Advice to my Little Sister
by Amina Ahmad
Owner, Handmade Habitat
I have a little sister and I don’t think she likes when I give her advice. It’s a little sister thing I guess. Just upset because us big sisters have ALL THE KNOWLEDGE and they don’t want to admit how right we always are. ;)
Recently I’ve been thinking about how crazy it is that things have worked out so well in my life. I’ve been lucky and I wish that I could go back in time and tell little Amina things so that everything wouldn’t have been so serious or worrying all the time.
So if I could give advice to my younger self at age 15 or 16 here’s what it would be: Give yourself permission to live for yourself and not for someone else.
Don’t worry about what people expect of you; don’t worry about what someone else wants for your life do you, little bae.
Fuck those AP science classes that you hate and don’t study a language if you don’t want to / have to. As long as you get by okay, school is pretty meaningless at the end of the day and if you’re the kind of middle aged person who remembers your SAT scores or how many points you got off on your driver’s test, you should really reevaluate your life.
Don’t rush. Don’t race everyone else. As my brother told me once, why would you want to sprint to the finish line in gym class when you can just walk with your friends instead? [Sometimes, younger brothers can be pretty insightful.]
If I had done what my parents wanted me to, I would have been a missionary nurse living in remote African villages with Doctor Husband saving lives and converting people to Islam. Or I would have had a government job. If we’ve met, you’ll know neither of these are really my vibe. I cannot sit still in a meeting that lasts more than 20 minutes without doodling or chugging coffee.
This is advice that my husband recently gave me and I wish I’d heard it years ago. Though not hearing it never stopped me from pursuing exactly what I wanted to do in the end, it may have helped set me on that course earlier in life.
When I was in school, and I think this probably applies to most people in school, I had ‘future’ tunnel vision. I was in a GPA state of mind. Everything was about what elitist major I was going to have [Journalism or Environmental Science]; what internship I was going to land [FEMA]; and how much money I’d be making in two years, five years, ten years, a million years… I think we just need to step back for one second and evaluate what we want. I didn’t really want a desk job in my heart, I always wanted a creative career. But did I go to art school? No. I went to a boring public school and finished with a boring generic major that would get me some boring job and allow me to buy a boring car one day. Six months after graduating from college I had the chance to jump off of this ship sinking into the most mundane life ever and started pursuing my creative career.
I was always afraid, and still am to some point, of how people judge me. If I had a dime for the amount of times that I told people what I did for a living and they responded, “Oh, cool so what’s your real job?” I’d be rich and I would use my riches to frame every single one of those people for murder so they would go to jail forever. (The phrase “real job” is one of the most rude, obnoxious phrases you can ever utter while swinging your boring government ID lanyard around your neck. Another piece of advice: if you do meet a person with a nontraditional career, don’t ask them that. Open your mind a wee bit instead.)
Something that I’m working on is letting go of other people’s expectations, judgements and comparisons; living as honestly and fully as is right for me at any time. Right now that’s making candles and helping other artists / crafters / artisans launch and grow their businesses. Tomorrow it might be opening up a bookstore or launching a food cart the possibilities are endless as long as you don’t limit yourself.
My grandparents had a small creative business when they immigrated to the US in the 80s, a curtain making shop called Jamil Interiors. My late grandmother was extremely creative and my grandfather is a wise worrywart. They worked hard to give their four kids a good life. I worry that if my grandmother was still living, despite our creative connection, she wouldn’t like that I gave up a stable life for a less predictable one. I worry that she wouldn’t like that I make candles for a living and that she wouldn’t like me. My grandparents didn’t move to America so their grandkids could work as hard as them, you know? This is something my grandfather has made pretty clear anytime I talk about opening a store. Why work that hard when you can get paid by the government to work from home once a week and have paid vacations?
It’s a hard pill to swallow and it does get into my head sometimes, but ultimately it’s just a hypothetical thought to let go of because it’s just a stick in the road that doesn’t need to be there. Regardless of anyone else’s take on your life, at the end of the day it is your life and you should live it as fully and honestly as you need. Give yourself permission to do that and let go of external burdens that have nothing to do with you. Having a creative career or whatever life you want is totally doable you just have to go do it.