A New Chapter

Alhamdulilah (All praise is due to God), Afroz and I are expecting a new addition to our little family! After three wonderful years with Afroz, I'm beyond excited for this new chapter in our lives. We're both ecstatic and also a bit nervous as we will soon begin our journey as parents. Every now and then, we have these moments when we stop and realize that in a few months we'll have two adorable little eyes looking at us with love and will bring so much joy into our lives inshaAllah. Those moments are the best. We're so grateful for this blessing and look forward to figuring out how to master our new roles as Mom and Dad. We know it won't be easy, but all of those sleepless nights, dirty diapers, and moments of freaking out will be worth it for our little bundle of joy inshaAllah.

With all of the happiness and celebration, there are also moments of reflection. Some of my friends recently asked me how I feel about the thought of becoming a new mom and raising a child. It's a huge responsibility, but as with everything in life, I hope to learn, make mistakes, enjoy the good and the bad, and cherish every single moment. I'm 24 and at times, I still feel like a kid who is on her journey to figuring out what life is and what I was meant to do with it. Whenever people ask me how I knew when the time was right to get married or make the decision of having children, I don't know what to say exactly. But then I realized that when life is pointing you in a positive direction, you have to read the clues and take the next step forward. You meet the right person and you just know that you're meant to be with them (cheesy, I know, but it's true). And after you both get most of your responsibilities in line and you get a certain feeling, you know the time is right to share your life with more than just each other, but also a child who looks up to you and learns with you along the way. And even after you make all of your plans and decisions, in the end, it's really up to Allah (swt) to grant you the blessing of a partner or a child at the perfect time.

Many times, especially in our culture, we have those aunties who come and ask you (in the most awkward way) when you're going to have a child or, if you're single, when you're going to get married, because they think "it's just been so long and we think it's about time now." I always disliked those conversations. I have the biggest pet peeve against them and have the hardest time doing the whole "in one ear, out the other" thing when it comes to that. I always got stressed out when aunties asked me when I was going to have a child, but I would keep telling myself that people had the right intentions when asking. Some would be polite and share kind words, while others would have no filter and would make me feel very uncomfortable. Having a child and getting married are beautiful moments that are personal. They are not mere tasks that you check off of your list of "things to accomplish in life," but are rather intimate milestones that are mainly between you and your spouse. They are to be celebrated and cherished without the feeling of being pressured or overwhelmed by others. 

So when you sit and think about when your time will come for anything in life, or you're getting bullied by aunties about how time is running out, remember that everything happens for a reason and it will happen when the time is right. Sometimes you don't know when that will be. It just happens. And when it does, you'll wonder how it all worked out and realize how worthwhile it was to be patient and ignore all those silly comments. When you finally find the right partner or when you get news that you're going to be a parent, the joy that overcomes you surpasses the frustration you have when people question you about your personal life. At that moment in time, nothing else matters, but the blessing at hand.

Here's to a new chapter, inshaAllah.

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Thank you to The Siegers Photo + Video for taking our photos!


Using Your Anxiety to Do Good

Alright, I admit it. I'm an anxious person and it wasn't until recently that I accepted that. I took it as a negative thing at first, but then I realized I could use the feeling of being anxious to do good. I figured out how to use it as fuel and motivation to get things done rather than something that puts me down and keeps me from accomplishing my day-to-day goals.

I recently sat down and thought about where my anxiety roots from and how I can control it and use it to my advantage. Here's what I came up with:

1. Figure out what causes your anxiety.

Whether it's family drama, public speaking, social anxiety, school, work, or something else, you need to realize what makes you feel nervous and anxious. It helps to understand the situation, so you can react and respond in the best way. At times, I would feel anxious and have absolutely no idea why. When I actively wondered what happened through the week or day that might have triggered the anxiety, that's when I figured out the answer.

