“Just Sell The Car”

Apparently, this is a sentiment that a Spielberg-ian director said in response to the way in which a Labeouf-ian actor behaved in press interviews for a film he didn’t necessarily artistically believe in.

At some point, you gotta put your artist side to the side, and just “sell the car” (i.e. sell the movie anyway).

I get it, but man is it hard.

To have a list of tasks that seem meaningless or just not in line with what you want to really do…how do you get past that hump of purposelessness and just…sell the car.

Because if we don’t sell the car, we’re out of money, we’re out of opportunity, we’re out of ways to realistically fulfill your artistic ambitions. So if you want to feed those, you’ve gotta feed the machine that makes those possible to pursue.

When Google Doesn’t Have The Answer…

…that’s when I journal, or tweet, or blog, or have a discussion with my parents, with friends, with folks at the mosque.

It’s so rare these days to not find an answer, that when we don’t…it means we’ve hit on a question worth asking.

So don’t give up when there’s no answer — instead, step into that question, make that question your new mission, explore and search and figure out all you can around the question until you can start to form an answer.

The people we admire, the people we respect, the people we consider successful?

Most of them are in our minds and hearts because they didn’t have the answer, but instead, stumbled upon an interesting question, and had the courage to dig further and find an answer.

We Want You To Invest…

…emotionally.

…personally.

…materially.

…happily.

…wholly.

 

In a world where the default is to be non-committal, your investment means everything.

What people don’t realize, though, is that investment has a return, but only if you invest. Not trade, not do a favor, not try something out…you only get the return on investment if you actually invest.

So invest yourself, as someone once invested in you.

The Benefit of Being A Bad Kid (As Told By A Good Kid)

I grew up a good kid. 

I followed the rules and tried to not make too much trouble for people around me. And in return for this show of respect for the rules and others, I was often praised, and shown love and appreciation.

Nothing wrong there, but what did that developed into over years and years of reinforcement?

A belief that: being “good” (or really, being “compliant”) gets me love.

But then, a sneaky implicit belief follows:

“Being “bad” means I don’t get love, in fact, I get punished.”

It all still sounds harmless, right? These seem like healthy worldviews to have.

But now, let’s look at the other side of the spectrum — what beliefs does a “bad kid” start to develop?

The first one is the same as the belief of the “good kid”: being “good” (or really, being “compliant”) gets me love.

And that second belief of the “good kid” is true here, too, BUT with a very key adjustment:
“Being “bad” means I don’t get love, in fact, I get punished…but eventually I’m shown love again.

What’s so different about that?

The good kid believes they have to always be good in order to get love.

The bad kid learns that even if they mess up or act bad, despite them, they’ll get loved anyway.


The good kid never learns that they’re allowed to mess up, to make mistakes, to even try new things and take risks…because they’re afraid they won’t be loved despite it.

What follows is that once the good kid grows up, being “bad” looks even more alluring and tempting, and so they want to test the waters of this whole “bad” thing — why? It’s not just some “forbidden fruit” complex that they finally have freedom to do what they want — but on a much deeper level, the good kid wants to test out a theory that they never had proven to them, by doing bad for the first time, they’re asking the world:

Will you still love me if I did something bad?

And so, you’ll find good kids start to shirk their responsibilities, unconsciously hoping that someone will forgive them or show them some sort of mercy (giving them love that doesn’t feel conditional, for the first time).

You’ll find good kids turning their backs on all the achievement and involvement they once held so dear — because they’re questioning now why they did any of it, and whether it was really from their own goodness, or if they were always after the love of others.

When the good “break bad,” so to speak, it’s not because they’ve gone crazy or suddenly have turned into bad people — they’ve just finally gotten fed up with the notion that they’re unlovable unless they continue to adhere to this standard of “good” as defined by everyone outside of them. 

And so, they wanna define their own morality now.

The trouble is, the more “good” they were (again: “compliant”), the more they’ll be willing to go farther outside the lines to figure out, “is this really all that bad?”
So what can we do, as good kids, to deal with all of this?

Firstly, we have to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, and see how much this “goodness testing” is a part of our psyche.

