By JEMILA ABDULAI
In his book “The Alchemist”, Paulo Coelho writes that when a person really desires something, the entire universe conspires to help that person achieve their goals and follow their dreams follow his or her dream. My journey thus far is testament to those words.
It all started one New Year’s eve on my parent’s front porch in Adenta. As was our custom, my sister and I stayed up late to recount highlights of the dying year and to dream up the new; our very own countdown. It was a particularly starry night and I asked my sister, “Do you think they see the same stars in other parts of the world?” I can’t quite remember her response, but that question was the first step of my journey. While I was still leaning against the railing of my parent’s front porch in Accra, I had just put forth a prayer from the depths of my being.
“Read”. The very first command Allah gave to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Later, the Prophet would tell his followers: “Seek knowledge – even if it takes you to China”.
You could say that I have taken those words to heart, minus the China bit (for now). Since my unspoken prayer almost a decade ago, I have found myself staring up at starry skies in no less than seven countries. My journey has been a quest for knowledge: to learn all I can about my chosen fields of economics and international affairs, and more importantly, to learn all I can about myself.
Whenever I find myself at a crossroads, I ask myself three things: Will I learn something new? Will I grow as a person? Can I make a difference?
So, not quite unlike Robert Frost, I have often found myself on the road less traveled – I can tell you, following one’s dreams is equal measure exciting, equal measure scary. However, I haven’t traveled on my own. No, help has been provided every step of the way. From my supportive family to generous strangers who have literally opened up their homes to me, I have been blessed with angels. What’s more, I have always rested in the knowledge that Allah has my back:
“Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of (the air and) the sky? Nothing holds them up but (the power of) Allah. Verily in this are signs for those who believe.” (An-Nahl: 79)
For many Ghanaians pursuing one’s dreams is secondary to making ends meet. The majority opt to make a living instead of making a life, and understandably so. Life can be hard, especially when you live in a country which is yet to rise to its full potential. So, it goes without saying that people who opt to take the road less traveled are often labeled rebels.
As a young Muslim woman from the Northern region, I have certainly encountered my fair share of naysayers. “What are you doing gallivanting around the world? You should come home and get married,” or “You can’t make a difference. You can’t change Ghanaian society”. Those two statements seem to be the current chorus. While many of these people might be well-intentioned, the fact remains that they don’t really know me. Heck, I’m barely done learning myself! However, that doesn’t stop me from occasionally falling for the hearsay or second-guessing my path. No, the path less traveled is ridden with doubt and how you navigate those moments will determine whether you push forth or turn back.
How exactly do you stay on your path? I wish I had a simple response to that question, but I don’t. What I have realized is that it’s important to keep in mind that Allah has a higher purpose for you; one that is being uncovered daily.
If you really and truly seek to pursue your passion and lead a purposeful life, you should not only expect, but embrace the challenges. In those challenges are opportunities for growth; moments that will eventually shape you into the person you are meant to become.
But enough of this abstract talk. The reality is that deciding to play rebel doesn’t exclude you from the mundane facts of life. You still have to eat, you have bills to pay – how exactly will you handle all the necessities and responsibilities if you’re not in it for the money? As well-accomplished people like Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou and Steve Jobs have attested, the simple response is that you won’t have to. It will be taken care of.
While I have lived in seven countries, I only paid the airfare to two of those countries – work or school handled the rest. So yes, all the messy details will be taken care of. The only caveat is that you have the courage to purposefully pursue your passion; that your faith looks beyond uncertainties; and that you practice a life of gratitude.
It’s taken me a decade to see this, but following your passion or heart – taking the road less taken – is a journey of love, faith, trust, and humility. Ultimately, it’s a journey of submission. Considering Islam means “submission to the will of God”, I’m surprised I didn’t realize it earlier. But then again, you have to leave to return. Alhamdulilahi, I took the road less traveled by, and that has truly made all the difference.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.