2. Respond or react to that problem or situation in a way that reduces your anxiety.

If your parents, husband, friends, or any other person is doing something to stress you out, have a calm discussion with them to get them to understand that a certain thing they said or did caused you feel anxious and stressed. This may or may not be so simple. This person might get frustrated, but you have to at least try to get them to understand, so they can possibly help you by changing the way they behave to make you feel more comfortable. It's important to let those close to us know if they're making us feel negatively, because we usually spend quite a bit of time with our loved ones. Not the easiest thing in the world to do, but you have to try.

If it's school, work, or social situations that make you feel nervous, it's important to tackle everything slowly. I used to be so overwhelmed with work during architecture school, but I was reminded by my husband many times to just take a deep breath and figure out what steps I needed to take to get through my work load. We make steps for huge life goals, but it's important to do that for our daily routines as well. Also, you have to write it down. Don't let it sit in your head to add to the clutter in your mind that's already causing you to stress out.

3. Use your anxiety to fuel and motivate yourself to do good for yourself.

One day my husband told me to stop focusing on pleasing everyone around me and just spend some time to think about what makes me happy and just do it. It was easier said than done, but once I followed that advice, I figured out how to use my anxiety for good. 

You need to balance the cause of your anxiety with an activity or two that allow you to get your mind off of things. It also helps to be organized. Schedule time to relax and actively try to be happy. Whether you use a pen and a planner or Google calendar to schedule your daily activities, it's important to schedule relaxation time. Many times we think we'll naturally let happiness fit into our busy schedules, but we end up ignoring the act of treating ourselves out and just having some down time. 

I started trying new things once I realized I needed to release some stress and distract myself from things that made me anxious. Here's what I started to do:

  • Took up biking on different trails around the city
  • Yoga classes
  • Go for a stroll around a nice forest preserve trail
  • Go out for dinner to try new food
  • Take a day trip to somewhere nearby during the weekend
  • Blog. Blog. Blog.

Being outdoors, whether it was for biking or just taking a stroll, honestly helps me relax so much. The trails around Chicago are so beautiful and just taking in fresh air while biking made me feel so refreshed afterward. You just have to do it to believe it. It's an awesome feeling.

 My first time at Chicago's "Bike the Drive" event

My first time at Chicago's "Bike the Drive" event

4. Once you figure out what helps you relax, excel at it. Give it your all and don't make it a chore.

A part of me blogs to relieve stress. Writing and taking photos makes me relive happy moments and share them with others. It's an anxiety reducer for me, along with the list I shared above. I try not to make it a chore for myself. I don't think, "Hey, I'm doing this to relax right now, because I'm so stressed." I fall in love with what makes me feel good and make time for it during the week. My husband and I try our best to go biking during the weekend. I try to blog/write/take photos at least once a week. But I'm not perfect. I forget sometimes, but once I check my calendar and I'm reminded to work on something I truly enjoy doing, then I get back to it. I naturally feel less anxious and I automatically want to do my best at what I love doing.

5. Figure out what works for YOU.

I (possibly like you) used to read many blogs to learn more about what others do to reduce anxiety, but many times the same things didn't work for me. I would always take away one thing from any self-help book or blog post and that was to figure out what works best for ME. I recommend you do the same, but I hope my post helped you think with an open mind and realize that anxiety is not always a bad thing. It can also motivate you to find what makes you happy and put your heart into it, just as I realized how much I love activities like biking and blogging :)

Newcity Article: My First Right Connection

The summer before my sophomore year in high school was spent learning about architecture after being suggested to look into it as a profession by my older brother. After numerous trips to the library to attempt to understand what architecture was, I eventually just sat on the Internet and researched everything I could find about Chicago's architecture community. I found out about the Chicago Architecture Foundation, specifically their textbook titled "The Architecture Handbook: A Student Guide to Understanding Buildings," co-authored by Jennifer Masengarb and Krisann Rehbein. That's probably the most important Google search I have ever made in my entire life.