Are you late to events, or procrastinating on assignments, or acting rudely with people you care about? Is it possible this is because you want to test the limits of the world and your relationships to see — how far can I go before they stop loving or accepting me anyway?
But secondly, if these thought processes are driving you, then you have to think about when and with whom they might’ve developed — for most of us, it was with our parents, but for some it could’ve been a teacher, or another authority figure you respected.

Once you figure out who it was — it’s time to talk to them. If it’s your parents, sit down and tell them that based on the way things were growing up, this is the message I received — that unless I did good, I wouldn’t be loved — and now I know this may not be true at all from your perspective, and it may not be something you ever intended to communicate, but from my end, this is the message I got. Usually from there, the discussion will follow where they’re surprised that you thought that, but you might have to ask them bluntly — but I want to know for right now, if I ever mess up, even something huge, will you still love me?

They might be offended or hurt by the question as we all feel that that’s something that should be understood between our families — but the thing is, it’s not always understood — we have to communicate it, early and often.

If it wasn’t your parents, and maybe it was a person who you might not be able to contact (or it’d be very awkward or inappropriate to contact them at this later stage of your life), then you need to have an imaginary conversation — yes, I’m serious. If you imagine and believe, your brain can’t tell the difference between real experiences and imagined experiences (but you have to really use your imagination and not do this in some half-hearted way).

Sit down and imagine them sitting across the table from you, picture what they look like, what they’re wearing, how their hair is styled. And then, tell them what we said above — through our relationship, the message I received from you is that I can’t get love unless I follow your rules. Was this true? If I ever did something really bad…would you have really discarded me, would you have really stopped loving or approving of me altogether?

And then, think through in your mind the answer you need to hear — hear it in their voice, and really imagine it to be true. (You have no idea how they’ll respond — so why not choose to believe a response that will help you heal from an unrealistic belief?)
If you’re a parent (or a sibling or just someone who someone else looks up to), please make sure to communicate to your child that you love them, early and often, and that no matter what they do, you’ll still love them.
And make sure to not confuse being “compliant” with being “good.”

“I have no sympathy for people who…”

I’m getting more and more uncomfortable with this statement nowadays.

I understand there’s people who do terrible things, who act with no care or concern for you or their fellow human beings, who operate in a way that’s so antithetical to everything you’ve come to believe.

But when we give in to the notion that we can “give up” on someone…and decide that I have no sympathy, no empathy, toward a person…then we start to build on the cultural beliefs that:

  • “people can never change…”
  • “you’re doomed to repeat your past no matter what…”
  • “in this world, there’s us and them…”

Part of my discomfort comes from spending time being the person that people dismiss because of x, y, and z. And over time, I started to believe them so much, that I no longer had sympathy for myself…I believed I was just “wrong,” and there was no hope for me.

But then, as I interacted with people who tried to help, who reminded me that anyone can change, who taught me that no one is too far gone if they’re willing to turn back and get back on track.

And after adopting these ideas with myself, I started learning about how to help people change, and how that process requires a gut-level internalization of an idea so articulately communicated by Mr. Rogers:

“Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”

What does that mean? Empathy is always possible. We’ve just been buying into the culture that’s been sold to us that tells us, “my worldview is the only one that makes sense. What that other person does, thinks, or believes, doesn’t make sense or is invalid, and therefore, I can’t understand, have sympathy for, or ever support that person.”

What this leads to is the partisanship and extremities of opinion and thought that we see today. It starts with simple statements like, “I have no sympathy for people who…”

I’ve also realized what’s bolstered my growing discomfort with the dismissal of other people, is the studies I’ve been able to engage about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and his character.

As a Muslim, I believe the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the best person to walk the earth, but there’s an interesting thing that comes hand in hand with that belief. If he was the best of all humanity, then wasn’t everyone he ever interacted with him, “worse” than him?

Especially being a Muslim, his actions and his thoughts ARE Islam — they literally help define what we believe to be right and wrong. So if there’s anyone who could’ve ever had the right to believe that his way was correct and anyone else’s way that conflicted with his was incorrect, it would’ve been him (peace be upon him).

