"I feel like I am constantly racing against time and running out of it."
-Maria Uzma Ansari
Author: Stuti Ajmera
"I was always taught to aim for the stars, and so I did.
Life rarely gives us a second chance, yet I consider myself lucky because life has offered me multiple such opportunities. My childhood was such that I felt I was at home everywhere, and at the same time, I wasn’t. My family moved around a lot; hence, staying in the same city with the same friends for more than two years was a dream. But, every time I was thrust into a strange town, anonymous and unfamiliar, I got a chance to reinvent myself and mend the errors of the past by starting afresh. With every new move, I told myself, ‘If I’m going to be here for the next two years, I might as well start making myself comfortable.’ This was my affirmation, and since then, I have never looked back.
My political identity as a Muslim woman comes with its fair share of trials. I recently turned 22, so I feel like I am constantly racing against time and running out of it. My dreams and ambitions did not always converge with my family’s preferences. Though I received a lot of support to pursue my education, this disparity in thoughts and predisposition compelled me to always rise to the occasion to meet their expectations, which led me to keep my plans on the backburner.
I come from a middle-class family, which has limitations as the people of this class value privileges and job security – much more than they value drive or ambition. I am currently pursuing a Master’s, but I am also able to seek job security and work to support my family. Therefore, I do not have endless time at my disposal and cannot afford to pursue only one of the things I must do at once. I am trying to fulfill my obligations, which are as vital to me as my aspirations. However, after fulfilling my commitments, I do plan on realizing my aspirations in their totality.
In the March of 2020, I was faced with a stalemate. While I should have been thrilled when the college was drawing to a close because I was on the verge of a new life, I couldn’t find it in myself to be happy about it, as I didn't have any foresight about my postgrad. Then, I was attempting to complete my undergraduate degree while studying for competitive examinations & PG admission exams and contemplating international prospects— in short, I was lost.
During my college years, I never felt as though I could take a breather. I wanted to dip my toes in everything to gain as much experience as possible; as a result, I frequently found myself with too much on my plate. I was always rushing from one event to the next, and because I had moved 1500 kilometers away from my family, I didn't get to see them nearly as much as I would have liked during those years. I was also taking additional classes to supplement my coursework, due to which I was unable to travel home during vacations. I must confess that there was a lack of farsightedness on my part. During college, I focused on accomplishments, which brought me immediate gratification, rather than putting more effort into the long-term goals I had set my sights on, which ultimately worked against me.
Three years of graduation, among other things, had worn me out; which is why at that point in time, I couldn’t imagine going from a three-year degree to pursuing another two years of a master’s at university, which meant having to prepare for PG entrances & another summer spent away from home— therefore because I was exhausted, a year ago I was being forced to contend with the scary possibility of having to take a gap year.
Before the pandemic struck, my final semester exams were slated for the end of May & my Postgraduate entrances were scheduled for June. Students usually study for these PG entrances in their senior year but because I was continually battling a health crisis in my fifth semester, I was constantly burnt out. However, as it became clear that the country may be put on lockdown in March, I was free to return home.
The pandemic not only ended my college career abruptly but also forced me to face the consequences. Regardless of the status of the world at that moment, returning home and seeing my family provided me with a new perspective. I discovered that since college moved online, I had more time on my hands. The pandemic has been one of the most unfortunate chapters in human history, but it gave me some time to rest and recuperate. I did all the things I didn’t have the time to do during college– I read a lot of fiction, cooked a lot, won poetry competitions, got published in online magazines, moved out of my old residence, dyed my hair blonde, taught myself some chess, all amidst adjusting my priorities.
My PG admission exams were also postponed to October, which gave me the necessary time to prepare for them. Once I felt well-rested and at ease, I quickly fell into a routine and incorporated more chronic, long-term changes into my life. Seeing little incentives along the way, acknowledging them, and celebrating them, is what has allowed me to maintain my momentum. Three months later, I was accepted into a significant fellowship program. Although I ended up not enrolling due to personal reasons, initial acceptance provided the necessary kindling. From thereon, it felt like I was on a rollercoaster that only went up, as I ended up getting accepted into every single Master’s program I applied for.
I struggled initially, but I was eventually able to find my equilibrium. Even though I wouldn't change anything about my college experience— I believe I worked twice as hard last year since it seemed like I was making up for the lost time. I made up for some of it, and I'm still working on making up for the rest. But I took each day as it came.
I also identified and eliminated my triggers. The very least I could do was avoid deliberately triggering myself when I was already in a vulnerable frame of mind. I was able to remain calm by acknowledging that worrying did not affect the outcome. It took away valuable time that could be spent on the work at hand, which would make a more significant difference on the final product is completed. This realization brought me peace— i.e., the ability to focus on the task at hand without getting bogged down by worry.
Somewhere along the road, I realized that I needed to stop limiting myself or getting in my own way; I believe it was the most important lesson I learned in 2020 what one invests yields a return. So, don't let anyone guilt you for investing in yourself. A year ago, my dreams did not feel actionable, but I realized I was capable thanks to positive reinforcement and modest victories. I am in a different season of life than I was two years ago, or even a year ago, but I believe it's the small changes that have made me happier, peaceful and content, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”