How I Made my #LifeGoals a Reality


Every now and then, I will see girls tagging their friends in my photos and say #lifegoals.

It’s funny reading the I wish this was my life comments, because everything I have accomplished and built is completely attainable by anyone. Sometimes I wish I could just scream it through my phone.

I was always the day dreamer looking out the window, I never knew exactly where my life would take me but I knew that I wanted to build it myself. Ever since a very young age I was completely enamored with creating. It could be arts, crafts, or school projects; I just loved being the architect watching my visions come to life and this passion carried over into adulthood. I’ve never worked a 9 to 5 and have always been my own boss and on my own terms, from working as a photo-retoucher, to an internationally-published photographer, and now a blogger living in my dream city. What I’ll decide to dabble in next is a mystery but I’m confident in my passion to learn, explore, and turn it into a living. The last thing I want to do is write a vanity piece on myself *cringe* but so much of my audience is at that pivotal crossroad stage of life, I am hoping that with this post, I can help inspire and provide some guidance.


Let’s face it, everyone wants to be a blogger these days but not everyone has a tech-saavy-photographer-boyfriend or a dream team behind them like a lot of these A-list bloggers do. I always moan that I wish I had the same resources as the girls that I look up to – but the fact is that I don’t. The up-side is that there is such a full sense of satisfaction with every accomplishment, deal-closed, and successful project in the books when it is all done on your own from start to finish. I do hope to have a dream team behind me one day, but I’m proud to say that in the mean time… I got it handled. 🙂

Today I am sharing with you the genesis of my story. No, it wasn’t a makeup class, or sitting in on a blogging seminar.. it was my 7th grade computer class. Yes, a general middle school class that I attended a couple days a week for a quarter of the school year was the catalyst for everything to come over the next 17 years & hopefully the rest of professional life.

The Journey to the Dream

Occasionally, you will hear people say that “finding out what you want is the hardest part”. I respectfully disagree. Finding out what you want is easy compared to building out the roadmap to get to that goal. The core building blocks of that roadmap, in my humble opinion, will always come down to hard work and education. I use the term education broadly, it isn’t so black or white, not literally a business degree or a computer science degree. Knowledge is something we should all continuously be striving for, stay thirsty my friends. You might be wondering how this middle school computer class was the inception for Irene Mahmud the photographer (maiden name) or irenesarah the blogger. It was my door to a vast labyrinth of creative outlets where I could get lost forever.

We spent the last few weeks of the school year in 1999 learning basic HTML and creating our own Geocities websites. I had to use a fake birthdate because the minimum age to open an account was 13, ha! After these few short weeks, I became obsessed. I spent my summer vacation teaching myself more HTML as well as basic JavaScript and CSS and began running my first “site” – today it would be called a blog but this was a time long before social media. I wanted my site to be pretty so I got myself a copy of Photoshop 5.5 and taught myself how to use it. These hobbies kept me busy for years and I was thirsty to learn more and explore throughout highschool and college. I registered for all kinds of different classes: Cisco networking, computer programming, computer science, graphic/web design.. the list goes on and on. None of these fully stuck with me but I truly believe that education is never a waste, you never know when something you’ve learned in a “pointless” class will have an application in the real world. Fast forward to college, I was able to quit working part-time receptionist jobs because a few photographers would regularly hire me to retouch their photos. I was able to work out of my dorm room at any time of the day. From there I got cocky thinking “I could shoot these better”, splurged on some equipment, quickly became an established photographer in Detroit’s industry, and got the keys to my own studio while I was still in college. What does coding have to do with being a glamour photographer? Directly and literally.. nothing at all. But in the grand scheme of things.. absolutely everything

At 12 years old, I was able to pick up tangible digital skills that allowed me to continue my education on my own. I am still a novice at best but having a basic understanding and foundation allowed me to feel comfortable with the digital world, it allowed me to be self reliant – never depending on developers or web designers to market myself as a photographer or now.. a blogger. I never had to submit support tickets when my website or blog had a glitch, and I never had to cringe at my blog layout wishing I could find someone to revamp it for me. Anything my indecisive, creative, fickle brain wanted.. I delivered.

Institute of Code

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my blog and I realized that as self-reliant as I see myself sometimes.. where would I be without a platform like WordPress? Reality set in. I’ve fallen behind and I am dependent on a third party. If I had to build my blog again from scratch, I wouldn’t be able to. I just don’t have the technical skills to pull it off anymore and the web has changed so much in the past two decades. Then I stumbled across an incredible coding program called Institute of Code. It is a 10-day class in the most beautiful of locations (Bali, Indonesia & Sayulita, Mexico) – talk about #TravelGoals & being a #GirlBoss at the same *clap* damn *clap* time! I have my fingers way way crossed to attend their retreat in Bali next month and have been chatting with one of the founders, Tina. The entire program gets me super giddy and excited. It’s like falling in love all over again lol!

