As I come to the closure of this book, and although I see my life as a work in progress, I would like to encapsulate some of my key learnings thus far. It has been my aim to show in this book that ordinary people can take leadership stances and make a lasting, positive difference in their world. Whether I succeeded or not is for the readers to judge. I continue my journey, ever looking forward to mountains still to climb and valleys still to gaze over. I realize that what I have written here is from an Islamic perspective and some parts may seem strange or foreign to the non-Muslim readers. But I am a Muslim and this is about my life and my experience. So I will speak my language just as the Dalai Lama would speak in terms of the Buddhist perspective or someone else from the perspective of his or her own faith, religion, or philosophy. In all these cases it is for the reader to ask questions, clarify and understand, and after having understood, to accept, or reject. We are all free to do this and to this freedom do I point you.
So what did I learn?
I call it my – Can’t do Without 7 List: The 7 are:
7. Desire to Serve
1. You can’t do without Faith:
I have mentioned one of my favorite quotes by Barbara Winters earlier in the book: “When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is to know that one of two things will happen; there will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.” I know exactly what she means because my life is full of instances where I was taught how to fly.
When you work with faith in ultimate success you enter into a state of ‘Grace’. I have talked about this state earlier as a place you enter after exerting supreme effort where there is a special quality to the sunshine, a special pleasure in being alive, and the taste of success is sweet.
I have mentioned the example of marathon runners who enter the state of grace, earlier in the book. Take another example from the pages of history, when an outnumbered Mongol army faced the vast army of Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, the Sultan of Khwarezm. The Mongol Tumans (brigades) led by Jochi ( Ghenghis Khan’s eldest son) and the Mongol general Jebe were vastly outnumbered by the Sultan’s army. So they executed a strategic retreat.
They escaped from the battle field and rode into the night, pursued persistently by the Sultan’s army. Both armies rode all night without break after having fought through the day. This ride is probably a global record not only of individual riders but entire armies who covered over 150 miles in 24 hours. One has to appreciate the endurance on both sides that the chase was continued long after any reasonable person would have given up. The sheer ability to master pain, sleep, and hunger is mindboggling, especially in today’s comfort loving culture. These were some very hard warriors, pitted against one another, carrying out the will of their generals. Early next morning the Mongols turned. The Sultan’s archers, dog tired after the hard night’s riding had the sun in their eyes. Nobody expected the Mongols to actually turn to fight. They expected them to get away. But they did the unexpected and turned. The result was the complete annihilation of the Sultan’s army – a victory unprecedented as it was unexpected. I can’t help but presume that Jochi’s and Jebe’s soldiers had entered the state of grace and they continued to fight on. The rest, as they say, is history.
There have been many instances in my life where I would feel midway that I had been crazy to take on the challenge. Having no alternative but to go forward, I would continue. And slowly I would stop feeling the tiredness and become conscious of the greatness of the journey. I would know in my heart that all my effort had been worth it.
Whether the challenge be physical or spiritual, the route to the state of grace is through great effort. This is easy to see in examples of war or martial arts or other physical challenges. It is much more difficult to see in the invisible challenges of the heart and mind. Nonetheless, you cannot reach the state of grace without exerting effort.
2. You can’t do without Courage:
Courage is passion. Courage is the willingness to be confident in that passion and to express it without fear. Passion kindles the fire in the hearts of others who you need in order to succeed. Passion is the light that illuminates the dark road of heartbreaking effort and enables you to keep walking when others want to turn around. Passion is what brings tears to the eyes – tears of great commitment, not weakness. If it can’t make you cry, it can’t make you work. Work without passion is drudgery – with passion, a joy in itself.
Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to continue. Excitement is fear that anticipates a happy ending. Fear is a sign of intelligence. It shows that you recognize the enormity and danger of the challenge and are not living in a fool’s paradise. Courage is the willingness to face that challenge, to face that fear and look it in the eye and continue on the road to success with your eyes wide open. Courage enables you to set extraordinary goals because only the courageous realize that it is in the nature of the extraordinary goal to inspire extraordinary effort. Nobody rises to low expectations. People rise to high expectations. Courage enables you to set high expectations. Courage comes from knowing your strengths and being able to leverage them. Courage comes from living thoughtfully and building on the life experience of having won other battles in the past and having learnt lessons from them. Courage comes from living intelligently and being able to recognize and use assets strategically and to jettison liabilities.
Courage is the ability to say no – firstly, to yourself. Courage is the ability to take hard decisions knowing that if there is a cancer then it must be cut out. Courage is the ability to take pain; the physical pain of great effort and the far greater emotional pain of betrayal, confusion, and loss of hope.
