Happy New Year: Transcendence from Survival to Revival

“If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

{Featured Photo: Painting entitled “Celebrating Milestones,” which symbolizes hope, celebration, and moving forward, while still trying to put the different puzzle pieces together. Part of the “Painting Heals…Pakistan” auction.}

Dear Fellow Warrior,

Happy New Year! I am a little late again this year, with this post. But as I had stated the past two years, better later than never. 🙂 Let us go ahead and extend that to 2023 now… I like extensions… 🙂

I keep a daily journal, Julia Cameron’s (The Artists Way) suggestion of Morning pages. I think the day I am able to write the new year, 2023, is the day I consider the start of my new year… So I made it now…

Hello, 2023! And today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I tend to start my new year this week, anyway, a few weeks into the year….warming up… that’s when it hits me.

This piece will capture much of what I had written on Facebook and Instagram on New Year’s eve, polished up for this piece for my records and largely for my reflections on the end of 2022…

2022 was even harder than 2021, because there was so much you wanted to achieve, not having met my goals in the way I aspired to for 2022, and it could not happen, because of the confusion of what you have lost and what you have gained… in the most challenging transition of your life…

I dedicated my time for these reflections, as I normally do, to help set the right mentality for 2023… But I guess it just needed more time…. as everything does…

And as I sat down to write my traditional annual personal reflections, I was able to let go of what I was not able to do, and appreciate what progress I did make, even if it had to be slow….there were seeds planted…. and that is what matters… and 2023 will have to be the year to continue to plant those seeds

When thinking about the highlights and reflections for 2022, I think the greatest and most necessary accomplishment for me, considering the hardest transition of my life, and the state of my health, was being able to “Give Salaam to the morning again”, and through the “dignity of work” as I described in this post: http://www.warrioretkqueen.com/the-dignity-of-work/ … now coming close to one year since I gained the honor of working at a reputable International Education NGO in our nation’s capital.

I was happy to begin 2022, with my first primary-author scholarly article from the dissertation research, published in a Journal of Asian Public Policy Special Issue, on “Localization,” in a year when “locally-led development” started trending at a stronger level across the int’l development industry… It took me a while to secure the journal below, and to be able to gift a copy of the journal and my dissertation books to my father, my Committee members, and I was relieved to have done that finally mid 2022. It brought a sense of release for me as well, and it was a great feeling of accomplishment there as well.

In the second month of 2022, February, after 20 years, I returned to salute the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington Cemetery, honoring my 20-year Anniversary of the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) on Defense, Intelligence, and Diplomacy, my first time in DC when the dreams began, and on that week, I started my first job after 7 months of fighting post-defense, and applying to over 150 applications, at The American Councils for International Education. I wrote about that experience here in this post: https://www.warrioretkqueen.com/honoring-milestones-and-a-dream-of-20-years/ . It would have been 8-9 years since I had my last full time employment, due to my transition to full-time study.

Unfortunately photos are gone and facing some technical difficulties with this site, as usual, but will work on fixing this.

Tragically, that same week when I started at the American Councils, Russia invaded Ukraine, it was heartbreaking and devastating for all.

I joined my doctoral School graduation celebration in May this year, closing out a mega-chapter of my life, and continuing new endeavors.

I went on to support the development of proposals for international educational programs, for places like Ukraine & Tajikistan. It was humbling to have been part of a hard-working team that won more proposals in the department’s history, & especially to support winning an educational program in Ukraine.

And then… I discovered the fascinating Republic of Georgia, an American Councils favorite destination, learning about American Councils’ field operations, serving as a Flight leader for remarkable Georgian Flex exchange students.

I fell in love with the people & cuisine, & I even went on my first hot air balloon ride in Tiblisi, and ziplined down the mountain with a lovely Russian gentleman, facing my fear of heights! I put the video up on YouTube because I thought it was kinda funny… and also memorable … not many engaged it… People who know me might find my voice funny, but others would understandably cringe… we march on anyway… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anCgHM9mx1c

In Georgia, I also shared my stories of conducting qualitative fieldwork on Pakistan for the first time ever with the Georgian FLEX Alumni community at an invited talk, where I connected the notions of “hospitality” & “empowerment” (which I encountered in my Masters and Doctoral Pakistan Fieldwork) to my time in Georgia as well.