But…

He never, ever, ever expressed the sentiment “I have no sympathy for…” a specific person.

A person who came and urinated in the masjid (he let him finish, then talked quietly to him outside), the woman who routinely leaved garbage outside his door (who was missing one day because she was sick, he visited her in her time of need), the man who came to his door with sword in hand with the intention of killing him (he stopped his companions from attacking him and instead opened the door to hear him out — that man turned out to be ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him))…

So many instances are shown of the Prophet (peace be upon him) showing empathy, when it was even justifiable to show anger, or distaste, or even to retaliate strongly.

Any instance where he had to dismiss a person, whether saying they’ll never accept, or allowing someone to fight them in a battle if they provoked it…these were all times when Allah had to instruct the Prophet (peace be upon him), to do so, even though he disliked it, and would’ve preferred to let things go, or leave people be.

If the greatest man to walk the earth was also the man with the greatest empathy for every single person, and also the man who had the most impact and influence in changing the world —- can’t we stand to have sympathy for the person we disagree with?

Can’t we see that, in different circumstances, we’d want someone to have sympathy for us? And that if we keep denying ourselves the ability to feel for each other, then we’re just accepting that when we need help, when we need someone to understand and not judge or to turn us away…we ourselves established the culture that guaranteed no one would have any sympathy for us.

It starts simply.

Hate crimes, terrorism, economic inequality — all of our worst problems…they start, simply, with this statement, this declaration that I have no sympathy for this other human being, and instead of trying to understand them, I’ll choose instead to tweet sarcastically about them, to talk ill of them to people who don’t even know them, to slowly let hatred grow in my heart, and at some point…I’ll choose to pull out a weapon, or press a button, or cast a ballot that will harm humanity so much more than I even realize.

Stop giving up on your ability to understand where someone else is coming from. FIGHT the hatred that starts simply with a statement that says you can have no sympathy…

If you can’t, I’ll try to understand why, and have sympathy for the reasons you believe in, and then we can go from there.

Too Much Good

I’ve shared this du’a before, the du’a of Musa (as) as he fled the town he grow up in, and found himself with nothing:

رَبِّ إِنِّيْ لِمَا أَنْزَلْتَ إِلَيَّ مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَقِيْرٌ

My Lord, I am, of whatever bit of good you would send down to me, in need.

When the goodness comes, and it does come, in more ways than you expect, in more intensity that you thought you could handle, and bringing its set of challenges (as everything has its challenges), don’t forget that you asked for this…and don’t forget to thank Allah and recognize that this is part of your dua being answered.

Too much good is a good problem to have.

Do You Lose The Fun Once You Know What You’re Doing?

I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with the notion of “fun.”

I find that these days, although I’m actually really happy with everything I’m doing and am involved with, from the outside looking in, it doesn’t appear that I often have all that much “fun.”

Part of me thinks this may be because I’m in a place right now where all the things I used to do for “fun,” my passions and my hobbies, are pretty much all things I now do for a living or in some fairly serious capacity.

Video editing and production, writing poems or stories or scripts, reading business & psychology books for fun (yes, for fun), or even figuring out what to do next with a Muslim youth organization — all of those things I grew up doing for fun now are all part of pretty specific jobs I have or there are specific purposes for which I have to do them.

No longer am I spending a weekend thinking up YouTube video ideas and spending hours on motion graphics tutorials or out filming stuff. Instead, I’m either shooting freelance video at an event, or editing videos for work, or putting together video ideas for an organization I volunteer with.

No longer am I staying up late when inspiration hits trying to craft a poem with an insane amount of flow and internal rhyme, or getting lost in books about writing stories and trying to format my perfect screenplay. Instead, I write when the websites or organizations I work with need content, taking some time out and publishing by deadline.

No longer am I taking up hours in a group chat or in a Dunkin Donuts meeting with other Muslim youth trying to figure out the best way to put on our next event or what creative project we could take on together. Instead, when I’m called on to give a speech, or conduct a workshop, or to volunteer, I head out and do my duty.

 

I think it was Tony Robbins from whom I first heard the idea that the real source of happiness is progress.

