Ramadan has always been a time for me to make new resolutions and reflect on the past so that I can grow as a person and transition into the New Year… Hopefully this article will serve as a helpful treatise of advice for those of you who are looking for some traction in your early twenties. When I told Omar Usman that the title of this article is “What I Learned at 21,” he smirked and said, “You learned absolutely nothing.” I nodded my head and agreed, and hence below you will see how I simply compiled what I learned that I don’t know. Enjoy!
1. You Don’t Know Anything and You Are Inexperienced – Accept it.
Our egos do a pretty good job of making us front like we are on top of our game. We rave about our creative ideas and ability to think outside-the-box, but the reality is that most of our ideas and outside-the-box thinking is useless if we haven’t worked a day in our lives. Bachelor’s degrees will simply help you think along a certain wavelength and give you the chance to show others (including your employers) that you are serious about yourself and getting ahead. Learn to work a bunch of random jobs during college to learn skills needed for your profession. Simple things such as learning to talk to people at a help desk, helping someone feel accomplished through tutoring, or working as a waiter will possibly take you a long way. Sometimes we are our own deceivers.
2. Understand Your Priorities as a Muslim.
There are some things in life which are more important than others; it’s a simple rule of thumb. When you can figure out what your priorities are and give them their due rights, life will begin to flow very naturally. If waking up in the morning has always proven difficult for you, understand that going to sleep early and praying Fajr on time in the morning takes priority over watching the season finale of Breaking Bad or Burn Notice. If you are at school the whole week and work at night time and get barely anytime with your family, be sure to set aside a generous amount of time on the weekend to spend time with your parents and siblings instead of spending the weekend at an Islamic weekend seminar. Your religion and family take priority over EVERYTHING else in your life.
3. Work Hard, Study Hard, Play Hard.
You better be REALLY good at whatever you want to do in life. Stop beating around the bush and give everything its due measure. When it is time to work, work. Work thoroughly through your tasks and leave no stone unturned. There is no substitute in life for natural hard work. Stop procrastinating with your studies if you are in college. Instead of hanging out in the MSA all week long and then cramming the night before for an exam, legitimately go study the material so you know it. Don’t make excuses, rather, learn for the sake of learning; you will not regret it. Learn to take breaks and have a good time. Don’t over play, but do it enough to get your head straight. Balance is key. Take vacations during the time you have off of school and go refresh yourself. Get away from all the stressful situations of your life and just go recuperate.. Know what you like to do for fun and go do it.
4. Only Fools Take People’s Praise Seriously.
You will become negatively affected in your individual growth once you let the praise from other people settle into your heart. Taking things back to my first point, you will start your failure once you accept you are good to go. Not to mention there are many people out there who will simply praise you out of pity. If you are at that stage, then you better get your head straightened out and realize you have a whole life ahead of you before you get filled with a load of hot air. There is a difference between receiving a compliment, getting motivated after experiencing a low, and being taken for a ride by someone through their praises.
5. Success Starts with Financial Independence.
If you are not making your own halal money and working towards becoming independent of your parents then you are short from a path of success. Stop making excuses and intend to be free from being someone else’s financial burden. You probably will not be able to pay for your own rent initially, but you should be paying for your own gas, food, and other essentials. Help out around the house if you can with bills. Eventually wean yourself away from using anyone else’s money but your own. Again, the key is having the intention and working towards it; it’s a work in progress.
6. Islam is Much More Useful to Practice Outside of Mosques, Weekend Seminars, and Conferences.
Those are the easy places to be Muslim. The purpose of faith is much more than a ‘feel-good-Friday-sensation.’ It needs to be your safety net for all aspects of your life. It is much more important to have a heart which uses its connection with Allāh to help you cope with the calamities of life versus hanging out at a conference just because everyone and their dad is attending it. Start reading the Qur’an more regularly in whatever capacity you can through a regiment. One day you will have children whom you will strive to raise as good Muslims. Get serious about your faith. Stop chasing after ‘celebrity’ speakers/imams simply because they are famous. Find someone you can be consistent with. Find someone who has good character, a strong grasp on their faith, and benefit from their company often. There will possibly come a time where you will question why you are Muslim and the purpose of faith in your life. Write these questions down and go to your teacher/mentor to seek out the answers. If you can’t get them from him/her, then they can definitely help you towards heading in the right direction.
