, add it to your journal.
Day 9. Every day on the news we learn that the world is a scary place. Is there anything that happened recently to give you hope in humanity?
Day 10. Write a thank you letter to someone who has influenced your life greatly. You could mail this letter (or not).
Day 11. Write about an inspiring talk/speech you’ve listened to recently. It could be a TED talk or a podcast or simply a conversation with a friend. What did they say that made you feel pumped up? How did it resonate with you?
Day 12. Write about a time when you were really worried about something and it turned out to be all right in the end.
Day 13. Write a letter to your future self about something you’re really worried about right now, and send it to your future self via http://futureme.org/. Don’t let your anxiety cripple you and refer back to Day 12’s prompt to calm yourself down.
Day 14. Describe a day you spent totally alone. Why were you alone? What did you do? How did you feel? Would you like to repeat it? [If it’s been a while since you’ve had a complete day to yourself, then describe a time when you spent a long stretch of time (6 hours) on your own].
Day 15. What was the longest time you’ve had to wait in queue for something? Was it worth the wait? How did you spend that time?
Day 16. Describe a book that considerably changed your life. Or describe a book that evoked such a strong emotional response that you experienced a book hangover.
Day 17. Look back at your life and write about a belief you held for so long that in retrospect makes you feel so stupid and naive.
Day 18. Describe your favorite journaling spot. Do you get natural light or do you use a lamp? Are you sitting at a desk or lounging on the sofa? How is the noise level?
Day 19. If there is one thing you could change about the people around you what would it be and why?
Day 20. Is there something that you want so bad? It could be a thing like a car or a job or a lifestyle? List down ten ideas of ways to get it – without robbing a bank. See if you can take the first step towards implementing your list.
Day 21. Start the page with “What scares me the most…” and write down your biggest fears.
If you are inspired by these prompts, feel free to take a picture of your journal and tag me on twitter @ahechoes #21pages
Also if you want to improve your life and learn more about personal development, but don’t have to read many books, get my new ebook Mine Your Inner Resources which presents ideas from top books in the field so you can take action right away. To learn more, go to; http://ahscribbles.com/get-your-copy-of-mine-your-inner-resources/
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Book Hangover Image: Pixabay image modified via Buffer Pablo