Musings: Back to school / Things I want to get rid of

9/26/17: I’m back at that daily reflection grind, and I’m hoping to keep it that way! This morning, I met with a content strategist at Facebook and talked to her about the value of working at a socially minded company that cares about the mental health of its employees and users. I sometimes wonder if I took this aspect of Microsoft for granted, but hopefully that’s not the case! I want to work at a place that’s high-impact and values people as people – after all, I’m in Human Centered Design and Engineering so it’s basically in our job description

I told her about how I wrote articles about being a person of color at Microsoft and all of the stories leading to my internship offer – the impostor syndrome, switch from major to major, and moments when I wondered if my identity alone was enough to take me out of the race. She opened up to me about her desire to write about her friend who was murdered by their partner – heavy, right? I focused on responding with empathy and validating her resilience in telling stories that aren’t shared in the workplace, let alone tech companies. I hope that I will get to work there or an analogous company that values my work – and even if a recruiter isn’t looking for me, I’ll make myself known.

(a few hours later)

today feels a little bit hard and maybe even a tad frustrating, but I don’t want a little bump to cause a slump in my attitude. Tomorrow is the first full day that I’ll spend in my major, Human Centered Design and Engineering. I’ll meet new peers and work with people on their papers and wonder how I’ll get everything done, somehow, someway. I was made to be something / make things do things / be proud of myself.

List 49: What are the things you want to get rid of?

I want to get rid of clothes that I don’t wear, self-deprecating thoughts, people who don’t value me, self-doubt about my abilities, classes that are more stressful than they are fun, songs that don’t make me want to dance, drinks that aren’t delicious, pens that aren’t in fun colors, people who don’t see my worth, sweaters that aren’t soft, places that don’t feel like home, people who don’t want to see my grow, coffee that’s not strong, candy that’s not sweet, planners that aren’t full of things that make me smile, companies that don’t see my worth, etc.

List 51: List the ways that you’ve invested in your happiness this year

  • Took the chance and applied to my dream major, Human Centered Design and Engineering
  • Applied for jobs that aligned with my interests in higher education & desire to learn more about design
  • Lived with people who actually care about me and my mental health
  • Stopped caring so much about what other people thought about me
  • Booked a trip to see my favorite person in Chicago
  • Embraced my identity as a writer
  • Said yes more than I said no
  • Let myself feel deep and profound love, even if it’s not manifesting in the same way anymore
  • Met with people who inspired me, and convinced them to believe in me
  • Bought cute things like a hello lovely pillow and cute polaroid prints and a mellow wine blush that makes me feel more confident than ever
  • Wrote in a journal all the time and shared those thoughts with people who mattered a lot.
  • Bought cute jean jackets and tops that give me some cleavage and chokers that bring the attention up my face i.e. right where it belongs
  • Told my friends that I loved them and dedicated time to seeing them
  • Made running part of my everyday practice of self-care
  • Made Spotify playlists that accurately reflected how I felt about the day

List the ways that you feel lucky:

I feel lucky that I get to look at namebrand companies and see myself working there. I am lucky that my identity as a person of color has made me more reflective and aware and grateful for the mentors who care for me as a person. I’m lucky that some people really care, really ask, really want to know what’s up with me. I’m lucky that I get to be in college studying what I really love, and that my jobs are underpinned by the premise of helping people tell their story. I’m lucky to have so many pictures but even more moments when I was really happy and proud and empowered and loved, and I hope that never changes.

9/27/17 – It’s the first day of school and I am more exhausted than anything, but I’m here and I will be a college graduate and it’s gonna be OK. I’m glad that my co-workers are vulnerable, give me pizza, tell me about culture in their home countries, and tell me that my social media is fun and positive

9/28/17: This is a little bit of post-reflection reflection, but it’s the first Friday of the quarter and it seems appropriate. The other day, a new tutor at Ode shadowed me and said that I was their tutoring goals, which made me feel warm and fuzzy because I’m en route to becoming everything I want to be, and I think it’s working. My HCDE classes definitely had me extremely intimidated about the future, but we will make it happen.

