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10 Life Lessons I've Learned in the Past 10 Years


Posted on Dec 14, 2014
Melanie Elturk


This past August I attended an Islamic youth camp, Camp Al-Hilal, in my home state of Michigan. It's a camp I'm very passionate about as I attended the yearly camp as a child and its become a sort-of institution in our community, welcoming kids all around the country from all different backgrounds, ethnicities and ages. This year marked my tenth year as a camp administrator and it hit me pretty hard that ten years had passed since I was just a teenager nonchalantly applying to become a camp counselor one summer.

Ten years later and I still find myself coming back, year after year, no matter what was going on in my life or where I lived at the moment. I reflected on those ten years and all that happened in my life; from being a teenager to now well into my 20's. I graduated college, went to law school, passed the bar, started my legal career, got married, moved to Chicago, founded Haute Hijab, moved to Dubai... and here I am. When thinking of topics I wanted to speak to the campers about this year, I thought it appropriate to touch on the life lessons I've learned thus far. I compiled a list over a six-month period and came up with the following ten life lessons I've learned in the past ten years (in no particular order). 

1) Things are Not What They Seem

This was a lesson I learned pretty early on in life - and one that reoccurred over and over again. The perfect lives you think others are leading, the pretty faces, the things you wish you had - are not what they seem. It's a mere illusion, a distorted perception from an outsider looking in. 

"Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, a show and boasting among yourselves, a quest for greater riches and more children. Its similitude is that of vegetation that flourish after rain: the growth of which delights the tillers, then it withers and you see it turn yellow, soon it becomes dry and crumbles away. In the hereafter there will be either severe punishment or forgiveness from Allah and His good pleasure. The life of this world is nothing but an illusion." (Al-Hadid 57:20)

We waste so much time and energy feeling jealous of others, hating what we have and wanting what others have, feeling enmity or suspicion for others, when in the end, the things we waste our energy on aren't even real. That perfect couple? Contemplating divorce. The lavish wardrobe? She's actually broke. That gorgeous face? Photo-shopped. And on and on the deception goes. 

2) Trust in God

Seems like an obvious one, right? It's easy to say, "Yes, I trust in God," but do we really? Are we truly content with whatever comes our way, good or bad? Do we adhere to the following hadith of the Prophet (S)?

"Amazing is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and perseverance, and that is good for him.” 

It's easy to be thankful when good things happen, but when we're down and out, when we're inflicted with illness, when the 'perfect' life we planned for ourselves isn't panning out, do we say alhamdulilah and deal with it with patience and perseverance?

Somewhere in my 20's I realized that to relieve myself of any burden or stress, to truly feel free from worry, I had to put my full trust in God. I had to believe with extreme conviction, that no matter what happens, good or bad, it's from Allah (S) and He knows best. I truly believe that every big life choice, every triumph, every morsel of hardship - has led me on a path God intended. Indeed,

"Whoever has taqwa of Allah (S) He will find a way out for you." (At-Talaq, 65:2)

So especially when it comes to big decisions in your life like the person you're going to marry, career choices, moving halfway across the world, etc., free yourself of the burden of worry, make sincere du'a that Allah (S) leads you to the right choice that's best for your dunya and akhira (praying istikhara helps with this) and confidently move forward knowing that whatever choice you were inspired to make is the right one, for better or for worse. 

3) Trials and Tribulations and 5 Ways to Cope 

There are 5 things I remind myself whenever I'm going through a tough situation or offering advice to someone in a rough spot.

1) Allah (S) tests those whom He loves. The Prophet (S) said, “When Allah (S) who is Great and Glorious loves people He afflicts them [with trials].” The best of all people who walked this earth - Prophets, scholars, companions of the Prophet (S), etc. were tested with the hardest tests of all. (Prophet Yusuf was thrown into a well by his own brothers, sold as a slave and thrown in prison, Prophet Ayub was afflicted with trial after trial losing his wealth, health and family, Prophet Yunus was swallowed by a whale, etc). Going through a difficult time? No worries, you're in great company. Oh and p.s. God loves you. 

2) If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it. “On no soul does Allah (S) place a burden greater than it can bear” (2:286). This is mentioned at least 4 times in the Quran as a reminder for us when we feel we can no longer handle our tribulations.

