6 Things I Learned in 6 Years of Blogging

Advice for new bloggers and bloggers to be.

I launched my blog in early 2014 after design, content ideas and preparations with my web designer in 2013. I started when the word “blog” was a foreign concept to locals, with a few exceptions who were already establishing themselves in various domains. I created it along with my revamped Instagram page (it was previously solely for personal content and motherhood) to reflect the life of a new mother who cares for her family and herself. I meant for it to break the image of perfection, to reflect truth, vulnerability and real life. Along the years my content evolved and spanned wide, and included personal style, travel, beauty and skincare, culture and thoughts. With time I learned a lot and they were all tough lessons, I didn’t have a mentor to guide me so I tripped, fell and stood back up. At the end of the day I owe every successful step, every failure, every media appearance, every rejection, every branded campaign, every stab in the back and every brand ambassadorship to myself, and solely to myself through my hard work, persistence and dedication. And this makes me proud. read more

How an Unfortunate Accident Helped me Refocus

It was a Friday like any other. In one word, hectic. My Fridays resemble Mondays because I try to squeeze in as many errands and work as possible so that I can be free during the weekend to spend it fully with my children without any distractions. I began my day with the usual, woke up the kids, prepared their water bottles, snacks, and milk, dressed them and got ready myself, drove them to school and walked them to class. I was on a high that week, the road closures in Lebanon became scarce and I had finally decided to continue my work, and I was planning so many interesting collaborations and shoots for the upcoming week. I came back home for a cup of tea while I caught up on my correspondence and went back out to a series of banks, meetings, sanitary showroom visit, warehouse visit, and even a couple of supermarket stops before arriving home with barely enough time to arrange what I had purchased on the shelves, and ran out to pick up the kids from school. read more

Nature is Always a Good Idea

When we enter into adulthood and especially parenthood we get caught up in a cycle that doesn’t stop. From work to traffic jams to relationships to managing a household to caring for our little ones, these daily actions accumulate to create stress that is sometimes unbearable. If you add to that the fact that our generation is technology oriented and places importance on being connected all the time, the result is not ideal and cannot be handled for long periods of time.

We sometimes forget to get back to basics, nature! read more

Not Your Typical New Year’s Resolution

New Year’s resolutions are bull.

That’s what I thought because why would people make a list of changes on a random day of the year and hold them so high when they know that they will be broken during the first week. I refused to give in to any form of social pressure and never cared much for New Year anyway. I spent year after year going through the motions of a new year but it wasn’t until lately, after a series of experiences (you can read about them here and here) that I have been feeling that I can take life by the neck and carve my path. My journey of inner peace, focus and instability that led to me finding (or trying to) find myself came together same time last year, right before saying goodbye to 2018. read more

The Truth About Being a Freelancer

*Cover photo taken by the producer of the radio show on Dubai Eye station, part of Arabian Radio Network during my on-air interview about modern motherhood and being an influencer.* Click here to listen to the podcast.

The reason why I opened my entry with the above is because once you believe in yourself and the message you have to relate to the world, nothing can stop you!

The moment I decided to step out of the corporate world two and a half years ago and shift from a traditional work environment with rigid hours and no self fulfillment (click here to read) to a more flexible setup from home, I didn’t know what to expect. I took the leap, forgoing the security of a monthly salary and all the benefits to an unknown territory. At the time it was impossible to know if I had made the right decision, but the amount of personal growth I have gone through and the essential business material from entrepreneurs I have read and listened to, have made me more confident in my present lifestyle as each day passes. However external factors throughout these years in the form of unsolicited advice or opinions haven’t stopped, and some people choose to undermine my work and take a jab at freelancing and entrepreneurship to make themselves feel better at being stuck in a rut they don’t have the courage or ability to get out of. Others judge at face value and think that things come easily without hard work. read more

An Insider’s Reflections

*A little note before I begin, I’m speaking as a person on the inside of social media who manages to stay level headed and view things as an outsider, I am in no way passing judgement but merely stating what I see as a demise. That being said, I’m not here to please anyone, so if you’re unable to handle some straight talk, you’re on the wrong website, go back to your unicorn land.*

It was a day just like any other in 2013, after the birth of my daughter, where I had this uncontrollable urge to put my foot down against the monstrosity of conformity. I refused to raise my child in a world endorsing individuality but in reality heading towards the exact opposite. I’ve had a fire in me since I was a child, and growing up and even at work I was nicknamed “Che” because I always felt the need to question the status quo, to revolt against the system. The system in this case being social and not political.