Also, I met with an old friend and we talked very maturely about how 1) people are really important in the workplace, 2) you need to engage in positive self-talk, and 3) relationships that weigh you down aren’t worth pursuing. It’s nice to know that I can be real with some people when it comes to love and loss and success and industry goals. And then I ended the day at home with mac and cheese, oranges, and chocolate chip & pumpkin spice cookies with my cute roommates. How nice! I’m very full and I have a Starbucks tumbler of water as I listen to Often by the Weeknd (is it freshman year?!) and I’m a little bit confused by love but it’s all gonna be okay. I’m here to make beautiful things and have hope and see a future where I’m truly happy ❤


Seattle & Bellingham | Migas, design, and taking off our masks

9/14/17 to 9/17/17 – Today, I made my way downtown (thanks to the 70 for being very accessible and arriving on time) with my Microsoft backpack and lanyard on, and I’m pretty sure that my purple hair and lacy black dress and brown skin only begins to scratch the surface about why I stood out in tech la la land. I ate migas for breakfast at Portage Bay Café (which is always delicious and hopefully nutritious!) and learned from a really dope UX designer who is insanely curious and holds himself to really high standards all the time, and his background in industrial engineering informs his understanding of how physical objects feel and work – pretty cool, right? He is interested in creating human experiences and streamlining the process for customers, which is in line with my goals in Human Centered Design & Engineering. Moreover, he’s always trying to learn more about the field and will read books and articles and everything in between about information architecture and interaction design, a sign that he is deeply engaged with his field.

We also talked about what it means to be a person of color at a company that doesn’t have a lot of representation in leadership. I asked him about what motivates him to keep going, especially because he is the first of his cousins to get a Master’s degree and his dad doesn’t really understand what he does. He told me that our conversation was the deepest one that he had ever had on the campus thus far – and it wasn’t even with someone who worked there. Our conversation reminded me that sharing stories is an important part of creating a community. I hope that he recognizes the power of his strength and resilience, and that people want to hear his story. After all, stories are some of the most authentic things we can offer to others, and someone who is as thoughtful and curious and resilient as him is the kind of leader I want.



rainbows & reflections

I also stopped by a furniture store downtown that was very bougie and almost made me wish that I was pursuing a career that would help me afford a place like that – it was 3 levels of pure luxury, complete with wall-to-wall mirrors that only made things appear more regal. We went through every single room and imagined the guests who would use each part of the house, but we also reserved a few rooms for reading and special guests like Bruno Mars and J. Lo. We also tried out a delicious Vietnamese grill called Sizzle & Crunch that’s only give minutes from where I live, and it was amazing! I highly recommend splurging on your bowl or salad to get the fried egg – it makes everything a little bit more flavorful.


Also, a deep dive with my friend reminded me that being vulnerable isn’t easy for everyone, and, sometimes, people are still learning to take off their masks and be authentic every day. I don’t really struggle with this anymore – I know exactly who I am and what matters most to me, but it’s come through a lot of thoughtful reflection. I finally understand that I’m a resilient storyteller, educator, and writer who is learning how to break into UX design but is incredibly drawn to higher education and journalism – I just don’t know if I’ll let myself choose these disciplines.I also realized that I really need people who can support me emotionally, and who don’t make me wonder if they’ll stick around.

I need actions that speak louder than words, love that is unconditional, and people who elevate me to engage more deeply in my field and remember that everything is an opportunity for growth. But I also need people who like to have fun that’s set to good music and includes a lot of pictures because that’s also an equally important part of making a life that I love.



Maybe all of the Chemistry and Biology was worth it because it brought us together!

This weekend, I got to hang out with one of my oldest college friends in Bellingham, and it was absolutely lovely! In between Spotify playlists and long drives, I found that I really, really missed just laughing and joking with my old friends, and I’m glad we got to do that before school starts. It’s cool that my friends can support me in the really tough things and conversations about how to find and maintain a meaningful relationship (and know it’s the right person), but can also tag along for quesadilla runs, even if we lose a few people along the way. We also had a really delicious breakfast of poached eggs, toast, and potatoes at Mount Bakery Cafe (and we definitely needed the bottomless drip coffee), so I highly recommend it!


My best friend talked about how much I love Washington and how I’ve stayed here for the last 20 years because everything I needed has been along the I-5, but it’s equally important to go to new places and try new things. I’m wondering that this means to me – should I stay in Washington because the tech industry is booming and I won’t ever have to begin again? Or should I leave because the very act of starting over will teach me more about myself and what I really value? I do believe in my ability to make the most of a fresh start, and maybe a break from the rain would be good for me.

