Ever since I was young, I have always been a ‘doer’, an ‘achiever’. As I grew into womanhood, I was known among my family members and friends as the ambitious one. I can honestly say there is not one goal I set myself that I wouldn’t achieve, even against all odds and tough situations. All my school reports and appraisals at work said pretty much the same thing; “Yasmin is ambitious, hardworking and determined to go above and beyond in all she does”.
Late into my teens, while doing an internship in the United States of America, I became drawn to the narrative of the “strong, black woman”- you know, that high achieving woman who could do it all and keep it all together. I am the type of person that would and could juggle many balls at one time- I could literally have many intense things going on at one time and succeed in all of them. Whether it was studying full time and working evenings, working while doing a course on the side or doing a masters degree with two young children and a baby on the way. I have always had a full schedule, and overactivity was my way of life.
In one way, I feel this way of life helped me deal with the intensity of motherhood. Despite how shockingly difficult raising children was, I managed to hold it all together and continued to juggle my many areas of responsibility gracefully for many years. Slowing down was not my thing, I am a doer who likes to feel I am reaching my full potential in every area of my life. The thought of being idle was crippling and makes me feel I am wasting time.
Since becoming a mother 7 years ago, I have gained the title “superwoman” or “supermum” and have had many people tell me how they admire my strength and ability to do a lot of things while raising my children. I welcomed such titles and accepted that it was praiseworthy to be the type of woman that can do it all regardless of how much pressure I was putting on myself.
I was always aware that my African cultural background contributed heavily to my acceptance of ‘Superwoman’. The familiar glorification of the woman who continues to show strength and resilience in all areas of her life was reinforced by the stories that I was told by the elders and aunties. The ‘survivor’ woman who endured every difficulty with no complaints while making it all look effortless had somehow crept into my beliefs and expectation of the type of woman I should be. For years I accepted that being frantically busy was praiseworthy and ‘just the way I am meant to be’.
As I entered my thirties, I came to a realisation that the ‘superwoman’ facade was not working for me. My busy life was taking its toll on me, I ignored the signs of mental and physical fatigue and burnout. Constantly planning, making sure every area of my life was perfectly intact and the never ending running around had become ingrained deeply in my life. When insomnia wouldn’t leave me and I struggled to relax, I knew it was time to pause and contemplate on how to slow down. Deep down I was in denial. “I can do anything”, “I am strong enough to do all these things” are the thoughts I battled with. I was done with the myth of ‘superwoman’ and searched for the pause I needed to liberate myself from the burden of strength I carried for far too long.
“I’ve finally learned that just because I can do something does not mean I should – Brene Brown