7. Preserve Your Money and Pay Off Debts.
I remember one year when I lived away from my family I ended up spending about $400-$500 on eating out in one month. Since then I cut it down big time! Learn to eat to live, not live to eat!
Owing someone twenty dollars for an expensive meal, making your tuition/car payments, parking tickets, etc. are all considered debts to me. The longer you let debts carry on, the deeper you dig your hole. If you are in debt, then check out debtfreemuslims.com to help organize your finances.
Always have money on the side that you have earned but don’t touch. It should be there for a rainy day. You never know when things can go wrong, so make sure you are prepared.
8. Forget Bollywood and Hollywood. ‘Love’ Is Not What it seems.
I have seen enough peers and friends around me go through a divorce after a short marriage or a break up after being engaged for a long period of time. We as young people are in love with wanting to be in love and don’t understand what a relationship entails, what a spouse’s rights are, what the purpose of marriage is, what our own family expects from us, and much more. Not that I know anything about this, but I theorize that ‘true love’ takes time and effort just like anything else in life. If you have your head on straight by understanding the above, earn your own money, and are in decent standing within your own family, then you can possibly consider getting married. For everyone else, steer clear of an idealized-fantasized-romanticized idea of a relationship. Take your time and do not rush things. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghamaren’t real, so stop trying to live like Shah Rukh Khan.
9. People Who May Despise and Insult You Are Simply Insecure. Those People May Include Your “Friends.”
As you achieve success in life you will see many people in your life who you were once close with eventually begin to make you look down on yourself. They thrive off of hurting and insulting you. It is good at the same time as haters are a validation that you are doing things right. Do not entertain these types of people with your time and effort. . Keep your composure, let them make a fool of themselves, and then simply proceed with carrying yourself with dignity. The fact is that your success and failure will help you see who your real friends are in life–which leads me to my next point.
10. Surround Yourself With Good People.
Fundamentally Islam teaches us that you are as your friends are. If you have bad company, you will automatically pick up their traits, actions, train of thought, and more. If you hang around people who are positive, advancing in their religion and career, then you will pick up something from them as well. As the saying goes: ‘tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.’ At the same time do not saturate the amount of people you are close with, rather, have a few close confidants that you keep dear to your heart and learn from.
11. Get Mentors. Yes, More Than One.
This is a picture of Omer Bajwa. He works as the Muslim chaplain at Yale University and is a close friend and mentor of mine. Check him out at themuslimchaplain.com
As you near graduation you should start to seek out mentors wherever you can find them to be accessible and helpful to you. It is obvious that a lawyer cannot help you grow as a doctor and a doctor cannot help you grow as a lawyer, so it is very important to have a mentor in each field you are seeking to grow in, whether it be career, religion, physical fitness, or family life. When you have a question regarding your faith, you should automatically know who can nurture you and answer your question in a personal format in your own language. If you are looking to land a good job in the next few months after graduation then you should constantly be talking to your professors to see which of them is the most competent and approachable in helping you grow in your career.
The Qur’an has always favored the concept of إِسْتِخْلَاف (istikhlaaf) in our religion.., passing the baton onto the next people in line. The bigger picture of life is not about a single individual, rather, it is about conveying the good in your life to someone else so they can continue a legacy of building something much greater. A good mentor knows that his success is tied to passing on his own skills and ideas to a protégé who can be trained, grown, and taught with an open mind.
12. Learn to Dress BETTER
There really was no reason to stop wearing that wrinkled white tee, those ripped jeans, and your rainbow colored converse sneakers during your transition from high school into the realm of college. Actually, in your freshman year you probably downgraded from those jeans and shoes into striped PJ’s and a pair of socks on your feet which you force into your flip flops every morning. Ditch that whole wardrobe if you want the world to take you seriously. Obviously as guys we don’t have the luxury of throwing on an abaya over whatever ridiculous clothing we’re wearing, so be sure to look like a decent, professional, human being in the morning before stepping outside. You don’t need to wear a suit all the time or try to look like the next Neal Caffrey or Bernie Mac, but be sure everything is ironed, your hair is combed, and your shoes don’t look like they got into a fight with a lawnmower. Buy some good cologne and stop using free samples.
13. Stop Being Mediocre.
Getting ahead in life requires sticking out with your skillset and knowledge more so than other people in your field. It means performing above average in life. Satisfaction with what everyone else is satisfied with won’t make the cut. Yes, preventing yourself from mediocrity does extend into getting good grades, but the reality is that it is so much more. Every single one of us should see what we can contribute to those directly within our reach.
