Long Term Success

February 24th, 2014 @   -  No Comments

Have you ever tried assembling a large jigsaw puzzle without the guide of the picture on its box? Without the final picture, it is extremely difficult, confusing and time consuming to put all the pieces together.

Similarly, imagine your life like a puzzle or a major project you want to undertake. Unless you have a picture of what you ultimately want out of life, you will be hesitant, undecided and torn. Although having a clear picture may not guarantee your success, clarifying what success means to you will help you feel more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. It also gives you a strong framework for decision-making; it affects your choice of goals, priorities and the way you allocate your time to achieve them.

Let’s examine these two cases:

Salma and Dalila live in the same neighbourhood. Salma is a working mom. She constantly feels a sense of guilt for leaving her kids in daycare. She finds it very difficult to be away from them when they clearly need her. When she is at work, she worries about her children and housework, and when she is at home, she worries about what needs to be done at work. She feels torn and finds it hard to focus on or enjoy what she is doing. She thinks stay-at-home moms are happier. Not a single day goes by where she doesn’t question her choice. “What can I do?” she asks.

Dalila is a stay-at-home mom. She thinks she ought to work like her friend Salma, who is able to buy new things for her kids, dine out and take vacations because of the paycheck she earns. To Dalila, Salma is successful, and she looks at her in admiration. Dalila feels bored and de-motivated, and believes being a housewife is harder than being a working mom. She feels working moms are happier. Why is that?

Salma and Dalila see only one or two pieces of the puzzle. If you ask them or you ask the people around you what success means to them, they would give you different answers. And the answers change over time; today it is getting a job, tomorrow it is having a fancy house, the day after, it is getting that top position or having a certain amount of money in the bank and so forth.

Our perception of success is developed over time under the influence of our parents, friends, teachers, religious figures, the media and the culture at large. If you think you are clear about what success means to you, try to imagine a successful person, what picture comes to mind? When you imagine an unsuccessful person, what do you see? Let yourself break free from society’s expectations and ask yourself this question:

How do I define success?

How do you define success as a parent?  Is it by your children’s academic achievements or by the character they build and exhibit? Some parents worry about their children getting good grades or jobs while they care less about their children’s character or keeping bonds of kinship.

How do you define success as an employee? Is it by reaching a certain level in your career or by the extent of your contribution and the value you are adding?

How do you define your financial success? Is it by the amount of money you are making and saving or by the amount of money you are spending in helping those less fortunate?

How do you define a successful organization? Is it by looking at the bottom line or by the quality of your services and involvement in supporting the wellbeing of your community?

How you perceive success influences your focus and actions. By looking at your goals and activities in the context of the big picture as shown below, you get a broader perspective, which helps you set your priorities correctly. This big picture serves as your compass.

Where is your main focus?

One of the companions asked Ali (RA), “How do I know if I am a person of Dunya (this life) or a person of the Akhira (the hereafter)?” Ali (RA) answered, “If two people knocked on your door; one brought a gift and the other asked for your help or for you to give him something, which one would make you happier?  If you feel happier with the gift then you are more inclined and your focus is mainly towards Dunya. However, if you feel happier with the person who asks for your help, then you are a person of the Akhira.”

When death strikes, some people will ask, “My Lord, if only You would delay me for a brief term so I will give charity and be among the righteous.” Are these people suddenly realizing their love for others at their deathbed? Of course not. They realize that helping others is helping themselves. Our human nature is to possess and keep, but our long term success requires that we share and help.

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