We often wake up and start our days by looking up at the ceiling, just laying there on our comfortable bed, thinking how our day is going to be, planning the itinerary in our head. We often hear from others about how their day has been off to a bad start and it’s the reason for their bitter mood throughout the day. There are 86,400 seconds in a day. A wise person once said if you have $86,400 and someone stole $20 from that, would that cause you to throw away the remaining $86,380? Time is similar; if someone ruins 20 seconds of your day, would you throw the rest of your day away because of that?
My name is Ashna Rana and I am 21 years old. I was born in Queens, New York and raised in Long Island, New York. We live in a world where everyone plans to succeed as they grow. Sometimes, we read articles or stories online and think to ourselves like, “Damn, how can I ever complain about my life when others have been through hell and back?” or, “I’m privileged to have the life I have, yet I still find ways to come down on myself.” I personally feel that way when I read other peoples stories online and try to relate myself with them. I often think that my “struggles” aren’t as significant so why do I voice it when there’s not much to it?
As a young creative, I saw life in a different way than my family did. Art, abstract ideas, activism, understanding other people and their backgrounds all inspired me. When it came to deciding a future for myself, I applied to colleges blindly; trying for whichever were liberal enough in my mind for me to explore my passions. As I entered into Stony Brook as a Political Science major, one that my parents weren’t too excited about, the struggle with grades, future, and social life all accumulated to send me downhill in the span of 3 months.
I bombed the easiest courses, those that non-political science majors took for easy A’s. It caused me to question whether I had the voice to create my own platform within the NGO world. Within those first couple of months, my friendship with my best friend of 9 years came to an end. The fears I had built up throughout college came towering down at once when the trust we once had between us diminished and left me incapable of looking at her or talking to her; I wanted nothing to do with her. The story behind all of that is one for another time, but all I know is no relationship is immune to breaking, even those that you rely on the most. During a time when I was in need of my best friend, my rock, she wasn’t there to be by my side. I hadn’t realized how much I depended on her until I had to deal with being on my own and realized my own social anxiety took over so much of my mind every day. Fear of being alone made me think many times if I should reach out to her and try to reignite our friendship, but once that trust is broken there’s no amount of forgiveness that would allow us to be friends again.
Once I took a step back, being upset about any of this seemed stupid because I had friends who were struggling with things I couldn’t even imagine going through. Despite me thinking my fears and problems weren’t trivial, my mind stayed fixated on them and ran constantly throughout the day tracking down everything I was doing wrong. Meeting someone for the first time and having an awkward silence made me believe I wasn’t capable of being a sociable human since I was so used to having my old best friend with me through it all. My lack of progress in classes made me believe I was incapable of succeeding in college. The anxiety ran through me constantly, day in and day out, and left me drained and confused on how to push forward. Through all of this, I dedicated almost 60% of my entire college time to being on the Bhangra Team, whether that meant practices, meeting with friends, or just dancing. Though, what took up the most time is what really kept me grounded and sane throughout my first two years, but this explanation to my parents didn’t go very well. Trying to explain my grades and lack of a future path and my commitment to my dance team to my parents is what absolutely broke me.
I’ve seen my parents struggle from nothing in an unknown country by themselves, as any child of a South Asian immigrant has. My father has worked countless hours from stacking boxes at Macy’s to eventually owning his own animal hospital. My mother went from attending pharmacy school while being pregnant with her first child to becoming a self-sufficient and educated Pharmacist. They put up and fulfilled all my countless childlike demands although they didn’t have the resources to afford it; from purchasing that $50 robotic dog in second grade that every one of my friends had, to buying an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt in fourth grade because I was the only kid in class that didn’t have one. I treasured that collared maroon shirt with my entire life, when in reality I should have been treasuring the sacrifices my parents had made for me to be able to grow up in such a loving family. Even when I came home after my first semester, and then second semester, and then third semester and showed them my grades, they of course scolded me but never once lost trust in my ability to achieve my goals. The average person I think would find that encouraging, but their trust in me made my heart ache more to the point where I didn’t know if I was ever capable of making them proud, capable of giving back to them what they provided for me for 21 years of my life, or capable of being successful. They were supportive when I chose to take AP Art and devote my time to being President of the Diversity Club, taking up almost 20 hours every week that I could have spent with my family, and never compared me to other family friends’ kids, or made me feel any less than any other boy or girl. Even after talking to them about everything on my mind, they never tried to take Bhangra away from me because they understood how much I depended on it. They instilled courage, hard work and mental strength, yet those months were the weakest and darkest I had felt. But I wouldn’t give them up for anything because I learned what I, Ashna, wanted from my life.
I learned that I can never be dependent on anyone to take care of me, and the only person that will ever fully be able to support myself is me. I learned that I don’t have to give up on being a creative, or dancer, or idealist in order to be successful. I learned that my parents and siblings see my successes even when I don’t and I need to trust them. I learned that my personality is unique and I have a voice that should be used more to project my thoughts and ideas because they are valuable. The time it took to for me to heal and understand was lengthy, and couldn’t have been done without my family and friends supporting me.
Now, as a senior at Stony Brook, I can see my growth throughout these four years, and I can reflect back on the points in my life that have allowed me to be confident in myself and my voice. I yearn for opportunities in which I learn new skills and engage with content that still sparks the nerdy activist in me that hasn’t died out since 12th grade AP Government class. I understand that my personality can have multiple faces that shine out when given the opportunity, but I know that I have to create those opportunities for myself instead of waiting for them to be given to me. I wholeheartedly believe that having a second family within my Bhangra Team and being around such a supportive group of people taught me the importance of supporting my family and friends and passing on the love we have for each other to all the future members of our team as well.
What I’ve learned is that it’s not about how big or small your struggles are, but it is what you internally struggled with in the past that made you who you are today. As a female, I encourage both men and women to go out and achieve whatever they dream of. Why? Because there is no one out there that will hand it to you as you just continue dreaming about it. If you can dream about it, you should be able to find the strength and faith within yourself to go after what you really want. I am thankful for my struggles because it really made me who I am today and will continue to better me as I grow closer to my dreams. People that hate, will talk. People that love, will support. Always surround yourself with positive vibes and keep going. At the end of the day, it's your life. It doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you end it.
“Am I not good enough? What is wrong with me? Is there something I need to change about myself for people to talk to me and try to be my friends? Is there something I need to do, just so I could have friends?” Growing up, I have learned to love being alone as an individual. It has made me become an independent human being. Being brought up as an Indian girl in this society, who still believes that being born as a girl, is a curse. Well, I am here to tell you otherwise. Being born as a girl in my family, where my parents accepted me for who I am, is one of the biggest blessings I can ask for. Getting used to being alone and trusting myself to get what I want to achieve or what I have dreams for, I have learn to convert my struggles into one of the positive things I adore and appreciate in life.
My name is Ashna Rana and this is my Project Why.