Like many of us I’ve grown up in a society full of expectations. It started from home. Being part of a nerdy family, obtaining the best grades at school become as obvious as the air you breathe. If it was a norm for your parents to be the best pupil in the class, you couldn’t expect a lot of praise for following their footsteps; and their focus is to get you higher than they themselves got to, so you just have to do better. So you got all A’s on an end of year certificate? ‘So what? You have a B in maths. Why isn’t it an A? I loved maths at school’ – summarized my mother, and that was more or less the way I’ve been brought up.
The first complement about anything I have ever done, I had to wait until my teen years to hear it. From my grandmother who appreciated my talent in photography. For the first praise from a parent, I have waited for 23 years of my life. Even this wasn’t direct, as in said to me- it was messaged to someone else who then showed me the text. Twenty three years of my life I’ve been brought up to believe I owe everything that is expected from me to the family, and then in some sense to the society too.
How did it affect me? For a huge part of my life, I believed nothing I could do would ever be good enough. At high school I just gave up and stopped fighting for the best grades altogether. All the effort would be just okay anyway, so I might as well not try too hard. My first marriage, once it ended, left me with a similar feeling: I do my best for everyone at all times, but it is taken for granted and not appreciated. It isn’t worth it. So I gave up, deep down once again feeling I am not good enough for anything.
It took me some time to realize the problem isn’t me. Before I did though, I was a witness to social expectations in a few different countries. Everywhere I went, the situation of people could be summarised in one short sentence “This is what you HAVE to do”. Expectations. In every culture and society. They drill them into us to the point we believe this is how we need to go through life, always considering what will people think. Or worse: what they will say. For example, in Poland women are known for and kind of expected to be, taking good care of themselves always. To the extend that both young and older women will dress up and do make up only to go to the local shop to grab some fresh teacakes and come back. We are always expected to look good. Then to act in a certain way in order to fit in. To follow the social rules and be like everyone, or else, what would they say?
In England it didn’t seem too bad for me, but this is only because I have been separated from my original society. However, living amongst British Pakistanis I have seen everything being about, “What will others say…?” There is double the pressure in this community: one wrong move and not only half the city would know about it, but also half of Pakistan!
Why, oh why, I have asked myself many times, do we have to live for other people? Act and dress to impress them? Be so cautious of what could be said about us, whilst knowing there is no way in the world you could ever please everyone, regardless of how hard you will try?
As I grew in my practise of Islam, these things have slowly began to mean less and less to me. I feel like in some ways my attachment to the deen has given me the courage to not care how others see me until they actually get to know the real me. It has given me the power to ignore the thought of what would anyone say, because they weren’t happy with me being a Muslim in the first place. It wasn’t easy and straight forward- I still loved fashion and tried to look good…”For myself”, I’ve been excusing myself ,whilst buying another scarf matching the shoes.
Until I began questioning my own self: is it really the case- Do I really just express myself, or am I still trying to impress others so they would speak highly of me and admire me? And if so, why is it that I wear make up at work, but never at home? Why don’t my socks match my PJs I have on all Saturday, and yet my shoes and bag always match my scarf? Who am I trying to lie to? This is when things changed and I have really begun now to do things for myself only. When others couldn’t see it.
I have allowed myself to let go of the expectations of strangers completely. My experiences with people hardly ever being pleased with me, have led me to give up on trying once again. Now, being outside I have prioritised Allah only and considered His opinion of my looks. Because He is the One who knows how hard I try, He knows how much I care for others, how much I would do. Whilst no one appreciates my efforts, He promised He will reward me for them. Why then would I care what anyone else thinks about me? Am I out of fashion now, boring? And who cares? I’m covered, all good. Will look my best at home.
At the same time I began trying to apply Islam’s teachings in my life. Teachings about being humble, for example. About protecting privacy to save ourselves from the evil eye. We live in such a show off world, everything about our lives is public. As I have taken care of reducing the publicity of everything I do, I truly stopped caring about impressing anyone other than my Lord, and my life has become much happier. I take my time to appreciate the moment, rather than to post and hashtag pictures of every event in my life.
All the little things put together have given me freedom from the slavery of other people’s expectations. I now live and do things for Allaah to judge and appreciate, even if others never notice. With this in mind I go through life less disappointed, happier, calmer and much more patient, much more content, much more free, realising it all depends on our attitude, our intention and our relationship with Allaah.
About the author:
Sadeemka is Silesian, language support, mother, revert, blogger. They call me a migrant but I disagree: I belong nowhere, interested in never ending journey.
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