I’m not sure what life looks like without Mount Rainier in view, but maybe an internship or something will give me a chance to find out.

I feel like I should have more to say, but I’ve read a lot of UX design-related articles on Medium and my brain is a little bit fried. Also, I’m currently working on 30-day design challenge on my portfolio, so keep checking back as I make progress! I’ve realized that you only learn design by doing design, and I’m trying to be better about this – more doing, less talking.

Songs of the moment: “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato

Recent musings: Tell a story about yourself that draws people in; the decisions we make give us power; don’t be afraid to see somewhere new; and grow deep and tall and wide and beautiful in your favorite place.

Thought question: How do you know someone is worth waiting for? & You were made for _____.

Musings: Move-out, communication, and post-summer goals

IMG_20039/10/17 – Well, looks like I’m finally moved into my new place for senior year, and making this happen has me breathing a huge sigh of relief – no but really, I’ve been dreading this move for the last 11.5 months. Thanks to my wonderful dad, we made the drive up from Federal Way with coffee in hand (I’m all about ½ hazelnut, ½ vanilla lattes with non-fat milk if you were wondering), avoided the I-5 traffic by detouring on the 599, and managed to move everything from my storage unit into my new little Seattle place in a few hours – achievement unlocked! I’m so lucky that my brother and father were so willing to help because it made the process significantly less stressful! My dad managed to keep me calm even when I thought I had reserved the U-Haul for the wrong day and couldn’t fit the bed and dresser in my room at the same time (I may or may not be living in a closet for the rest of my senior year –never sign a lease without touring the place!).

I asked my dad how he managed to maintain such a positive attitude, and he told me that he doesn’t sweat the small stuff because it’s not a helpful use of his energy – instead he tries to take everything one day at a time and maintain a calm demeanor for the sake of others, which was really refreshing! As someone who gets anxious somewhat frequently (it’s been my “a-word” since third grade, no joke), I’m still learning how to set aside unproductive anxiety and just focus on the things that can’t control. For this reason, my brother always has to remind me to have a little fun, and my mentor at Microsoft kept telling me that it’s important to hang out with friends and not stress about work. Still, my dad pointed out that some anxiety can be good because it’s what drives me to set high goals, submit tons of job and intern applications so I’ll have options in a few months, and hold myself to really high standards, but it can be pretty heavy sometimes. Like all things, I’m learning to find balance in my work and life, but seeing him embody kindness and patience was a moment that I’ll remember.

Reminder to future me: Breathe! Things will be alright – and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end. There’s a lot to be excited for with senior year (kinda) just around the corner. I’m excited to revamp my resume (hey, iterating never stops!), take some dope Human Centered Design & Engineering courses with my cohort, and continue to refine my story as an interdisciplinary storyteller with a passion for social impact.

In an effort to stay accountable for my long term goals, here are some things that I want to try to do every day of the month (I listened to a podcast about the value of codifying my goals and trying to check them off every day, so it’s worth a try!)

So without further ado, here are some goals that I want to start working on as summer winds down and fall 2017 peeps its cute lil’ head around the corner. I believe in setting priorities and believing in them, so here’s my effort to do that:

  1. Write every single day whether it’s a sentence of gratitude, blog post, or LinkedIn article. I want to write about things that seem new or confusing or compelling or anything in between – this is the only way to make this my craft, and I know that I always have something to learn
    1. Alternatively, I need to get better at proofreading. Those dang little typos are my vice, and I want to pay more attention to the details of my writing
    2. One LinkedIn article a month seems like a reasonable goal, so let’s plan for that!
  2. Learn more about UX design and engage with the industry. This can start with something as simple as reading one Medium article a day from UX designers or tech employees, but I know that you only learn design by doing design. I hope to add a mini-design project to my portfolio – potential projects include redesigning parts of the Spotify app and revamping the process for matching mentors and mentees at XX+UX – or completing a 30 day design challenge.
    1. Also, I really believe in identifying role models in your field, so quick shout-out to Yuki –  one of my classmates in Human Centered Design & Engineering –  for writing this amazing article about being a Product Design intern at Spotify! His portfolio is stellar and aesthetically pleasing, and I’m definitely taking some of his tips to heart as I apply for UX design/research/content strategy internships this year!
  3. Communicate my needs to other people – this has always been pretty hard lean toward complacency if I can appease others, but I want to be more honest and open about 1) the limits of my time and energy, 2) my expectations of others, and 3) moments when I need to scale back. And hey, the right people will rise to meet these standards.
  4. Seek and maintain meaningful relationships in my life. This will be the last year in Seattle for some of my friends, at least for a while. I want to make time to see them and genuinely ask about their day and life and everything in between. Also, everyone needs a bubble tea break, so there’s a happy medium for all of this.
    1. Side note – I’ve been a little jaded about romantic (a peek into that here), but I’m trying to remember that I need to give my future self my best chance. I’ll try to focus more on seeking meaningful companionship, and I’m hoping that my tutoring job and major cohort and maybe even some open mic nights will give me what I need.
    2. Another one courtesy of Bachelor in Paradise! – Don’t spend time thinking about people who aren’t fighting for you.
  5. Read more – this will probably be hard because I prefer to listen to music all the time (God bless Spotify Premium and friends with good music taste), but I pulled out my old library card (number) and grabbed Mindy Kaling’s book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), which is now my designated bus time reading. I also impulsively bought Lilly Singh’s book, How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life on Amazon because I believe in her message of spreading positivity and hustling harder, but moreso because I love powerful South Asian women who embody everything I want to be. Moreover, my girl Rupi Kaur’s book the sun and her flowers is coming on Oct. 3 and I’m can sense some tattoo ideas around the corner, so I’m guessing this goal will be easy to keep up with (side note, if you’re a true friend, you have to text me on Oct. 4 and ask me how I like her book so far, just saying)!
  6. Spend less time on social media – Instagram and Snapchat are my biggest culprits. I took the first step by deleting Instagram from my phone (you should still follow me though – it’s aleenahansari). Still, Instagram and Snap do offer really fulfilling communities because I can update old friends about my life and share some of my favorite places & spaces, and I don’t want that to go away completely. Still, I’m going to make more of an effort to put down social media when I’m actually spending time with my friends in an effort to be more present. Wish me luck!
  7. Take better care of my things – it’s no exaggeration that I lose my jacket every single academic year, and I’m running out of money and patience to keep funding this escapade. Even more, I want to be better about valuing what I own – this is also influenced by the fact that I have a 7 x 7 bedroom that can’t fit anything extraneous, but it’s also a good reminder to be thankful for what I already have.

Well, that’s all I have for now (and I’m going to proofread this before my list). As for all of you, I hope that love and peace and everything in between will find us well.

A snapshot of this moment:

Songs stuck in my head:Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato (what a queen) & “Pretty Girl Rock” by Keri Hilson

Most delicious thing I ate today: I stole a chunk of Tiramisu cake from the fridge, and it was absolutely worth it.

New/fun things in my life: Jeanine Amopola is the cutest little YouTuber! I’ve been watching a lot of her fashion hauls as well as really old iiSuperwomanii videos – my favorite ones are, “The Rules of Racism (ft. Ryan Higa),” which came out right after I graduated high school, and “If My Family Was @One Direction

Other tidbits/reminder: Learn to differentiate cost from value; when things go wrong, summon the best of yourself; document the moments when you feel most in love with your life

100 Days of Happiness: Balancing familiarity and novelty

[TLDR: This summer is amazing because I get to take on an entirely new industry through my internship at Microsoft while keeping good ol’ Mount Rainier (and all of my old friends) close by. Cheers to bridging the fun and familiar with experiences to grow – how often do we get to experience all of this at once]

6/24/17 – I love this summer – I mean, I remember 9 months ago when I decided that I needed to do something important with my time.  I always applied to so many internships and jobs, but nothing ever panned out until a few months ago when Microsoft decided to take the chance on this little public health major – plot twist, I convinced them that I was worth keeping around and just finished the second week of my internship (and they are committed to helping me learn the lay of the land of a tech company, but still be a student intern who is still trying to find mentors and role models).

