Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Own your Life

The very first step in overcoming any issue or pursuing any goal - whether it is related to religion, health, relationships, money, addictions, or whatever - is to recognize that the desirable outcome will only be attained through taking ownership and responsibility of one’s life. This point may not sound so revolutionary at first, but it is so foundational to personal development that most self help books will start off with a chapter centred on this theme. At a personal level, knowing that I am responsible for who I have become – and who I can become - was an incredible opening in my life.

My focus on expectations out of other individuals and circumstances was shifted to elevating and meeting expectations of my own self. That shift relieved so much of my life’s stresses, and it reduced my resentment towards other people/things. It is arguably the most empowering paradigm I have ever come across. Now, when some undesirable outcome/event occurs, instead of reacting irrationally or letting the matter fester inside of me, I always ask my self – how did I let this happen? And – How can I correct this or prevent it from happening again? Or, why am I feeling this way? What is the worst case scenario – and is it really that bad? Or in achieving any goal, I ask myself – what resources do I need? What are the challenges? Etc.

The concept of ownership and responsibility can be appreciated by looking at their opposites: complaining and blaming. Both complaining and blaming are essentially convenient tactics to lift the responsibility off of one’s shoulders and onto someone/something else’s. It’s easy to blame and complain because it doesn’t entail any consequences. And they are garbed under the illusive belief that ‘I being responsible and have done everything in my capacity’. It is like the person who said, “I don’t get angry, people make me angry.” Ultimately, complaining and blaming disempowers the individual from taking action to address the issue of concern. The end result is that they don’t get far in life.

We may believe that society, parents, spouse, siblings, schools, friends, peers, media, etc. have shaped us into the person we are – and that may be true during our childhood. But as (Islamically) mature and sane adults, when we have attained the faculty of discernment, we become accountable for our actions, and thus external factors only shape us to the extent that we let them shape us. We don’t have to hand over our fate and our potential to others. We don’t have to let others control our paradigms. And we don’t have to cling to our childhood programming – we can choose to ‘undo’ the negative childhood programming in us (this ‘undo’ing may be discussed in a future post inshaAllah). We don’t’ have to be “a bundle of conditioned reflexes that operate outside of [our] control”, as Jack Canfield describes.

Stephen Covey put it best: “Your life is a product of your decisions, not your conditions.” Think about it – you’re gaining weight because you choose to eat white rice or naan every day. You flunked the test because you didn’t study effectively. You didn’t get the job because you didn’t prove yourself to be qualified enough. I know that some of you may argue that “my weight is in my genes”, “the teacher was a @#$%”, or “the interviewers were racist.” But what about that other obese person who trimmed his/her weight? What about your classmate who performed well on the test? What about the other coloured person who got a job there? But unfortunately, as Jack Canfield said, “Most of us have been conditioned to blame something outside of ourselves for the parts of our life we don't like.”

Responsible people do not rely on circumstances or individuals to change to achieve their goals. Rather, they exercise the power to change their own selves and to create their own opportunities. And they don’t place the blame on others. Rather, they derive lessons from their mistakes and failures to course correct towards their desired outcome. Thus, they either succeed in their goals or they interpret their lack of success as a learning experience that serves as a building block to success.

Don’t get me wrong - it can be difficult to be responsible, because it means that some action has to be taken, which may require incredible effort. It could mean stepping into uncomfortable territory. It often means going through failure. It means making tough decisions. It is challenging to be responsible! But that’s the whole test of life. And these tests are what make responsible people stronger.

The Prophet is an iconic example of someone who took responsibility for his life. He was in the streets alone inviting people to Islam. He was at the front ranks in battles, and was ready to fight even without military support, as in the second encounter with the Makkans at Badr. He took on the responsibility of protecting his people, as in the following narration in Qadi ‘Iyad’s ash-Shifa: one night, the people of Makkah were alarmed by a loud sound, so people made for the source of the disturbance. The Messenger of Alllah met them on his way back for he had already got to the source of the noise before them. He told them that a horse of Abu Talha had got loose. His sword was hanging from his neck. He said, "Do not be alarmed."

Finally, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) never complained to anyone about his mission. He never blamed anyone for his/her incompetency. Anas ibn Malik, the servant of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) said, “I served him for ten years, and he never said “uff” (an expression of disgust) to me. He never said, ‘why did you do that?’ for something I had done, nor did he ever say ‘why did you not do such and such’ for something I had not done.” [Bukhari and Muslim]. And if the Prophet did complain, it would only be about himself, and it would only be directed to Allah. This attitude was manifested in the year of sadness, after both his beloved wife Khadijah and his protecting uncle Abu Talib had passed away, and the people of Ta’if drove him out of the city. Rather than complaining, blaming, or retaliating, he made the following heartfelt supplication:

“0 God, unto Thee do I complain of my weakness, of my helplessness, and of my lowliness before men. 0 Most Merciful of the merciful, Thou art Lord of the weak. And Thou art my Lord. Into whose hands wilt Thou entrust me? Unto some far off stranger who will ill-treat me? Or unto a foe whom Thou hast empowered against me? I care not, so Thou be not wroth with me. But Thy favouring help - that were for me the broader way and the wider scope! I take refuge in the Light of Thy Countenance whereby all darknesses are illuminated and the things of this world and the next are rightly ordered, lest Thou make descend Thine anger upon me, or lest Thy wrath beset me. Yet is it Thine to reproach until Thou art well pleased. There is no power and no might except through Thee."! [excerpted from Martin Ling’s “Muhammad”].
O our Lord, send blessings upon our master Muhammad. 

I have only scratched the surface on the discussion on ownership and responsibility. For a good read on this principle, read the first chapter of Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles.

1 comment:

  1. Alhamdolilah, 2010 was the best year of my life on so many levels and it was to a large extent due to implementing the principles mentioned here.

    Abdullah L