When I became a mom I felt that it was my duty to voice my opinion and to relate my experiences to other moms or moms to be, and even young girls who were still in school or university. Social media was on the rise, every person had their own little space online to share their hobbies and connect with one another. Those who preferred to write would start a blog and log in daily or weekly journal entries as a way to vent, in hopes of reaching out to like minded people. This meant that me and you and anyone on this planet could own a little space to voice their concerns and stand up to what traditional media was shoving down our throats.

*I had a lot of hope for a movement, and though I still do, I have a dreadful feeling that words such as “women empowerment” and “be your own kind of beautiful” have become buzzwords to generate validation in the form of likes and comments. Why you may ask? It’s because these same women who plaster these motivational words all over their profiles are the first to talk behind each other’s backs or refuse to help when help can be a mere kind word.*

I started my blog after I had an active Instagram page with a U.S. based following, and I did it as a way to maintain my journal online for my daughter to read when she grew older. I wasn’t about to sit back and witness the demise of everything that should be moving forward, and my main message was and is loud and clear. I am a young working mother, balancing work and family life while finding the time to pursue my passions and take care of myself. I offer(ed) style tips, beauty hacks, food reviews, travel experiences and even the nitty gritty of motherhood. I push myself to share the best content I can, and through that I have slowly but steadily amassed readers from all around the world. I love myself the way I am, flaws and everything and I’m constantly working on bettering myself, the same way I encourage my readers to accept their physical appearance and embrace their uniqueness.

But is that enough? How much can one woman do?

I appreciate genuine women and mothers who feel passionately about putting their lives out there for others to be inspired by, but how about the others who try too hard to show us polished images? Doesn’t that go against what we as a generation of women are trying to portray to our younger counterparts? Blogging and Instagram has made way for real people with real bodies to get a chance to shine, so how come these real individuals with talent and passion are taking a back seat to plastic? If we wanted perfection we’d still be playing with our Barbie dolls, and we’d still be flipping through airbrushed magazine photos of models while feeling horrible about ourselves. Where are the plus sized women of this region? Where are the beautiful imperfect faces? Where are the boss ladies who still manage to take care of their families? The only difference I see is that the images we used to see in print, we are now seeing on our phones. Instead of “regular” women representing clothing brands, there are models, instead of the girl next door shooting a makeup campaign; it’s the perfectly sculpted face, instead of a dedicated influencer styling outfits, it’s a “public figure” whose current pipe dream is being a social media star for the sake of fame.

Do you, said women, have any idea how horribly you’re impacting the young generation? Flaunting staged lifestyles, or maybe real lifestyles, but ones that aren’t attainable to 99% of the population? Instead of showing off your possessions, how about you give your audience tips on how to style their items together? Or do you even know how to style or communicate with them? Or is that the work of a hired stylist that brings the end product to the public? Which brings me to my next question; do you really have the influence you proclaim? This in turn brings me to another issue, when will we in this region get to the point of self acceptance, when will social climbing end, when will the real deal make a breakthrough?

Every time I think, whatever, let it be, then I think again and say: no, I won’t stand for it. Every once in a while I’ll post a series of rants on my Instagram stories or in a caption and find positive responses that make it clear to me that I am making a difference, no matter how small. Imagine if each one of us made this difference, how awesome and empowered would we really be?

