Argue for Your Limitations
A favorite quote of our Co-Founders is Gandhi's urging to "be the change you wish to see in the world". It's in that spirit that we're excited to share the insights of a guest who has actively worked throughout her career to meet that challenge. As someone who couldn't abide by the status quo, Jenan Matari has helped to build a movement on the belief that at least one voice can ignite sweeping change. Today, she's joined by numerous voices in the community she's helped build as the Co-Founder & CMO of MissMuslim. This week, we're thrilled to have her share the spark behind their movement.
For about two to three weeks, I have been contemplating what to write for this post. At times I question why Michael even asked me to participate. You want my story? Why? Is it special? Of course it’s special. And that’s lesson #1 – “Argue for your limitations and they are sure to be yours.” Don’t ever sell yourself short.
So here’s my upsell. I am 25-years-old. I have an incredible job (along with an incredible resume of past experience). I live on my own. I am engaged to the most amazing man. I have been blogging and editing on the side for about 5 years now. I have been featured in some of the most renowned pop culture magazines like Cosmopolitan, Allure, Refinery29, Huffington Post, Mic.com, etc. I have been published in the New York Times. And it’s all because I have a baby. Not a real baby – an extraordinary web-baby. The day before my 25th birthday I – along with 3 other friends (now down to two of us) – launched what is now one of the fastest growing websites in our market today; MissMuslim. We write.
I didn’t always have a passion for writing. In fact, I actually kind of hated it in school. I hated reading. I hated “creative writing time” in class. Book reports were my enemy and research papers were literally the devil. I never understood why, if I could explain a story or make my argument in four sentences, I had to write fifteen more pages anyway – but I digress. It wasn’t until college that I discovered that I actually love writing. In 2011 I studied abroad with a bunch of “eclectic” young women and for the first time in a very long time - I felt like I didn’t fit in. It was also the first time that I had experienced severe homesickness. As a way to distract me from my newly developed depression – I stopped eating for about two months and cried every waking moment of my days – my mother suggested that I start a blog. A blog? Blogging is lame. I hate writing, that’s a terrible idea. But I tried it out anyway because it was mommy’s orders. I began by writing down (literally hand-writing in my lecture notes) everything I was thinking and experiencing throughout my travels and then publishing them online with no real intentions of ever having someone other than my mother read it all. It was my way of pulling home closer to me. By writing and typing out every minute detail that I was seeing and learning during my time abroad, I could give my mom back home a taste of what I was living in Europe. And in my highly imaginative brain – that meant that we were experiencing all of this together, and I wasn’t alone. With my writing I was helping people experience things they didn’t have the opportunity to experience. I was helping people “see” the world.
"I lost my perspective for a while. I still do sometimes but I’m more grounded now than ever..."
My blog is what awarded me my first internship – with Beyoncé Knowles. I got to write press releases and manage social media posts with her PR team. I was writing short articles for the most well known artist/societal figure in the world at 20-years-old. That internship led me to my next (which then turned into a full time job upon graduation from college) with the Victoria’s Secret PR team. During my time there I assisted in the planning and execution of not one but two Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows (this is starting to sound like a job interview), numerous TV commercials and catalog photo-shoots and customer events. I had the contact information for every fashion editor of every major fashion publication in – the – world. I was around the most beautiful models all day, working in the greatest city known for turning people into success stories – but I was turning into an asshole. I got caught up in all the glitz and glam of whatever life I thought I was living. My life wasn’t glamourous. I still lived with my parents, rent free, and commuted 4 hours a day to and from my job. My job ruled my life so I had no time for social outings and friends and I began arguing with everyone. I didn’t realize I had actually become a miserable person.
Throughout my entire life, my parents and I always got into arguments because I revolve my days around how I can help other people. You need to focus on yourself first before helping others, they’d always say to me. For the previously stated 3.5 years of my life – I was part of corporate America that did anything BUT help people. People were getting laid off left and right. You’re underappreciated and underpaid while being hella overqualified and overworked. A huge part of how I found meaning in my life (helping people) was suddenly missing. I wasn’t helping anyone. I wasn’t bettering the world at all. We were essentially just selling bras and panties – there was no reason to take ourselves so seriously. But no one really seemed to understand that but me (and two other coworkers of mine who also ended up leaving). In my honest opinion, life is all about perspective. I lost my perspective for a while. I still do sometimes but I’m more grounded now than ever – I think it’s OK to lose yourself in trivial things every now and then. But I lost it completely – so I quit my “glamourous” job and set off to travel again so that I could rediscover that much needed perspective.
