4 Childhood Indicators of Future Success

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَانِ الرَّحِيمِ

Success: a lot is said, written, and taught today about how to achieve it in life. For most if not all human beings, becoming successful in life is a top priority.

But before I begin talking about it too, first I would like to wonder out loud what exactly success means to each of us, in practical terms.

image courtesy: http://www.jongordon.com

For most people, I think, the benchmarks of success hover around two main factors: (i) the acquisition of material wealth through one’s chosen profession, and (ii) unabated popularity among people (friends, family, colleagues, and the rest of the world – the order of these changing according to the stage in life).

Now that we got that brief and no-brainer definition of success out of the way, let us talk about the 4 childhood signs that are indicative of success, according to my experience.

As always, I will try to refer to the Qur’an, because that is the Book that I consult whenever I reflect upon anything in life, and because I consider it my primary source of guidance from Allah.

But before I list these 4 indicators of success down for you, please keep in mind that when I say ‘childhood’, I mean the age range of 0 to 15-18 – the number of years it takes for a human being to reach the threshold of adulthood.

Defying Authority

The child runs with glee towards the tree in the park, jumps onto its trunk, grabs at the lower branches and starts to climb enthusiastically. The concerned parent is close on the heels of him or her, anxiously looking up and warning them about the dangers of falling off accidentally from too high up in the tree. After a few minutes of watching the child hang precariously from branches and scratch their palms and shins on the sharp bark, the parent climbs up the tree too, grabs the protesting and struggling child, and forces them off the tree.

Five minutes later, as that parent turns their back for a couple of minutes to tend to a toddler, the same child is back up on the same tree, a big grin of glee on their flushed face as they climb back up to try and reach the tallest branch. Goal in mind: try to hang off a sturdy branch and jump down on the ground.

Surprising, isn’t it? How can the behavior of a child who consistently defies adults’ authority, be the indicator of their future success? Is not a ‘good’ child supposed to always do as they are told?

We are taught, and we almost always blindly believe, that only those children are “good”, who are incessantly obedient and servile. They never challenge authority, much less defy it. They never raise their voice, nor do they ever disagree with what older people say, do, or tell them to do. They never break the rules, cross the line, or ‘get into trouble’.

Well, guess what? Children who defy authority actually indicate that they possess courage, ‘guts’ and grit, even though their negative behavior often causes offense and disarray for adults. I am not talking about predominant juvenile delinquency and crime here. I am only talking about when a child refuses to be incessantly servile and obedient, about everything that they are told to do, 24/7.

If your child speaks their mind, goes ahead and does what they think is right, and crosses the line at times, these are actually good signs, indicating their innate self-confidence, creativity, and courage.

Even though it means that sometimes things will break, fears will mount, tempers will be lost, things will go awry, and plans will have to be changed, the story of the young Prophet Ibrahim in the Qur’an, who defied his society’s elders and refused to worship man-made idols as a young boy, proves that such spunky children go on to become courageous and successful leaders as adults — as long as what they are rebelling against involves transgression of Allah’s laws, or moral/ethical wrongdoing.

The word used to refer to the young Ibrahim in the above (linked) verse of the Qur’an:  فَتًى – is the singular form of the same word used to refer to the companions of the cave فِتْيَةٌ – who also rebelled against their society in order to preserve their monotheistic faith. Click here for a detailed definition of this Arabic word.

Being Bullied by Peers

Most of us have lingering bad memories from our childhoods that involve other children laughing at us at school or in our neighborhood, or having bullied us in any other way e.g. by calling us names, or mocking us, or harassing us.

Although bullying is not something desirable or positive, and it undoubtedly casts a lasting impact on a child’s psyche, sometimes it brings about positive results.

How? Well, a bullied child becomes stronger over time, and the anger inside him or her, sometimes becomes positively channelized to motivate them to strive to prove their bullies wrong, by working harder to succeed in life.

image courtesy: finance.yahoo.comI was called the “L” word at school quite openly by a few liberal-minded, fake-American-accent-toting burghers (who are now, surprise surprise, living and working in the West. Thank you, LinkedIn) because I was a studious nerd.