Why can’t us women focus on education and work instead of ridiculous amounts of time spent at the hairdresser and makeup artist? I love hair and makeup, and it’s an art, but if all we are seeing on Instagram stories and posts is this, then tell me please, what are all those makeup tutorials for? And tell me another thing; is looking good all we are able to do? Yes ladies, take care of yourselves, this is something important, but for God’s sake, be real!  I still cannot fathom why a simple evening or even a day event would require that much time and effort. I cannot believe the hours of each day some women are spending, just do your makeup at home; it’ll take you like 10 minutes. Perhaps this is just the way I think, and it’s my lifestyle, and I’m not attacking the women who choose a more relaxed and pampered kind of routine, but please if you choose to share this with your hundreds of thousands of followers, then also share your normal day to day life. We as a group of influencers are causing these young women to believe that all of life is measured in gifts and events and trips.

If I have said it once I’ve said it a thousand times, education is elementary. That is why I always share what I’m currently reading, what I’m painting, reflections, social criticisms, musicals I watched, old films I find interesting, a bit of sarcasm, gems I find while I travel and so on so forth. Believe me I endured changing cultures, from Lebanon to the U.S.A. and back to Lebanon, adapting, learning new languages, making friends, not fitting in, getting my scientific baccalaureate, and 5 grueling years with summers at the faculty of engineering, followed by 11 years of hard work to get to where I am today, and to be able to live the life I want. Not by nepotism, not by kissing a**, not by being a leech. I work hard as a blogger and ” influencer” is a title I owe to my readers and with it comes great responsibility. I don’t find the need to flaunt my possessions because they don’t define who I am, what means something in our world is kindness, generosity and values. I don’t want to be known as just another fashionista, I wasn’t like this in 2013, and I sure won’t change to fit in 5 years later.

But what I want is from you, working women, students, PRs and influencers is the following.

Dear working women, keep working towards your dreams, life is hard and it isn’t fair, don’t compare your struggle with another person’s online filtered life. We’re all fighting a battle, and no one has it easy, whether you work at an office or are self employed, neither is easy.

Dear students, education is THE most important weapon you have, get your degree first, don’t be fooled by “la vie en rose” some are portraying. But be sure that you can be what you want to be, the world is your oyster and you can be inspired by young women entrepreneurs for post graduation. Today we have an application called Instagram, don’t let that be your target. In a few years something else will pop up, you wouldn’t want to invest all your mental energy and time on something that will be gone eventually. Focus on your studies and then on your career.

Dear PRs, please open your eyes to the relevancy of the influencer you are choosing to represent your client’s brand. Do know the difference between an Instagram page and a blog. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the written word will never die and it takes special skills to convey a message so choose wisely. The reason I refuse to work with many of you which has gotten me a reputation of having an attitude is because although I’m one of the nicest persons you will meet, I am also blessed with intuition and intelligence to see right through your intentions. I am also blessed (or perhaps cursed) with a personality that doesn’t go with the flow nor makes small talk, I won’t suck up to get anything; you appreciate my work, I’m here, you don’t, keep running after your socialites and see where it gets you.

Dear influencers, try to be raw, more real. It takes zero effort to be you, let your inner beauty shine, unleash your personal style, show us what makes you you. I’m not saying I’m the perfect blogger, because perfection doesn’t exist, and I’m not preaching just to sound superior. But ladies, how hard is it to talk to our audience with a bare face? It isn’t. If you’re afraid of judgement because you have acne or any condition that makes you feel you’re not enough, you are enough, lead and be an example.

Do I come across as angry, bitter, sad? In reality I am neither. I am numb.

Numb to the fact that some things never change, but I will forever be a fighter for truth, passion, and being a genuine person.

 

The Great Friendship Purge Of 2017

A new year doesn’t mean too much to me, I don’t set new goals and I don’t force resolutions upon myself knowing I won’t keep them. However the fourth quarter of 2017 brought with it my first writing hiatus that lasted a few months, stemming from the lack of inspiration and the time I took off to do some soul searching. My online presence decreased, my Instagram posting became erratic, my rants on Twitter became nonexistent, I totally abandoned Snapchat, and I avoided polished Facebook photos that would eventually be the discussion of my entire friend community.

