18 year-old Mariam
As I head into my mid-twenties this year, I have done a lot of self-reflection. I graduated high school six years ago and looking back, I wish I could tell my younger self not to rush into post-secondary education. While I was mature for my age, I was pretty much living an academic life that did not fulfill me entirely. While I enjoyed subjects like Calculus, English, French and Spanish, some other subjects haunted me.
I was fortunate enough to get into almost every program I applied to (including engineering) based primarily on my Grade 11 marks. I really struggled with handling my anxiety in courses like chemistry and physics. While I was good at them, the pressure to excel was very daunting. I always wanted to do something that uplifted the voices of marginalized people; whether it be through politics, media or perhaps both. However, I felt the need to please one of my parents as they had saved any extra money they had since I was a baby to ensure I go to university. Through that, I decided to enrol into chemical engineering at a university here in Toronto.
First year woes
I got into extra-curricular activities right away. I joined my campus’ TEDx group and loved every bit of it. Later that semester, I joined the Muslim Students’ Association and I finally felt at home. However, a big problem was lying beneath this happiness. While I did well on my midterms that semester, final exam anxiety hit me hard and I had the lowest term GPA I have ever gotten to date. I felt like a failure. I was so used to excelling and enjoying learning that I felt something similar to imposter syndrome. Entering second semester was a big shock. I disliked my courses even more. Instead of evaluating why I chose engineering, I decided to give another stream a try in my second year.
Second year and beyond
Second semester of second year came around and I started taking courses in my new stream: mechanical engineering. I was still feeling the pain of not enjoying what I was learning. What kept me going was my involvement in and out the engineering community. I did not care about my resume and what it had on it. I cared about uplifting people and improving student life. Through that I decided to give another stream a try: industrial engineering.
While I had to stop my studies twice in industrial engineering due to health reasons, I was in this stream the longest. Before my major hospitalization in February 2017, I was at a wall. I absolutely hated what I was doing and my health was suffering. I decided it may be time to switch to another program. In mid-February, I gathered my written work, created a portfolio and wrote an essay in order to apply to journalism. Within five days of my submission, I found out I was accepted. I was elated. However, my mental health had already been damaged and I was hospitalized a few days later for almost three weeks. Through that hospitalization, I decided to give industrial engineering one last shot.
I completed the 2017-2018 year barely hanging by a thread. I was planning my wedding that happened in July 2018, I co-chaired Canada’s largest student-run national Engineering competition and I balanced it with a full course load. I was about to give up but I pushed myself. I commenced my second last year of my studies in Fall 2018. But of course, I got sick and was hospitalized twice in October for a week at a time. That’s when I truly realized I need to focus on my happiness and writing my own story.
Following my dreams
While in the hospital the second time, I worked on updating my portfolio, wrote another essay and applied to journalism. I was not confident in my application but I made dua every day during every salah and praise be to God, I was accepted in late November.
I kept the fact I was following my dreams to very few people until I felt I was ready. Knowing myself, I kept my secret for a couple months because I was scared that people would judge me. However, once I publicly announced my career change in February, I was met with well-wishes and messages of support.
I have always wanted to make a difference to those around me. I have struggled immensely with my mental and physical health for a very long time but I try not it affect me and my goals.
If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be to live your life authentically and truthfully. Follow your heart and do what makes you content.