I never thought that the pieces of my life would fit together in such a beautiful way (I love my major, internship, and city, and I get to share all of this with my best friends) especially because I spent the first 2 years of college falling apart and the rest of my time putting myself back together in a more authentic way. I saw one of my high school friends today, and it was confirmation that we all project perfect personas of ourselves on social media but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. And I am definitely guilty of this too – I’ve been putting up perfectly edited, brightened, and saturated photos on social media and only hit the highlights even though I struggled to believe in myself and the things I could create. I struggled to remember that I was worthy of love and relationships that elevated me and opportunities to grow, but I’m starting to recognize that these are things that I will keep fighting for. But getting the opportunity to work at Microsoft this summer is confirmation that things are headed in the right direction, and I’m on my way to finding a fulfilling career that makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning. And I’m also on my way to finding people who are worth my time and will listen to me share my story – I’m smiling more than ever, jamming out to Drake to Frank Ocean and listening to wistful love songs, and learning to celebrate my success with others and have genuinely difficult but important conversations. It’s important to remember that to have a friend, you have to be a friend and that you shouldn’t surround yourself with people who need to dim your light to shine brighter. So, I will try to remember that it’s OK to drop toxic relationships and make time for people who are worth it.

I’m so glad that I got to reconnect to old and new friends because I’m proud to know them, and I hope that we can keep building each other up. This 80-degree weather is one of many signs that summer in Seattle is here to stay, and I’m loving every single moment that’s filled with belly-busting giggles as well extremely vulnerable conversations – get you some friends who can do both ❤

100 Days of Happiness: An attitude of gratitude

5/20/17 – Well, it’s 1:04 a.m. and I’ve spent most of today standing around so cheers to this one and precious life full of people that I really, really love. I accomplished a lot of things so I’m going to get through all of this before I fall asleep

My first victory was getting out of bed before 8 a.m. today, mostly thanks to my roommate roasting me with sarcasm. I managed to shimmy out of the covers and get dressed so I could grab some soy milk from Safeway and whip up a vanilla soy latte and a scallion pancake, all before 9:30 a.m. I went to my User Research class’s quiz section and made a new friend and learned about different ways to visualize data and write survey questions that could be compared and analyzed further. I met someone who was really passionate about user research and is taking a course about it in the spring. I talked about my internship at Microsoft and was proud as fuck because I got it with zero connections but because I worked really, really hard and have spent the lat 2 years developing strong writing samples that I’m proud to share – and I’m not going to be quiet about it because I don’t have to, and the right people will be there to help me celebrate.

Then, I headed up one floor to Mary Gates Hall to meet my supervisor for a feedback meeting about CLUE. My supervisor was really shaken about a conversation he had with a student in General Studies 101 (an academic support class for students who are on probation or need additional support with developing skills related to studying and time management), and my co-worker took the time to stop him and ask, “is everything OK?” Although I’ve struggled to get along with this person in this past, it was a reminder that they really were trying to care about all of us – she saw a moment to check in even when my supervisor had verbally said he was fine. That’s really important, you know? I need to remember to be patient with people and recognize when they’re trying their best because I would want others to do that for me.

Afterward, they handed me a stack of evaluations that students I tutored had filled out throughout the quarter, and I had to stop myself from crying as my eyes read over sentences about how I was “perfect,” had genuine energy, cared about their needs and provided specific strategies for improvement. And then they read the feedback from my peers about how I spend time trying to make relationships with my peers, am curious and strive to establish rapport, validate student’s concerns about writing, and clearly value my work and wowwowowow I strive to embody all of these qualities but I didn’t realize that anyone would actually feel this way about me? It’s yet another reminder that I am in the right field and considering that I love what I do every single day, I’m gonna roll with it.

Then, I found my friend and watched a lot of my friends share their research at the symposium. Although I am not heavily involved in research myself, I love that my friends are able to teach me things and get excited about their work – and I love that I can repay them with genuine questions. I love that I have people that I can stand really close to and look into their eyes and talk about how all public health clubs are the same. I also love that my friends are so committed to making their research accessible to the general public and are willing to use emojis to do this – hey, you’ve got to keep the audience in mind!

I’m also glad that I was able to take pictures at the SMAHRT researchers, and I love that I could bring my friend to see their projects because she really valued their work, especially in a field of research that was so new like social media.