So this time as the day approached, I couldn’t help reflecting on my not so random online and offline withdrawal and on the life lessons I learned by what I consider one of the toughest periods I went through on a personal and professional level. I want to share my discoveries with you, no matter how hard they are to divulge.

The major highlight of this year was friendship detox, in retrospect, the toxic people that were surrounding me contributed to a lot of negative emotions and actions, and only when I cut all ties did I start breathing and working towards my goals without any distraction. All my adult life I have been victim of leeches, many say I attract them, and that my positive and cheerful demeanor are like a flame to a moth. My alleged “kind heart” is always mistaken for weakness, thus allowing people to stomp all over me, thinking I don’t know what they are up to, when in fact they don’t realize that I don’t fight back because I don’t want to exploit their weaknesses and hurt them. I’m not a social being to begin with, so when I open up to a friend and end up being hurt it damages me to the core and I stop trusting anyone altogether.

I have purged the opportunists, those who stick around hoping they could climb the social or corporate ladder through me. I used to be so kind to them until I realized I owed them nothing, and had I needed a favor they would have never obliged. These are the people who would claim that certain ideas were theirs, or that they are avant-gardes when in fact they were only following my lead to later brag that they did this and went there. They are also the people who I’d put in a good word for across certain fields to boost their presence, but when a mere mention of my name could do me good, they wouldn’t reciprocate.

Then there are the friends who have nothing to offer but negative vibes, even when I’m down in the dumps and in need of moral support, they always manage to make me feel worse about my situation. These are the people who wouldn’t put themselves in my shoes, who would only dish out advice that would only get me in trouble, acting all tough when the reality required a different angle. They are the ones who would be on the offense all the time to hide their insecurities. I would nag about one of these friends in particular until I realized that the solution was simple, so I stopped being afraid of confrontation and put that person in line and got on with my life.

The most difficult was the ungrateful coworker who was very close to me, we spent every minute together and shared common interests, whose career I tried to save many times, taking blames for them year after year, speaking well of, doing the workload so that they could chill 8 hours a day, ended up stabbing me in the back. I should have listened to the hundreds of voices warning me to be careful, but I was blinded by humanity and sheltering a hated person, that I had no idea what web of deceit was being woven to entrap me. That web and its result shocked me to the core, physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. That situation eventually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, but lesson learned is, never again.

Then there are the few friends whom I would talk to every day for a decade about everything suddenly forgot to even say hello as soon as I was no longer convenient to them. Friends who I would see on a daily basis at work acted as if I disappeared off the face of the earth as soon as I stopped coming in. I could not fathom how something so deep could one day disappear. I do love them dearly, but I am not willing to force myself on anyone.

Negativity aside, I have also come across beautiful new friendships, ones I hope and believe will last a lifetime.

At one point this year by some greater power, I met someone who entered my heart and mind without even knocking, whose childhood and life leading up to the moment of our meeting paralleled mine and we just clicked. This person is a soul mate of some sort, a mentor, someone I look up to and who hopefully finds solace in sharing hopes and fears with me. This happened at a low point this year and I believe fate has led us together to help each other grow.

There are a few friends I have met online for whom I am grateful, who genuinely care, and our daily lives have been so similar, as moms, as dreamers, as thinkers and introverts, that I believe more than ever that good people still exist.

One ex-colleague who was merely an acquaintance at the start of the year turned out to be the dearest to my heart, whom I speak to daily and share my deepest secrets with, I feel comfortable crying in front of as well as sharing breakthroughs knowing she will be genuinely happy for me.

As I look back, I do believe that the bad experiences happened for a reason, for I learned to trust my instincts even more and to grow a backbone when it comes to confrontation. If it weren’t for those horrible moments, I wouldn’t have been led to meet the extraordinary people I’m in contact with now. I will forever be grateful, but careful.