I shared the session on Youtube as well: https://youtu.be/cAeAbB2u5Cg

Here is the blog post I wrote on my professional website: https://www.elsatkhwaja.com/2022/08/18/suitcase-stories-in-georgia-a-storytelling-moment-on-cultural-immersion-in-pakistan/

While not directly working on Pakistan or Afghanistan, I was grateful to be able to continue my academic agenda this year, presenting 2 papers, at the APSA Annual Convention in Montreal, Canada, the first time at an international academic conference as a Dr. …

I ended this year with an indie-art fundraiser for Flood relief efforts in Pakistan, which has come off to a great start this year!

I think I have shared this before throughout the past year, but it is no secret that the period after a doctorate degree is a very difficult transition. That is an understatement when you top it with a pandemic and an economic recession. Cases vary, but I know that from what I shared online, here, for me indeed, it remains the most trying transition of my life. I did reach ‘the top of a mountain, only to realize I was at the bottom of another’… A commonplace saying, that I have begun to understand only after completing my PhD….

I know when I completed my degree, it was obvious I needed help, and I was struggling, and many people knew it too. No one really offered. I did reach out, and asked a few people for some help, even just to have a conversation, and the few that helped were Professors in the way they could, but most did not respond or follow through, so the rejection and pain from that prevented me from seeking help from others, and my pride of trying to do everything on my own got to me as well. I would not wish that on anyone if I knew the level of their difficult transition. To be “walking alone” at such a trying time collectively, when you have so much to give to the world, when you bravely speak your authentic truth and have an important message with your story, is not easy…

And to start at the bottom again, was a hard but very important & truly humbling realization, and I am still learning, evolving on this. I may have lost my identity as a “student,” but I gained the “dignity of work” in a trying & changing global era. And “humility” is important to embrace in Academia.

My story will be of someone with humble beginnings, going from the bottom up… and the trials I faced allowed me to identify and have greater empathy and compassion for those without privileges… as Dr. Martin Luther King would state. That is why with respect to the scars and traumas of our past, while we must let go, we must never forget it for that reason.

I ended last year, disappointed with not achieving all I wanted to accomplish, and once again feeling the misery and depression similar to the year before, realizing that people are not behind me…. and not being able to advance my research further at a critical time for the region I have studied for 15+ years.

But I am still so so happy to be of service through an amazing International NGO, to help others achieve their academic and professional dreams as well, and it is a blessing to continue to be a “Student for Life,” in this process… Today, MLK day, is recognized as National Service Day, and this is what I need to remember as I continue a service-oriented role..

I am with gratitude to embrace the “dignity of work”, and to have given me a home this year and welcomed me to a diverse, multi-talented, dynamic, star-studded team working to enhance educational opportunities around the world, helping me become a better professional, educator, leader, and person. And I look forward to more collaborations and new worlds.

As a society, we must not forget, beyond the Covid-era, how important it is that we take a chance on people, as well as new and unexpected opportunities. I know I plan to pay it forward through service and through my scholarship. I was so grateful when my PhD Chair and Committee took a chance on my massive doctoral project on Pakistan and Afghanistan, on a very pertinent and urgent topic that will remain relevant for decades to come. And I appreciate that American Councils took a chance on me and gave me a home to continue that dream of being of service, of living, working, and studying, in our Nation’s Capital and for people around the world.

Beyond being able to achieve the “dignity of work”, while I was not able to surpass my imposter syndrome this year, and publish my work in the mainstream, I published close to 30 blog pieces on my personal blogs, with 10 pending as almost complete drafts on my personal blog, and more creative pieces than I have in a long time, this year. This is still a big deal… I also wrote my first piece on medium here, which I started writing in Islamabad 4 years ago:

Not many people read this, I was hoping that it may elicit some conversation with people who have done fieldwork in Pakistan or fieldwork in general, but I will work on translating some of this to a journal or a third-party medium with an editor perhaps.

Something very important to me is that I finally started my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/@drElsaWQ .

The first video there explains my reasoning for it.