I’m happy that I saw an old friend and, after a really long time, was able to talk to her about everything that happened. I realized how much I do matter to the people in my life, I was talking to my other friend, and she said she wished everyone knew that they mattered to someone – and I wish that too. Although friendships can shift and morph and people grow up, I hope that we can still keep our ties and figure it out.  In this conversation with my friend, I realized just how much we had grown up in the last 2.5 years, and I think we forgot to acknowledge that.

Here’s to more communication about my needs and valuing people and their time and remembering that it’s important to try to see others – I guess I’ve spent most of my life being afraid that my relationships can be such a source of joy so, in a way, I’m afraid to let people have so much weight on my happiness because I’m OK with losing friendships as part of the process we call life.

But I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to value relationships and people and friendships all while creating meaningful work and getting baller grades. And I hope that I can spend more time doing that.

And lastly, I’m thankful for friends who will help me reflect on all of this, and who are proud of everything I’ve done. I’m so glad to see so many people who make me smile, even when called Corn or Ryan (it certainly takes inclusion to a whole new level), and commentary about how slavery is not a thing of the past. I love lovely friends who while lie on the floor and listen to Justin Bieber and remind me that I am a precious jewel who is always worthy of people’s time, but always has a lot to learn.

100 Days of Happiness: Cheers to the weekend

4/15/17 – Things to be thankful for include nice boys who follow me on Spotify, fun parties where I can make the choice to drink and be confident in my decision, coffee machines that save me $$ everyday, honest posts about proving people wrong, and being wrapped warm blankets next to heaters before midnight. Today, I spent the day with Dorothy, Marisa, Carol, and a few other friends during an 11-hour excursion to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, and the bright blooms and excitement of my friends made it a day to remember (and a nice reminder that’s it OK to just have some fun and not crack open a textbook on a Saturday). We even waited 50 minutes for some blueberry cheesecake and almond pistachio ice cream (totally worth it), and managed to over 1,200 photos in one day (shout-out to golden hour at a farmer’s market that you visit after parking on the side of a highway – some memories just can’t be recreated or explained fully). We spent the whole car ride home jamming to Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, and early 2000’s hits, and I found myself beaming more than ever because I got to spend my evening with my two favorite Husky 100’s who refer to me as “Microsoft” in celebration of a $21,000 summer that I’m still trying to believe is mine. But hey, my writing skills and commitment to turning my weakness into a strength and supportive friends who remind me to push push push helped me get here, and I ca own that. And despite that 7:20 a.m. wake-up call that occurred after a drunken night with some very special friends, I’m still smiling.

Oh, drunken night, you ask? Haha I guess that might warrant some explanation. So, Clayton, Dana, and I all embarked on round 2 of that party last quarter, and you already know that I was hoping to make some memories with some of the most important people in my life at the moment. For a recap, I still identify Jordan’s last party as one of the happiest memories I have to date. Clayton and Dana and I all bonded over our shared post of OChem and our love of Public Health (or lack thereof), and I spent 4 hours talking with Clayton and thinking of making out with him but thoughts aside, we had a good ass time and I was genuinely happy.

So, I guess I hoped that Friday would be a repeat in terms of fun and memory-making – and if you’re wondering about how successful the night was, please note that I got his number and I did so quite smoothly aka I inquired very directly 😉 Also this memory is too good to spare any details but it’s also 12:11 a.m., but I’ll do my best so this post jogs my memory at a later time. We all made cookies for the party since the task was to bring something with a multiple of 7 (the other option was alcohol, which Clayton certainly fulfilled by bringing some white wine that he liked. I told him that he has to bring alcohol that I like next time aka based on the bottle aesthetic and OMG I’m grinning ear to ear and biting my tongue because this was so cute and damn I think I can flirt if the time and momentare right). After baking our cookies and compiling them in a tin, we were off in the whip aka Clayton’s car. Clayton and I started the night together, which began with some conversation and the question, “I’m gonna get a drink. Do you want some?” In this moment, I decided that I trusted Clayton and Dana and the situation so I was ready to say yes. Also I’ve never said “yes” so fast in my life so that’s nice 😉 So, I might have gotten a little tipsy and Clayton could say the same (he did say this), and we ended up being a lil’ flirty and talking about a lot of things and jamming to the music and resting our heads on each other’s shoulders for a little bit too long. Honestly, my favorite part was him stumbling over and slinging his arm over the back of the couch and saying, “I’m drunk.” And, I’m pretty sure I said “me too” so that’s nice. I really enjoyed myself, and it was a reminder that I can get back in the game or just be friends and have fun either way. I might have stumbled on the way to the bathroom and had to give myself a pep talk in between some comments about my fly eye makeup and mascara combo but overall, I enjoyed the night. It’s a reminder to surround myself with people who always care and blurt out statements like “I follow you on Spotify” from Clayton without even knowing how much that means to me, but always demonstrating that he cares about me. I think it was a night worth smiling about, just because it’s fun to vibe with people and vibe on the couch and hold someone’s arm without thinking twice about it (and have feelings of genuine affection be reciprocated).