I love so many of the things I do, and I’ve built a life where I get to do them very often. But there’s this nagging feeling that these things that really excited me, don’t excite me as much anymore.

Even things like simple comedy (which I spent a long time learning and finding ways to perform or write)…I find that when I hear a joke, my mind deconstructs it based on its comedic merit. It’s  such a beautiful moment when I can genuinely laugh at a joke, without thinking.

 

All of this is not to say that I regret getting better or spending time doing what I love.

But I guess, as they say, what got you here, won’t get you there.

If happiness is progress, maybe I’ve just stopped progressing. Maybe I need to find some other things now that I’m actually completely inexperienced in, where I can find some room to grow.

 

I’d love any suggestions. ( you can tweet at me @jawaadahmadkhan or just find a way to reach me if you know me).

I think I’m ready to approach new parts of life, curious as a child, and giddy as a guy-whos-just-trying-to-get-better-at-this.

It Looks Like Work

I’ve spent enough time in office cubicles and school libraries to know the art of doing something that “looks like work.”

I don’t just mean things that look like work to your bosses or superiors, but even worse than that, things that look like work to you.

“I’m downloading files” or “I’m adjusting the font” or “I’m doing research with these videos”

At some point, you fool your own self into thinking that the menial tasks or the detailed tasks actually are work.

Sure, they’re things you do AT work, or FOR work, but you have to look at whether they actually matter.

Don’t lose your sense of what real work is.

If it’s not something that tangibly, and effectively, gets you closer to the goal (which almost always the SALE, even if it’s not a traditional business)……then it’s not work.

It’s busywork, it’s filler, it’s fluff.

It’s sad that our 9-5’s often create this culture that the work you do is valued only by how long you spend doing it. So real work that’s impactful and effective, but only takes 2 hours, ends up punishing the top performer by making stay for 6 more hours doing a lot of stuff that “looks like work.”

If you find yourself there, see what steps you can take to be valued for the real work you do, and to be excused from the moments that “look like work.” Bosses and clients don’t want you wasting your time, either. Don’t sell them your time, sell them your work.

Because the last thing we need is you doing a bunch of random things that “look like work” while the world waits for you to do the real work that only you can do.

The Camel’s Back

It’s kind of sad we have to wait until we’ve broken the camel’s back before we realize, “Hmm…this is probably a bit too much straw, huh?”

Stop stacking straw while looking away. Look at what you’re stacking, and how much of it you’re stacking.

Too often, we just keep doing something, but are wholly unaware of whether it’s necessary, or if this is the best way, or if we’ve done enough.

Don’t stack straw just because someone told you to do it, or because that’s what people do, or because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Recognize when you’re stacking too much, because we’ve all been that poor camel.

Stop With The “Starting Over”

Now that ________ is done, I’m gonna start over.

Turn a new leaf.

Hey, meet the new me!

How long does this last? A week? A day?

We spend too much time telling, and not enough time showing. Telling ourselves these platitudes and making these empty promises, but never showing the commitment or discipline to actually live them out.

Treat your life like a silent movie with no title cards.

Without words to communicate what you’re doing, you have to do things to communicate to us. If you want to show us you’ve worked on your health and fitness, you can’t tell us, “I’m gonna eat better and exercise regularly,” you have to physically pick the better foods, and show us you’re exercising. If you want to show us you’ve decided you’re gonna start that business, you can’t tell us, “I’m gonna start that business,” you have to show us the work you’re doing, the people you’re talking to, the buying of supplies and being handed real money.

Too often we say we’re “starting over” because saying it gives us enough of a dopamine rush that our brains can’t tell the difference between actually doing something new, and feeling like we’re doing something new.

“Starting over” is flawed, also, because you’re not actually starting over. You’re just continuing in the greater journey that’s been going on your whole life…where you’ve been does impact where you are and where you’re going next. Don’t try to pretend the past didn’t happen. Accept it, and keep moving forward, continually doing a bit better, a little at a time.

And if you want to make a radical change, do it.

Stop talking about it. Because talking about it could feel like enough, like a first step in itself, and then you don’t feel like doing the real work.

