Winning is about staying in the race

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jabir (R) reported: Rasoolullah said, “The best of people are those who are most beneficial to people.

I am not against happiness, and neither was Emerson. But happiness can be the result of very selfish and toxic behavior. People engaging in substance abuse or in backbiting or slandering, and other negative activities can be very happy in their toxicity. That is why the importance of focusing on meaningful, honorable, compassionate action. The root cause of our problems as a society globally is that we have lost our ethical and moral compass. We have made the single-minded pursuit of profit our life’s objective. That is why we have a world that is full of war and violence. This is not sustainable and must change.  

People are not equal. Not in this life. Not before Allahﷻ‎. Our job is to become winners and raise winners. Losing is the default. That’s the Law of Entropy. Everything goes downhill unless you stop it. A garden untended grows weeds, not roses. A house left unattended doesn’t clean itself. A car not maintained breaks down. A body not exercised loses muscle and strength. Not the other way round. So, you must decide what you want from life and then go and get it. The only thing that comes just by waiting, is death.

Everything else needs back-breaking effort because results are proportionate to effort. You won’t make that effort unless you enjoy it and that is where a belief in yourself and your mission makes all the difference.

To be – You must do. To do – You don’t have to be.

But unless you do – You will never be

My favorite coach is Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. He won five NFL championships, including Super Bowls I and II. He said: “Defeat is worse than death because you have to live with defeat. Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” 

If you want to know whether you are a winner or loser, check if you made your bed this morning. Check what your car looks like, outside, and inside. Do you return a shopping cart to where it is supposed to be after unloading your shopping? Everything matters. All your attitudes and actions indicate your mindset. Winning is important because only winners matter.

In 2021, Georgia Tech coach Lewis Caralla asked his football team a question: Are you willing to sprint when the distance is unknown? That will happen only if you have a deep belief in yourself and in your goal. One without the other won’t work. You need both. That is why passion is so important.

In WW2 Japan was all but destroyed with the two atomic bombs that America dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What followed was not one or two people but the whole nation sprinting without a finish line in sight. Despite the unbelievable loss of life and destruction of infrastructure and society there was neither despair, nor an exodus of Japanese towards the West, nor any hatred for Americans who had destroyed their country. Instead using the strength of their Bushido tradition, there began a reconstruction that in 2 generations made Japan an industrial powerhouse. Japan not only excelled in manufacturing products but also innovated production practices and quality standards that became a byword in industry worldwide. The remarkable thing about Japan and the Japanese is how their culture comes through in the best way in all that they do, be it in education, sport, or international relations. It is visible in their schools, railway stations and trains, and in the way their people behave at soccer matches. All this happened, as I said, with the whole nation working as one with no finish line in sight. Working for the love of their nation and with pride in their culture. It happened because their actions came out of their pride in their identity and culture which they showcased to the world.

In the Seerah when we read about the Sahaba, we can see many examples of those who sprinted when there was no finish line in sight. Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib, Mus’ab ibn Omair, Sa’ad bin Mua’ad, Abdullah bin Rawaha, Abdullah bin Jahash, Ja’afar bin Abi Talib, Zaid bin Haritha, Abu Salama, Sumaiyya bint Khayyat, Yasir bin A’amir (RadhiAllahu Anhum Ajmaeen) and many more who died before Fatah Makkah were the foundation stones on which stands the grand edifice of Islam. They didn’t see victory, but it stands on their shoulders because they invested themselves in it and continued to do their best and to invest more and more, ultimately their very lives, even though they never saw any sign of victory. That is true faith. Allahﷻ was their Witness and said:

وَٱلسَّـٰبِقُونَ ٱلْأَوَّلُونَ مِنَ ٱلْمُهَـٰجِرِينَ وَٱلْأَنصَارِ وَٱلَّذِينَ ٱتَّبَعُوهُم بِإِحْسَـٰنٍ رَّضِىَ ٱللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا۟ عَنْهُ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ جَنَّـٰتٍ تَجْرِى تَحْتَهَا ٱلْأَنْهَـٰرُ خَـٰلِدِينَ فِيهَآ أَبَدًا ذَٰلِكَ ٱلْفَوْزُ ٱلْعَظِيمُ

Tawba 9: 100    As for the foremost—of the Muhajireen and Ansar—and those who follow them in goodness, Allah is pleased with them, and they are pleased with Him. And He has prepared for them Gardens under which rivers flow, to stay there for ever and ever. That is ultimate triumph.

The important thing to understand is that life is hard. Competition is a fact of life. Life has winners and losers. We must prepare children to be winners. Not tell them lies about how fantastic they are, as they are.  No need to change or correct anything. All in the name of preserving their self-esteem. This is the biggest disservice that is done to children in this country, which gives them an inflated and unreal sense of self-importance. A bubble that is begging to burst and when it does, it leads to shock, despair, even suicide.

