Photo courtesy of Shahd

US: I Am Creating My Own Path to 30

Growing up in Iraq, Shahd had a roadmap of milestones she thought she had to reach by early adulthood.

I’ve learned not to live by anyone's expectations.

Last month, I turned 29. This milestone reminded me that when I was in high school, my goal was to have a degree, a house, and to be married with two kids by age 25. Did you just laugh? Yes, I did too. None of this, except for the degree part, has happened yet. When you're young, you just underestimate how long everything takes. I honestly thought every single woman in the Middle East had to go through these stages to obtain "stability."

Here are the magical steps for happiness that I learned growing up in Iraq:

Stage 1: Schooling

Stage 2: Find Mr. Right

Stage 3: Have kids

Until you complete secondary school or college, your priority is your education. During this phase, your social network is your group of school friends, and your fun time is in your school yard.

Immediately after you complete either a high school or college degree, you start looking for "Mr. Right". Some women don’t have to find him on their own. A family member or a “marriage counselor” will do it for them. If you have ever lived in the Middle East, you will relate. These people who I call marriage counselors work just like dating sites and they do it for free just for the prestige. They match couples based on their experiences and then have their parents meet up to work things out.

Never mind that Mr. Right is mostly never right. After your degree, it’s time to get married.

As soon as you are married, you now have to show you are productive. Some couples will have two kids; some will have as many as a half a dozen. You will work your whole life trying to make a fortune to leave for your kids. You build a house; you put money in the bank. Once you're gone from this Earth, your kids will take over.

During my 20s, I watched women around me pass through the "right stages" of a woman's life. I thought I was so behind. My life was all about the three stages.

Keep in mind, I am not saying every single woman in the Middle East follows these steps. But it is widely practiced, and there is pressure to keep up. Even men feel this pressure.

Many people, including my family, told me I should have kids before I am too old to handle them. People also told me I am hard to manage, and that I have to change in order for people to want to be with me. I was also called a tomboy for wanting to pay my own bills and take care of myself. Call me proud, but I have enough feminine character; weak people hate to admit it, or they just don’t like seeing women like me being strong and independent.

As I received criticism for not progressing through the stages, I began to think something was wrong with the system I had to live by. It is not like I did not try to follow the system. I met men who I thought would be “the one”, but they turned out to be... a bad fit. If you smiled reading this, you probably went through this too.

Every time marriage was a possibility, either the men disqualified me or they did not meet my own expectations. Either way, marriage did not happen. I have always felt I am on this Earth to live out a different scenario, so I decided to set my own expectations.

Where do I stand today?

I stand in my 29 Spring Zone. The Spring Zone is what I call the positive energy that I have chosen to surround myself with. Every year, I find something more beautiful to enjoy, something I did not do the year before. This has helped me to thrive. It means I have never stopped working on myself and I never will. At 29, I realize I don’t need to get married, earn more money, or hold a better title in my job to be happy; all I really need to do is feed my soul with something magical.

I can't wait to find time to throw a saddle on a horse and just ride. I can't wait to figure out the chords to my next favorite country music song to strum on my guitar. I can't wait to get to my desk every morning and face a new work challenge. I can't wait to meet the family in the US that has become my second family for an Italian dinner and have a great laugh at some jokes I barely understand.

I thought getting close to 30 would be scary. It really isn't.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more knowledgeable, more accepting, and more communicative. I’ve made more friends, listened more, and argued less. I’ve learned not to live by anyone's expectations.

We need to learn to stop chaining ourselves to what our community wants or what our traditions tell us to do. Our traditions were created in the past, and practiced by people from the past—a past we can never be certain of. We only know what has been passed to us over the years.

It is not wrong to get married and have children if it is what you want. But I have learned through the years that life on Earth is not just about reproduction. Just because your friend took a certain path or your cousin lived a certain way, you do not have to live the same way. Create your own path and meet your own standards.

I know I will eventually start a family on my own, but I also know there is so much more in this universe to accomplish, change, and improve before I leave the Earth.


This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more

Topic Leadership
Story Awards: Aging 31Send Me Love


Hi Shahd.  How are you?  I can relate to your story.  Just enjoy being you and cherish every single day of being single, because there is always a time for everything. Reaching 30 is not old... it is just a number.  What matter is how we mature and purposely influence people to be a better person like we do.

Connect with a heart.  Live a life of empowerment. Influence to accomplished.



Thank you so much Maeann, and sorry for getting back to you this late. I had some technical issues with my WP account, I wasnt able to comment back.I agree. it is just a number. It is just up to us how this number feels to us I guess

Sending you Love


Hi Shahd.  How are you?  I can relate to your story.  Just enjoy being you and cherish every single day of being single, because there is always a time for everything. Reaching 30 is not old... it is just a number.  What matter is how we mature and purposely influence people to be a better person like we do.

Connect with a heart.  Live a life of empowerment. Influence to accomplished.



Hello Shahd, we have the same age and similar ideas concerning it. I'm happy you have a great attitude about your age just like I do.

Keep it up and I admire your willingness to keep opening up yourself to the world.