Anyhow, Allah has blessed me with a photographic memory, which allows me to recall names and identities when I come across a photograph. A cursory perusal of LinkedIn has hitherto repeatedly proved my ambivalent hypothesis true: bullied children almost always go on to surpass their bullying peers in both, professional as well as personal success, as adults (of age 30+).

Karma? 🙂 I prefer to call it Allah’s worldly reward for patiently enduring hardship. The mills do grind very slowly, but eventually, it’s the bullied children who revel in the joy of delivering this silent but so blatantly obvious comeuppance to their past antagonists.

No one even knows the site of the pit of fire that was collectively built for burning a young and recalcitrant Ibrahim alive, do they? Yet, millions today throw pebbles every year, at the site where he once did – thousands of years ago.

Challenging the Status Quo

Spunk, creativity, innovation, and intelligence is apparent whenever a child verbally or physically challenges the status quo viz. the current way of doing things.

Of course, at the face of it, it will look like he or she is being difficult and/or disobedient, especially if they go to school. A child gets severely reprimanded in school for not doing what the teacher tells them to do, when and how it is supposed to be done.

Anyhow, how is this behavior – challenging the status quo – different from the one I’ve described above – i.e. defying authority? Well, it is different because it involves a child willingly doing something differently than how he or she sees adults doing it, without actually defying their orders or being disobedient.

Going against the status quo at a young age, when everyone older than you is almost always telling you what to do and how to do it, requires immense self-confidence and courage. It involves not getting deterred by the fear of what people will say or do as a reaction to your being different from them in looks, actions, words, or beliefs.

Basically, children who are strong, creative, and gifted, yet who refuse to become two-faced, apologetic “people-pleasers” are challenging the status quo. And this indicates that they will succeed in the future, because they already possess one of the greatest qualities of leadership.

Every positive revolutionary change that has ever come about in human history was a result of someone having the guts to challenge the prevalent status quo; to be different; to ignore the criticism of naysayers; to believe in themselves and their dreams; and to go ahead and just do it. Their way.

As the Qur’an says, this is actually a trait of those believers who strive in the way of Allah:

لاَ يَخَافُونَ لَوْمَةَ لآئِمٍ ذَلِكَ فَضْلُ اللّهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَن يَشَاء

“…And fearing not the blame of any blamer. Such is the grace of Allah which He gives unto whom He will.” [5:54]

Scoring Low or Average Academic Grades

Last but not least, and I will keep this one short: children who do not qualify by a wide margin to be geniuses or whizzes according to the standardized grading systems used in schools, more often than not, turn out to become quite successful as adults, once they are allowed to pursue their natural talents and interests.

studying-1598x1062You can go on and quote to me long lists of so-called ‘geniuses’ and achievers in human history, and how they graduated with great grades/GPA’s and advanced degrees from the world’s finest schools, but what is true is that the role played by educational degrees and institutions in determining the personal and professional success of a person is greatly overrated.

Even if a high academic-achieving child turns out to be very successful in life 2 decades later, there is more often than not some other factor, besides their academic grades at school, which facilitated their success. Just take a look at how closely their professional occupation in middle age is connected to the subjects that they studied at school. You just might be surprised!

What I’ve noticed in my life is that children who did astoundingly well at school up till age 18 i.e. they held consistently impeccable academic records, end up standing – 2 or more decades later – at more or less the same if not a tad lesser level of personal and professional success than the children who barely passed, or perhaps even occasionally failed, their tests and exams.

Whether you like it or not. It is true for most cases.


So there you have it: my analysis of the 4 indicators of a child’s future success, as an adult above age 30.

Let me know if you have any ideas to share?

And before you go, please vote in the poll below. Jazakum Allah khair.