The story of Genghis Khan’s troops against the Sultan of Khwarezm’s army is a classic illustration of courage on both sides but where in the end the Mongols won because their courage was greater. This courage has nothing to do with the outside world but everything to do with the inside – challenging yourself beyond what you believed possible. It is truly said, ‘Nobody knows the best that he can do.’ For we only know what we have done until now. The best is what we discover when we stand to face the challenges that life throws at us and even more those that we consciously choose. Challenges and difficulties do two things – they test our courage and they increase it. It is only when you stand up to a challenge that you realize that you could overcome it and that is a hugely empowering feeling. Without the challenge you would never have known your ability and now that raises the bar for you in terms of what you can face. So physical toughness is very important and mental toughness even more than that – for tiredness is a state of mind, not body. The body will continue as long as the mind refuses to accept defeat.
Courage is the ability to pick yourself up and climb out of that abyss; while those around you have no idea about the path that you are walking on. Courage is the willingness to open your heart to others and allow it to break because the heart was made to feel and to be broken – not to be protected from all emotion and preserved, unbroken, turned to stone. Courage is to realize that it is the broken heart which is dearest to the One who created the heart. Courage is the ability to take hard decisions and face the pain that comes with them, secure in the belief that what you did was for a greater cause. The killers in life are the excuses that we make for our own laziness, low quality and so on. Hard decisions bring us back on track.
Courage is the willingness to eat less, sleep less, work harder, delay gratification, and continue to work for the great goal that you are pursuing. Finally courage is linked to faith; deeply and inextricably. The courage of the one who lacks faith will break at some point because he will suddenly realize that he is all alone. But the one who has faith knows that he is never alone and that the One who has no limits to His resources likes those who embark on great endeavors and will help them to succeed. So he stays in the race long after others have fallen by the wayside. For the truth is that the race of life is most often won, not by the fastest but by the one who stayed in it long enough.
3. You can’t do without Dua:
Dua is to talk to Allah. This may seem unreal in a world where we are so sunk in materialism that God is unreal. But believe me, I learnt this all through my life, God is real. Allah exists. He listens, sees, and knows. He cares and helps. And when you ask, He gives. The key is to ask knowing that He is real. And that is what Dua is. To turn to Him not only when you are in trouble but when you are happy. To simply have a conversation. To tell Him your story. To ask Him questions. Don’t worry about how He will answer. That is His choice. But I learnt that He does answer and if you keep your heart clean, you will know when He answers. This requires you to build a relationship with Him. Everyone has a relationship with Him willy-nilly because He is our Creator. I am talking about taking that relationship to a higher level of understanding His greatness, of expressing thanks for His bounty, and of recognizing Him in His signs and glorifying His Majesty and Grace. Dua is the essence of worship – it is to talk to Allah who is the only one who is worthy of being worshipped. You can’t do without Dua, believe me.
Dua gives courage because it strengthens the connection between the Creator and you and reminds you that you are not alone and that your Creator wants you to succeed. Like most things of this nature, dua must be experienced for you to taste its sweetness. There is only so much that anyone can explain about its beauty, power, and comfort. After that it needs you to experience it – like a big, warm hug – how do you explain what it feels like to the one who has never been hugged?
4. You can’t do without Discipline:
We must all suffer one of two things; the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
Of these two the pain of discipline is far easier to bear. Discipline is simply to get up and do what must be done without making excuses. Discipline is to realize that excuses don’t change reality. Failure doesn’t change to success because you have a good excuse. Loss doesn’t reverse to gain because you have a good excuse. Excuses change nothing. Discipline is to stop making excuses and do what it takes to succeed. Discipline is to realize that everyone has the same 24 hours and the same choices of what they choose to do with that time. Discipline is to realize that opportunities don’t come; they don’t knock on your doors. They have to be sought out, grasped, and taken advantage of. When did you ever see the deer come in search of the hunter? Opportunities are like deer. They exist for the benefit of the hunter who has the discipline to prepare his trap, wait patiently and then spring to the kill. For all others there is the dust of the road to eat watching the tail of the deer disappearing in the distance.
5. You can’t do without Resilience:
Resilience is the willingness to get up, every time you fall. Not the ability, but the willingness. I say, ‘Not the ability’ because if the willingness is there, the ability will emerge. But without the willingness the ability, even when it is there, remains dormant and you stay down. Resilience comes from the willingness to face the brutal facts without any whitewashing or pretension. To face the truth about yourself no matter how ugly that may look and then to have the willingness to do whatever it takes to change yourself, your actions, your beliefs, your strategy, and your tactics. To change everything except your goal.
