2022: A Mental Journey

Fatima Khawaja
9 min readJan 29, 2023
one of my favorite pics from an evening run in late 2022

2022 has been a year of internal growth. Unlike other years where I celebrated materialistic goals, superficial achievements, and short-term wins (i.e., the external) — this year, I contemplated who I am, my priorities, and my purpose. While I continued to pursue my interests and follow my ambitions, I questioned my thoughts and actions on a deeper level and curated new visions for my aspirations.

I will walk you through some meaningful conclusions I reached, milestones that shaped me, moments that gave me energy, books that inspired me, and people that carried me through! (Stay till the end for a bonus ⚡️)

💎 Insights:

Follow along as I uncover critical philosophical insights and journal pieces that now shape my worldview. Disclaimer: these thoughts are my own and may not correspond with popular opinion.

  1. You’re given a piece of paper preceding your existence and informed of a majestic sphere of life you’ll entertain for the next 80 years. A voice then instructs you to plan a hypothetical trajectory of your time on Earth and to note emotions you want to feel, people you want to surround yourself with, and morals you want to remain grounded to in the set span of years. Do you believe your life trajectory aligns with the trajectory you would have scribbled in pre-existence? My answer was no. Many negative emotions I feel today — stress, anxiety, and pressure — are byproducts of my presumed association between sacrificing joy in the short term to enduring long-term success. The more I contemplated this abstract notion, the more I recognized the authority I wield over my embodied emotions. While grievances are inevitable at various phases of life, they shouldn’t be present beyond what can be controlled. Similarly, the people we cherish and the morals we manifest should be independent of the valuable environments/influences imposed on us.
  2. Humanity exists in the same physical plane yet in different mental spaces.
  3. We, as a society, have been mechanically wired to obey societal normalities from a young age to the extent that we now fail to derive logic from our actions and configure the merit of our lawfulness. Stopping at red lights avoids fatal car accidents. Pressing the crosswalk button alerts the traffic signal that a pedestrian wants to cross. Putting a hard hat on in a construction zone warrants safety precautions against deadly injuries. Hand-raising in classrooms stimulates an ideal environment for learning by preventing chaos. The list of citizen lawfulness is endless. The other day, I was biking at an intersection when a couple caught my eye. They stood silently at an intersection, waiting for the crosswalk signal to flicker in their favor. It was evident that the intersection was clear of cars for miles (with some emphasis), and there was no hazard preventing them from proceeding across the road. But no. The couple looked robotic and chained to imaginary bars, bolting them in place until a supreme power commanded them to move. Or freed their chains. And yes, they moved synchronously at the audible countdown of the crosswalk signal. While this elaborate revisit of the scene dramatizes an instance of society mindlessly following laws (that keep civilization in order), it seems that we have internalized lawfulness to levels of insanity. Even when these laws hold no merit, we cease to realize that there will be no negative consequence to our “law-breaking.” We are now slaves of a higher order that regiments our thinking, actions, and behavior.
  4. No matter what a person achieves, their final destination is the same (burial underground).
  5. We won’t experience the peak technological innovations we will spend the rest of our lives contributing toward.

The above are selected excerpts (or paraphrased texts) from my journal.

If it isn’t clear, I’m always down to have philosophical conversations!

🚗 Milestones:

In 2022, I began to define achievements as feats that result in meaningful outcomes — whether a step closer to ending poverty or suppressing tobacco use in marginalized communities. While winning a medical competition or breaking a Guinness World Record are praiseworthy deeds, they have been accomplished numerous times before and arguably haven’t changed the world for the better. Hence, I have started focusing more on meaningful achievements than trivial, superficial wins.

2022 was a year of many firsts. While these firsts, or milestones, may not be critical achievements, they have structured a foundation for later feats.

Ten milestones that I’m grateful for:

  • Experiencing my first in-person summer internship at LatchBio (in San Francisco)
  • Co-authoring a white paper (in review) with UC Berkeley scientists
  • Becoming 1 of 17 Character Lab Youth Advisors nation-wide
  • Co-authoring and publishing a research paper on sickle cell disease
  • Implementing anti-tobacco ordinances in Union City
  • Co-leading 900 James Logan High School students through the voting pre-registration process (thanks, Ms. Dunkle!)
  • Becoming a National Youth Ambassador against tobacco
  • Consulting for Walmart Blue Labs
  • Running a 10-mile race in San Francisco (and winning in my age group!)
  • Getting closer to the people I cherish the most: my family

💭 Recollections:

Every year —roughly 31 million seconds! — is filled with countless memories. Each memory is an isolated time capsule that can be recounted and cherished for life. While every year brings thousands of precious memories, I will highlight a few of these “time capsules” that expanded my worldview and provided meaning to my life in 2022.