 

Influencers And Those Who Toot Their Horns

The term ‘influencer’ gets thrown around a lot, and although I’m not exactly sure how it came to exist, I know that a couple of years ago everyone wanted to be labeled an ‘influencer’ whereas today it is a shunned word. Why is it shunned? Because those who truly have influence in their field loathe being thrown in the same pod as the more recent Instagram ‘public figures’ glorifying their material possessions.

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But what is an influencer, really?

I personally don’t think it takes tens of thousands or even a million social media followers to make you an influencer. An influencer influences, no matter how small his/her reach is, if that person is able to change opinions and shape minds, then this is the category they fall into from tech gadget savants to beauty product experts. Influence isn’t a matter to take lightly, because with reach comes responsibility, but there are also major cons to this digital phenomenon. There is no denying that a great portion of the blogosphere has become a marketing strategy, and while it is never wrong to monetize one’s influence, there is a fine line between hoarding all the collaborations you can get, and being genuine. The majority of the audience are smart enough to differentiate between authenticity and paid content, but there are still fresher minds that are really influenced by a blogger they look up to, and if the latter is merely posting in return for a few bucks, this particular demographic will be falsely deceived in thinking the reviewed product is a must have and therefore will go ahead and buy it without the proper research.

My pet peeve, aside from the vomit rendering, in your face paid posts, is the look-at-my-perfect-life fashion influencers who add nothing to society except showing off daddy’s money or what their husbands can afford. Really, like really, who are you targeting, and do the luxury brands who sponsor you expect your thousands of followers to all be customers of said brands? Do you do anything besides pose in front of your homes/cars/whatever you want to flaunt showcasing sunglasses, watches, shoes, bags and dresses that most hard working people need to put away a year’s salary to afford? What exactly are you aiming at, please, do tell. If you want to make your friends jealous, then take it offline like the old generation used to do, bickering and showing off what they bought over coffee, or more recently, espresso. I only have one thing to say to these types of women, we are more than just mannequins, we are strong, educated, and must make a difference in the world.

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Then again there are the ladies who preach not wearing makeup in some of their selfies when in fact they are filtered, face tuned, blurred and taken with the beauty shot. Not to mention the Botox, surgeries and lash lifting etc. How about those who can’t type out a correct English word, much less a sentence, and even get hashtags and brand names wrong yet are still scouted to collaborate, are these the type of people whom you want to be representing your business? Then again can those agencies be blamed when others disregard the fact that there are professional engineers, architects, pharmacists and the likes whom they can take advantage of in terms of social media marketing, but choose unrelated people to do the job just because they know someone who knows someone?

I’d like to supply a bucket of water to the PR agencies to pour on themselves, perhaps that’ll help them wake up from their comatose state. Wake up from this ‘I got your back you got mine’ mentality, from this ‘you’re my friend so I’m gonna give you all the deals’, from the ‘she feels threatened by this blogger so I’ll definitely blacklist her from my events although I know she fits the brand’s profile’, and start working on what you spent years studying. Instead of inviting fashionistas to food events, ignoring the older influencers with the right audience to an alcoholic brand event, recruiting the school students to luxury outings, how about you target your demographic? The irrelevancy of the attendees of certain events or the chosen ambassadors for a certain program is laughable. How about you actually research the fact that most bloggers work and can’t attend midweek functions that are so far from the city, it isn’t even funny. How about you NOT split the attendees into two lists, one on weekends and one for the middle of the week? How about you show some courtesy and not split a conference into one during the day and later at night in a fancier setup? How about you start paying what the influencer deserves and on what they are offering in return. How about you ban the ‘why would I work with you since X did it for free’ when we all know X’s reach is a fraction of another’s reach. How about you start recognizing the true influencers, the hard working mothers, those who don’t use their kids in perfect setups to rake in ‘likes’ but the ones like myself who relate their life to the public with as much transparency as possible, the authentic people with true and real audience. How about you get up from the rock you’ve been hiding under and realize that where you choose to save money is ending up costing you more? If only you would realize that not all bloggers are the same, and not everyone wants to associate themselves with your brand or client, that some of us are sweeping in international deals, working behind the scenes, unwilling to be related by near or far to names that we will do more good than they will do us.

