Friday, July 6, 2012


It is strange how society often pushes us to do things that aren’t aligned with our talents, skills, aptitudes, and interests. For example, parents may encourage their child to become a physician, even though he/she is talented in arts. The workplace may encourage their employers to be a manager if they want to earn more, even though they are gifted in technical work. People may be forced to be more social, when they are introverted by nature.

I can go on with more examples, but the unfortunate summary is this: we are indoctrinated to focus on overcoming our weaknesses or on embracing that which we are unfamiliar with, rather than on building upon our ‘strengths’. Thus, we invest little time to succeed in life through the abilities and tools that our Lord has gifted us with.

In our obsession over shortcomings and unfamiliar territory, we often forget that success comes when one’s efforts are aligned with his/her talents, skills, aptitudes, and interests - strengths. In other words, people succeed when they tap into the potential they already know they have within them. And when these efforts are further aligned to serve Allah and His Messenger, life becomes an act of gratitude and means to achieve closeness to Allah and His Messenger.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be Upon Him) appointed his companions to roles in a purposeful manner, such that the roles reflected the companions’ strengths. For example, he sent Mus’ab bin Umair as an ambassador to Yathrib (Madinatun Nabi) to invite the Madinans to Islam, because of his eloquence, gentleness, and fearlessness. He did not send Umar, for example, because of his emphasis on justice and the awe he carried with him. He sent Mu’adh ibn Jabal to Yemen to guide and educate its people because of his knowledge and judgment, rather than Khalid bin Waleed, for example, who was more adept in military strategy. He appointed Bilal as the mu’adhdhin (caller of adhan) because of his beautiful voice, rather than someone else. etc.

Unfortunately, many of us, even at old age, don’t know what our strengths are or how to tap into them, for various reasons. Sometimes, the environment doesn’t offer opportunities to realize and develop our inherent strengths. Other times, social/cultural pressures force us to suppress certain strengths that don’t conform to socially/cultural acceptable standards. And other times, the desire for money (or fear of poverty) drives us to pursue roles where the money is rather than where our strengths are. In consequence, a person may be doing something he/she doesn’t enjoy, and may not tap into the great potential within him. Ultimately, he/she may be leading an unsatisfied life.

For the above reason, parents are encouraged to play an active role in identifying, nurturing, and supporting their children’s inherent strengths, even if these strengths don’t coincide with their vision of who or what their children should become. One of the greatest challenges that children face as they grow into university/college students is determining what program most resonates with their strengths and interests. For this reason, some research suggests that 80% of students change their majors in the U.S. Canada’s stats should be around the same number. I am one of those students (I changed my major four times). 

On the other hand, one should not ignore their weaknesses or other potential areas for development, especially when they affect the rights of others or lead to disobedience to Allah and His Messenger. Personal development is about expanding ourselves, and while part of that expansion comes from developing our inherent talents, skills, aptitudes, and interests, part of it also involves rectifying ourselves and exploring new areas. ‘Strength’ also refers to one’s ability to subdue his/her own negative tendencies and habits. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) said, “A strong person is not the person who throws his adversaries to the ground. A strong person is the one who contains himself when he is angry.” (Muwatta)

Recognizing one’s strengths - and weaknesses - is the start of one’s path to success. This is why the following words of wisdom is worth its weight in gold: “Know yourself.”

One exercise we can all do is brainstorm and jot down our strengths with a pen and paper. You can also check out Strengthsfinder 2.0.

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