14. There Aren’t Many Shortcuts to Life. Accept It.
There is no substitute for hard work. Turn your knuckles purple in attaining success. You will meet many people out there who seem to have life figured out, but really haven’t done anything. Maybe you’ll come across someone who claims to be working with a twenty-three year old millionaire, but that student doesn’t even pay for his own gas. The best moment I recall was when a nineteen year old called a thirty year old friend of mine who was married with three kids and tried ‘life coaching’ him through the next five years of his career and family life. Going back to point two, work hard.
15. Stop Taking Everything for Granted.
Your car, food, clothing, and education are privileges. They are things to be earned and appreciated. Look to those less fortunate than you and thank Allāhfor being given an extra day to wake up, not be in a hospital, have two healthy legs to walk on, have the ability to digest your food, not have cancer, and much more. Life is fruitless when you don’t appreciate the little things.
16. Between 18-21, Every Year Feels Like Five Years.
I am not sure what it is exactly…maybe the amount of growth? But whatever it is, 18-21 feels like a long time. Every year seems to pack a punch of its own. New experiences, new failures, new successes, and new people can take a toll on you. Just relax, take it easy, and don’t rush yourself in life decisions. Again, this is the time to begin outlining what you will be doing for the rest of your life.
17. Don’t Live In the Past nor Too Far in the Future
Atonement for the past happens in the present in order to build a new future. Don’t let bad decisions of the past stop you from moving ahead in life. Instead of being depressed or shattered over a bad experience, relationship, business transaction, or even a personal decision, use it to steer yourself towards success in the present. The other point is to avoid thinking so far in the future that you either ignore the present and/or falsely rationalize unrealistic expectations. Create a mental balance. This subject will tie into point twenty.
18. Travel Often.
If you want to travel then this is the time. Exhaust your breaks to the fullest extent by getting around the world. Travelling opens up your mind and helps you relax when you get back and see things in a different light. Taking long trips during breaks is the only thing which probably motivates me to keep going with school. The places you will go, the people you will meet, and the experiences you will have will prove to be a learning experience which a university education cannot compete with. Go places, anywhere and everywhere!
19. When You Move, Call Home.
One thing which I have learned is to never underestimate the power of a phone call to your family if you are away. Since I was fourteen years old I have been living away from home on and off due to school. I spent the first two and a half years of high school in New York City where I stayed at a dormitory for two weeks at a time. Then after my freshman year at college I took a year off and moved to Dallas for the Bayyinah Dream program, and then last year my family moved from New Jersey to Atlanta. So I have basically spent the last five years of my life living away from my family.
Always call. Every day if you can. If not every day then every other day. Your mother wants to hear your voice and tell you that she loves you while your father wants to speak to the human being he put his effort into maturing into a man/woman. When you don’t call home, you hurt your parents. Simple as that. It means you don’t want to talk to them…there’s no other way around it.
20. Plan. But Be Ready For Change.
If truth be told, no matter how much you plan, Allāh is the best of planners. Go ahead and plan your career out on a timeline; plan for the next five, ten, twenty, and even thirty years. Know what you want to study, where you want to go to grad school, how much you want to make, and everything else that is associated with the previous points; but do leave some wiggle room in case things don’t go as planned. Perhaps the main bread winner of the family passes away and you are put in a position where you need to provide for your family (God forbid). Maybe you were admitted into medical school, but the first year proved so difficult that you had a change of heart as to what you want to do in life. Whatever the case may be, leave wiggle room and accept that change is sometimes fate.
21. When It All Goes South, Look Around to See Who Still Enjoys Your Company. Those Are the People that Matter.
Family matters. Doesn’t matter what goes down, they matter. Your parents matter. Your siblings matter. Even if one of your family members screwed up somewhere down the line, they still matter. A good friend and mentor of mine once told me, “Nihal, ignore the idiots in your life. People will threaten you, hurt you, and defame you. What’s important to note are the people who want to be around you even after things go south. If all else fails, know that just by that token you are on the right path.”
This article would not have been possible without my parents, Chaplain Omer Bajwa, Mayor Zubair Hameeduddin, Sameer Sarmast, and Salim Patel. These are some of the main people who have helped me grow and mature as an individual these last few years through intimately working with me throughout various facets of my life. May Allāh bless them all.
Posted by: Nihal Khan