Growing up as an interracial Muslim woman, I always felt that my life story was written for me. But not in the stereotypical sense that most people might think. I didn’t think that Islam was “holding me back” from being what I wanted to be or doing what I wanted to do. However, I did feel that there were forces out there that were dictating my life’s direction. Even though I didn’t know what these forces were, I definitely could feel their influence on my inner and my outer voice.
In retrospect, I know that the”mysterious” forces that were controlling my narrative were society’s expectations and patriarchy. In fact, because of my multicultural upbringing, I had all kinds of social expectations that I had to live up to. I was also influenced by many variations of patriarchy. I had to deal with Eastern patriarchy and Western patriarchy; pseudo-religious patriarchy and areligious patriarchy; liberal patriarchy and conservative patriarchy and probably many other kinds of patriarchies that I wasn’t even aware of.
Looking back at my life now as an adult, I understand that the kind of social expectation and patriarchy that controlled my behavior changed depending on the situation. But at the end of the day, they slowly seeped into my unconscious mind and influenced how I felt about myself. At some point, they made me believe that all of the different identities that intersected to define who I was could only aspire to achieve so much. After achieving that, I felt that I had to settle for the pre-determined narrative that society and patriarchy had writtern for me.
Throughout my teens and my early twenties, I begrudgingly accept this idea, because that’s all I thought I could expect as an interracial Muslim woman. For a long time, I refused to embrace the entirety of who I was, because I knew that it wouldn’t conform to society and patriarchy’s cookie cutter narrative for my life. I also felt that I didn’t have the courage to find out what would happen if I refused to accept this stifling narrative. So, I just decided to go with the flow and accept my seemingly “inevitable” destiny. That’s until I started to write.
Now, after reading that you might think: I guess Soukaina discovered a latent gift for writing in her adult years. But here’s the thing, since I can remember, I’ve always had the ability to clearly articulate my thoughts in writing. However, I often took this ability for granted, because I thought that it was something commonplace. I suppose, in some way, that the act of writing is commonplace, because most of us have written an essay, an email or at least a text message once in our lives.
That being said, for most people, the act of writing only fulfills a practical purpose. Most people don’t use it as a way to explore their personal narrative or pursue some kind of deeper understanding of life. However, for me, writing has always been a way for me to process the world around me. It’s a coping mechanism that I’ve always used to make sense out of all the good, the bad and the ugly that I’ve experienced in my life. Unfortunately, for many years, I mistook my ability to distill wisdom from the chaos that we call the human experience as “ordinary.”
But that’s not the only reason that I frequently dismissed my writing ability. I also demoted my writing to the status of a hobby, because I didn’t believe that it could ever turn into a “real” (or lucrative) career path for me. Therefore, in order to avoid spending the rest of my life sarcastically being labeled as a poor and misguided artist, I thought that I would keep my writing a private pursuit. A hobby that I would only engage in when the pressures of pretending to be happy with my cookie cutter life got to be too much. But then something changed.
Three years ago, after a series of eye-opening events, I decided that I needed to pursue a career in writing, because I realized that my writing was anything but ordinary. I realized that it could be used for more than the occasional motivational Facebook status. More importantly, I realized that I could use it as a tool to change my life. So, after all of these realizations, I decided to reclaim my narrative (both literally and metaphorically) by becoming the author of my own story.
However, that’s not the only reason that I decided to start writing full-time. I also decided to start writing full-time because I wanted to help others change their personal narratives and find meaning in their lives too. Unfortunately, there’s a world of people out there who feel like they don’t have a voice and they’re powerless to reclaim their life stories. Nevertheless, we all have the ability to change our stories, if only the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
I believe that we all need to become authors, but not necessarily in the literal sense of the word. I believe that we all have to start fighting against the fears and demons that erode who we are, so we can start telling the world who we really are. But that’s not enough. Once we can become the authors of our own stories, we have help our communities take their narratives back from the self-serving people, groups and ideologies that limit our collective potential by forcing us to believe that we’re lesser than what we are. Or worse, that we could never be better.
Becoming the author of your own story doesn’t mean that you get to splice together a fantasy version of your life that allows you to hide your pain and failures from others. In fact, being the author of your own story doesn’t even mean that you’re in control of when good things happen to you or when bad things happen to you. However, it does mean that you get to decide how your past influences your present and how your present influences your future. Ultimately, being the author of your own story allows you to decide who you want to be and what you want to do, and with any luck, it will help you empower others to do the same.
When I write, I’m not just stringing together a bunch of words to make a cohesive sentence that serves a futile purpose and delivers a sterile message. When I write, I’m transforming myself by using words to create a space where I can be myself and help others face their fears, dismantle stereotypes and re-shape the narratives that have limited them from being the most complete, happy and fulfilled version of themselves.
How can you become an author of your own story?
Before you can help any person, group or community change their narrative, you have to take charge in your own life and become the author of your own story. So, here are some questions to help you think about your personal story and how your relationship with yourself (and others) is influencing your internal narrative, your external narrative and your ability to achieve your life goals.
- When you think about yourself, do you think about yourself in positive terms? If not, why not?
- When you’re asked to introduce yourself to others, how do you describe yourself?
- Are the words and descriptions that you use generally positive? If not, why not?
- Do you struggle to think and say positive things about yourself? If so, why?
- Do you feel the way that you think about yourself and the way you talk about yourself to others is different? If so, why?
- Do you feel the way that you describe yourself changes depending on the people you’re speaking t0? If so, why?
- What fears and insecurities do you think are influencing your internal narrative and external narrative?
- What external factors do you think are influencing your internal narrative and external narrative?
- How do you think your current narrative is impacting your personal and professional lives? Is it having a positive impact or a negative impact?
Now, here are three exercises to help you become the author of your story!
(P.S. I love writing down ideas in pencil, because it makes what I’m writing feel more real!)
1) Re-write your narrative
Take a pencil and paper and write an honest biography about yourself in the third person. Once you’ve finished writing it, read it and edit it to reflect the changes that you would like to see in your life. Take one “edit” that you’ve made and try to translate it into a real-life change by developing a step-by-step plan. Then, repeat the same process for your other “edits.”
2) Re-engineer your fears
Take a pencil and paper and write down your biggest fears. If you want, you can write down all of your fears! Then, identify whether it’s a logical fear (i.e. I’m afraid of bears) or it’s an insecurity (i.e. nobody likes me because I’m ugly). Once you’ve finished labeling each fear, go back to the ones that you’ve labeled as insecurities and try to create an action plan for how you’re going to dismantle or overcome this insecurity to achieve your goals. Then, put it into action.
3) Create a backup confidence plan
Take a pencil and paper and write down the moments when you feel the most vulnerable. Then, list the different kinds of negative thoughts that arise at those particular moments. Now, write yourself a pep talk that you can take out and read whenever you’re feeling down. Hide this paper somewhere safe and read it as many time as you need!
More inspirational reads!
Like what you’ve seen so far? Then you’ll LOVE the book that I’m going to be publishing on youth empowerment soon! Subscribe to the Soukie Speaks email list to get updates on the upcoming launch of my book and my latest blog posts. Also, make sure to connect with me via the Soukie Speaks’ Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts, so we can educate, energize and empower the Arab leaders and entrepreneurs of the future together!