On being mentored

Sometime in my last semester of college, I found myself crying on my therapist’s couch.

Okay, this is vague – I spent a lot of my last semester of college crying on my therapist’s couch. In retrospect, I was genuinely in the throes of an existential crisis, but a major perk of being incredibly high-functioning is that I’m able to compartmentalize my anxiety away to do what needs to be done. As a result, when I wasn’t spending whole cursing out my capstone, I seemed as put-together as anyone on the cusp of graduating could be expected to, uh, be. But make no mistake: every single therapy session I had that semester, I spent crying into my therapist’s succulent that I was cradling to myself.

During one such succulent-cradling occasion, I cried to my therapist about how, despite the fact that I felt like I was a mentor to so many people, I didn’t have a mentor myself. How at that moment, with the dizzying array of possibilities ahead of me, the one thing I wanted above all else was a mentor. I felt petulant. Had I not been lucky enough with the support of my peers and professors? Why did I need a dedicated mentor?

I still don’t know why it hit me so hard then. My guess is I was self-flagellating at all the things I hadn’t done during my five years at Northeastern. Like so many students, I was terrified of going to office hours. I didn’t want to bother professors. I felt like all I would do was make a fool of myself. It was enough to be a presence in class and know that, at least, the professor knew my name (maybe) – but to go out of my way to bother them? I didn’t want to hoist myself as a burden onto anyone.

But since my third year, whenever I was at a panel or in a position of advising undergrads, I always said (and still say) that the one thing you should do as soon as you come across a professor you’re interested in is to go and see them. I was exposing myself in saying that. I was extolling the virtues of having a mentor and revealing the secret to finding a mentor after years of having missed out on the same experience myself. The best pieces of advice I give all come from my own mistakes and misfortunes. But when I’m not advising people, those mistakes and misfortunes sit deep in my belly like a rot. In therapy, the rot translates to crying into a succulent while running my fingers over its fleshy leaves.

(Have I painted a vivid enough picture of my lowest moments for you yet? Should I mention the amount of used tissues scattered at my feet? I’m baring my soul to deliver this quality content!)

What I was really getting at was that I didn’t know how to reconcile the mistakes I had made in college with my then-uncertainty. There was so much I could have done: I could have offered to do research for faculty, I could have tried to get things published in earnest, I could have joined more clubs, I could have spearheaded more initiatives, I could have made a better show of things during my co-ops. I could have, and – by my logic – all of these mistakes could have been rectified had I just had a mentor to guide me. It would have been that simple.

It wouldn’t have been that simple, but I needed to think in black-and-white at the time. As always, it was about accountability: by blaming myself, by pinpointing a singular cause for my condition, the uncertainty became slightly more surmountable.

Now that I’m sufficiently divorced from that situation, I can say, with relish, that I was being dumb and reductionist. (ASIDE – that’s one of my favorite words: reductionist. What a good word. And what a great insult, even at one’s own expense, both academically and in real life). Of course it’s nice having a dedicated mentor, but in doggedly pining after a mentor, I had my shutters closed against what I’m so immensely privileged to have: a whole constellation of support, comprised of friends, family, and professors.

It’s been a year since, and I’ve recently come into some good news. A large, decidedly South Asian part of me always wants to hold good news close to my chest. I’ve been burnt by nazar before, and there are just certain things I don’t want to ruin for myself by casting the news far and wide. I’m not ready to share that news on this platform just yet (soon, hopefully!), but as soon as I got this particular piece of news, I set about telling the people closest to me. My family, of course, my dearest friends – but beyond that, I realized, I had professors whom I desperately wanted to tell about this news. Right after firing off an email to a fifth professor, I realized – full of warmth, and – that I had been doing my betters a disservice. I’m not going to pull up the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of mentor (though, uh, here) but I had talked myself into such a specific definition of mentorship, that I had forgotten just how many people have been in my corner since I first got to Northeastern in 2013.

If I’m being honest, I don’t even know what my definition of mentorship entailed. All I knew was that I didn’t have one of those. On the contrary, I have several mentors, many of whom probably had no inkling I looked up to and wanted to emulate them, among both professors and peers. It’s natural for us, as humans, to feel like we are alone in our moments of pathos. The existential crisis is not a particularly social experience. Tunnel vision does not afford the opportunity to glance around and see the many others who are trudging along beside you, and, more importantly, those that are cheering you on from the other side of the tunnel. But joy is exultation, and in exulting, we open ourselves up to a shared experience. In the course of my exultation, I allowed myself to follow my intuition, and I realized I already had people in my heart to whom I wanted to parse some of my joy for the sheer reason that they helped me get to my joy.