  1. Assalaam o alykum Sis,

    I have read and appreciated every bit of the arguments and analyses. Very right and true, the attributes of defying authority, being bullied by peers, challenging status quo and scoring low / average academic grades matter in lot many ways; one of them being: successful over 30. However, it is still difficult to maintain if they always (or often) result in success.

    + There’s supporting data too:

    Weak Grades: John D. Rockefeller, John Glenn, Steve Jobs, Mark Twain, Henry Ford, William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, George W. Bush, John F Kennedy, George Bernard Shaw, Rachel Weisz, Cameron Diaz, Andrew Daly, Jon Stewart, Kristen Stewart and (lo-and-behold, our very own) Ayyan Ali.

    Bullied: Fawad Khan, Megan Fox, Mila Kunis, Rihanna, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lawrence, Taylor Swift, Tom Cruise, Madonna, Barack Obama, Steven Spielberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Clinton, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Sandra Bullock, Kate Winslet, Victoria Beckham, Tiger Woods, Rosario Dawson, Eva Mendes, Prince Harry, Andrew Garfield.

    Defying Authority / Discipline Issues and Challenging Status Quo: Salma Hayek, Owen Wilson, Charlie Sheen, Elizabeth Hurley, Albert Einstein, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gosling, Marlon Brando, Willem Dafoe, Amy Winehouse, Kevin Spacey, Bon Jovi

    Your inference is based on observations and inputs which have been informal and not part of a primary research. If these four inputs are made part of a formal research, much interesting and meaningful data and results would come out.

    + There are a host of other factors in success.

    + An important question comes out. If the four factors were pertinent in all (or most) cases, we still did not have many successful people (proportionate to number of bullied, failing, challenging and defying). The answer is though unknown; still can be found with lots of research into personalities of people.

    + I’d like to comment on the directional part of one’s strengths.

    In the jargon of physics, human qualties are vectors. Meaning thereby, human qualities have magnitude as well as direction. The energies and strengths form the magnitude, while the objective forms the “direction”. I cite following examples for explanation:

    – Prophet PBUH prayed for either of the two (Umr bin Khattab and Amr bin Hashshaam) to be blessed with Eemaan. Well, they both had their strengths, however, later, it was not the strengths those mattered. It was the “direction”.

    – Khalid bin Waleed RA’s military tractics were equally killing before he embraced eemaan (refer Ghazwa e Uhud’s results). Well, after that it had Allah’s blessings added. So, his change of “direction” mattered.

    – Ma’az and Muawwiz RA were kids, with an aim, during Ghazwa e Badr. They were fiercely pursuasive for their objective. What mattered was not their age or height or fighting skill or energy. It was their “direction”.

    – Quaid e Azam MA Jinnah was working as Secy of Congress in the same zeal. However, when he left them (after knowning their designs / future plans), his “direction” changed. There came Allah’s miracle in the form of Pakistan (Masha-Allah).

    – Junaid Jamshed changed his “direction” to be a much better human being (insha-Allah) in the eyes of Allah. (I will not comment on his controversial speeches / acts, however, from a normal Muslim’s perspective, his “direction” was changed in an exemplery manner).

    – Muslim soldiers fighting in Indian Army as well as Pakistan Army during 1965 war did not have much difference in training or expertise. It was “direction”.

    Various studies have been carried out with focus on projected assessment of kids on the basis of childhood habits, sibling order, family composition, culture and many other diverse factors. While there may be a thousand areas, viewpoints and explanations of human behaviour, it is a fact that man is a complex being when it comes to psycho-social issues, factors and effects. Then there are surprises, like it was a big surprise for me to know that Steven Spielberg had dyslexia (a learning disorder) and Kim Carrey had ADHD.

    In my view, the psychological reaction to the 4 traits matters a lot. It might be different for different people. While most people should become successful after 30, some might not. May be it could be vice versa. However, it is definite that energies, if put forwarded in right “direction” yield substantial results. Its the same that you call “spunky children go on to become courageous and successful leaders as adults — as long as what they are rebelling against involves transgression of Allah’s laws, or moral/ethical wrongdoing.”

