By Aliya Vaughn
I am a woman of a certain age. I have the luxury (or not) of looking back over the years and realising just how much time I wasted holding myself back. My fears, my insecurities and self-doubts, the excuses and stories I told myself, justifying why I cannot or should not do this or that. It’s a crying shame really! But I’m not going to lament over regrets as I know it only opens the door to Shaytan and his whisperings. What I will do though, is take stock and do things differently now that I’m more self-aware. The worst part was not realising just how much I was standing in the way of my own progress. Sometimes I knew I had issues with confidence but I didn’t have the necessary tools and techniques to overcome it. So, one learning curve, albeit a little late, was to get a mentor.
Get a mentor
I needed someone who was more qualified, knowledgeable and skilled and had the ability to do what I lacked, so I could learn from them. Some people have mentors when they live in a close-knit family and community, but sadly, I didn’t have that and I didn’t know where to look or who to ask. If I did manage to find someone, I was too shy to approach them in case it was inconvenient, or in the case that I was the inconvenience. I’ve since learnt that there are many sisters out there who are pleased to take someone under their wing and show them the ropes. They earn Allah’s rewards for teaching and encouraging another person to do good, it refreshes their knowledge and skills and it’s the highest form of flattery! It also looks good on their own C.V.
A sister was recommended to mentor me in preparation for a job interview. She helped me see my accomplishments, experiences and skillset and teach me effective interview techniques. I didn’t get the job as it goes, but she did help me pluck up the confidence to actually go for the interview. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have gone. And I don’t regret it as I learned a lot through the process. Whatever you feel you lack, look to another sister who has those virtues or that experience and knowledge and ask for teaching, mentoring or coaching. Rather than surround yourself with doubters and dissuaders, remain in the company of supportive sisters who will champion you on. Don’t be shy. Don’t put it off. Contact her today! And it doesn’t have to be in your immediate community. She may live in another city or abroad but she’s a kindred spirit like you.
“The believers, men and women, are Auliya’ (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another.”
Surah At-Tawbah 9:71
Get out of your comfort zone and persevere
When I was younger, I noticed my opportunities either grew or shrank according to the size of my comfort zone. I learned that I had to move beyond what was comfortable if I wanted my world to expand with me. But sometimes it was just too easy to remain in the same position and make excuses for being stuck there.
This was especially true when I was learning to read and recite Qur’an. I’m sure you know the scenario – we find a teacher, learn the basics, or part of the basics, then we fall sick or the teacher falls sick, we get pregnant or the teacher has a baby, we move away, or the teacher goes on holiday, and we get out of the routine and never return. Sound familiar? If we can find enough reasons or excuses for not doing something, we will! Then the years drag by and we still don’t know how to read the Qur’an. I had no idea just how close I was to cracking it, but instead, I told myself it was too difficult or that I was bad at languages or that it wasn’t my area of expertise!
When we learn something new – we are not expected to be an expert. That’s why we need a teacher. We also need to dedicate some time and effort to learn this new skill. The best excuse for not doing anything is saying we are too busy with the kids. So, if you can, find a teacher who can teach you as well as your kids, then you can learn and practise it at home together. Having daily or bi-weekly lessons will hold you accountable and learning it with your kids is an added incentive – think of the bonus rewards you’ll get for teaching yourself and your children, and the recurring rewards you’ll get every time they put it into practice while you are still alive and even long after you’ve passed away!
If finances are the issue then remember – if you take care of your Deen, Allah will take care of your dunya. Whatever you spend in time, effort or money pleasing Allah, know that He is al Kareem (The Most Generous) and Ash Shakur (The One Who Expresses Thankfulness by rewarding abundantly). You will see the benefits both in this life and the Hereafter and you won’t be out of pocket- and this is something we should remind ourselves of in everything we do, not just when we are learning the Qur’an. Whatever you want to achieve, just go for it! Don’t make any more excuses. Take a step out of your comfort zone, one small step at a time. Allah will open doors for you and when you look back, you will be amazed how far you have progressed.
‘O mankind, what has deceived you concerning your Lord, the Generous.’
Surah al Infitar 82:6
Don’t be a perfectionist
The worst trait I had when I was young was perfectionism: if I couldn’t achieve the perfect outcome then it wasn’t worth doing. If other people could do it better than me, then I would encourage them to do it instead and take a back seat. I believed that there was no point in doing something if someone else could do it quicker, more easily and more effectively than I could. I forgot that this experienced person had once stood in my inferior shoes – I was just a little behind, that was all. Not only could I could easily catch up, but there was plenty of room in the world to accommodate me and my efforts as well as theirs: I may not have the same personality, the same style or the same way of doing things, but it didn’t mean my contribution was any less valuable. Perfection is only with Allah.
But even though I knew this, I didn’t want to look a fool, fall flat on my face or fail. And yet to my astonishment, some of my best lessons were learnt through failure. I learnt not to repeat the same errors. I searched for better ways of doing things and soon realised that in fact, making mistakes helped me develop and grow. Its only when I look back that I realise we all have to start from somewhere.
Since I was a child I had always wanted to be an author, but at the beginning some of my writing was naff and clunky. I was really busy with my kids too but instead of making excuses, I took time out every day to practice my writing, little by little. It took ten years to win awards for one of my children’s stories and another ten years to publish it. Success is only by Allah and even then ‘success’ is relative. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t always happen in the way we plan or turn out the way we had hoped. Nevertheless, we should keep aiming high but keep our expectations realistic. Plan for any eventuality, expect obstacles along the way but do not be deterred.
I don’t have a hang up with perfectionism as much as I used to. But I do still hold back sometimes because I think I’m not at the level I’d like to be. But this is the way life is. It’s a continual learning curve with many pathways leading to unknown and unchartered territories. We do not just wander blindly however. We start off with an intention, a vague road map and ask Allah to guide us throughout our life’s journey. So, if I was to tell my younger self anything it would be – read, learn from others, step out of your familiar and comfortable surroundings, keep practising and push open the doors of opportunity. By Allah, the future is bright!
The Prophet (ﷺ) used to say:
“O Allah! I seek refuge with You from worry and grief, from incapacity and laziness, from cowardice and miserliness, from being heavily in debt and from being overpowered by (others) men.”
About the author
Aliya Vaughan has been a Muslim for 25 years. She lives in the UK with her husband and children. She is a qualified life coach and author. Her award-winning children’s story ‘A Race to Prayer’ is available from Kube Publishing.
You can follow her at aliya_vaughan on Instagram.