I am so proud, that despite my anxiety disorder, and my challenges, I was able to finally start that. It was so important for me, and it will plant the seeds and help me achieve my goals in the long run. I hope to be more active on it in 2023, inshallah…

And I stated earlier, I am so proud that I was able, before the beginning of 2023, to put together a painting auction for Pakistan flood relief:

“Painting Heals…Pakistan”


I aspired to hold a gallery of all my paintings, with a graduation celebration after my PhD, since many of those paintings were completed during my doctorate studies. I couldn’t do that, so I am grateful to instead gift them to donors of important charities to Pakistan flood relief. All the info is there. It has come off to a great start and I am looking forward to sharing more of my art and passion with the world through this vision and initiative, and for a larger, important cause beyond myself.

It is my hope that I move forward in this new year, perhaps not fully letting go of all the traumas and disappointments and heartbreaks magically, but simply to keep moving so that I won’t be stuck in perfectionism paralysis, imposter syndrome, and have the past trauma hold me hostage like it did all 2022.… So far it has been a rough start, as it always is…but I am slowly gaining some momentum and will push through and like Epictetus says, “persist and resist.” We start by this very “reflection”: not lamenting what we could not do, and focusing on and appreciating the progress we made..

But when I think about this, I realize that they didn’t hold me back…they nearly killed me… as I had to call 988 multiple times at the end of 2022, which was not helpful, and it may have prevented me from finishing unfinished projects, but I pushed through regardless and I am still here… so once again, survival…survival is something we must all celebrate.. both personally and collectively again this year…

While I could say more, I have written a book so I will just stop here. But for these Chronicles, the story must continue…. and it will… even from Surviving the some of the most challenging years of my life… I anticipate even greater challenges ahead and I will be prepared for them.

Some of us do need these reflections, need to write that list (however short or long – both the small successes and the grand successes), to review our progress, not to make others upset, envious, or jealous or intimated from our successes and breakthroughs, but because we also had so many losses that made us believe we didn’t have those gains. We are only competing against ourselves, year after year. No one else.

I thank those who gave me and my voice a chance the past year.… and throughout my entire journey, and who blessed me and graced me with their company this year… Even if it took 5, 6, 7, or 8th chances to give me a chance. 🙂 😉

To my dearest friends, colleagues, family, and peers, I do cherish you, and I hope we can find opportunities to reconnect, stay connected, learn and grow with one another in 2023. I hope that we support one another, not compete with each other and be jealous, but rather be happy for one another, show love, mercy and compassion, and understanding, especially for those struggling.

I know I have disappointed people. Through my authenticity. Through revealing who I am. Through not being able to mask my truth. Through choosing to remain authentic through the toughest times. You have to continue to be exactly who you are.. Growth is necessary. Changing your Stars is a different story, and I believe it comes with practicing authenticity and not being afraid, and having the courage to show up as who you are

I hope I can do this in such a way that I don’t care if people are behind me or not…

Because true warriors, believers, friends, and people who love you, will keep rooting for you, through your authentic recovery.

You gotta find something, anything, that will keep you alive, and just do it, for the sake of staying alive, for survival, if nothing else. But hopefully it can become for something more.

I am glad I am still alive... at least for the moment. And I hope I do keep the effort going to survive and revive and thrive. As Dr. MLK proclaims…Keep moving. As Dr. Brene Brown demonstrates, Keep showing up. As Dr. Maya Angelou implies, share the untold story.

There is still so much to do….

Keep Moving. Keep Showing Up. Keep Sharing Your Story.

Stay resilient. Stay empowered. Stay Connected.

Thank you so much for taking a moment to read this post.

Please forgive me for the lengthy, cathartic, late, but necessary farewell to 2022.

Have a very happy, successful prosperous, and beautiful new year!


Peace, Warmth, and Solidarity,

Your Sister, Dr. Elsa, Warrior KQueen

“She wasn’t looking for a Knight. She was looking for a Sword.” – Atticus

“I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to give my life for those who have been left out… This is the way I’m going. If it means suffering a little bit, I’m going that way… If it means dying for them, I’m going that way.”

Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Take a chance! All life is a chance. The man who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.” Dale Carnegie

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou

“The willingness to show up changes us, it makes us a little braver each time.” – Dr. Brene Brown

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“‘Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
“No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“To be great is to be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

#education #community #learning #gratitude #Leadership #Reflections #PhDJourney #NewBeginnings #HappyNewYear #happynewyear2022 #HappyHolidays

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