If there is a definition of a mentor more appropriate than simply “someone who guides you towards finding joy; someone with whom you can mutually exult,” then I don’t want to know it.

On discipline, or how I’m learning to stop self-flagellating

Processed with VSCO

I started bullet journaling over winter break. It has been one of the better decisions I have made in the past few years, and I’ve seen the direct results of embarking on this organizational journey in my day-to-day life. I’m less anxious, more organized, I remember both short-term and long-term goals; the act of putting together my bullet journal spreads is something that soothes me immensely. I use my bullet journal to track my habits (badly), my spending (mostly retroactively), the books I read (which is awesome!), my research ideas (also incredibly useful) and to chart my goals for the coming year and how far I’ve gotten in attaining them. Part and parcel of this was deciding what I wanted the defining theme of this year to be – not a resolution (I would most definitely break that out of sheer defiance) but a broad theme under which I would operate myself.

I chose discipline and creation. Creation because that has always been a part of who I am, and discipline because I need it in order to keep at my creations. I was proud of this. I felt like “discipline” would capitalize on the momentum I had garnered the semester before – my long-awaited 4.0 semester where everything would finally fall into place and where I wouldn’t let set-backs hurt my grades. Neiha today is a far-cry from the girl who loudly proclaimed in high school that grades aren’t more important than extra-curricular activities and what you do (or the girl who wanted to be pregnant and married by the time she got to grad school, which now makes me feel crippling terror but that’s neither here nor there).

…I mean, I still believe that. I just don’t really have the luxury of functioning under that one-sided dichotomy.

I have always tried to be a good daughter. I never gave my parents any trouble, I never fought them on things, I accepted the curfews and the modi operandi of the Lasharie household knowing that once I went to college, I would need to nurture my responsibility. And I did. I stayed out late, but I always got home safe or made sure I had a couch to sleep on somewhere I was comfortable. I traveled, knowing I was responsible for my own well-being and itineraries. My parents were always okay with this, with only the occasional “Be safe!”

I did my laundry, I minimized eating out, I budgeted my spending, I filed my taxes, I looked into my credit, I applied for loans when I had to, looked at scholarships without much of a result, funded my own therapy, applied for jobs – both co-op and part-time – just so that the end result was that I could be less of a burden on my parents.

The unopened monthly billing statements are why.

My parents have told me they don’t care about my grades. They want me to be successful and happy in my ambition. But my grades are a way to prove something – “Look! Your investment is paying off!”

It wasn’t that my 4.0 was why my parents were so proud of me this past semester. It was because that 4.0 included an A in math, a subject I’ve struggled with so much that it became a family joke. We measure my success by looking at the things I struggle with and seeing to what extent I can overcome them.

We.

I, on the other hand, being the loathsome and self-minimizing person that I am, measure my failure by looking at everything I have wanted to do but haven’t done. I have so many personal projects that I want to do, ideas I have conceived, research I want to undertake, plans I want to execute – but there’s always, always something stopping that. And yes, I know that rationally, I can’t do everything I want. And that rationally, not a big deal. I just need to discipline myself and then I can assess the extent to which all my projects can come into fruition.

But it feels like everything I want to do is being done better, faster, by other people; my peers at that. Or it feels like I’m not qualified to do the things I want to, and pretending otherwise is irresponsible. This blog is an example of the former. I’ve had this WordPress since – god, tenth grade? It’s been 7 years or so, and I still don’t have a format set up; I don’t have a reliable uploading schedule, and I don’t really have a theme apart from occasionally off-loading my opinions or existential crises. Hell, I’ve been playing with the idea of buying the domain name since Freshman year of college and I haven’t gotten around to doing that.

As ever, my conclusion is that I’m too hard on myself. But for every excuse, no matter how reasonable and justified, I have to wonder – will there ever be a perfect time where I can give justice to all my projects?

Probably not.

So I guess here’s a second conclusion: there is a time for everything. It will suck, and I will most definitely get bogged down by my own deficiencies, but if my goals right now are to a) give my parents a return on their investment, b) be financially independent, c) keep my mental state from fraying (again) and keep my PTSD at bay (yikes); and d) pave a way to an actionable future, then I guess I need to give this current zeitgeist of my life its due.

