A few weeks ago, I attended a women’s conference focused on empowerment and leadership. Over a hundred women attended. We participated in team building activities and group discussions geared towards our work experiences; specifically how those experiences have shaped our views, opinions and self-worth. The point of interest for me was when the last speaker asked participants to create a purpose statement. The day had already been filled with moments of deep thought, but this was different. We were not being asked to create a purpose statement so that we could figure out how to be more productive at work, or how women could create a voice for themselves. Essentially, we were being asked to explain the meaning behind our existence. We had eight minutes. Eight minutes to explain our reason, our future, our vision in life.
What is your purpose?
I thought hard about that question. I even wondered if it was possible for me to answer within the time constraint. What is my purpose? How could I sum it up in eight minutes? I figured a good starting point would be answering the question with a question. What would I want to do in life if I did not have to concern myself with finances or security? Write. For as long as I can remember, writing has always been my outlet. Happy, sad, disappointed, angry, confused, writing was there. Moreover, it did not have to make sense to anyone else as long as it helped me process my thoughts and feelings. If it did the same for someone else, great. If not, that was okay too. I decided my purpose statement would highlight my love for paper and pen. I simply wrote, “My purpose is using my writing to convey shared experiences, thoughts and/ or ideas. When time was up the speaker asked people to share. After a few awkward seconds, a group volunteered. A few women stated their purpose was to help their families. A few others stated their purpose was to help groups of people (i.e. at-risk youths, the homeless, people living with severe mental illnesses, etc.).
The common thread among the women who spoke were their purposes all centered on helping or caring for everyone but themselves. At first, I felt selfish for creating a purpose statement that focused on me. And because it did not fall in line with the majority, I chose not to share. The speaker, however, made it her mission to highlight that commonality. Why are women so quick to think of others? Why are they so quick to put themselves last? Regardless of how progressive many might think the world is, women still put themselves in a box of identifying first as a caregiver and secondly as anything else. Always ready to give to anyone and everyone before they give to themselves.
I am guilty of the same thinking. When I thought about the question, I instantly ran to how I would help other people. I think anyone that has an empathetic heart would do the same. However, women are not just the solemn heroes of cooking, cleaning, scheduling, chauffeuring, nurturing and being all-around taskmasters. And far too often, we allow those labels to define not only who we are but also our place in this world. It only clicked for me to list writing as my purpose when I gave myself permission to think outside of my everyday responsibilities. Yes, I am a wife and mother (badges I wear proudly), but in addition to those titles, I am a person with passions and dreams and ideas. My family will always have my heart, but that does not mean there is no room for anything else. To ignore what brings me joy, and allows me to hold on to a bit of my imagination, would not be any fairer than expecting my husband or children to give up their own dreams and purpose for me.
When I became a mother, my life changed. It was about my children. Two beautiful human beings that relied on me for guidance, love and protection. Like many mothers, I chose to put myself last because that is what “good” mothers do. Without a second thought, it became life. A perfectly normal piece of life. Do for others first. Take care of yourself last. That was, and to some extent still is, my mantra. Was there anything wrong with making this choice? No, because it was my choice. Was there something wrong with feeling like a bad mother because I still had dreams? Personally, yes. I am not saying women are wrong for believing their purpose is helping others. I believe it is incredibly noble and a testament to our selflessness. What I am saying is that it is okay for women to believe their purpose also lies outside of traditional roles. It is okay to dream. It is okay to follow a passion. Moreover, it is okay for one’s identity to be all-inclusive.
About the author: Latanya Muhammad is an advisor, group facilitator and freelance writer who follows a daily mantra to read, write, live and repeat. When she is not doing that, she is wrangling two children and her husband. To read more of her work, or to connect, visit www.shetanagain.com and Shetanagain Writes on Facebook and Instagram.