So Happy to hear this Emi. I love to reflect other's women's life too. Dont we all love to feel young before we look young? About a month ago, I went through some struggles with work and couldnt manage my finances, so I felt the need to reboot and felt like I am way older than I am. one of of my employees came to the office and out of nowhere said " You're pretty, You look  young too" . I smiled and said thanks, but to myself I said " i wish I feel young right now" :)



Dear Shahad,

This is such a very interesting story. Women and life...girls and Asia and Africa, seems...mostly...aranged mariage. I realy like the way you express the marriage counselors. In my home, around church...people are doing the same. You arethe son or daughter of a pries, pastor, or famous business man or woman, like it or not, your marriage is arranged.

None of those maraiges are sucecsful. All the friends, who went through this, end up ...with very ugly situation.

I'm called, " DIFFERENT WORLD' , because I said no, to all such kind of arrangements. I'm not going to a local church because i'm tired of this nonsense. I don't like divorce, I don't want to raise kids as a single mom or ...else.I live in my own world, and the man who can get along with me...willcome out of the blue. And if he doesn't, I'm busy and happy with my life.

So, don't worry.





Mulatwa Mosisa

Lily, I love your name. My niece's name is Lily and she is adorable :) 

I agree, it is more practiced in Middle East ad Africa. It makes me sad how some families claim to be modern, but it comes to marriage, they make it sound like a contract or a deal. Granted, some arrange marriages may work, but its very unlikely and we cannot risk our children's life by pushing them into an establishment they may not be physically, emotionally, or even financially ready for. Trust me, I can write a book about how I feel about arranged Marriages :) 



Hi shahad is with a great pleasure to reply you your story is an inspiration to u but living in a community which married is a priority is not easy to take certain decision

Mariatu Lawan

Kumba, Cameroon

Life is much more interesting than all the stereotypes they saddle our shoulder with, may we fulfill our life destiny my dearest sister.  I love you.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale Founder/Project Coordinator Star of Hope Transformation Centre, 713 Road, A Close, Festac Town Lagos-Nigeria https:

Thank you all for the great comments and encouragement. I am so happy there are more and more women out there seeking to thrive, develop and be happy out of their comfort zone. I love you. For some reason, its not allowing me to write back for every single one of you, so i hope you get my appreciation through this..


Dear Shahd,

Your post is very important. You have nicely put your point of view without any generalizations. It is great to see how you've been able to be at a place where you are today. Keep moving and inspiring us!

I feel so bad that we couldn't make it in the Ramadhan but In Shaa Allah there is always the next time.

Best of luck dear.



Aliya Bashir

Oh Aliya, Thank you so much for your comment and I am sorry we didnt make it too. Please let me know next time you're in the States. As soon as you know when, shoot me a facebook message or txt me and I will arrange it for sure 



Happy 40 Amy. I am sure there is a lot to learn and a lot to discover. I would love to hear about anything you experienced or want me to experience when I turn 40. 



Dear Shahad

The way express your feeling and opinion is really important and its really touch my heart. I really wish you all the best at each step of life.

Hello sister Shahd,

I am so happy to read your piece. I am in a society that believes a woman should get married by 25, but by finding my purpose, setting my goals straight, and working towards them one by one, I have found approaching 30s an easier task. Of course, everyday I am reminded of the fact that I need to get married and that my value is depreciating...but I find joy in knowing that I am not letting societal beliefs limit what I believe I should be doing now at 28!

Stronger together! Cheers to turning 30 soon!


Gladys Muthara,

Empowering young women through digital & Internet Literacy 

Thanks Gladys,

Do not remind yourself. Let it happen when you're ready for it to happen. To tell you the truth, you never know when you're ready. You only know when it feels right. you only know when it makes your heart glow. 



Dear Shahd,

Your story is so important and beautifully written. Your openness to describing all the pressures women face and the unfair assumptions made create a giant step forward in addressing the right for women to choose what we want to do with our lives. The responses too are creating the much needed discussion on this, a very basic human right under still extreme pressure. I have never regretted my decision not to marry and cannot imagine the pain should I have been forced. I wish for and will work for this freedom to choose for every woman. Thank you for opening this beautiful dialogue.

In sisterhood,


Thank you Tammy. I am so thankful for your support. Some people think I am selfish and want to choose my happiness over having children and starting a family. My answer to this is always this, isnt Family supposed to be my happiness too? then they be quiet like they know they are not happy and they want me to take the same path they took. I am never against getting married. I am against getting married when someone asks me to, or think it is the inevitable step to make after some time. 

Love and Respect


Great initiative and great story of your life our culture is same in Pakistan, I am 33 now and unmarried when I was too young I started telling people that I do not want to get married so things are now smooth no one bother me to get married, and believe me I feel like I am a happiest human being on earth because I live a life what i want to live I am not dictated by any one,thank you for sharing your experience so I know I am not alone  

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Thank you Zeph,

I agree with you. I actually dont mind the commitment. i am committed to my career, my family, and my hobbies. What I disagree with, is when someone expect me to live by their expectations thinking its only their way that matters. 





Dear Shahd

Being from the same country, I completely understand you, I'm 21 and individuals around me give me a feeling like I'm a ticking time bomb but what I have learnt is it vital to understand your purpose before getting married and to be truly happy with yourself before getting married. 

When i read your post I was thinking this is the future me talking 

Happy to meet you!


thanks you so much for taking the time to read my post. I am glad more and more women are making more decisions favoring their future and well being. 21 is an awesome age. Please enjoy it to the max and invest in yourself. Let me know if you need anything