I am writing this more for myself than for anyone else. I want to hold my accomplishments, goals, and dreams in the future accountable to what my seventeen-and-a-half-year-old self would think of them.
I am a daughter, friend, student, and aspiring human rights activist. In my life, I hope to spread love, openness, and acceptance. I also hope to end misconceptions and stereotypes.
When people ask me what I want to be when I grow up, they are expecting to hear “doctor” or “engineer”. I don’t usually answer with “human rights activist”. This is because if I did answer with that, I would get raised eyebrows in return. In their heads, the people would be thinking “is that even a real job?”, “will she even be making money?” Sometimes if I am feeling bold, I tell them what I am planning on majoring in instead: “international relations”, a term they are more comfortable hearing.
So why am I not becoming a doctor or an engineer, or going into a STEM field? It’s simple, really. I am not looking for a job that will make me rich. I want to help people. Although I don’t yet know what form or title that career will take, I know that I want to focus on human rights. But doctors, engineers, computer scientists, and nurses are important people that society needs. To anyone pursuing those careers, I applaud you. I’ve chosen this path myself. I am lucky enough to have supportive parents who will cheer me on in anything I want to do. I am lucky enough to have parents who encourage me to fulfill my own dreams, instead of wanting me to achieve the goals they themselves never could. I am lucky enough to have parents who have gotten over the Bengali notion that “if your child is not a doctor or engineer, they will get nowhere in life.”
To anyone concerned about my future, I concede that it will probably be tough for me to get a job, and once I do, it won’t pay very well. I will probably live in an apartment for most of my adult life and there may be days when I don’t have enough to eat. I am mentally preparing myself for these struggles. I am willing to pay the price.
When I was little I wanted to be a scientist because I thought a bubbling test tube looked cool. Then I went through an artist phase (I am still a wannabe artist to this day). For a long time, I was convinced that I was going to become a prosecuting lawyer to follow in the footsteps of my maternal grandfather. All of this changed when I watched a documentary titled “Girl Rising.” My school’s Human Rights Forum was hosting a film screening for it and I decided to go (and I am so glad that I did). After hearing the stories of girls who had unlimited opportunities before them only because of their access to education, I was inspired. After watching the film and seeing students work in this school organization, I knew I had to get involved. This was the day that I subconsciously filed the words “human rights activist” under my life goals. This was the day I realized that I should be doing so much more for this world.
I’ve grown up hearing my parents constantly remind me to “be a good Muslim and student, but be an even better person.” These are the words that I hear in my head every second of every day. To me, being a good person means helping others. Being happy with my life as a middle-class citizen in the United States, is being complacent. Caring about others should be my first priority. You and I, we are very fortunate people. We complain about it being too hot outside, only to come home to central air conditioning. We complain about having to buy more toilet paper, only to come home to a functional and sanitary toilet. There are people in this world less lucky than us. There are people in this world scavenging through trash cans to feed their children. There are girls in this world who stay at home and aren’t able to go to school, while I get to go to school for free. There are people in this world who don’t know if they will live to see another day. Thinking about them, I feel guilty.
My journey will certainly be a hard one. I know that I will encounter people with rapidly different opinions than mine. I hope that I never compromise my own values and beliefs. I know that not everyone is as passionate about these issues as I am. It hurts to admit it, but I get it.
Dear future self, don’t ever doubt your life’s purpose. Know that even if you’ve changed ONE heart and mind, it will have been worth it. Quality over quantity. Mind over matter.
In the words of the champ, Muhammad Ali, “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” I hope that like him, my rent will be paid in full by the time I leave this Earth.