I am an Iranian woman born and raised in Tehran, and the life I've experienced is not ordinary compared with the typical American lifestyle. From war to economic sanctions to social repression, I have seen it all. The greatest lesson of all for me has been to be ambitious but to also pace myself and just enjoy life, because I know that everything can be taken away at any time. I have seen it with my own eyes.
I was accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in Iran, University of Tehran, to major in electrical engineering. I knew it was an achievement not to be taken for granted but I also knew there were other things in life than just studying. So I took that time to explore life and relationships and friendships and to simply become more worldly. Yes, I failed a course here and there, and I missed a bunch of finals. And honestly I can't say I know for sure how the light bulb works. But at the end of it all, I knew I would graduate.
I tried to define my own rules and interests as a woman, but no matter what, they would eventually get shut down either at home or by society. By my third year in school, I knew Iran was not for me. On August 2, 2000, I came to the U.S. after several rounds of travels to Dubai and Cypres for graduate school exams and visa appointments. I had an admissions offer from Penn State University for a graduate degree in computer science and engineering.
I made it—a dream come true. I graduated with a Master's degree and entered a PhD program because, at that time, I didn't know what else to do with my life. I did not have the self confidence to face the real world so I did what I do best: keep busy and pace myself.
Three years into the PhD program I got married and moved to New Jersey. Every day I got on the bus and went to New York City, sat in a coffee shop and did my thesis research. Soon I noticed I would rather be wandering in the streets of Manhattan than sitting and hypothesizing about some random theory I had come up with, so I decided to also get a job and be more productive.
I started as an intern in Verizon Wireless. Soon that turned into a permanent position and, as if that and a PhD candidacy were not enough, I also had my first child around the same time. For a couple of years I worked full time, traveled to Penn State once a month and coded and wrote at night and on weekends when I didn't need to take care of my baby. Life was simply not fun.
I had to make a choice to either stay in the PhD program or quit, because I was enjoying my job and didn't want to leave that. It was the very first real decision of my life, because other decisions were kind of a no-brainer, like choosing between going to the U.S. or staying in Iran, or marrying the man I loved verses not marrying him.
This one was a difficult decision to make: It was between leaving behind several years of coursework, research, sleepless nights and potentially a doctorate degree and missing out on life. So I sat down by the lake in Vasona Park in Los Gatos, CA, and thought about it for hours. I wrote down all the pros and cons and I told myself that once this decision was made there was no looking back. I decided to quit the program and choose the simple joys of life over the idea of putting a "PhD" after my name.
Did I lean back? It looks like it, but it also opened more doors for me. I excelled at my job even more than before because I was less distracted. I enjoyed spending time with my son without constantly thinking of the next algorithm I needed to code or having the guilt of not progressing as much. Life was beautiful again and still full of growth.
After all this, the lesson remains the same for me: Although I excel when I wear many hats in life I also can't wear too many of them. I will continue to grow in all aspects of my life but I will also pace myself. Life is beautiful and is meant to be enjoyed. So why not?