I can still remember taking one final look around my home in Kosovo six years ago, snapping one last mental image of the place I loved and would now leave forever. It was heartbreaking for my family and me to uproot our lives in Europe, but it was even more heartbreaking when we received my little brother's diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis. The only option to save his life was to pack our belongings and emigrate to America.
My life has changed irrevocably since relocating to America. Back in Europe, my family had everything we could've wanted, however, we were unable to carry our financial success and we struggled to make ends meet. As my parents worked diligently to provide for my brother and me, I faced a conflict of my own: learning English. I am fluent in Bosnian, Albanian, and Serbian, but learning English was a battle like none other and I wondered if I would ever fully conquer it. However, I prevailed, and once I defeated the language barrier that loomed ahead, I felt confident I could handle any issue thrown my way.
Speaking English didn't solve all of my problems. I was still drastically different from my peers and struggled to form friendships. I needed an outlet to distract myself. I loved to explore new environments, so using the convenience of my camera phone, I captured every sight that struck an emotion inside me. I began to fall in love with photography, so I saved my money to purchase a professional camera, and taught myself the ins and outs of graphic design. Art cured my loneliness since moving to America. I used my art to depict my feelings, thoughts, and experiences, and since then, art has become my fifth and most important language I'll ever speak.
Art kept me content when I was alone, but school was far from a breeze. I was a scrawny boy and faced perpetual teasing from my classmates. I was too shy to fight back, but I realized that wasn't the solution regardless. I didn't want to get back, I wanted to get better. I joined a local gym and educated myself about everything involving muscle building. I ate six meals a day and trained like my life depended on it. I noticed tremendous improvements, and felt a new sense of pride when I gazed at myself in the mirror.
I didn't expect to fall in love with the gym to the same extent that I did with art, but in retrospect, I'm not surprised I did. I have gone to great lengths within the past couple years to improve myself intellectually, so improving my physique simply came naturally. People may not understand the connection between working out and art, but bodybuilding is an art. Each workout routine entails a goal of sculpting each muscle to look a certain way, and then tie into each other to create a balanced, aesthetically-pleasing physique. Discovering art in the gym led me to epiphany that art is everywhere. I see art in the way moss sprouts on the bark of trees, the way cars are lined in a mall parking lot, and as simple as some crumpled up paper on the floor. Art is ever-present, we just need to open our eyes and notice it.
The best part about feeling like you're at rock bottom is that the only place to go is up. My transition to life in America was the most daunting and terrifying period of my life, but without it, I would've never discovered my purpose here on Earth. I've come to realize that my passions of art and fitness are no longer just about me, they've become instruments that allow me to help, encourage, and inspire others to live with meaning, see the beauty in everything, and constantly strive to improve ourselves to be our best self yet.