12 Things I Learned When I Was 16

June 25, 2016 

For some reason, in my mind, 16 is the transition age. You are neither a child nor an adult. You are right in between the two. A year older or younger and your position in life as an adult or a child is more defined. At least when you are 15 you’re closer to 14 which is closer to 13 so you’re basically still a child, and when you’re 17 you’re closer to 18 which is closer to 19 so you’re basically an adult. (You like my reasoning?)

Regardless, this transition year has been, by far, one of the best years of my life. And 16 truly has been a year of transition. Of change. Of growth. Of challenge.

I have lived the hell out of 16 and I can say with lots of satisfaction that I woke up each and every day with a clearer sense of purpose and responsibility, but most of all with a thirst to learn and become better. It was a year of new experiences, success, and growth. Despite having to suffer through the first two semesters of college, I enjoyed being 16 and the new experiences it brought with it which in turn catalyzed new realizations and lessons to be learned.

I am nowhere near who I want to be one day — it’s going to take many more years of learning, of challenges, of mistakes and success to get there. BUT, I truly believe at the core of my heart that I climbed the first step of the staircase that leads to that person this year.

It took twelve months, but finally, I am 17! I learned many things as a 16-year-old and this article is dedicated to a handful of them. Without further adieu, here are twelve lessons I learned in each month of being 16:

June – Always believe in yourself more than anyone else believes in you.

I have done many things in my life which people never think someone like me can do. I have set goals and dreamed dreams that many have said are impossible to achieve. Most of the times I believed others. I believed them when they told me what I wanted wasn’t possible. I believed them when they told me I wasn’t good enough. But the day I refused to believe them and refused to follow through, the world changed for me. That first step was the scariest, but after its success, I have believed in myself more than anyone else believed in me. I believe that I have everything it takes and because of that, I have turned some of my dreams and goals into realities.

July – Sometimes doing nothing can lead to lots of things.

I know that sounds wrong and weird. It’s probably the last thing anyone would tell you as a lesson, but I spent last summer free of responsibilities and work. I slept late, woke up late. I watched TV and read lots of books, but most of all I just lived life without a constant worry of deadlines and places to go and be.

And because of that, I was able to think of some of the things that never occurred to me. Questions I had about the world, about myself. Pondering and analyzing my past experiences and what I hoped lied in the future. And that month of nothing served as a month of everything because of these small questions.

It served as a catalyst for all the things that happened in the next few months.

August – Forgiveness.

Sometimes we think we have forgiven people simply because we said it. “It’s OK,” “I forgive you,” therefore everything is OK. Yes? Yes?


Learn to forgive from your heart. Let go. Sometimes people we care about hurt us, they cause us harm which lead to arguments and burned bridges. I cut off a lot of people in my life simply because of how many of them hurt me in the same time slot. We’re often told to cut people off if they start harming us, but we do not realize that the root of that is a grudge. Important things are left unsaid, feelings and thoughts unshared, leaving all possibility of fixing problems to zero.

One of the biggest lessons I learned as a 16-year-old was that forgiveness is a process. It takes a while but it is incredibly necessary for your own sanity. Not forgiving people, holding grudges, is a burden on your own heart. It requires work and the longer you remain in the state, the more it melts a hole through your heart.

So forgive and let go.

September – There’s a reason behind every new person who walks into your life.

Oh the amount of people I have met this year.

From people younger than me to my age to much older, I have met people of all ages and walks of life. I have been so lucky to bump into some of the coolest people out there and after listening to their stories or having a quick conversation with them, I quickly realized that none of them bumped into me from out of nowhere.

Almost everyone has left me with a new question to ponder over, a new story to decipher, and so many new lessons to learn. But more than that, every person has left me with an impact and an inspiration.

October – Being honest with myself.

One of the hardest things for me – specifically because of the Euler diagram I have been bound to (check my previous article for more on that) for most of my life and the certain limitations in every part of it – was being honest with myself.

However, because of my upcoming novel about a South Asian Pakistani-American Muslim, I have been able to really ponder over everything that has been going on, and with lots of borrowed courage, I color pages and pages with honest ink. My previous journals always strayed away from my actual life. I wrote bits and pieces of my thoughts in a form that would be accepted. However, with a new year, I have a new journal, and a bigger new purpose.

For the first time, I was honest with my thoughts and the things that affected me. In my journals I wrote about me, and not the fictional voices that lie within me. And I can say very proudly, that with every new journal entry, I have been given all the more confidence and grasp over my thoughts and me. And this summer, I’m going to be entering a whole new journey of sharing that with the public.

November – Always ask why.

“You won’t be able to be an author at such a young age.”

I was 11 then, and I believed them then, and because of that, I didn’t publish my own book until I saw my sister publish hers. People will always try to bring you down and they will always make you question your ability but never fall prey to that.

I fell prey to it when I was 11, but thankfully I didn’t give up entirely. I let my work sink into the unknown, but I continued with the struggle.

“You won’t be able to be a screenwriter at such a young age.”

This time, I didn’t stop. I was talking with a few producers, directors, and screenwriters from different backgrounds about an idea I had. My goal never was to become a screenwriter, but rather to write a book which someone else would convert into a script. However, thankfully, I was surrounded by a few successful professionals who encouraged me to take a pick at it. And I did, and when I told a few people, I got a response that didn’t make me too happy.

