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.
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.
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.
I 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.
You 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.