Self-help literature places a lot of emphasis on ‘finding your purpose’. The coronavirus pandemic recently snatched away my elder sister who was very dear and close to me. The tragedy leaves me looking at life through a very different lens.
As I re-visit what Samina Saad stood for, I realise that ‘finding your purpose’ is not about finding some great ultimate purpose but making the best of what life throws at you – the lemons and lemonade stuff. Baji, as we fondly called her, taught me about being bold and brave and living life as you yourself imagine it.
It’s not that a sense of purpose is not important. The point is that arriving at your purpose is about starting somewhere and following the process. Whatever feels meaningful to you can be your purpose and it may be different at different times.
Improving the quality of education for children of unprivileged families became my sister’s purpose. It could as easily have been climbing mountains or scuba diving. Anything that motivates and drives you can become your purpose. For many, purpose is often limited to providing for their family.
I also understood that purpose changes and evolves over time. And that is okay, because it’s part of your journey and will lead you to where you want to go.
Baji’s purpose as a typical teenager was to look good and spend time with friends and family. As a young married woman, she wanted to raise children and build her home. Like many of us, she struggled with her personal life but instead of succumbing to social pressures, she took on the world, standing for what she believed in at that time.
It was just before entering her forties that she began reinventing her career. She transitioned from being a regular teacher to a leader in the field — a teacher trainer, master trainer in Life Skills Education, an education institute manager, obtaining a host of diplomas and certifications in these areas.
Over time, Baji developed a sterling reputation as one of Pakistan’s best educators and trainers. In 2012, she was appointed General Manager of Aga Khan Education Service, overseeing educational projects around Sindh and Punjab. She obtained a second Masters’ degree, in Educational Leadership (Med Lead). She worked closely with international organizations such as USAID and British Council as well as provincial governments of Sindh and Gilgit Baltistan.
It was at the same time that she found marital bliss. With a reputation as an efficient, hardworking professional, she now also devoted herself to her husband and young child. Everyone could see much love and affection around their small family. Over the last few years, she started a teacher training organization along with her husband and travelled across Pakistan to conduct training sessions. When the pandemic struck, she was aware that such travel involved risks but she believed in her work and the need for it far too much to stop doing it.
Baji did not spend time in searching for ‘purpose’. She simply made life exciting by living in the present and dealing with whatever the day brought. I have learned from her that instead of searching for that one elusive thing to build my life around, I need to keep asking myself: What meaningful work am I going to do this year? This month? Today? Now?
More than anything else, she leaves behind the joy in having a purpose not centred on herself. She learned through some difficult times that you can satisfy your own desires to a limit. After that, you need to live life for something other than yourself, beyond the needs of your immediate family.
We all make foolish mistakes – some, like me, more than others. I learned from her to take everything that happens in my stride. Not because everything I did was perfect – far from it. But she helped me realise that any wrong or foolish decisions or actions only manifest who I am. I need to take pride in who I am, and to value mistakes for the lessons they bring.
Baji taught me that experiments are important. If you do not experiment you will never know how different things make you feel. And if you pay a price for your experiments, it is because everything of value has a price. You cannot find gold without digging for it. When you dig, you find dirt also. That is the price you pay, and it brings you to the gold. She experimented with her career and much more.
Nothing she ever did was worth fretting over. She would look at mistakes as something that happened and move past the difficult situations, as well as value the positives, almost as an observer — and most importantly, with a sense of humour. She was never the one to take herself too seriously.
People work to earn a living. Most of us keep working the same way all our lives quite unthinkingly. Baji showed me that it is possible to tread your own path and create something beautiful with your work. Unlike the legacies of most corporate leaders which vanish the day they leave office, she believed in creating something enduring which impacts lives long after she is gone.
The Samina Saad Educational Foundation being launched in loving memory of my sister aims to take forward her mission and legacy of developing better citizens and a better country. She was passionate about addressing the education crisis. She thought this can happen if teachers are better trained – not just to teach, but also to act as leaders and mentors fulfilling their civic responsibility beyond the classroom.
Baji has gone now, and her departure has deprived Pakistan of a valued teacher and teacher trainer. For our family the loss is obviously far deeper. We will always treasure her memories from childhood to adult life, through twists and turns that life took us through together.
I personally will always hold on to some of those private treasures deep inside me but have shared some lessons here that I feel have universal resonance.
If they strike a chord with you, please remember her in your prayers.