One such producer said that quote above, and for the first time in my life, I dared to ask “why” rather than smile, accept their words, and choose a different wind to drift with.

The response had me laughing and encouraged more than ever: “You just can’t. I’ve never seen a 16-year-old screenwriter in this industry, there must be a reason behind that.”

“Then, you can give my example to people in the future then.” And with that I walked away.

Sometimes, the answers to our “whys” are much more interesting and inspiring than the statement said before it.

So always ask why.

Most people don’t even have the answer to it. They just say things to burn your bridge to the other side.

December – Try to understand yourself before anything else.

One of the biggest things I spent the past year on was understanding myself. I spent hours during the day, hours during the night, thinking, thinking, thinking.

Am I happy with who I am?

Am I the kind of person I would love?

What are my flaws? How can I work on them?

Possibly one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself is give yourself sometime to figure out the mess in your brain. In life, we are often thrown ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. Everything is literally barfed into our brains, and with busy schedules (at least especially for me with the whole new transition to college and author stuff going on) we don’t have to time to figure out where we stand in that pile. What ideas do we believe in and why?

Most importantly, the things we obviously do stand for, do we understand the reason behind them?

Taking the time to figure that out, to write down my thoughts and really decipher myself and my priorities made my goals in life so much easier. It added a confidence in me. Rather than just listening to people as they gave their opinions, like a quiet observer, I added my own opinions and sometimes, when need be, fought for the reasons behind them.

January – Always keep improving.

What are my flaws? How can I work on them?

Two questions I always ask the people I know understand me.

I know I’m not perfect. I am human and at the base of it all I am made by my flaws. Some flaws are cute, the world can work with them and so can you. They make you who you are. But other flaws (most flaws) are not. Most flaws need to be worked on.

Life I realized is about rebuilding yourself. Improving yourself. Just like every person around you cannot be just like you because it would be boring and wrong, the same way you cannot remain frozen just the way you are throughout your life. You have to allow some space to move around and change and adjust. You have to keep improving. The more you improve and the more work you put into doing so, the more rewarding it is to be the person you are, so always keep improving.

February – You live in a bubble.

There is a whole world I have yet to discover. Most of the times we live life in a bubble– a bubble favorable for us. I had lived in a bubble before this month. But it was this month when the new people I met served as a needle to burst my bubble. In my bubble, I was the extraordinary person. I was the one who people looked at as an example. It’s easier to admit that fact now that I am sure that it isn’t true. But for a while I was frustrated over not being challenged. For immediately being set as the goal.

Then, God answered my prayers.

I had the opportunity to attend TedxTeen and the UN Youth Assembly, and several other events which time after time introduced me to people my age and younger and older who were changing the world. A concept I thought I would start to approach after I became a doctor. I was so wrong.

I have been so lucky to have met and currently be in the company of some of the most amazing people out there. I have heard stories that have left me astounded. People my age and younger have lived a lifetime in their one year or more of struggle.

The second I stepped into TedxTeen and started talking to people around me, my bubble burst like never before. I started to truly see the world. I saw the bigger picture, but more than that, I saw so many new possibilities. I saw the bigger world and slowly, I started to see what my job was as part of it.

March – God always has a plan for you.

I was rejected again from the Sophie Davis program. I knew I was the perfect candidate. I had the scores, the experience, the passion – Sophie Davis was my goal and had been since the beginning of high school. I applied once as a senior in high school, then as a freshman in college, and both times I got waitlisted then rejected. I never wanted to go to Hunter College in the first place, but I have started to find a home in it. I can see exactly how I fit in it. I am slowly starting to realize why I was sent here and how things from my past, present, and future are starting to align in this specific location.

There was a reason why at the end of it all, I ended up at Hunter. There was a reason why I found myself at the U.N. at the very last second. There was a reason I met all the people I met. There was a reason behind my struggles, behind where I was when I was there. There is a reason I spent a long time over something I was supposed to leave after a while.

God has a plan for us all and most of the times we do not know where it’s headed, but from what I’ve seen this year nothing is a coincidence, nothing happens by chance. Everything and everyone is just leading you closer and closer to that bigger plan out there.

April – Company matters.

The people you surround yourself with really do matter. Despite not being like you, the people you spend time with define you. Even if you are the sky and they are the sea, when you are together you are seen as the same blue thing.

Our friends stand as your representatives in your absence. People look to them to get a better idea of you. Bad company leads people to judge you as likewise, good company enhances your personality.

So choose wisely.

May – Sometimes, you have to let go of things you love.

One of the hardest decisions for me, this year, was letting go.

I don’t let go too easy, especially not after learning to forgive. However, constant pain, constant stress, constant useless time consuming things have a limit to them and you just have to let go.

I spent most of the past year on two very important projects. Starting one from scratch, and helping another mend. Both projects consumed so much of my time over the past year that there were moments when I fell into tears because of the effect they were having on me. I left a part of myself in each of them, and took a part of them into myself, but some things cause harm and stop progress.

And so, for the first time, I made two very big and important decisions which I knew would have a big impact on the way I planned my life to turn out. But for the most part, I am positive that letting go of these two things that I loved will probably be for the best at the end.


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