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Are We Preparing for Failure?

A. Jamil explores perceptions of success and failure, contemplating silver linings hidden behind disappointments.

I’ve always thought of failure as the biggest flaw in life. I saw a lack of success as breaking down your credibility and exposing you to the dark underbelly of misery. Yes, my perception of failure was extremely simplistic, to the point that failure to pass my first driving test resembled a funeral procession in my mind on the way home and a B in my mock GCSE’s resulted in a classroom meltdown. But having failed my 11 Plus (primary school exam) as a child, I always felt that I had to constantly prove myself, and any failure led me back to that dark time in my personal history, when I opened that brown envelope to reveal that I would not be joining my friends at grammar school.



My struggle to constantly prove myself was not stemmed from parental pressure, as one would naturally assume from Asian parents! Contrary to popular belief, my parents always advocated the importance of trying one’s best whatever the outcome, yet I had subjected myself to internal pressure, fearing that if I did not meet my goals I would not only disappoint myself but those around me. My worst enemy was living between my very own ears. So, how would I cope in the current job climate as a recent graduate with minimum life experience, maximum enthusiasm, and a truckload of determination and faith in second chances?



Admittedly, I thought I would be inundated with job offers from companies fighting to take on this English graduate, thinking there would always be a place in the world for a first class degree. I even went as far as delaying the hunt, assuming that I would receive the prize deer before I had even fired the shot. But little did I know that the fantasy I had conjured up was about as far from reality as I could possibly fathom. When I eventually secured my first interview, after completing a swarm of job applications, I was told by endless aunties that “If it is meant to be, then it would happen”. These words would not only help my transition from sulky student to serial-job-hunter-extraordinaire, but would also help soften the blow (as the aunties reassured me) of any job rejections that I may experience. Rejections? Really?



I always thought of myself as abiding by the philosophy that whatever is decreed for us by Allah (SWT) will come our way. However, stubbornly thinking that this job was decreed for me, I haphazardly adopted a less ambiguous approach for the interview: ‘it is meant to be’. I reassured myself that the temporary setback that I had suffered in securing an interview would not spoil my chances of this job.



Leading up to the interview, no matter how hard I tried to venture into the realms of realism, I struggled to imagine my future without this job. I even tried to critique the atmosphere, reminding myself of the possible challenges that one would expect as a Muslim, and it could play out as a blessing in disguise if I was not accepted. But the more I read into the job description, the more I sank into a hypnotic day dream, playing out my life as a professional graduate Muslimah at this wondrous job that had been created specifically for me. If any doubts remained, they were soon swatted away as I received a tour of the premise prior to my interview. I remember feeling at ease, as employees flittered through the corridors and smiled welcomingly at this newcomer. With the seal of approval and acceptance from my (future) colleagues, I was determined more than ever that this job was part of my destiny. As we explored more of the building, so did my mind, and I dangerously slipped into a daydream envisioning my everyday routine of sipping homemade hot chocolate while chatting casually with colleagues. I would not be just another employee, but an ambassador sworn to represent the greatest misunderstood religion in history. I would take my covert mission as seriously as the overt job that I would be employed for.



After the interview, no matter how hard I tried to be realistic (there were seven other candidates, including some with more experience) I was too caught up with my new imaginary working life. My thoughts soon turned to clothing, and I mentally ransacked my wardrobe, imaging the different abaya and blazer combinations that I could get away with before having to fork out for a new wardrobe. My new routine was set, and I had strategically planned my other obligations around my job. I was very enthusiastic at having a fixed routine after my overextended holiday since graduating university.



However, the day dream was short lived. A phone call three hours later established that I had not been selected to fulfil the job role. I remember the lump in my throat, as the caller tried to reassure me that my application was very strong, but my nerves during the interview and overall lack of experience let me down. It was grammar school rejection all over again! I wanted to shout, “So why give me hope!?” The wise words from aunties of old suddenly evaporated out of my head and tears readily flowed down my cheek. Perhaps the rejection would have been easier to deal with had I not felt so pleased with the work environment or job role. Or was it my own inability to prepare myself for failure? Yes, deep down I knew in my heart that there was betterment in this rejection, but it did not expel the extreme hurt and betrayal that I felt.



The rejection may have turned me into a piteous sourpuss, who thought her whole life was tragically over, but it did eventually allow me to fathom the true meaning of “if it is meant to be…”. Here I was about to embark on a new chapter, in a job where I was required to set an example and reach out to vulnerable individuals, yet I still had absolutely no understanding of one of the key principles of life: failure. I had cocooned myself in an idealistic world where I thought hard work would get you what you wanted irrespective of resiliency and perseverance. My childlike response to the job rejection had provided a clear insight into my flawed perception of failure. So how on earth could I start a new job in this profession when I strongly believed that failure was a determining factor in life?



In my case, the rejection was a wakeup call to remind me that life is not what we perceive it to be. “It may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know.” (Al-Baqarah :2163). Allah (SWT) has our best interests and with His infinite wisdom and mercy is aware that what we desperately seek is not always right for us and out of His compassion does not grant it to us. It is through our own deficiencies that we fail to understand that there is wisdom, hikma, behind everything. So yes, at first I may have gone back to being my 11 year old self clutching that brown envelope in utter despair, but it was through my own deficiency that I failed to understand that there could be a betterment in me not receiving this job. During my studies, I always prayed to Allah (SWT) that I would find a job which would be a means for me to attain the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and get closer to Him. The reality of working in this job role may have differed from my expectations and could have proved a challenging environment where I was unable to practice my deen comfortably. As a human, I can only speculate, but Allah (SWT) in His grace and majesty is all knowing– Allahu’alim.



Therefore, is our understanding of success and failure in this world tainted? Was my job interview rejection a failure in my life? Was I reliving my brown envelope moment all too often? As humans, our view on life is very much black and white– success and failure – where the lack of one indicates the presence of the other. So yes, I was warped in my very own ‘do or die’ moment, pining for a job that probably wouldn’t do me any favours, but the fact remains that I had been sucked into this tunnel vision where getting this job was the only viable way out. Allah (SWT) explains in the above ayat that our perception of what is good and bad is not always in our best interests. We may not like the fact that we did not receive a job offer, but in reality it was good for us. Similar to how we may not marry that particular person, or live in that particular house, but does it indicate failure when we do not receive what we want? It seems the contrary. Our lives, therefore, do not depend on preparing for success or failure; rather it indicates working hard and being patient with whatever outcome Allah (SWT) has destined for us.



Allah (SWT) also tells us in Surah Al-Baqarah, “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (153). This ayat comforts my soul because no matter what happens in our lives, we can be certain that by putting our trust in Allah (SWT) through patience and worship, we will possess a different outlook on life, whereby we will try and appreciate the wisdom behind every so-called failure and disappointment in our lives. I can’t promise that it will be easy dealing with situations that don’t go as hoped or that I will gracefully let go of my brown envelope, but at least I know if I put my trust in Allah, insha Allah, everything that is taken away from me will be replaced with something better.



“My heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me.” -Imam Shaafi


A Jamil is an English Language graduate and trying to live her childhood dream to be a writer. When she’s not eating or baking cakes, she strives to get involved in various community projects and is an active member of her community. She blogs at http://atravellerstreasurebox.blogspot.co.uk/