Instagram is becoming more and more cringe-worthy, with emerging ‘public figures’ who choose to define themselves as that because they got their 15 seconds of fame, with ‘fashionistas’ who have no sense of fashion and who need a lifetime to understand that wearing the latest trends will never guarantee you have style, with ‘influencers’ who influence nothing but the puppets of their own imaginary world, with ‘bloggers’ who don’t blog and are in it for the freebies and don’t promote brands even on their 24 hour disappearing stories because promoting gifts is so 2015.

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You know who I blame? I blame you, me, all of us for helping their egos soar, for creating monsters whom brands are fighting over to get a piece of their fake influence. I blame the brands who are willing to help them monetize their visual content because other more deserving bloggers just don’t qualify for their glossy image. The reason I say visual content is because these ‘influencers’ are unable to create content because they are only there to model their physical appearance without any added value. Why don’t we get back to earth, where people have school, university, jobs, children, homes and reality to deal with. When a Dior dress can pay a kid’s tuition, or Gucci mules can feed a family for 3 months, when young girls everywhere are dreaming of achieving this unattainable lifestyle, when these are the pillars of our online society, then we must realize we have hit a new low.

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Next time you want to call yourself an ‘influencer’, I beg you, do your best and influence positively and realistically. I want to see plus sized fashion bloggers, I want to see less judgmental mom bloggers, I want to follow fashion stylists who actually show us how to style our outfits, I want to see first class fashionistas revealing their budget buys as well as their luxury pieces, I want more social bloggers, more criticism, more culture. Is it too much to ask?

As for me, I will continue to be myself, the Maria you have gotten used to, who doesn’t shut up in the face of idiocy, who will always show you what life is like as a working woman and a lifestyle blogger, I promise you to keep it real online when it comes to how I raise my children, most of all I want you all to know how imperfect I really am, and how I embrace my flaws, how I love myself, and how I strive for learning as much as I can.

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Keep Your Opinion To Yourself

You know what I’m sick of? It’s people who think they have the right to comment on someone else’s weight gain/loss, their food intake, their dietary choices, and anything along those lines.

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Newsflash: If it isn’t your body, then kindly refrain from sharing your opinion.

If I had a dollar for every time someone oh so clever on social media decided to comment sarcastically about a food photo I shared, I would have enough money to buy a bakery and eat every darn thing my heart desired. That’ll give them something to talk about.

A while ago I shared a personal entry about my weight loss journey (click here to read), I am still working hard at it, and it’s a long and steady process to attain a healthier me.

I realize that blogging and being in the “public” eye so to speak, makes one vulnerable, because we choose to share our private issues and we choose to connect with our audience and therefore must accept a certain dose of criticism. But there’s that and there’s too much of a good thing. For instance, when I’m at a restaurant opening or any food related event and I share stories on Instagram and Snapchat, people automatically DM me with their comments that I shouldn’t be eating that or literally have the audacity to tell me “stop eating”. Do these people know that A: I planned my day’s meals with my dietitian so I can indulge later at the event, or B: I am taking photos and videos to share the venue’s menu with my followers but eating a measly salad, or C: I feel like treating myself after months of being on a strict health plan? No, no and no. No one knows and it’s no one’s business to comment. So next time you see me snapping my diet chocolate drink, don’t comment that it’s fattening. Or if you see me sharing my tea, don’t assume it came with a side of pie. I’m not here to explain why I make the choices that I make and I’m not waiting for anyone’s approval.