The grand finale (of Winter 2017)

Well, I have finally returned to Federal Way, I’m packed for my trip to Greece tomorrow, and all of my files have been consolidated on my computer in case I ever need to consult my Public Health notes (not likely, but we’ll keep them around) – it looks like winter 2017 is officially coming to a close. This time last year, I was a Biochemistry major (but was hoping to apply to Public Health) and was taking some of the most difficult courses of my college career and feeling profoundly disconnected from them. At the end of that winter quarter, I had just finished my hardest class ever (the second class in the Organic Chemistry series), crossed my finger and toes and hoped that I passed by some miracle in the form of a TA taking pity on me, and jetted off to Toronto for a wedding/family reunion. That was one of the most difficult quarters of my life – all I can remember from that time is darkness and constant thoughts about how I would make it out alive. I thought that choosing a different career was a sign that I was a quitter who would be taking the easy way out, so I powered through and waited for the day that I could fill my days doing fulfilling work. Still, I managed to make it with the help of some wonderful friends, 10 p.m. coffee runs, and a whole lot of writing as a form of self-care – and, thankfully, most of those people from this time are still in my life and make me better every single day.

In some ways, this quarter feels similar. It was profoundly difficult, but not for the reasons I expected. I decided to take CSE 143, the second class in the introductory programming series at the UW, and I knew that if I passed, I would receive elective credit for my dream major, Human Centered Design and Engineering. I often say that taking CSE 143 felt like a full-time job, and it really was. I spent hours in the study center, never skipped out on my 8:30 a.m. quiz section, and rallied every single person I knew with a CSE background to help me make it through those weekly assignments. Although the problems we solved were certainly interesting and challenging, I knew from the very beginning that I didn’t seek a career in programming, so I struggled to motivated to do it. How purposeful can it feel to make a program of 20 questions when I could be writing articles about gender disparities in STEM and the need for great mentorship? Regardless, I knew this course was a stepping stone to my future career, so I couldn’t give up. But when the person that I thought would be there to help me the most left my life, CSE seemed to go from a manageable class to a TKO for my GPA and me, and at first, I didn’t see a way that I could make it out on my own.

So, what did I do? I fought harder. I’m always been incredibly fortunate to have amazingly selfless people in my life who stayed up until 1 a.m. helping me understand the difference between stacks and queues or understand how to compare strings, and these people showed up for me time and time again (both emotionally and in the context of CSE – shout-out to wrong turns that lead to the right people and friends who want to see you become your best self) ­– it took an army to get me through that class, but we did it. Now, I might even understand the benefits to each data structure and how to write recursive solutions ­– if only I had a method that could proofread my essays 😛

But CSE wasn’t the only difficult thing in my life this quarter. Maybe it’s not fair to say this, but falling in and out of love was a rollercoaster that I don’t want to ever ride again. It started out in the most promising way, as if it couldn’t get any better. I found myself smiling a whole lot more, finally understanding what Ed Sheeran and all those sappy love songs were really about – but aside from all that, I saw the relationship as a consistent good thing that I could count on. But then it ended as quickly as it started, left me aching and broken even though I put up the front that I could never be affected by someone in such a profoundly negative way. I remember wondering how I could survive it, as if every semblance of self-doubt that I had about my ability to have a successful relationship was true, as if it was my fault my bad my inability to get it right, even though I had taken this chance despite all of my fears. I listened to “Show Me Love” by Chance the Rapper and hoped that I could hold back any ill-wishes, hoping that I would not be broken at the feet of a neglectful relationship that I had mistaken for the love I thought I deserved. This was only week 3, and I couldn’t imagine what the rest of the quarter would look like for me.