3) There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. “Verily, with every difficulty, there is relief.” Also repeated for emphasis in Surah Al-Inshirah ayat 5-6. Bear in mind the relief doesn’t merely come after the difficulty, it is oftentimes provided with it. The fact that we’re going through difficulties is a blessing in disguise – it purifies us, erases our sins and makes us stronger.

4) Everything happens for a reason. Nothing is in vain. Everything has a purpose and there's wisdom behind everything, even if we can't see it. “He knows what is before them and what is behind them, and to Allah go back all questions for decision” (Al-Hajj, Ayah 76).

5) We don't know where the good is. We cannot fathom the wisdom of Allah (S). What may seem like a burden may actually be your ticket to jannah. Every little thing, good or bad that has happened in our lives has taken us to this moment right now. “And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know” (2:216). Allah (S) knows and we know not. 

4) Put your Ego to the Side


A lot of headache and stress can be avoided if you learn how to put your ego to the side. Whether it's in your marriage, familial relationships, friendships, co-workers, etc., If you can learn to let go, to have humility and to see the people around you as a lesson that you can learn from (rather than thinking you are the one who has all the wisdom to spread) you'll lead a much happier, conflict-free life.

For myself personally, I was someone who always wanted to be the center of attention. I was always that obnoxiously loud kid in class blurting out jokes at inappropriate times just to get a laugh. It wasn't until college that I learned that sometimes it's better to just blend in to the background and observe. Let others shine. My voice doesn't always need to be heard and my opinions probably aren't as important as I think they are. By putting my need for attention to the side (read: ego), I was able to have more rewarding and fulfilling experiences. I learned to listen, I learned what it truly meant to be a good friend. This may not be the exact case for you, but everyone is battling their own ego addition - you just have to search deep to find out exactly what yours is - and address it head on. 

5) We Don't See Things as They Are - We See Things as WE Are

I used to be the type of person that wanted everyone's approval. I was a grade-A people-pleaser. I knew what people wanted and I gave it to them - and when that didn't work, I was confused, despondent. It wasn't until I learned this life lesson that I stopped craving the approval of others - I realized that someone's "approval" has little to do with me anyway as everything we say and do starts and ends with ourselves.

Here's what I mean - when someone is bitter, jealous or offended by you, it has much less to do with you than it has to do with the other person and their own insecurities, ego and overall perception of reality. They don't see things the way you see them because they see it through their own cloudy lens of their own (many times insecurities) life experiences. When you tell someone that your husband just surprised you with a beautiful bouquet of flowers for no particular reason - they're not hearing that you got beautiful flowers. They hear, "I love flowers, my husband never buys me flowers, why doesn't my husband do nice things for me?"  You get the idea.

In fact, the people we admire or obsess over give us a good indication of who we are or wish we could be ourselves. Celebrities are a great example. Think of a celebrity you admire - what do you admire about them? Their good looks? Intellect? Charm? Affable personality? Talent? A combination of a few things? Whatever it is you admire is most likely what you see or would like to see in yourself. Go ahead, think about it - you'll be amazed at the fact that what you see in others exists (or is what you want to exist) in you.

So the next time someone isn't happy for you, they're hating or jealous of you - remember, it's not you. It's them.

6) You Get What You Give

When I was in college I was no angel. I led a life I wasn't really proud of and I'm thankful that I was finally able to break free from it. After a winter break I basically spent grounded in my room, I had an epiphany – How can I expect good things to happen to me, when I myself am not doing good? At nineteen I wanted the world – to get into law school, start a career, have loyal friends, find a husband – but what was I doing to deserve all that? 


“No affliction great or small afflicts a man but for a sin, but there are more which Allah forgives.” Tirmidhi hadith

“Whatever misfortune happens to you is because of the things your hands have wrought and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness” (42:30).

This does not mean that one will suffer in the form of calamities in this world as consequences for every sin or mistake one commits, as Allah (S) is all-merciful and forgiving, but the point to understand is that Allah (S) doesn’t cause injustice to anyone by putting him or her to undue suffering. The suffering is from the things your hands have wrought. So if you care about your future and about all the wonderful things you want for yourself - stop insisting on sin. You really do get what you give.