The Architecture Handbook (Source)

I told myself I needed to get my hands on that book, not knowing that when my sophomore year classes started at Lane Tech High School, I would be one of the first users of the very book I had just discovered. I remember walking into my first ever architecture class at Lane Tech, excited and surprised to see the same book stacked right next to my computer monitor. I picked it up, flipped through the pages, and then went to the front page, thinking: "Chicago Architecture Foundation...I should probably get to know this organization."

Finding CAF on the web and then connecting to it in school and then being exposed to all of the wonderful workshops, lectures, events, activities, competitions, and resources this wonderful organization had for architecture students like myself was just amazing. I went from being a confused high school student who thought she wanted to be an artist or something of that sort, to someone who had just found her home in the vast world of architecture.

When I first saw Krisann Rehbein and Jen Masengarb at one of the "Saturday in the Studio" workshops at CAF, I thought it was the coolest thing to have the authors of "The Architecture Handbook" leading the workshops. I had no idea that they would soon become my first (and most valuable) connections in the field of architecture.

Design/Build Saturday Workshop with CAF in 2009

From a Google search about Chicago architecture, to the "Architecture Handbook", to the "Saturday in the Studio" workshops, to the Student Advisory Committee, to the Newhouse Architecture Competition, to sitting in on a David Adjaye CAF lecture, to being a volunteer teacher at a "Saturday in the Studio" workshop, to being a keynote speaker at the Newhouse Architecture Competition, to now...I will forever be indebted to the wonderful folks at the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Krisann and Jen weren't people who just led events for students. They were dedicated people who had a huge impact on my life. Even after I graduated from Lane Tech, they visited me at IIT to see what I was working on, gave me advice to help me get back up when I felt like I couldn't take it anymore, and are still there for me through everything. Take this story as an example:

As a young Pakistani-American Muslim woman, I had the most supportive mother who was excited, but still nervous for her daughter who was pursuing the field of architecture. This profession was new to her. She drove me to every workshop, every lecture, was there for every winning speech I made for the essay entry for the Newhouse Architecture Competition, but she told me she always had a little voice that asked, "Is this field right for my daughter?" It was something foreign to her, even though my older brother was a graphic designer. Pakistani women in the field of design was unheard of for my mom, but she never told me not to follow my dreams just because she was unsure about somethings. After talking to Krisann and Jen, my mom would tell me how nice they were, how they would answer her questions, how they supported me, and how they truly cared. My mom would thank them every time she met them for exposing me to the educational events and programs at CAF. Both Krisann and Jen would tell my mom how excited and proud they were of me and that I was going places. After speaking to them for a few years at every Newhouse Competition ceremony, I noticed that my mom became more and more confident about me pursuing architecture. Now, everything that goes right in my career, my mom always attributes it to me getting involved with CAF and she's completely right. She says, "If it wasn't for you meeting Krisann and Jen, you wouldn't have gotten here."

Now, you're thinking: "Where are you going with this, Fariha?"

Today, Krisann wrote an article about my journey in architecture for Newcity. While I feel that I really don't deserve all of her kind words, I do know that when my mom read it, she called me and burst into tears and told me she saw the result of her support, patience, and hard work and that she was extremely proud of me. When you're the daughter of two hard working parents who traveled many, many miles from their home in Pakistan, left their families, their dream jobs, their friends, and so much more just to make sure their children attained a great education...hearing those few words is truly a blessing.

Oh, and of course, she said again: "I always tell you, if it wasn't for you meeting Krisann and Jen, you wouldn't have gotten here." As always, I agreed completely.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is an amazing organization that allowed me to meet dedicated people who have helped me in so many ways. The article is truly an honor and I'm writing this post to say that every accomplishment it mentions is attributed to my connection to the Chicago Architecture Foundation, as well as Marwen and Lane Tech High School. A huge thank you to everyone at these institutions and a big thank you to Krisann for not only writing such a thoughtful piece, but also for being such a wonderful mentor/supporter/friend from the start.

Alhamdulilah (thanks be to God) for everything.

Read the Newcity article here.