Let me tell you why this program resonates with me so much, and why I think we all need to go. My parents shamed me my entire life for not studying enough or for having too much fun. To them, studies weren’t supposed to be fun and fun was only reserved for summer vacation — when they weren’t shoving SAT books down our throats of course. Institute of Code is a rebel against the philosophy that education has to be a difficult, unenjoyable struggle. In her own words, Tina’s explanation is — “We believe that when people are motivated and inspired, when they have all of their needs catered for and when you remove all the messy distractions of life in creates an environment of accelerated learning”

I’ll be completely honest, I was never a great student. I learn extremely fast and my test scores were great, but my day to day studying and homework were no bueno. My parents made it such a miserable time that the last thing I ever wanted to do was.. it. My creative passions were never nurtured, and I wasn’t allowed to do them. My mom would say that I could only draw during summer vacation or that I could hang out with my friends and have fun “when you’re a doctor”. Luckily, my dad was excited and supportive about my interest in computers and design, he was able to see that I was developing a very valuable skill-set. I love that this program takes the philosophy I try to share with you about life, and create a learning experience based on that. To make a 10-day coding course not only enjoyable but.. heavenly! Bali is a place on most of our bucket-lists, a once in a lifetime type of place. To be able to escape the stress of everyday life and experience Bali, while also leaving with a skill-set so valuable during the digital age is priceless.

I know that a large part of my audience is South Asian, like myself, with very similar pressures and expectations. I get messages regularly from girls desperate to chase a dream outside of medicine, law, or engineering but don’t know how to get their families on board to support a creative path like the one I’ve taken. First, I think it’s so important to know exactly what you are looking to pursue so you can solidify the steps behind it. If your end goal is to have a million followers and be famous just because you’re pretty, this is not for you. If you are passionate about learning, creating, and are open to the different paths coding can take you.. let’s keep talking. 🙂

The Future is Digital

Everyone will be interacting with the digital world or will be reliant on developers that do. Graphic designers, entrepreneurs, bloggers, marketers, every path can be enhanced and accelerated with the right skills; and in this time.. these skills are coding.

“We don’t teach people maths so that they can become a mathematician, we teach it because it’s a life skill that is woven through a variety of different industries. Understanding coding fundamentals can, be an extra tool in the ‘toolbelt’ of anyone who is interacting with the digital world.” – Tina May, Co-Founder of Institute of Code

Throughout highschool and my college gen-ed classes I always bitched that everything we were learning was pointless. Teachers would preach about building a foundation, starting on the shallow end of the pool, understanding the basics of something before jumping into the advanced stuff. I hated doing long division, I hated grammar classes, and I hated being the only one in gym class that had to wear a life jacket for water polo while coach called me a fruitcake all year, ugh!! But in the end, those foundations prepared me to do so much more. In many ways, life is just like that: You do what you need to do, before doing what you want to do. Institute of Code, for me, marries the two. The best part?? This is something our parents could actually get behind because it is a tangible, actionable item that can lead you down several different roads of success. Your goal isn’t to be famous, or get mad likes, your goal is to be independently successful. Be a girl boss, not a sponsorette.

Front-end web development is constantly changing and my formal education ended in 1999, so my knowledge is still at absolute infancy. I can navigate a page of code and figure out what I need to change and how.. but from scratch? Not in this day and age of responsive websites. I can say that I need a class like Institute of Code‘s 10 day intensive… but I’m geeky enough to want it also.

Never Stop Learning

This notion that you can’t learn anything new after a certain age is such a self fulfilling prophecy. What rule states that because you are in your 20s, 30s, or 40s – you no longer qualify to start anything new? It is now easier than ever before to learn, and there are literally no rules to how you learn. Your brain is like a muscle and needs to be exercised regularly. If I can do that in Bali with chef prepared meals, daily yoga, and meditation.. hello, sign me up!

Adults will often marvel at the speed at which children learn & pick up things. While a lot of that has to do with a child’s brain development, I always wondered why it’s acceptable for adults to just stop learning after a certain age. The world continues to evolve and change, why don’t we as adults do the same?

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Btw this isn’t a paid conversation, women in tech and creative fields is something I’m extremely passionate about and all of this is coming from a very very real place. I came across Institute of Code and really did fall right in love. I especially love that 80% of their students are women (go girls!!) and I hope I get to attend next month! This is nothing like the geeky computer science course you might have seen on TV. Their campus is a luxury pool villa and after the “school day” (8am – 3pm) they take you out to explore the local culture and swim under waterfalls. That’s my kind of recess! Some people might see all this as unnecessary fluff and think that in order to learn something new we must be crammed in a classroom for 12 hours; I believe that they do not understand the psychology behind education. I don’t want to feel pressured and memorize words, I want to feel free and inspired. I want ah ha! moments.

I’d love to get to know you girls better! In the comment section below, tell me something about your goals and what you feel is first step to achieving it! Let’s talk and inspire each other!