    I’d go on to say that your article will go a long way on looking at the energies of kids with a promising, optimistic and futuristic eye, and will help the parents to identify the positive talents in the seemingly non-conformist behaviours of kids.

    Allah karay zor e qalam aur ziada. Aameen.
    ….Now, let me share my bit on this….

    (I have had experience of selection out of some 3000 candidates for Pakistan Armed Forces, and have been looking into layers of personalities, origins of strengths / weaknesses as well as potentials of leadership / otherwise, grooming standards of Cadets from Cadet Colleges / boarding Schools and bonded institutes like MCJ & MCM for Pak Army, PPSS & PPSLT for PAF and CCP for Pak Navy. I have assessed kids of generals, gardeners, bureaucrats, cooks, drivers, peons, shaheeds, imams, farmers, teachers, widows, land lords, businessmen, physicians, to mention a few out of a wide variety of Parents. In the backdrop of my experience and as a hobby / interest of study, I have ventured into this area during my posting tenure as Selector. With this background, I have following submissions to make. The views are however based on my knowledge and experience, and as such form my personal opinion only).

    Generally speaking, a man is made of following:

    1. Nature (Something that is different for everyone, since birth. Like, people are meek, loud, soft, easy going, ease loving, determined, sharp, smart, aloof, etc, etc).
    2. Aptitude (The God-gifted package: including IQ / mental capacity, physical well being, five senses, body, soul, natural & basic instincts, etc. Here it is significant to mention that Allah gives a level-playing field to all of us. If someone lacks one out of five senses or a body part since birth, they are compensated in equal terms on other grounds).
    3. Integrity, Moral Courage, Concepts & Mannerisms (Which are functions of Grooming by elders, seniors, society and environment in which a person is brought-up. It includes home, street and school environs, as well as society, media, etc at-large).
    4. Skills & Knowledge (Which are functions of training and “saw sharpening”).
    5. Habits (Which are functions of one’s routine behaviour and form most part of his unconscious / spontaneous acts and words).
    6. Qualities & Attributes (Which are observable to others. These are the external view of one’s personality, or how it looks like from outside).
    7. Attitude (The way one thinks, feels and acts. The most important element of personality in my view. It is the futuristic parameter of personality. just like aircraft – nose up / nose down – it defines the future of a person. Attitude is so strong that it effects above factors to a large degree).

    Now, talking about Success…

    After having studied and researched hundreds of people across human history, who were regarded successful, I must say that like “hero”, “successful” also is very much relative in terms of community-thoughts, conceptualizations, nations, schools-of-thought, social norms, religions, cultures, etc. However, the definition that I found in Soorah Al Asr was the most relevant, most beautiful and most true: “Eemaan, Good acts, Enjoining Haq and Enjoining Sabr”…[Al Asr: 3]

    I’d agree that what most people define success as (that you mentioned) involves materialistic gains through occupation / profession, and unabated popularity among people. This definition is perfectly okay. I’d summarize it as: Rizq and Izzat.

    The honest part is that we all gauge success through this same very criteria, and not from Soorah Al Asr…… + In a society that we live in, the benchmarks of success are worldly and we are all part of this society. We like it or not, our conformations are to the social standards and to break the social inertia is a difficult thing to do.

    However, The Book has following guidelines for rizq and izzat.

    “Indeed, the most honourable of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Al-Hujuraat: 13).