Do the work, and then look back to celebrate the wins you had along the way.

Instead of saying, “I’m starting over,” at any moment that feels like a turning point, maybe it’s time we just start saying at any moment“I’m continuing on…”

We’d be more honest if we did.

A Slower Ramadan

I’ve talked about this with a few people, but last year was one of my worst Ramadans ever.

This was made all the worse because it was “supposed to” be one of my best Ramadans ever.

I finished a program where I learned the basics of Arabic and understanding the Qur’an, and I was set to move on to another program for deeper Islamic studies the next year. So I fit those minimum requirements of someone who was at least making some effort to “study their deen.”

The problem: I expected the external to automatically solidify my internal.

I expected the almost magical nature of Ramadan to change me. I expected the knowledge I’d gained to immediately start working for me. I expected everything I’d done to pay off, without any real effort on my part.

I was wrong.

And so, last year, I had one of my worst Ramadans ever.

This year, I went in, knowing that something had to change. This year had to be better.

And alhamdulillah, it was, but not in the way you might expect.

You see, I grew up with Ramadan as a sort of ritualized yearly holiday. Yes, I benefited from Ramadan and had some amazing times of connection to Allah…but in general, it was also a time where you were just obligated to go to the Masjid every day, to read Quran as much as you can every day (about a juz if you’re able), to pray taraweeh every day, and then to wake up for suhoor and start all over again.

And yes, those elements are good and everyone should engage in them.

But, they can become this sort of ritualized worship that you do without really taking the time to ask yourself, “why this? why this way? is this working?”

If the ultimate goal of Ramadan is to connect us to Allah (whether through His book, or through the awareness we gain of Him while fasting)…then maybe we need to examine our actions in relation to that goal.

So I tried to do that this year.

I will say, I did less than I have in previous years…the statistics are lower, the numbers don’t amaze…

But alhamdulillah, I was able to feel a lot more connected to Allah. I took time to add quality to my ‘ibadah when I could.

Again, I’m speaking personally, and the correct and official idea in Islam is that you DO get closer to Allah BY doing more ‘ibadah, this is absolutely true (you don’t just abandon ‘ibadah until you “feel it” because you may never “feel it”).

But in my experience this year, what I found is not only that I enjoyed my ‘ibadah more…

I also took the pressure off the moments when I wasn’t hitting those benchmarks or numbers that we usually impose upon ourselves.

I relaxed. I forgave myself. I didn’t spend time feeling guilty, about not doing optional worship. I recharged and came back stronger when it came time for fardh prayers, or to read through the Qur’an, or to pray in the night.

It was really important for me to not go through the roller coaster I’d gone through in the past, where I spend large bouts of time doing what I’m “supposed to” and burning out on that…and then falling low when I can’t maintain that improbable standard.

The extreme highs and the extreme lows have plagued me for a long time.

Yes, we’ll have our ups and downs, but in the grand scheme of things, they shouldn’t be too far apart from the middle line.

Islam is balance, have no doubt about it.

And alhamdulillah, I think that’s something I found this Ramadan, and I hope that as I approach Ramadans in the future (inshaAllah may Allah allow me to see more Ramadans), I’ll be better about increasing my worship, both in its quantity but also in its quality.

 

Eid Mubarak, folks.

We’ve made it through. I ask Allah accept all we’ve done, forgive us for whatever mistakes we made, and to help us maintain the good and keep staying away from the bad into the rest of the year and beyond.

Ameen.

Your Childhood Imam

One of our teachers mentioned this concept of your “childhood Imam.”

He referred to this concept of the Imam of the masjid when you were a kid, that person who maybe taught you to read the Quran, or first exposed you to the life of the Propjet (peace be upon him)…someone you grew up with.

And he said…it seems like our children won’t have thus person in their lives. They won’t have one Imam that they’ll grow up with, look up to, be taught by, and who they remember (for both his good features and his flaws, but who they remember, nonetheless).

The reason? 

In our current state, imams and those who serve the community seem to have a higher turnover rate. Two years here, two years there, and so on and so on.