Resilience is to combine the willingness to accept the harsh reality of present failure with an unshakable faith in the fact that one day you will win. So you continue to work, firm in the belief that it is only a matter of time and strategy before you succeed. This is very important because in all great endeavors there comes a time when there is darkness all around. When those who started with you with great hope, have become tired and some have fallen by the wayside. Many start to lose faith in you and in your ability to succeed. And to speak the truth you also start to doubt yourself in your heart. The night is cold and dark. It seems that dawn will never come. It is at this time that it is most essential to remain constant, to keep the faith, to keep smiling and positive and never to compromise the goal or reduce the standard. There will be great pressure on you to compromise, to accept a lower standard, to sacrifice your principles. To do that is suicide. To remain constant is the true meaning of resilience and this is not possible without the first two – faith and dua. For only with faith in the Creator and the relationship with Him that enables you to talk to Him, can you retain faith in eventual success when all the signs around you are only pointing to failure. I have seen this many times in my life, that when you withstand the night, you start to see the glow on the horizon which tells you that the sun will rise again. The truth is that the sun always rises. We only have to last out the night. That is resilience which you can’t do without.
6. You can’t do without Companions:
There is a rider on this one – not simply companions but the right companions. This is a deal maker or deal breaker. Our companions can help us to succeed or fail. So it is essential to be able to judge people accurately. There is nobody in the world who can win alone. There never was. There never will be. People who win in any aspect of life are people who know how to build, cherish, maintain, and sever relationships. Please note that I have mentioned also severing relationships. That is because relationships can be positive and negative. With the latter it is essential to sever them, but to do that in a way that is not damaging to the people involved. That is the skill. How can you part as friends?
A very essential skill in having good companions is the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. To agree to disagree; to accept differences, even major ones, but still see areas of agreement where you can collaborate and work together. This is essential because success depends on having people with the right competencies and skills with you – not merely people you like or who like you. Conflict is a sign of commitment but it must be resolved. So the ability to resolve conflicts in a way that strengthens friendship is essential to keeping good companions by your side. People like to work with those who they believe value them and there is nothing that builds credibility more than accepting that you were wrong. Resolving conflicts often is simply about accepting your own mistakes. And it is about helping people keep focused on the ultimate goal in which we all have a common stake.
Good companions are those who push you to greater heights, who don’t accept poor quality, who hide your faults from others but point them out to you with love. Good companions are those who make excuses for you but don’t allow you to make excuses for yourself. Good companions are those who refuse to accept from you anything but the best because they believe that you are capable of achieving it. Good companions are those who share your passion, dream your dream and are willing to do what it takes to make it come true.
Good companions are those who understand and appreciate, not merely tolerate – one another. This is an outcome of good communication and that is a critical skill in building that team of good companions that leads to success. Good communication is not about talking but about being understood and more importantly about being believed. Good communication is built on a platform of trust which is the adhesive that keeps companions together. Trust typically takes long to build and an instant to break. Trust is the result of consistently demonstrating concern and compassion for others, even at your own cost. Trust results in the lowering of defenses between companions and so its betrayal is very damaging. Trust must be protected and cherished, for once lost, it can never be restored. Good companions are those who can be implicitly trusted. So ask yourself, ‘Am I am good companion?’
7. You can’t do without the Desire to Serve
What is the benefit of serving? Think contribution, not entitlement. Entitlement comes with territory. Contribution defines territory. Service is simply good business. To serve one must be aware of what people need, deliver according to need, be concerned with how it is received, provide the support that may be necessary for the recipients to enjoy the service, and make amends if something goes wrong. All these are principles of good business and result in great wealth and influence without tension, fear or aggression. The desire to serve is at the bottom of great quality. It is the foundation of great customer relations, employee satisfaction, social responsibility, and universal goodwill. Those who seek to serve are those who have the maximum power and influence and add value to themselves and others.
Imagine a world where people seek ways to help one another. Imagine a world where people are genuinely concerned for the weak. Imagine a world free from oppression because those who have more seek to give it to those who need it; where surplus wheat is not dumped into the sea to drive up wheat prices, but rather shipped off to places where people are starving. Imagine a world that doesn’t dump billions of dollars’ worth of food into the garbage, but instead looks for those who are hungry. Imagine a world where doctors and pharmaceutical firms seek to heal the sick as cheaply and simply as possible – not make money out of other’s pain.
Imagine a world where teachers are paid more than entertainers. Imagine a world where there are no wars because those who have natural resources and those who have the technology to utilize them, work in fair and just relationships where both parties benefit. Imagine a world where knowledge about what harms the environment immediately results in stopping that harm and nobody needs to be reminded, persuaded or forced to comply with laws to protect the world. Imagine a world where people are concerned about the future and don’t confuse vice for freedom and seek to keep the environment clean from all forms of physical, mental, spiritual and material corruption.
Imagine a world where people feel responsible for each other’s welfare and ask the question, ‘What will my neighbor feel if I say or do this?’ Imagine a world where freedom is exercised with responsibility and is not confused with anarchy. Imagine a world where hurting someone else is considered serious enough for one to ensure it’s never done.
I wish we didn’t need to imagine such a world because we lived in it and it was real to us. I also believe that be that as it may, the opportunity to create such a world exists as long as we live.
So I live by my motto: “I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control.” And that is my gift to you.