    “Say: O Allah, O Lord of the Kingdom, You give kingdom to whom You will, and take kingdom away from whom You will; and You bestow honour on whom You will, and bring disgrace to whom You will. In your hand lies the good. You are surely powerful over everything. (Aal e Imran: 26)

    “And enjoin upon thy people worship, and be constant therein. We ask not of thee a provision: We provide for thee. And the sequel is for righteousness.” (Taaha: 132)

    “And whoever fears Allah, for him Allah brings forth a way out, and gives him provision (rizq) from where he does not even imagine.”(At-Talaaq: 2/3)

    “Verily thy Lord does provide sustenance in abundance for whom He Pleases, and (for some) He provides in a just measure: for He does know and regard all His servants.” (Israa: 30)

    “Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet: women and sons; heaped-up hoards of gold and silver; horses branded (for blood and excellence); and (wealth of) cattle and well-tilled land. Such are the possessions of this world’s life; but in nearness to Allah is the best of the goals. (Aal e Imraan: 14/15)

    “And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We shall provide for them as well as for you.” [Al Israa: 31 and Al An’aam: 151]

    However, since Islam is a system (1) and a way of life (2) (and not a ritualistic “-ism”), every thing is part of the process. This entails that rizq / izzat is promised by Allah, given all the prerequisites are complete. Like for rizq, effort is to be made, and for Izzat, righteousness is a must. This clarification is stated at this point because, many people get misled on the concepts of rizq and izzat by looking around (their view of) the world, and do not take into account the larger picture in context.

    With my above description of Personality determinants and Success, I state to explain that that real success is the result of conforming to Creator’s Will and Criteria (fame and wealth will come handy). Most important challenge for Parents should not be the future success of their kids in terms of fame and wealth. It should be in terms of Eemaan (Attitude, Habits), Good Acts (Qualities & Attributes, Skills & Knowledge), Enjoining Righteounesss and Steadfastness (Integrity, Moral Courage, Concepts & Mannerisms).

    Blessings and Best Wishes,


    1. System is a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.
    2. Way of Life consist of the code of conduct, behaviours and habits that are typical of a particular person or group.

  2. Assalamalaikum sadaf!

    I knw this is probably not the right forum but i didnt knw who else to ask.

    My first question is: what do you do when a friend is upset and you dont know what to say. Should you randomly come up with advice or stay silent till you knw what the proper response is.

    Secondly, what should you do if you live in. VERY dysfunctional family. Always profanity, yellingf n screaming, dad involved openly in illicit activities, mistreating my mother, not giving us money. Our mom helps us financially but she doesnt pray, shes extremely obsessed with my dad constanly mulling over what he does, getting mad at him and fighting refusing to pray. She gives weak excuses not to pray. My sister is psychotic.

    I try to be pray all 5 namazes, be positive, upbeat, take care of mostly everythig for my family, try to be practicing and optimistic.

    But its hard, i get frustrated. I snap at my
    Mom for being needy and desperate. I am angry at my dad, fed you with my sister. How do i deal without going insane n make things better???

  3. Salam. I sort of get wot u r trying 2 put across. Now i wud like u 2 think about couple of points.

    – while nerds or consistently top of the class students r not necessarily the 1s who cud mingle with all people fm different walks of life but unfortunately in our skooling sysstem very baisedly they r made the leaders of various student activities. As a result below averages r, as not being invited in2 these mgmt activities, feels segregated n keeps falling farther bhind. Exception allways a few. Now those who r persistently @ the bottom of the class never learns discipline, target setting, laks motivation n generally rules defying idiots i wud like 2 call them rather then geniouses. Later i life we c them the same “scoundrels” but quite understandably materially successfull but spiritually empty in the pursuit of shaytwans duniya. As for the nerds society needs them for teaching/ research purposes. It is the so called majority mediocracy that mashallah holds the helm either as bau (bizness as usual) 0r as exceptional visionaries or change change factors for gooď or worse only time can n does proven, allah willing.

    – i wud request u 2 consider changing analogy of kids tree climbing with something else. The reason being i was once admitted for physiotherapy in a uk run centre for the rehabilitation of the paralyzed while @ crp i was shocked 2 discover that most of the patients admitted there for paralysis was due 2 falling fm trees n allmost all of them r adullts n done tree climbings before many tines.

    Well thnx for bringing up another – there is allways darkness undet the lamp issue upfront.
    Jazaki allah khairan.

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