I’m always bitching about how it is part of the postmodern condition to reflect back on all of humanity and wonder why we don’t have a defining array of characteristics for our time, but isn’t that exactly what I’m doing? I’m experiencing the postmodern condition in the microcosm of my own life.

That’s dumb. Instead, well, I guess I’m going to try and celebrate what I am able to do by doing it to the best of my ability. Here’s to another 4.0 semester, good mental health, financial stability, and continued poems and research endeavors. The Speakeasy Symposium, personal branding and such will have to wait until I’m ready. And that’s okay.

Update

Home is where I hang my hat – and maybe it’s the fact that my hats have found perches in various corners of my new bedroom, but I have never felt like an alien in 119 Light Hall. I am greeted by familiar things; my roommate’s lacrosse stick; our microfridge deluged by various teas and cups; post-it notes, pictures, letters from my friends, all rustling gently on the walls and cork boards. I’m home.

White noise from the fans, the click of the door as it closes behind me, I walk over to my desk and drop my bag on the ground, kick off my shoes and slip into my chair at the desk that’s already cluttered with textbooks and coupons. The effortlessness of settling into my room goes unnoticed. It feels like I’ve been here years, when it’s only been ten days.

Such little time and I’ve made myself a home away from home. I love every inch of this campus, even the mildly shady parking lot I have to cross through when I make my way back from my friends’ dorm at night. The familiarity is like muscle memory: the ease with which a pianist’s fingers flow over the black and white keys – a familiarity that was so decidedly nonexistent when I first moved to Dubai 6 years ago. Boston – Northeastern – is a different ballgame.

I iterate this over and over, I realize, but it’s incredible how much this city – and this campus – feels like Lahore for me. These friends I’ve made for myself may as well be childhood companions for how familiar they are to me; but at the same time, I realize there’s so much about my friends, about this campus, and about this city I don’t know, and that’s exhilarating. That novelty keeps me excited; with every revelation, i sink deeper and deeper in love with my new life – and the knowledge that I nonetheless have a life for me back home in Dubai, waiting until December or the summer to welcome me back, makes none of this bitter. There is no bite to this resounding sweetness; just pure contentment.

In a way, I feel guilty for not missing home as much as I feel I should; but then, isn’t that better than being upset over distance? I’m where I’ve wanted to be for three years, and it is above and beyond all I expected of it.

I am in love with life right now, Alhamdulillah.

UPDATE OF THE BEST KIND

Thirteen years of school officially ended a few months ago – but today, the next leg of my life is set in stone. For the first time, I don’t really have many words, but I’ll try to be as eloquent as possible regardless because I think this does garner a little speech. 

I went to school today to say goodbye to my teachers, and maybe it was the heels of my fit flops, but I felt tall walking the corridors of what used to be my high school. I said my goodbyes and I made my peace with the classrooms and my sixth form and the weird picture of me up on the reception walls. The walls of my room are barer than usual; my nail polish box is considerably devoid of nail polish; and the usual tell-tale signs of my habitat are pretty much gone. It’s a sad sight, but this is not a sad occasion. This is a joyous occasion, the *most* joyous occasion – I’m moving to Boston, a city I love, to the college of my dreams, to study what I was meant to study since I came into this world a messy bundle of pink skin and wet tears.

Really, I’m only going for three months – an extended vacation, but with more studying. I’ll have a new view to inspire me, and new people to spur me on, but I’ll know I’ve only gotten there because of the people who’ve loved me these past 6 years in Dubai, and before that, in Pakistan. I went from being an insecure girl to a (fairly) confident, happy adult, with ambitions and plans and excitement pumping through my veins. The journey always seems so slow, but in retrospect, it reads as a split-second. And I can’t wait to make more split-second memories in my new home.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have never been more happy: at 00:40, in 8 hours and 32 minutes, I will be Boston-bound.

 
I wrote the above around 3pm Dubai time on the 19th of August 2013. Right now, it is 5:01pm EST on the 20th of August 2013.
 
I have moved to Boston.

Short Note – Dreaming about Boston

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with need for Boston. I can’t sleep, even though I’m fatigued, I can’t rest though I need rest. I’m just reinforced with this desire, this all-encompassing motivation to do something, anything that will make me feel as if I’ve secured that part of my future.

The fact that I’ve seen Boston for myself – seen BU for myself – makes that craving all the more potent and urgent. I’m at that point where I every breath I take is for that one point. Just like last year. But that doesn’t make the feeling seem…old, or boring, it makes it even more exciting and promising because this is it. This time, there is  no compromise. This time everything, EVERYTHING, is for college, is for my future, everything I do has a direct effect. And that prospect is thrilling, rather than daunting. It’s invigorating, rather than exhausting. It affirms everything.

