Shakespeare once said “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
My name is Hiba Antoun, and I am 20 year old female from Roum (a rural village) in South Lebanon. Growing up, I have always dreamt to be successful. But let us define success; is it having a family? Being wealthy? Making friends? Reaching your goals? It is all a matter of subjectivity, it is relative to each person and can change throughout your lifetime.
When I was younger, success for me was to get high grades at school, be a model child pleasing the community I live in and make my parents proud. However, despite abiding by the mentioned above points I couldn’t help being a troublemaker.
I have never managed to be friends with rules and regulations. I always felt the urge to stand out by breaking them whilst maintaining the societal standards. This ended up getting me in trouble and endless arguments on daily basis. What resonated in my ears is: How come a smart girl, at the top of her class would exhibit such behavior? This sentence kept repeating itself every time people would try to convince me not to be a troublemaker.
While growing up, I held this sentence with me, what bothered me was not the fact that I was a troublemaker but the fact that being a female should have been a reason for me not to be one and act according to certain norms. Therefore, I decided to start breaking this norm step by step, I kept on being the troublemaker that I was but in a positive way. It is all a matter of perspective.
It was not nice for a girl to be smart and yet dismissed from class; yet I was, and maintained a high average, proving to be both. It was not common for girls to play sports; yet I participated in every possible tournament and inspired other girls to be part in sports teams. I did both martial arts and danced ballet. Public transportation was not recommended to be used by girls alone; yet I took the public bus every day.
I went camping, volunteering since the age of 12 and trying new things. Looking at myself, that was the first step of success, to be independent and pave my way labeled as an individual in the community and not a female individual; this is to be considered the new normal.
At the age of 14, I insisted on moving to a public school to face new odds and step out of my comfort zone. This step, opened the opportunity for me to win a scholarshipwith the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program as one of 30 students from Lebanon, to spend a year in the United States with a host family as a regular student.
At the beginning, my parents did not accept the idea, and they believed that there was no reason for me to be accepted. Interview after interview, exam after exam, it was time to take the final decision. For me, it was a dream come true, for them they were not able to believe that their little “girl” will be traveling alone, and for a year! I still was not able to understand what difference it was going to make. But eventually they believed in me and I was granted the opportunity. This was my second step towards success; living a dream and developing my independence while discovering myself.
Taking this step, encouraged another female friend to apply for the scholarship the year after and so the flow went on and on. It became a matter of competency rather than gender.
Coming back after experiencing the different life style and culture abroad, my perspective on success kept changing. It became more about setting goals and achieving them, overcoming the different obstacles in life and establishing a connection with the people around you. My parents couldn’t have been prouder (although they did not agree on my leaving for a year in the first place but seeing the results changed their perspective).
Yes, I learned the importance of setting a goal; often you will end up working against the odds. Some will believe in you, others will watch hoping you fail but once you succeed they will all eventually support you. And this will result in changing norms from being out of the normal (new) to being perceived normal. And that is when you know you have succeeded in what you are doing.
Currently, I consider myself as an emerging leader; I still have that little curiosity-driven troublemaker in me, but I managed to focus this energy on being a role model. I work with children, youth and adults to inspire, support, connect and build their capacity to lead positive change in their communities.
As a 20 year old female leader and fresh graduate, my road to success as a woman keeps developing. It started from getting good grades, to changing perspectives, defining the new normal, finding myself and mission in life and it is still on-going. I dream to become a leader on a national level, carry out studies, implement projects to influence positively the new generation and contribute towards their well-being.
What keeps me going is that to dare to dream, but most importantly to have the courage to work towards that dream and make it a reality. Peaks and valleys will always be there, and failure is inevitable; just don’t let your valleys be too low and your peaks too high.
Each one of us has a mission embedded deep in their heart. And throughout the journey of life and the different experiences we discover this mission step by step. Hence, success would be to know your purpose in life, understand yourself and work towards a set vision.
To every girl and women, join me on this journey!
Hiba F. Antoun: Hiba is a 20 year old Lebanese female with a degree in Economics. She started volunteering at 12 and has been working with the Development For People and Nature Association (DPNA)since 2014. She is also a Lead Pioneer with Generations for Peace and has delivered and participated in several trainings on conflict transformation, life skills and leadership. Moreover, she is the leader of Jezzine Hub; a youth-led community center that connects, empowers and incubates youth to contribute towards the socio-economic development of the Jezzine area. Hiba is an active leader in her community, with an interest in: youth and development, youth engagement, conflict transformation, youth and entrepreneurship, active citizenship.