When I got back home from an incredible journey – I remembered what I felt my purpose was and I set off to accomplish it. In order to be happy with myself and feel fulfilled – I needed to do something beneficial for this world. So I remembered how writing made me feel and how my writing could make others feel – and I decided it was time to make writing a “thing” in my life once again.
"I wanted to make an impact on the world – even if that world was one person who happened to be experiencing the same struggles I had gone through or am going through today."
I found an interest in politics and defending human rights issues in areas that go unheard of in the world (like my family’s home in Palestine) which led me to a website that was known for providing a platform for the female political voice and for breaking stereotypes around my identity – a Muslim woman. I gained a year of professional experience in the journalism field. Just under a year had passed and as wonderful and as groundbreaking as the site was – I still felt as if I were being held back from other topics that I really wanted to talk about. I grew up in a community where certain topics of conversation were seen as taboo or inappropriate to speak of. Being an Arab American Muslim – you can imagine the culture clashes I was experiencing daily and I wanted to talk about those experiences. There are so many great websites out there run by Muslim women – but most of them are still so “conservative.” We could talk about business and politics and technology and domestic affairs until we were blue in the face, but God forbid we talked about what it’s actually like being a Muslim woman in America.
Being a Muslim (male or female) in America today already comes with so many challenges. There’s this real balance struggle that I mentioned I was experiencing throughout most of my life. On one hand you have a culture that is completely open to discussion about anything - where sex and dating and social lives are glamourized (America). On the other hand was a culture known for being proper and conservative and where most “fun” things that American kids in college or in their young 20's would do were deemed as a sin (Middle East).
I wanted to talk about controversial issues like mental health and the importance of visiting a female health professional - a doctor that shouldn’t only be seen after you’ve gotten married and lost your virginity – something that many Eastern cultures try to tell their young women. I wanted to talk about what it was like to date as an Arab American Muslim woman and the struggles I was having with finding a partner with a similar balance to mine. I wanted to talk about so many things that I was told should not be talked about. I wanted to make an impact on the world – even if that world was one person who happened to be experiencing the same struggles I had gone through or am going through today. So I left and decided I’d start my own platform specifically to do that. To talk about all the things people tried to silence me on.
I have been judged for most of my life and unfortunately it has mainly been by my own community. In a way I felt alienated because the moderate Muslim women, the ones who were “like me,” kept quiet out of fear of that exact feeling. Our website was created around the idea of developing a ‘safe space’ for women with all levels of religiosity to feel at home and be supported by other women – to bring us together in a time where we all seem to be divided. It’s a place that is free of judgment, with a team of women who elevate each other. It was created to make sure that no woman ever feels alone in her struggles again – a place to feel empowered.
"I knew I was meant for something more – something with a larger and more meaningful impact."
Since the launch of our site 7 months ago, we have quickly been picking up traction on a global scale (last week we officially launched our weekly column in Cosmopolitan Middle East). We grow every day. On average we’ve been picking up a minimum of 3 new writers every month. Our site thrives off of passion and the desire to make a real change in our society. Muslim women are seen as quiet and oppressed. We’re thrown into this generic image of a woman who covers her hair, wears baggy clothing, doesn’t apply much makeup to her face, and doesn’t have an opinion on anything besides what she’s cooking for dinner tomorrow night. That isn’t who we all are. We are brilliant women of all colors and sizes, who are well educated, well-traveled, and well kept. We love fashion, we have an opinion on everything and we can draw a mean wing with eyeliner.
I guess back to my point, after this long ramble – I found what was making me unhappy in life and I changed it. I knew I was meant for something more – something with a larger and more meaningful impact. I have received countless emails after stories have been published on MissMuslim about how that one particular article changed one woman’s life when she realized that what she wasn’t alone in what she was struggling with. After reading our articles – whether they be on female health issues, postpartum depression as a new mom, mental health diagnoses – our readers discover that there is help and support for whatever they are going through.
I wanted to make an impact on the world. There will always be people in your life who will tell you that what you want to achieve cannot be done - or that it is “too big” to accomplish. They’ll tell you that you can’t “save the world” or “help everyone.” Argue for your limitations and they are sure to be yours. This was something my dad repeated to me over and over again as a kid – and it took me until just a few years ago to finally understand what that meant. There could be a million people who don’t believe in you, or try to convince you that you cannot do grand things in this life because they have no confidence in themselves to do so. Let them talk. And let it flow through one ear and out the other. Argue for your limitations and they are sure to be yours. Until you somehow convince yourself that you cannot do what you once believed could be done (which is hopefully never), you have no limitations. Take control of your life. If something makes you unhappy – change it. Don’t expect it to be done for you.
Now, go out and change the world.