Thought Catalog
June 12, 2017

How It Feels To Be A Stranger In Your Own Skin

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Sana Maqsood

I was born in Saudi Arabia to ethnically Indian parents, making for a traditional, Muslim household. My family and I moved to the States when I was four, and most of my life was spent growing up in the suburbs of Chicago while building a strong connection to my religion and culture.

Religion and culture were all I knew, all that I was surrounded by.

I felt lost at a young age. I felt lost in America, and I felt lost in my own skin.

I grew up in a neighborhood which was predominantly white. And even when I was young, it made me question myself, having no idea who I was supposed to be or become.

I was confused by my own identity. A Middle East-born Indian living in Chicago. I had stereotypes and judgments to break. That’s exactly what I was set out to do, but I didn’t know that until today. I didn’t really know anything, to be honest. I was impulsive, wild, and adventurous. I wanted to see the world, but I didn’t realize I could feel free and break from cultural and religious barriers.

The first time I really left home was when I was 21. I got a chance to move to the city of Chicago from the suburbs. That was a big move. I had to fight against cultural normality of women not moving out of the house before marriage. Sounds ridiculous, I know now. It wasn’t as easy for me to say, “Hey Mom and Dad. I’m heading off to college. Bye.” (I sure wish). So for me, it was a hard fight.

I was the first of my family to move out and live in a city. It felt like a huge accomplishment. I had somehow managed to convince my parents because I knew I had this deep eagerness of wanting to be out in the world, alone. So what did I do when I moved? I wandered.

I wandered the streets with a journal trying to figure out where I belonged and where I was supposed to be. My feelings of being lost drove me to wander everywhere I could possibly go. I felt lost every day, but this time it was different because I was lost in a big city.

For some time, it was fulfilling because I found my passion for writing and photography, and met a lot of wonderful people that I hold very closely to my heart. But then it happened again. I hit a wall. The feelings came back, and I questioned if this was all there was to life. I wanted more then what Chicago had to offer.

I felt lost again. I had never thought I’d feel this way again.

So I pushed myself to chase after something bigger: a move across the country.

Today, I am living in the beautiful city of San Francisco. I am thousands of miles away from family and friends that I spent most of my young adulthood building deep relationships with. But San Francisco has opened the doors of opportunity for me countless times. I’ve been able to explore creative outlets and gain financial success while still holding onto pieces of my culture and religion. I’ve held onto the parts that made me feel safe and comfortable while being open to learning more about myself.

I am now the happiest I have ever been because I am one step closer to the person who I am supposed to be. This city is magical and the people I have met here have done wonders for my soul and personal growth.

But guess what?

I am still questioning myself here. I am still questioning if I am on the right path, or living in the right city.

I laugh when I say this because at a young age I didn’t realize how important these feelings of being lost were. They are what pushed me to leave, they are what pushed me to adventure and go get more for myself.

Feeling lost pushes me, day after day to go outside of my comfort zone and chase down dreams that I am slowly making my reality.

These feelings are what will push me to make my next move. Maybe this time to a different city, country, or career path. We will never really know everything about ourselves and that is the most exciting part.

So I hope you, too, let the feelings drive you to make impulsive decisions and wake up one day knowing life will take you down the path you are supposed to go.

It’s okay to feel lost; embrace it and see what these feelings will help you find within yourself. Because soon enough, piece by piece, you will be one step closer to finding your true identity.

And one day you won’t feel like such a stranger in your own skin. TC mark