Our generation is expected to grow up and know these things but in reality the first few years of our career is either a make it or break it time period for most of us. How do we face up to the demands of working and living yet still remain faithful to our religion? I’ve learnt this through my own experience of hustling for the last 2 years in my first job out of graduation.
How it began
For the longest time, I was afraid of being vulnerable. Growing up and ever since I could remember, I’m always known for being the strong and optimistic girl that could easily make the room comfortable and alive. And because of that, unconsciously I grew up having a mindset that I’ve always had to be strong and optimistic no matter what life challenges befall upon me – even though if it meant holding back my tears when I knew about the passing of my best friend’s Dad to be strong for her.
But as I was hustling for my career for the last 2 years, things began to get overwhelming at work. But of course, I was pretty strong and optimistic that I regard the feeling of overwhelming as something temporary and I should just throw it all at the back of my head and not talk about it. Well, it didn’t work out.
Apparently feelings started to build up inside of me, till one day I broke down when my colleagues started to push my button. And it all began with a simple question, “Za, are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?” And for a while because I was afraid to be vulnerable, I didn’t know how to start the conversation and what more to share about the emotions that I was not even aware of in the first place. I mean think about it, you are technically risking putting your heart on the line to expose who you are and all you are to somebody and you have to face the risk of being ‘judged’ for the rest of your life. So why should I share?
What happened when I started being more vulnerable
But my colleagues kept pushing through and eventually I became more aware about my vulnerability and was open enough to share the deepest thoughts and emotions that I’ve cleverly hid bit by bit. And that was where I realised the irony of being vulnerable. Vulnerability involves me opening up my heart and thoughts to take the stronger position. The more I share and make peace with the feelings I’ve had by understanding why I felt that way and how it can help me grow as a better person, the more I became stronger and less fearful about openness.
Connection beyond the conversation
With vulnerability, I had a deeper connection with the people around me and naturally I’m surrounded by people who are attracted and inspired by the value of my openness. And it’s amazing how certain things that I shared are often relatable to the people whom I shared them to – naturally resulting in a more trusting connection between myself and other individuals. I also began to be more conscious of the relations of these feelings and thoughts in a more spiritual context – understanding deeper about the wisdom (hikmah) behind it. In a way, being vulnerable makes you reflect more about the level of connection and relationship that you have with your individual self and God. You began to rely more on God to help you through the various challenges in life.
It was also through this vulnerability that I began to question myself if I was hustling for the right purpose in life and what do I really want for myself? For a moment, I was secretly hustling to meet people’s and society expectations of what success is especially being brought up in a traditional society that has somewhat predefined to us what success is like. Unconsciously, I was struggling between juggling the demands of my career and the Hereafter. And that was where I knew that I needed to take a break from everything, to refocus back on what’s important and what do I really want for myself – that’s how my Gap year came along.
Importance of a great support system
However, I was lucky enough to have a great support system at work where my colleagues were mentoring me along the way in developing not only my skills professionally but also more towards developing my emotional agility in going through life challenges. And that was where, my friends and I realised that not many of us in our own Malay/Muslim community have the opportunity to be surrounded by a trusting support system that could guide us through juggling the demands between our career and the Hereafter, while being vulnerable to the people around us. Why is that so?
Do we then conform or challenge the status quo?
It could be that we don’t really talk about these challenges as a young Muslim living in a contemporary world among our friends/family as it might come of as a sensitive issue and we should just stick to the status quo. And specifically, could it be that we shy away from wanting to share new knowledge or ask more about the religion among our friends/family because it doesn’t seem ‘cool’ to talk about it during a casual lepak session? Are we afraid to show our vulnerability among our friends and family?
But as I’ve shared earlier, it could be because we are afraid to be vulnerable like how I used to be because along the way we grew up being shaped by the relationships or the society we grew up with to not showcase that vulnerability and challenge ourselves to define our own definition of success. It could also be that we are not aware of the benefits of opening up or at the very basic level, we just don’t know how to start being vulnerable among our trusted circle of friends to provide us the support that we need to be a better Muslim and person in general.
Taking the first step
For a fact, being vulnerable is the first step towards self transformation and I feel that our Malay/Muslim community needs to feel empowered and start seeing the benefits of it.
We’re not saying that letting people in—especially when you’re not used to doing so—is an easy process. But with a little bit of self-awareness and a few communication skills under your belt, you may just be able to lock down that loving, authentic, and mutually supportive relationship you’re afraid to admit that you yearn for. While this is sometimes scary, it is precisely what enables us to enrich our lives and grow – greatist.com
Think about it, when was the last time or have you ever become vulnerable among your friends or family in sharing the challenges or feelings that are affecting you emotionally or mentally? If yes, how does that makes you feel? If no, what was stopping you to have that conversation?
Or have you ever ‘shut down’ or ‘criticise’ friends who are vulnerable and are open about their feelings as a weakling or being too emotional? What about for some of us who are aware of the benefits of being in touch and open with your feelings – did we share the awareness among our family or friends and specifically, how do we react to someone else’s vulnerability?
And remember, like how it happened to me, it merely start with an intentional question that could trigger an individual to be more aware about his vulnerability, embrace that vulnerability and take actions to be a stronger and better person than he once was.
So what’s next?
For the last few weeks, this reflection kept me up all night to figure out a way where we can get more people to feel inspired, reflect and start a conversation within their social circle about what it means to be a young Muslim in this contemporary world we are living now and to live for a higher purpose.
Alhamdulillah, Allah opened up a pathway for me and made me realised that my life calling is to inspire and empower individuals through the knowledge and experience I’ve gained in my life. I didn’t realise that it was naturally ingrained in me that I have that power to consciously or unconsciously influence the people around me until people started sharing with me how at some point, I’ve inspired them in their life. MashaAllah, that is a pretty big responsibility to hold in some sense.
But I believe that Allah didn’t somehow made me went through that vulnerability stage while I was working and made me went through a Gap Year now for no reason. InshaAllah, what I’m working towards now for the community will be beneficial for all of us and may Allah bless all of us with the strength to continue to strive to be a better Muslim for His sake.
Here are a few reflection questions to myself and also to all my Muslim brothers and sisters out there.
What does it mean to be vulnerable as a Muslim living in this contemporary world?
How do you define vulnerability? What does it mean to you?
What do you think is the most important factor in building that safe environment for us to be vulnerable with the people around us?