Yes, there’s economic factors, and a whole picture to look at in terms of whether we’re providing enough for our leaders to live on, or to thrive on, yes…

But the point he wanted to make to us, us who had spent a little time learning our religion and trying to qualify ourselves a little bit more in order to serve our communities…he wanted to tell us to strive for something that’s so scarce these days: LONGEVITY.

Committing to one thing, and sticking with it.

It’s easy to do a limited run, to do a speaking tour, to bounce around and be admired from afar…

But sitting and teaching some kids, every week, over the course of several weeks, of several months, of several years, of a couple decades… this is where true impact starts to kick in.

Because the people you admired, the people who shaped you, the people who still haven’t given up on you, even when you’re far gone…they’re those 20-year mentors…those childhood imams who’ve been there your whole life, continuing to do their part.

Those mentors who take the time, LOTS of time, not one weekend course, one conference, one talk…but giving you one or two DECADES of dedication…that’s where the real work is gonna live.

It’s not glamorous. It doesn’t make you famous.

But what longevity does do, is keep you sincere.

Especially in this field of serving the community, and serving Allah…what else matters?

And what gets results, the results of the next life and this one…is nothing but sincerity.

So pick something (and yes, choose wisely), and once you do…stick with it.

We need you to.

There’s a Multiverse In Your Mind

But there’s one in that other person’s, too.

Sometimes we forget that all the depth and complexity that exists within us, also exists within those other people that we’re afraid of, or that we’re in love with, or that we utterly hate…

All forms of anxiety, fear, and irrational action usually find their source in that too-often-forgotten fact that that other person is just as much a person as me.

Constantly, constantly remind of yourself of this fact.

The world needs you to.

Nabra needed you to.

The “Makes Me Happy” List

I have a playlist on YouTube called “Makes Me Happy”

It’s a compilation of videos that, no matter what, anytime I watch them or a part of them, I laugh, I smile, or I just feel happy.

I realized a while back the importance of having such a playlist, or a normal list, of things that you know can make you happy. Now, it’s important not to depend on this list too much, expecting it it to take you out of the worst depths…but rather, to just know there’s something that could put a smile on your face when you need it to.

Also, be brutal about what goes on the list. I have to have independently searched it out and rewatched it several times before I’m sure it’s worthy of being on the list.

I also have another list called “Makes Me Sad (And That’s Okay)”, and that’s important to have, too. Some videos are on both lists.

Because the truth is, emotions are these wild things that we often feel we can’t control. When we’re overwhelmed, or feel powerless, that’s the perfect time to accept that we are powerless…to give in and accept that we’re feeling what we’re feeling, and that like everything we’ve ever felt, it’ll pass by.

That’s the key to the “Makes Me Happy” or “Makes Me Sad” list — it’s not trying to change your state. It’s not trying to escape from your current emotion. It’s recognizing the fleeting nature of emotion, and letting you know that you don’t have to act on this emotion in this moment, because if you watch a few of these videos, and let some time pass…you can let another emotion take over. A more positive emotion — not just happiness, but an emotion that leads to better action, to more acceptance, to stronger humanity.

It’s not weak to have emotions.

It’s weak to pretend like you don’t.

Your A to B

We’ve all been somewhere, and now we’re here.

It’s valuable to take out the time to figure out how in the world you exactly got from that A to this B.

It’s easy to forget the pain, the struggles, the fears, the anxieties, and the worries you went through in your past, especially if you’ve come through it to a better place now.

But there’s so many people who are where you were, and much of societal empathy has been lost because people forget where they came from, and believe the lie that they were always like they are now.

You’ve grown up. You’ve changed. In some ways, for the better.

Figure out those ways and see how you can keep growing, and how you can maybe lend hand to pull up a person or two who’s struggling where you once did.

Absolutes.

I try not to speak in absolutes.

Most everything finds its most truthful expression in the middle — balance is the rule, not the exception.

The trouble with that, though, is that drama favors the extreme…and people gravitate toward drama.

It may be more fun, or more entertaining, or more popular to speak in extremes.

But the truth lives somewhere in the middle. (Most of the time.)