7) Don't Expect Anything From Anyone

The surest way to relieve yourself of disappointment in life is to not expect anything from anyone - whether it's in your marriage, your career, friendships, family relationships - don't have expectations of how you want them to be or what you want it to be like. Ultimately you have virtually no control over any of those things and the only person you have control over is you. You can control yourself to expect nothing and anything positive you do receive, you'll be much more grateful for.  

There's a difference between having no expectations and having low expectations. It's also not a good idea to have low expectations because that negative mindset could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having no expectations of things or people you have little to no control over allows you to take situations and people for what they are - and accept them, rather than be disappointed because things didn't turn out the way you thought they would in your head. 

Being raised by a single Dad taught me this lesson early. When I wasn't receiving praise or even acknowledgment for things I did around the house by my Dad I eventually realized that I shouldn't do things for praise - and that men are less vocal than women when it comes to these things. It's a lesson that helped me immensely in marriage and life in general as I got older.

8) Let it Go

'Let it Go' isn't just the obnoxious song your daughter/niece/little sister can't stop singing. It may be the three most important words that preserve your own sanity. Let. It. Go. Don't allow yourself to hold on to any feelings of hate, jealousy, anger, etc., it's not worth it. Ultimately you are the one who suffers from holding on to negative emotions. Whatever it is that's making you angry, bitter, resentful, insert negative emotion here, focus your energy on letting it GO. Remember, you define your own life, don't let other people write your script.

Whatever someone did to you in the past has no power over the present. Only you give it power. Whatever your Mom said, what your Dad didn't say, what your husband did, what your friend didn't do - let it go.

"Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." - Buddha

9) It's Better to Love

We're not going to succeed and get ahead collectively as an ummah if we're bringing others down, conspiring against other women, jealous of other women's accomplishments and not encouraging one another. As women, not only are we more prone to be jealous of one another, backbite and gossip - this behavior is glorified - think Real Housewives of insert city here, reality and talk shows where the sole purpose is to gossip and cut others down. As Muslim women, we are better than this behavior, we need to be the ones rejecting these attitudes and not conforming to what society deems "entertainment."

"The believers are like brothers to one another; so promote peace and reconciliation among them, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy" (Al Hujarat, Ayah 10).

The Prophet (S) said, "Truly the faithful are to one another like components of a building - each part support the other," and, "You are not a true believer until you love for your brother what you love for yourself."

Do we truly love for our brother or sister what we love for ourselves? Sure, it's easy to say this about the people we love, but what about the people we don't like all that much. Do we love for that sister or brother what we love for ourselves? The only way you can accomplish this, is by being a secure, confident individual. More on this in #10.

10) Take the Time to be Alone

In the hyper-connected world we live in today, we may start to feel strange when we're completely alone and not connected to something - anything. We have become compulsive phone-addicts - even when there's nothing to look at. This constant connection can be detrimental to our mental health, our relationships and most important of all, our spirituality. Don't be afraid to be alone with your thoughts. Turn your phone off, throw it in a drawer and take the time to reflect. Do it in the car on the way to work/school. Give yourself time every night before going to bed - make an effort to make time for yourself and reflect. If you don't, you'll never know yourself and if you don't know yourself you won't know God. 

“You have got to know who you are and you have got to come to terms with yourself. To know yourself is to know your heart. Understand what your heart is and how it works. To know your heart, is to have a window to know God and to know (the structure) of reality. To be ignorant of our hearts, is to be ignorant of ourselves. And if I am ignorant of myself, how can I be knowledgeable of God? Those two do not go together.” - Dr. Umar Farooq Abdullah

One of the main issues I always encounter working with female youth is insecurities and self-esteem issues. The sure-bet way to be confident in who you are and to rid yourself of insecurities is to know yourself. This is how I define confidence - know what your strengths are and nurture them, know your weaknesses and work on them, and use that knowledge to serve God. The only way you can get there is if you know yourself. But if you're too busy obsessive-compulsively checking Instagram every 3 seconds, you'll never take the time to get to know the most important person in your life - you.

Can you relate? Have an experience you'd like to share or another life lesson you've learned?
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