But in the aftermath, once again, I turned to my community and writing for strength. I transformed the saga of my relationship, the one that had been associated with hurt rather than healing, into a story that I could tell to others, one that would leave them gripping their seat as I weaved the narrative that revealed my resilience and ability to forgive. In these moments, I realized that I was the narrator and had ownership of how I presented my story, so I was determined to make it a good one. I took to the margins of pages that turned into word documents full of poetry and honest assertions, hoping that writing what tugged at my soul would help me see a point where I was my own again. In all honesty, I’m still working on fully embracing self-love as a core value. Part of me still blames myself, as if I could have prevented it by loving harder or deeper or given more than I tried. But, this wasn’t me, and I deserve someone who loves as deeply as I do – rupi kaur reminds me of that every day.

I learned to tell my story not only in the secret of my notebook pages but in ways that I could share with others. I performed in the Blank Monologues and shared the windy journey of norming and reforming my identity, as influenced by my Pakistani culture, Muslim religion, and influence of society’s (and my mother’s) perceptions about my body and what would make it beautiful and acceptable. I was able to come out of my shell and tell the whole thing with more honesty and resilience that I ever thought possible – and the people who mattered showed up and supported me every step of the way. I even shared my writing with people in my classes, and I was amazed at the way that other students identified with my work and were able to laugh, cry, and grow along with me as I touched on themes of identity and cultural appropriation and struggling to find a house that felt like a home. In my most vulnerable moments, my community was there to support me exactly as I was. I also continued to write for The Daily and covered events about indigenous feminism, a program that supports economically disadvantaged and educationally underserved students who dream of becoming engineers and supporting their families, and a performance showcase that I’ve written about every year since I was a freshman – and I even landed them front page. I created a portfolio about my leadership development that I can share with the world, and I committed to honest reflection that acknowledged my growth and the ways that other people have helped me get here. These are the most authentic pieces of my story, and I’m learning to celebrate them with others.

This quarter, I got to say yes to my dream major – Human Centered Design and Engineering. I can’t even believe that I get to say that: I am going to be an engineer. I get to use technology for social impact and put people first and revolutionize the way that things are done right now. Moreover, companies and places like Seattle Children’s and Microsoft are looking at my work and saying “we want her.” Students at CLUE are requesting me and thanking me for my feedback and advice and support on their personal statements and PhD dissertations. My friends are thanking me for sharing my story and encouraging them to keep fighting every single day.

I can’t believe that I get to bridge engineering and writing and accessibility through mentorship and higher education, which is what I have always wanted to do. Now, I get to take classes like “Intro to User-Centered Research” and say yes to my dream internship and learn how to be a better writer and designer and mentor and friend, which is something that I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life. I get to be somebody that I needed when I was younger, and I think third-grade me, the one who wondered if I would ever find my passion, would be proud to see who I’ve become. I think I’m very proud too ❤

So that’s winter quarter in a nutshell – a whole lot of struggle and survival despite it all, thanks to amazing people who have validated my story and identity every single day. I’m hoping that some of the changes from the quarter will continue in the future – making time for self-care through running and writing, being unapologetic about my story and identity, and valuing the important people in my life. I will keep searching for things that help  me feel alive.

In short, this quarter was a lesson in abandoning the shallow and easy and learn to build up a more resilient and vulnerable form that I’m proud to be. I returned to my passion for writing and storytelling and mentorship while trying all the shit that scared me i.e telling the story of my identity on a big stage /  taking classes that forced me to learn how to code smarter and think like a real programmer (damn I can frick with those data structures now) / confront my privilege / take a chance and apply to my dream program (and say yes – this girl is going to be an engineer) / engage with the people in my field, apply for my dream jobs that were way out of my league but trying anyway / and identify the values that I’m grounded in (my money is on inclusion and diversity as values that underpin my work, not just buzzwords for your quota).This is such a beautiful and precious life full of amazing people and conversations that helped me see myself a little be more clearly, and I’m will end this quarter in the same gratitude that I started with  ❤