  • Having 2-minute lessons with my older brother (Hassan) every night: my brother, currently pursuing a Ph.D. program, is one of the most knowledgeable people I know (hands down). Learning even a fraction of his novel insights quickly became a daily highlight.
  • Chatting with my eldest brother (Hamza) every weekend: my eldest brother, residing a half-hour away, often visits on the weekends. I love speaking with him about his experiences as a founder and life. Likewise, he is one of the wisest people I know. I am very grateful that 2022 brought us closer through unexpected ways.
  • Hanging out with my sister-in-law (Hanna): each memory I have is nothing but love, laughter, and warmth. I can’t express how lucky I am to have a sister figure I can lean on in times of difficulty, bliss, and everything in between.
  • Studying in libraries around the Bay Area: after getting my license in late 2022, I’ve had more autonomy to discover new places. I particularly liked libraries and spent hours every weekend at various locations. The change in environment, the peaceful atmosphere, and the diverse people I’ve found at libraries are unmatched.
  • Discovering my ancestral background: in mid-2022, I retrieved my DNA results from 23andMe and found that I’m 0.4% Sardinian, 20% Afghan, 55% Pakistani, and 25% Indian. While I was expecting my ancestral DNA to be traced back to Pakistan, the other percentages were surprising.
  • Biking in December: I enjoyed biking with my dad alongside the creek in the freezing weather and feeling parts of my face go numb while pushing my body to its untested limits.

📖 Books:

While every book embodies novel truths, the transpiration of each book’s morals to the real world depends on the discipline of the reader. In 2022, I prioritized understanding and applicability over the number of books I consumed, hoping to maximize implementation over transitory processing.

Reading is tranquility. It is the detachment from chaos and immersion into an isolated universe.

The three books below informed untaught perspectives and imparted instrumental wisdom that I’ve carried into the new year:

  1. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  2. The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter
  3. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Let me know if you want my book list or summaries of the books above!

💓 People:

I’m beyond lucky to have a network of incredibly supportive people. Below is a fraction of the people that carried me through 2022:

  • Family: my parents, brothers, and sister-in-law are the glue that keeps me in one piece through life’s inevitable ebbs and flows.
  • Extended family: visiting Mishaal Apa, Nathan Bhai, Mahira Chachi, and Zaheer down in LA was very heart-warming. I look forward to reuniting with them soon!
  • Friends: nothing is possible without friends who support your endeavors and put a smile on your face amid uncertainty. I’m grateful for Sabrina, Sia, Nia, Anoushka, Anushka, Somya, Briseis, Anika, Rihana, Abosede, Shana, Gia, Ananya, Angel, Syona, Anushri, Simran, Selin, Ciara, Rachel, Sasha, Zaynah, Alina, Anusha, and several others.
  • Mr. Polk: Mr. Polk has accommodated nuanced issues concerning my schedule and always has positive responses to my requests. I am beyond grateful to be a student at James Logan during his time as principal.
  • Ms. Dunkle: Ms. Dunkle has proved to be an invaluable mentor and supporter. After collaborating with her to organize the pre-registration event at James Logan, it became clear how purpose- and impact-driven she is. I’m lucky to have crossed paths with such a powerful leader.
  • Ms. Badella: Ms. Badella has given me invaluable advice and funds for my nonprofit, Mossaic. Her buoyant passion for Mossaic’s work and wise insights are beyond what I hoped for.
  • Dr. Azwell: Dr. Azwell has proven to be an invaluable mentor who models a diligent work ethic while exposing me to cutting-edge research.
  • LatchBio family: Kyle, Blanchard, Aditya, and Jasmine collectively became a second family to me. Even as the youngest person (by a long shot), the four masterfully modeled what it means to be warm-hearted, driven, and humble all at once.
  • Mentors: I’m immensely grateful to have met with mentors from different walks of life. Each has provided me with life advice that will save me years of experience: Caitlyn, Leo, Roya, Fatima, Ahmed, Nadah, Saya, Riya, Eric, and Abou (these are just a few).
  • Brandon and Mikaela: I owe most of my growth this year to Brandon and Mikaela — the two people I will forever look up to for advice.
  • Laiba: Laiba was my first “older sister” and continues to shower me with warmth and affection despite the hundreds of miles between us. Spending time with her for even a single day was an immense blessing.
  • Rukaya: I’m ecstatic to begin my book-writing journey with Rukaya — a fellow National Youth Ambassador in the anti-tobacco space. Rukaya has the perfect blend of enthusiasm and drive, which matches my energy perfectly.
  • Selin: Selin always impresses me with her creativity and passion. I’m excited to launch a project with her later this year.
  • Sharana: meeting Sharana was a highlight of 2022. I’m excited to continue project journeys with her and hopefully launch a few things down the road :)
  • Teachers: each of my teachers has contributed to my overall academic and social growth — this includes Mrs. Noche, Mrs. Vuong, Mr. Lockwood, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Henderson, and Ms. Sekar.

I’m sure I missed several people who contributed to my 2022. I appreciate you.

💐 Quote of the Year:

A man is never happy, but spends his whole life in striving after something that he thinks will make him so; he seldom attains his goal, and when he does, it is only to be disappointed; he is mostly shipwrecked in the end, and comes into harbour with mast and rigging gone. And then, it is all one whether he is happy or miserable; for his life was never anything more than a present moment always vanishing; and now it is over. — Arthur Schopenhauer

⚡️ Bonus:

As cliche as it sounds, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a pictorial version of my 2022:

In 2023, I have broadly defined my goals:

  1. engage with people who enhance my character, insight, and intellect
  2. don’t float with the tide; remain grounded
  3. keep climbing; the peak is always closer than it appears

Thanks for reading 💗

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Fatima Khawaja

Exploring the many domains in life. Student, writer, scientist, explorer.