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Why am I enraged? It’s because no one knows my struggle, or the struggle of any person with extra weight they are trying to get rid of. Women already have a hard time because of society’s pressure to look perfect, so spare us all your “well intended” comments. Who’s to say what’s perfect anyway? Shall we spend our days thinking of how to achieve the “summer body” and #bodygoals? Shall we allow other people to criticize us as they please? No effing way! Life is too short to worry about what other people think. It took me years to accept that my body is not genetically prone to being skinny, and no amount of hate or bashing on and off social media will make me believe less of myself. I am fabulous and I know it, I am curvy and I like it, I love myself the way I am, and I am working on a better version of me for me, so take your opinion elsewhere.

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11 Years Post Graduation, A Reflection

I have been postponing sharing my thoughts on this topic for a year, and wanted to have it up and ready for my 10 year graduation anniversary for poetic reasons, but here I am a year later and I only just managed to organize my thoughts because I made a life altering decision a couple of months ago. This entry is deeply personal and will hopefully inspire you to never give up on your dreams, my thoughts however are going back and forth so there is no clear timeline for what you’re about to read.

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A disclaimer before I begin, I am in no way attacking any of the offices I have trained/worked for, I have always been and always will be a professional, and I have the utmost respect for the company I worked for for the past 10 years; it is merely a retrospect and revelation of the past 11 years of my life. I want to say to you graduates and working men and women what I wish someone had told me the day I graduated, and what took me years and years to realize and be convinced.

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Looking back on my career journey, I had numerous opportunities ranging from being taken under the wings of major international corporations abroad, to upping my freelancing game, pursuing my passions, even enrolling in the Urban Design program at the American University of Beirut. The last I backed out of right after I got the acceptance letter, because it needed a full 2.5 years to be completed, and at the time I was so focused on climbing the corporate ladder, little did I know that that ladder cannot be climbed, because qualifications mean nothing in this part of the world, (and I rather not mention what helps getting promoted) and that had I focused on getting my degree I would have been somewhere else right now. You see, life is made up of a series of decisions. Each choice you make will lead you on a different path, and if once or twice an opportunity knocks at your door and you miss it, there’s no getting it back.

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The thing with university majors and careers is that we decide them when we are in high school. At 15 years of age we are supposed to prep for SATs and other standardized tests, flip through dozens of majors to choose one we might like, and by the off chance we do fall in love with our education, we are never prepared to deal with what comes after graduation.

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So you love your major but not your job? Get in line.

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If you’re in the creative business it gets worse, because you are born a wild soul, an artist, and committing to sitting behind a computer all day and mechanically working with no input of your own is depressing. We all have dreams of starting our own practice, of living an alternative lifestyle but when we are thrust into the workforce the reality hits, and if you don’t get yourself out of it, you will regret it your entire life.

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I rather not generalize when I’m speaking of universities so I will draw on my own experience. I studied architecture at the most prestigious university in the Middle East, the American University of Beirut. It was a costly and tiring 5 years including summer semesters and trainings to get to the finish line. Lucky for us at the time, only a handful of highly qualified students ever got into the program much less made it through. We had the opportunity to be exposed to international advisors, jury, workshops and turned out to be thinkers and creatives.

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I graduated and was planning on setting up my own office right away when the 2006 war started a week after the commencement ceremony, and I was left with one option, employment. I got through a rough first year at a small office, where it was normal to work past midnight with no compensation, and even more normal to have your boss buzzing on your intercom on Sunday at 6 AM because he needs your help in submitting a project to a client. But when you’re a fresh graduate you pour your heart and soul into your work, right? I was asked to join a renowned firm later that year and in the blink of an eye a decade had passed, and while I lost a bit of myself along the way, my gut was always telling me there is something more outside the office walls.