Self-esteem that is treated like a crystal ball shatters at the first impact of facing reality. Self-esteem, which is treated like sparring in the Dojo, is strengthened by constant testing against honest opposition. Strength only builds by working against resistance. Not by giving into it. Praise that has not been earned takes away the competitive, aspirational edge, and is a recipe for disaster. In life you can only win after heroic effort. Not just by wishing for it. To talk about the power of positive thinking without any mention of the sweat and blood it will take is like telling someone to stand at the foot of a flight of stairs and positively think himself to the top without climbing the stairs. Go on. Do it. See if it gets you to the top. It’s a con job. The truth is that winning isn’t loyal to you. Winning doesn’t care about you. Winning doesn’t care how sore you are or how hard you work. Winning doesn’t care how much sleep you got or lost. You will win if you do what it takes to win. Just like you get to buy the thing you can pay for. Your sob story is deeply uninteresting and totally irrelevant to winning or buying.

The first thing to learn therefore is to listen to some hard talk without flinching. In the ring, the one who wins is not the one who can hit hardest but the one who can take a hard hit and remain standing. That is life. The race doesn’t end when you fall but when you fail to get up. Resilience is to get up after every fall.  The most important career and life advice I can give you is to Differentiate. Differentiation creates brand. Brand inspires loyalty. Loyalty enables influence. Here are 5 secrets to surefire success:

  1. Build a reputation for reliability.

Reliability is the result of consistent high-quality work. That means delivering on promises. It means that you hold yourself to your own high standard of behavior which others may not even expect. It starts with punctuality. Don’t wait to be asked. Get prepared to deliver even if nobody asked you. That is what legacy is built on. It is called Trust. My principle is: I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control.

  • Be a problem-solver. Never say, ‘I can’t do it.’ Say, ‘I can’t do it YET?’

That little 3-letter word says it all about your attitude. Do you have an attitude of positive enquiry, persistence, perseverance, and courage? Or do you give up at the first sign of opposition and difficulty? When you say, ‘I can’t do it YET’, you are saying that you are still in the race and are looking for different ways to achieve the goal. Difficulty only motivates you. You love challenges. It takes away the fear from the equation and replaces it with excitement. After all, excitement is fear that expects a happy ending. When you have this attitude, people will come to you for help. That is how you win hearts. People love ‘Givers’. They hate ‘Takers’. That is what leadership is all about. Giving. People look up to those who can help them to achieve their goals. That will build your equity, give you influence and inspire loyalty. Only contributors have influence. Consumers are used. Allahﷻ sent us to contribute. When we forgot that and became consumers the world forgot us.

  • Remember, people are asking WiiFM – What’s in it for Me?

People are not interested in you or your goals. They are interested in their own goals. Show them how listening to you will help them achieve their goals, and you will have total attention. Remember, this is not about deceiving people or some sweet-talking spiel. It is about figuring out how to help people in a way that helps you to achieve the goals of both. It is about understanding people, looking at their world through their lens and then building a bridge from their world to yours in a way that both win. It is about being inclusive without compromising your principles.

  • Quality is not the only thing – Quality is everything

Make your bed as soon as you get out of it. Your bed and your car show if you are a winner or a loser. Quality is visible in everything you are, say or do. Quality is the result of taking pride in who you are and your work. It is to remember that all that we say and all that we do reflects brand value and character. This is real self-esteem. To act with the awareness that all our words and actions reflect on us and are our signature. Quality means to go the extra mile, do more than is expected. Not for name, fame, or money but because it is a mark of who you are. Quality is your most powerful asset and your face and signature in life. Quality is Al-Ihsaan. Rasoolullahﷺ gave the most powerful definition for quality and said, ‘To worship Allahﷻ as if you can see Him. And though you can’t see Him, know that He sees you.’ That applies to every aspect of life, not only worship. Quality is Islam.

  • Manners conquer hearts – ‘Old fashioned’ but very powerful

Of the many things that Allahﷻ could have said about His Messengerﷺ, He praised his manners (Akhlaaq). That tells us how critically important manners are. Manners are our face, our signature, the expression of our lineage, our prestige, our memory creators, and our legacy. Nobody will remember what we owned, or even looked like. But they will never forget how we made them feel. It is not about seeking popularity. But doing the right thing because of who you are. Not because of what the other one did.

Manners span boundaries of culture, nationality, and generation. People don’t know how much you know, your experience and expertise. But they can see your smile. So, show it. Greeting sincerely, warmly, and first will open more doors for you than anything else in the world. Especially because people with beautiful manners are rarer than ever. That means you will stand out. We must regain those times when the children of Muslims were known for their manners. That comes from Muslim parents who have good manners because you can only give what you have. As someone advised a youngster, ‘Be kind because you will have very little competition on that path.’ Be truthful. Don’t lie, even as a joke. Be generous. Be thankful. An attitude of gratitude is the most powerful way to win friends and influence people. The rest will follow.

Never chase money. Chase quality and money will follow. ‘Because people remember quality long after the price is forgotten’~ Gucci family slogan.