This summer, I finished a class on Falah (success in Arabic) with Rabata, a women’s seminary that teaches women islamic scholarship. I joined 100 women 3 times a week with a shared goal to be better than we were before. The class is described as an all-new approach to successful and happy living, specifically as follows:
“This course is a thorough examination of the barriers that stand in the way of a happy spiritual and material life as well as a clear discussion of the tools necessary for the happy spiritual and material life we all crave. The concept of Falah as a course was created and developed by Anse Sawsan Imady. This course includes new material and has been expanded and developed by Anse Tamara Gray. It is a life changing course. Snap in your seatbelt and get ready to speed along the straight path in company with others seeking Falah!”Ribaat PUR 202: Course description
This class helped me to solidify a foundation. It reminded me that I am the khalifa of my own space, my home, my mind and my habits. It helped me to rethink my purpose and see life through aakirah glasses, which is a different framing from what we are socialized to do. It made me think more about my intentions in what I do, not only the outcomes, but the way in which I do things.
I felt alignment between knowledge and practice. I felt alignment with who I am in this moment, and who I want to be.
For most of my life, my aspirations lay mostly outside of my home. My earliest aspiration was to become an astronaut, to go where no one had gone before. My mother was a teacher; my grandmother was a teacher of English in British India. My father was an explorer of sorts, traveling through much of Italy for his business, when he had no money to his name. As immigrants, they were brave in ways that I have always admired. The example they set for me was always success = economic security.
Identity and productivity are a huge part of the equation. I was taught to excel in school, to marry the “right” kind of family; to dress well; to speak well; to behave well; work hard; buy assets; invest; have children; save for retirement; etc. Children are the most significant asset I was taught, and yet for 10 years of my marriage, there were no children. I was an enigma to my parents, and my community until there was a miracle birth, and then another soon thereafter. To me, my children are absolutely miracles and the answer to the prayers of many, many people.
After 13 years of working– taking the bus in and out of NYC, the subways, the trains, the national travel, the early morning meetings; the deadlines; the office politics — I saw how much toil it took on me. I am not naturally a planner, and my jobs always involved extensive planning– planning conferences, meetings, agendas. I felt wiped out by the end of the day, and would come home and vegetate in front of the tv, ignoring my miracle of a child (I had only one at the time). I poured so much of myself into my work that there was no semblance of balance.
When I became a SAHM, I struggled with the opportunity everyone else insisted I had. You’re so lucky, everyone would say. You get to stay home. I felt so out of place inside my own home, like my nanny knew more than I did about where stuff was, and I was just there to sleep and eat.
I was dysfunctional within the home before I ever had a career, and never took time to create the systems that would allow myself or others to flourish. When I became focused more on my kingdom, I started to notice more the things that could be improved or changed to make things more functional. I was able to dole out my limited planning skills to things that actually mattered to me. I am an ENTP — someone who likes to envision how things could be, but I need a doer to actually carry out my vision. My husband, God bless him, did all the planning — vacations, events, home, future. And as a result, I had to become the doer.
I suppose there is little “production” or outcomes when I became a SAHM. There’s a loss of who you were, that sense of who you had been. But if it’s better for your children, your health, and your circles of influence, then it’s just better. I see this now.
My class gave me another aspiration — to be of the muflihun, which means people of success. To be someone who practices these habits, exercises a happy heart, and radiates joy in the things that I pursue because of a more intentional framing.
An Unexpected Email
I’ve come to some interesting conclusions after going through some interview processes that didn’t fully engage me earlier this summer.
Chiefly, I love being the primary caretaker for my kids. In its best moments, it is such a joyous experience, and it has finally given me the space to pursue one of my great passions.
I’m applying for a few fellowships and spend quite a bit of time reading and doing my own writing. I am part of a writing group, a few book clubs, and teach my kids at home that I wish was a tree house.
I emailed a friend to catch up. I started out with a sort of apology, like I wish I had some exciting career news, and told him how I had started writing again after a long hiatus. He wrote back within minutes. I held my breath as I reread what he wrote. I reread it again. And the next day, I found a post on Linkedin from him. (Click on the link to read what he wrote).
I was glowing for DAYS. It was a compliment of all compliments, to feel like you’re seen and acknowledged. To be remembered as you were before kids. I expanded on his sentiment, and considered other ways that I could build upon his words. And thus, this post.
What is flattering is that he is someone I met only once at a conference and maybe after 10-11 years, he held such an opinion of me. He was one of the founders of Idealist, a serial entrepreneur, a career coach, someone who knows literally thousands of people, and he’s not the kind of person to say things just to be nice. He had advised to work at a place that shared my values around risk-taking, and where people had a direct communication style. I didn’t follow his advice at all, and ended up at a corporate place where risk taking was shunned, and people rarely said what they really thought.
Anyway, in the email, he said that I was giving myself permission to do what I always wanted to do. I was no longer trying to meet someone else’s expectation of what I should be at this age of my life. And, so he helped me see some truths.
I’m fulfilled in this moment.
It feels odd to admit this out loud.
We tend to always want more than we have.
More obedient, well-behaved kids.
Yet, I feel like it’s all enough.
I have enough.
I am enough.
Those that I am with are enough.
I am grateful for this moment.
For this moment in time, I feel an immense gratitude that the environment and my role in the universe is sufficient and enough and perfectly designed for me to do what needs my attention.
I am grateful for the many people in my life who have made this moment possible.
The people who came before me. And the little people who came after me, my children, who fill my days with laughter and screaming. I am grateful for the woman who brings me mail. I am grateful for the fixed backyard gate, and the auntie who cares for my children. I am grateful for the food Dad cooks, and the rabbit that runs through my backyard. I am grateful for all the books and authors I have gotten to know. Friends and colleagues who remind me of things. I’m grateful for the teachers who instill good habits and teach me what success truly is. I’m grateful for all the new friends I’ve made during the pandemic. I’m grateful for my neighbor’s green tea, and how our children play together in her backyard. I am grateful for the weekly visits to the lake near our home, and the playdates.
Seeking Assistance in Difficult Times
Then, there are moments when I rethink everything, when I feel like I am failing at being their teacher, or being in charge of my home, as a wife, or even failing to meet my goals for myself.
I seek knowledge and guidance in those moments. I ask for Help.
I renew my commitment to my children and my family and my circles of influence.
I might still be wanted for my writing and analysis skills, and needed beyond my children. I might still do something else.
Still. Still. Still.
The end of possibility is heart-breaking.
I have made friends who have totally embraced this life, this lie– my computer suggested– of being a happy homemaker. I thought that was the unicorn of my thirties — happy homemaking. And still, I know qualitatively, I laugh more, I have more fun, and I enjoy my time and my life more within this scope of work than I ever did facilitating conversations with think tanks. I can host a dinner party of 15 people within 2 hours. I have acquired new skills, and tried many new experiences.
When I was interviewing with a group of people I really liked, and wanted to work with, I kept thinking, how can I sacrifice all this for a 401k? I couldn’t make the equation make sense.
And so, I have chosen to aspire to be of the Muflihun.
Thanks to the Rabata class, and new circles of influence.