We’re starting off the end of the week right with a very special guest post by NASEEM joon – enjoy!
Oh Joon Joons,
Salaams and booses from the frozen tundra of Minneapolis, MN! This is another joon from the Joon Club (is that name sticking yet, or is it just me?), Naseem Joon, affectionately sending all my love from the heartland. I’m fortunate enough to write this blog post as both a guest and fan of S&F (and Saaghi&Farrah, too!).
Let’s get intimate before proceeding: I’m half Iranian, my favorite dish is gormeh sahbzi (I have a bottomless stomach when it comes to gormeh sahbzi), and I usually take my chai straight to the head.
And I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t had fessenjoon in a while. Yikes!
I’ve been an avid reader and fan of this blog and its lovely curators for quite some time.
I find something so magical about how stories written by two women I don’t know in the flesh have touched me so deeply, made me laugh, and resonated as identical reflections of my own life and experiences as a woman of Iranian heritage in the USA. I am so moved that I have taken the liberty of telling you yet another tale of the joonies and giving a slice of my own story.
As we joons know…
Education in our culture is just as important as football and freedom to those in the USA.
Now, don’t get me wrong, because that isn’t to say education isn’t emphasized to young people in the USA, or that we Iroonis can’t get down with buff men in tight spandex or feel inspired by that screeching sound of a bald eagle against the melodic riff of an electric guitar.
In high school, I was the only one in my group of friends where not going to college wasn’t even something to entertain. Some of my friends never gave education another thought; some had babies way young; some went to school to become actors, doctors, and opera singers; and some just disappeared off the face of the earth.
Even if I had pressed my baba for some time off to think about what I wanted to do or study in school, my parents (and ameh and amoo and maman bozorg) were terrified that if I took this course of action, I’d surely never climb back on the horse and become an underachiever who never made it to college and spent her life never tapping into and harnessing her potential.
To them, college was the next and immediate step after graduating high school, and that’s where I could figure myself out and choose an appropriate academic course.
No other option.
As is my nature to play devil’s advocate for the sake of a holistic argument, I disagree with this viewpoint. I know many people who never went to college and are successful, but moreover, are happy and grateful for their stations in life and the experiences and struggles endured to make it there, despite no post-secondary education.
And though I disagree and think college is just oneway to success (and not even guaranteed, at that), I always knew I would go to college, whether it was of my own desire or having grown up in an environment where it’s expected of you.
I don’t feel as if I were forced into school—I always wanted to go. I’m just showcasing another end of the spectrum.
In Iranian culture, it isn’t a reality to not go to school. At bare minimum you get an undergraduate degree.
And, of course, the stereotype is that you will go to school to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a professor, or some other high-ranking and very respected professional in an austere industry where you will earn both lots of money and pride and honor for the family name.
So imagine my baba’s surprise when 17YO Naseem started entertaining the idea of art school. He even told me this joke:
“Naseem joon, what did the physics major say to the fine arts major?”
“You want fries with that?”
So after debating between fashion photography, musical theatre, and criminal justice, I ended up studying graphic design after taking a basic color theory and layout class in community college. That was damn near seven years ago.
And just four months ago, in the thick of my senior semester, I had a pretty interesting awakening:
I am not a born designer.
Sure, I’m creative, but I picked graphic design somewhat arbitrarily. Though I wanted more than anything to study performance arts at NYU and be a professional vocalist and actor, personal uncertainty and perceived disapproval from my family lead me to stay in the homeland and pick an academic path both creative and critical, which would provide a guaranteed degree that wouldn’t leave me serving fries to smartypants making six figures a year.
So fast forward through four years of late nights, identity and academic crises, and too many shots of cheap vodka, to right now: barely two months after graduation (aka senior show), where January in Minnesota is more depressing than the last bite of maast-o-moosir or the day after sizdah bedar.
This is a pinnacle moment full of angst questioning: had I just spent five years working on a degree I’m not sure I really want to use right away?
Had I just spent five years working on a degree in order to enter an industry that I thought was perfectly befitting yet am now questioning my place in?
Where I am now is in a place that desperately seeks to have my family’s approval and support during this stage of a fresh graduate’s ambiguous challenge of whether I made the right choice, whether I am capable of competing against fellow peers who are far more talented than I am, whether design was the right course of action.
And this thought terrifies me.
I have an image of my Iranian side of my family looking down on me for not finding professional work as a designer. Though I believe that this won’t happen, I still imagine their disapproval, clucking to themselves, “Why did you eh-study grapheec design if you are not go-eeng to vork as eh designer? Cherah, Naseem?”
Until recently, I thought that the point of a college degree was to have some official piece of paper declaring you fit for a particular career, and said paper would guide you into finding that career, and then that’s what you’d do your whole life.
You get a degree in order to do what your degree says you can do, right? If not, then why go to school, pay lots of money/rack up debt if you’re not going to become what your diploma says you are?
In my last months of college and well into the present, I had these very raw moments of self-awareness and experienced a constant yet slow state of learning about myself that, when juxtaposed against the work I was doing to earn a degree, revealed to me such intense bouts of self-actualization (aha! moments, if you will), I swore I could hear angels singing a heavenly four-part harmony as magnificent light shone down on me in some epic revelation.
I’m realizing now that college is a learning experiences that specializes you in something but cannot define you after that.
It’s one big, expensive lesson greater than the sum of your tuition, books, room and board, and portfolio costs. What I learned about my strengths and myself is just as valuable as the degree I worked for, if not more.
It’s quite all right to want to explore other professions and industries, even though I spent so long working towards one specialization.
I have two minors in art and leadership and a panache for writing and communication, so who says (other than the devil on my shoulder) that I am restricted to just graphic design for the rest of my life? I find myself in that tight place between honoring what I know is right for myself and honoring what I believe is culturally expected of me, and every day that goes by, the pressure eases ever so slightly.
But what matters is this: I got my degree.
The other thing that remains true is this: that I know my family is more proud of me than they could possibly express. And truly, it means the world to me. I know they’ll always support me in my endeavors. I just have this neurotic tendency to imagine worst-case scenarios 24/7.
I would advise any and all joons in my position to remain steadfast and true to your own heart’s desires (cue Disney music).
We should be damn proud that we have degrees and went to universities, but we should not become slaves to them because we feel pressure, whether internal or external, to do so.
The greatest thing I learned in school was during my last semester of my Leadership minor: when in doubt, follow the joy. That moment was pivotal and this quote needs to be unearthed from the catacombs and allowed to breathe fresh air on the surface.
Let us go forth valiantly into this world, giving only our best, knowing that we made ourselves and our families proud by not only going to college, but by giving back to the world the greatest gifts we each possess.
TWEET NASEEM: @NaseemJoon