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The thing with routine is, you get used to it. Day in day out, a part of you dies but when you think of changing you are overcome with fear, fear of the unknown, fear of regret, fear of failure. When you are a parent you sacrifice a lot to be able to raise your children, enroll them in top daycares and schools and afford the expenses of life in this overpriced country, so you keep your feelings of wanting to break free of the norm and start over, you struggle daily to manage your kids in the morning while making it on time to work, scheduling everything on weekends, leaving the office not one minute before you are allowed to, to continue your draining routine, and by the time you are done you don’t have a shred of energy to do basic household chores, much less practice your hobbies. I had been struggling with the decision to start a new chapter in my life, dedicate more time to my home and fulfilling my ambitions, until one day it just happened, I left and I did not glance behind me. Not only did I turn the page, I closed the book. It was as if that part of me never existed, as if I had just begun breathing, the world at that moment was so full of possibilities. I do not regret a single moment of those years, the hardships and long days struggling helped me distinguish where to spend my energy, and for that and so much more I am thankful. But I do believe that kind and gentle people have it hard in this world, the more we give the more people expect of us. I had spent days and years wishing to start over, never having the guts to cut the cord. In the pits of my stomach I knew I was sacrificing precious time with my children and dedicating it to work where I was giving more than I was receiving, financially and emotionally. Everything happens for a reason, and the decisions we take or are led to take will lead us to something more meaningful and beautiful.

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Do I regret not taking this decision earlier? Perhaps. I’m not sure. Had I done so earlier it would have been easier for me because I would still have been young, maybe single, with plenty of time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. But now at 33, it isn’t so bad, because each experience whether positive or negative, shaped who I am today. Careers, the kind you are passionate about, aren’t likely to start before 40 or 50, after a lifetime of disappointments to learn to put yourself first. Amidst all this, I do consider myself lucky to finally be able to think of myself and my personal goals. I recently had a chance meeting with many of my classmates, each of us has taken a different path. Architecture is a tough major, it gives us a base in engineering and design, in abstract thinking and construction management, but also paves the way to more diverse careers. Some of us are now filmmakers, cartoonists, jewelry designers, furniture designers, teachers, artists and musicians. My feelings of loss and mental turbulence are made calm by the realization that we are all on a journey to self discovery.

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It took a lot of soul searching and years of racking my brain to finally figure out that I am not cut for office work.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a model employee, always on time, always polite, always get the job done, putting in extra hours with no return, the whole nine yards. But I don’t want to wake up another 11 years from now not realizing any of my personal goals. I am not an impulsive person, had I been so I think I would have ran away immediately, but I exercise patience and perseverance. Now I realized that years of experience on a CV don’t mean anything if you’re an architect or a designer, your portfolio does the talking. So does how well you are read, how well you have traveled, how cultured you are. But that goes for any person, am I right?

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Dear graduates or any one whose soul isn’t satisfied, the world is your oyster. Today is the age of small businesses, startups, momtrepreneurs, online shops, freelancers and girl bosses. Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve, don’t expect validation from any of your superiors because you will live for their gratitude which you will never get, know your worth, educate yourself and don’t expect anyone to help, read a lot, be open to new opportunities, don’t be afraid of your managers’ opinions, know that if you do 1000 things right, they will look for something to blame you for, know that some people around you will be paid more than you to get one tenth of the work you get done, know that life is unfair but you don’t have to be the victim.

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If someday in the future I do choose to be employed, it will be in a position I damn right deserve, with recognition and a salary that is fair to my qualifications, with flexible time to tend to my family. I have earned every right, I know my worth and won’t settle for anything less.

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Stability is important, but sometimes you need to take risks to find yourself, and sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to start fresh. I want to create, to work with passion, to spend sleepless nights building, writing, painting. I am finally free and I am finally happy. I am finally no longer breaking down every so often, sobbing and thinking of my life being flushed down the drain. I am finally away from negative energy that drained me, from jealous shallow individuals whose only aim in life is hating and spying instead of living their life. Until a few months ago my validation was laying in the hands of people, I will never make that mistake again. Right now I am able to spend time with my growing children, the single most important thing in this world, no amount of money will ever compensate the time I have lost, and I intend on catching up on that time by giving them my all. Right now I am not worrying about alarm clocks and traffic, about messy laundry and no time to cook meals, about the occasional long lunch break to tend to my children’s school affairs. Right now I am focused on my freelance work, connecting with people, networking with like minded individuals, living outside the box.

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