A Pixelated Escape

Ziad Ahmed
Aug 3, 2016 · 5 min read

There’s something about the way the quiet of the night creeps upon me that provokes me to trespass into worlds that are not mine. It is comforting to see the same familiar faces dash across my screen with smiles, tears, and laughter, each telling me that I am not alone. More than that, each of the subtle intricacies of their lives allow me to forget about my own.

As an American-Muslim teenager growing up in a world that seems to be so intensely scared of my existence, it’s not always easy to navigate through adolescence. That’s obviously not hard to imagine, but it is each of my idiosyncrasies, passions, and secrets that haunt me so profoundly. My thirst for distraction boils down to the fact that I don’t know if I’ll ever feel good enough. I try to consume my every minute with tasks that I view are beneficial to society, myself, or my aspirations. Perhaps regrettably, I tend to focus on the latter. If my fingers are not vigorously pounding at my keyboard running my organization, flailing passionately in the air as I engage in meaningful dialogue, or pointing towards the next opportunity I can pursue, I feel as if I have failed. I might be a bit of an outlier in regards to the extremity of which I feel that I must exude excellence, but I don’t think I’m remotely unusual in the way that my thoughts form.

In a world that is so horrifyingly focused on college, success, and the future, it’s hard to ever feel like I’m doing enough to prepare for the next stage of my life. Furthermore, when the media makes it so easy to idolize those who have done such extraordinary things, it’s all too common and painful to feel unimportant. The complexities of our materialistic, hyper-driven, and rapid lifestyles have sculpted my greatest fear to be mediocrity.

This wouldn’t be a worthwhile read though if I just dragged on about the angst of schoolwork and whatnot that is quintessential to the teenage experience. If I allow myself to be authentic, it’s never the cliches that get me. Yes, I’m restless about tests, college, and friends just like any of the dazed eyes that slouch through high school hallways. However, it is reflection that keeps me up at night, so much so that sometimes I wonder whether I’m petrified of averageness or contemplation.

To give you a soundbite into the rambling entity that is me, I’m that kid you hate. I started an international teen organization at 14 that has over 150 team members from 10 different countries. I’ve recently launched a consulting company. President Barack Obama has commended me personally. My resume has more list items than I have appendages on my body to count. I don’t list all those things to be a pretentious asshole, but rather to demonstrate that I shouldn’t feel the way that I do.

My body is electrified with chills when people tell me that I’ve transformed their perspectives. I thirst for affirmation, and it’s an addiction that is as much motivating as it is destructive.

My identity has been anchored based upon my unwavering passion for social justice, equality, and the advancement of humanity, but there’s a part of me that worries that I don’t allow myself to reflect properly on any given current reality. It’s certainly problematic to have the emotional attention span of a stereotypical member of Generation Z, but it’s often intensely cowardly. My heart is moved by the atrocities that I see around the world as I scroll through my various social media feeds, yet somehow, I fail to have compassion when it comes to myself.

That fixation that I have with understanding our reality to impact meaningful change has somehow desensitized me to own reality. I’m a remarkable advocate for people that I’ve never met, but I’m a shitty friend, brother, and introspective individual. I’ve spent more time crafting tweets to respond to global tragedy this past year than I have responding to the tragedies in my own life. I don’t like to think about where I’ve gone wrong as a student, family member, and human being in my pursuit to be excellent — it’s intensely uncomfortable for me to reflect upon the choices that I have made in my life, so like everyone, I try to avoid them.

I was raised to be conditioned to go to prayer when I feel that I’ve gone astray, but that’s just another part of the problem. I believe in God, but it’s not easy to be Muslim in a climate characterized by anti-Muslim bigotry. Moreover, it’s hard to get on your knees and humble yourself when you haven’t given yourself the space to find your humility. I want to tap into my spiritual being and be the person that I know I can be, and I think that I am getting there, but it’s hard to breathe when you’re suffocated by your own thoughts.

It’s not fun to be reminded that literally everyone hates your faith, that people shittalk you behind your back, or that this world is starving for systemic change, but I’ve gotten good at processing all of that — or at least pretending to be good at processing all of that. I’ve yet to chart the territory of understanding how to balance trying to change the world with taking time to change myself. It’s not fair that the majority of the times I text my friends it is to ask them for a favor. It’s not right that I spend more time speaking at events than I spend with with my mother. It’s not healthy that I don’t prioritize myself, but hey — at least I’m writing this. I believe in baby steps, and as my fingers type these words, I believe that I can do it — I can be both ambitious and affectionate. I don’t write these because I’m sad — I write these because I’ve invested myself so deeply in my work that I don’t reflect upon sadness. Even now though, as I ponder how to not fall of the many cliffs that lead to mediocrity while simultaneously thinking about how I’ve failed as a genuine individual, my mind is begging me to return back to hulu because fantasy will always be more palatable than reality.

So, here is that moment when I no longer have the focus to soldier on in my to-do list where my mind begins to wander. There’s that moment when I retreat into the world of Olivia Pope, Lucious Lyon, and Meredith Grey, and in their chaos, I feel safe.

Ziad Ahmed

Written by

Yale ’21 | Teen Activist | Founder of Redefy | Co-Founder of JÜV Consulting | TEDx Speaker | www.ziadtheactivist.com

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