I absolutely cannot wait and literally dreaming about that perfect future I want so desperately doesn’t make it any easier either.

It sucks that I have to wait. But I’ll do it.

tyrannosauruslexxx – Not Getting In

Considering that for many people I know, this is the pivotal year regarding university admissions I figured this would be a good video to watch. Lex is right. Just because you don’t get into your first choice, or even your safety school, doesn’t mean you have to succumb to futility and completely give up on life.

If you have the drive to accomplish something, then you will always, always find a way. So often people simply don’t ask people about their options and that is a big mistake.

Ask. Find alternatives. But don’t give in if things don’t work out the way you thought they were going to. I’ve been there, and it sucks, but I was lucky enough to be given another chance. Not everyone gets that luxury but even then, it’s not worth it to just give in. What’s the point of working hard in school if you’re just going to go, “screw it,” and give up on everything.

No.

If it’s a problem, there will always be a solution, and if it doesn’t have a solution, then it isn’t a problem. But if you’re passionate enough about something, then don’t allow yourself to give in.

Ironing out the kinks

Let’s be honest, I’m not the best person to handle stress. I need my sleep, I need to relax, and I need to have breathing space. In contrast, I am a ridiculous overachiever, I’m way too ambitious and passionate, so my need for relaxation is pretty much ignored. I also take things to heart.

So when I’m told I’ve been rejected by a university on the basis of not having sent in all the materials they need, it stings, because I know it’s not my fault, but I know I could have done something about it had I not been so otherwise busy.

Here’s the deal – my school’s pretty bad with prioritizing. They treat their senior-most students like children and barely trust them and practically invite disobedience, which pretty much starts off this whole cycle of resentment that can be pretty suffocating for a person who just wants to get through her last year in a not-very-good school.

AKA everyone. 

Furthermore, our guidance counselor is not only that – she is a biology teacher as well as manager of the events committee. As a direct result of this, she is never in her office when anyone needs her. And I’ve been needing her pretty desperately over the past, oh, 4 months or so.

I’ve had to figure out absolutely everything on my own that pertains to applying to universities. Things that were set aside for the counselor to fill out were filled out by me. I had to sit by and practically dictate my own letter of recommendation which was suitably self-gratifying, I can wholly assure you and seethe with anger as she made announcements in our Sixth Form Center about the merits of being on time. 

And the one thing I’ve needed from her, as well as the heads of the Sixth Form, was not taken as a priority because of Inspection Week, also known as Let’s Fake How Awesome This School Is!

It’s not even like it’s something I can write by myself. I ran through the entire school, tracking down teachers and retrieving my predicted grade from them, then rushed back to hand the form to the head teachers so they could type them up and put them under a school letterhead and give it to me to be faxed to universities. No, really. It’s that easy.

But being from a school like mine, nah, it really isn’t. A week in and I go to the teacher who was meant to handle it and she sheepishly tells me they have other priorities, what with the Inspection Week coming up.

Other priorities rather than, say, helping one of their students get into universities. And myself being such an idiot, reply that it’s okay.

A day in, and I come home to an email from a university I dearly loved saying that my applicant file has been closed due to them not receiving all the materials they needed.

I don’t often use the word anguish. My general emotions are limited to ecstatic, content, angry, and exhausted. But I was in actual anguish and misery and I let myself wallow in the pain of being short one university. Then my father did the best thing that could’ve happened right then and yelled at me, and called out my “loser attitude” and told me to stop wallowing. So I straightened up and decided to get myself organized and got hit by the realization that I’m my father’s daughter. That reaction is the same way I would react to someone in my situation. I would get angry and yell and order them to stop their wallowing and do something.

Cuddling with my dad later and remarking as such, he was sympathetic and said, “Often, you don’t do the things you prescribe for others.” It’s true. That’s why you need company, even if you’re the best advice-giver in the world, because no one will ever take their own advice.

It was a good reminder. It was even better seeing my friends in solidarity with me, raging in comments in my facebook status pertaining to the whole scenario, and plotting the downfall of the school with glee. Normally, I try to stay away from causing trouble but this is too much. I can take many things, but I cannot bear the jeopardizing  of my future. I’m far too ambitious to allow that.

I feel good, today. I feel ready to tackle any other obstacle with affirmative action, starting with a project that refuses to be done and over with.

Besides, I feel pretty. That helps a lot.