Month: March 2012

Mediocre Success or Epic Failure?

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Following up from the previous post, Great Artists Steal, the question asked in the end is; would you rather fail on an epic scale at something you are passionate about or accomplish mediocre success in something you can’t care less about?

Let’s say you are solving a multiple-choice question in an exam and you select a letter; B. You have 25 % chances of being right but if you eliminate the other three answers as being wrong, your chances go up to 100 % by eliminations.When it comes to facing obstacles in your life, failures constitute the elimination technique that could raise your chances of success. A failed friendship shows you what you don’t want in a friend, a failed business venture shows you what you shouldn’t be doing in the next venture….what failures do is give you the magnifying glass to help you scrutinize your process so you can streamline them and perfect them the next time around.

Failures also act to measure how badly you really want something, because everybody wants to be successful but not everybody is persistent enough to see something to the end. As Calvin Coolidge says, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.”

So the next time you feel down because you feel like you weren’t born with a specific talent to make you succeed in what you really desire to succeed, remember three words; “Keep on going…”

Great Artists Steal

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There’s a quote that goes like; Good artists copy, great artists steal.

Steve Jobs explained the quote by saying that it comes down to exposing yourself to the best things that humans have done and learning to bring those things into what you’re doing.Whenever you interact with another human being, you can take the opportunity to discuss ideas or discuss people or discuss events. Or as Roosevelt puts it; Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.

So today I’ll copy a quote from

What you do every day is what’s most important. – The difference between who you are and who you want to be, is what you do.  You don’t have to be great to get started, but you do have to get started to be great.  Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.  Remember, people seldom do things to the best of their ability; they do things to the best of their willingness.  Follow your heart, and do something every day that your future self will thank you for.”

Today I got a message from one of my AUS classmates who read one of my previous articles on Campus Notes and sent me the following; “Don’t waste your talent! Write something, like a novel or maybe a children’s book for starters (J.K Rowling!) I think you should write about your college experience, most of your stories about AUS are quite funny!”

A few days back I was listening to Rowling’s commencement speech titled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure;” one of those speeches that I’ve always looked at for inspiration especially when she says; I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension. I know that the irony strikes with the force of a cartoon anvil, now.

She later on spoke about how 7 years after graduation, she failed on an epic scale, yet she said;

“Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

So that raises the question; would you rather fail on an epic scale at something you are passionate about or accomplish mediocre success in something you can’t care less about?\

Breaking The Silence and Silencing The Noise

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I’ve been having problems sleeping at night lately because of the construction noise right outside my window. So much so that I go to bed when I’m extremely tired, hoping that I would fall to sleep through the noise, and yet ending up tossing and turning to the music of steel-meeting-steel outside my window for 1-2 hours. I tried to drown it out by switching on something on my iphone, and putting earphones, and yet the fact remains that any sound tends to keep me awake, including what I’m listening to.

So I decided to give myself the headache (literally) and just listen to the noise. The more I listen to the noise, the more I appreciate the moments of silence in between. I listen to the banging, and though someone else might hear it as the cacophony that it is, I start to think of it as something else. I start finding a rhythm, start predicting the rhythm.

But it also makes think that there are two types of noise; the noise our minds register (what I’d like to call the “noisy noise” like when someone is talking directly to us or we are listening to a lecture) and white noise – background noise that is all around us everyday; the clicks that people around you make when they type on their computers; the ringing of phones; the chatter and laughter around the water cooler; the doors closing at a distance. When you’re focusing on something, white noise is easy to push to the background. It’s there but you can’t really hear it. Or maybe you hear it-the sound waves go through your ears-but your mind can’t really register it, so you end up hearing it, without actually listening to it.

Then there there are two types of silence. There is the sort of eerie silence that people do anything to fill. The one that makes them jump when broken by a sudden outburst of sound waves. And then there is the comfortable blissful silence that makes a person close their eyes and reflect on life. In a normal day, how many moments of blissful silence do we really experience. Ask the typical person and they probably experience it just before they fall asleep; 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes?

In the eerie silence, the slightest noise scares you. In the comfortable silence, the slightest noise distracts you. In the noisy noise, the smallest silence can either be captured, appreciated or tuned out. As for the white noise, the smallest silence can be missed.

Even people can be categorized in terms of silence and noise. There are people who stand out (like the noisy noise), and those who are just there; whether they are present or absent others don’t notice (like white noise). Then there are the soldiers in the shadow (the comfortable silence), then there are people who lead double lives (the eerie silence).

The white-noise-type of people are the ones who get bullied and pushed around, so one day they decide to become noisy-noise-people by doing something extreme. The comfortable-silence-people are the ones who others take for granted so much that one day they might end up leading double lives.

So when you hear noise or silence today, stop and listen to it and try to read the silence between the noise or the noise between the silence.


Damascus Shawarma

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I have less than 24 hours to submit my thesis draft and all I’m thinking about right now is Damascus Shawarma. In case you are not familiar with Damascus shawarma, it’s a shawarma place in Kenya run by a couple of Syrians from the back of a pick up truck. The best thing about working from the pick-up truck is that they don’t have to pay rent (unless the car itself is rented) and that they can move locations anytime they want. Their shawarmas are amazing, and even though they are located in a place that is not quite hungry for shawarma places (i.e. they have competition around), but their place is normally swarming with activity. The price of shawarma was 200 kenya shillings when we left; about 10 dirhams apiece. So you can get a picture on the economies of scale between UAE and Kenya, think that the typical employee working in a white-collar job is between 25,000 to 35,000  (between 1,100 dirhams and 1550 dirhams).

Now you’re probably thinking that I have lost my mind talking about a shawarma place when I’m supposed to be stressed out about the thesis (I didn’t finish the write-up by the way), but it got me thinking about the topic of arzaaq. When we spend time in university, studying for a degree, a lot of times we are doing it so we can have a better job opportunity in the real world tomorrow. So writing that paper or solving that exam is somehow connected to that paycheck we might get in the future. The problem with our society is that we’ve made the correlation so strong between the two that parents find themselves saying, “Do well in school so you can get into a good university so you can get a good job.”

But I’ve always wondered about the story of the two Syrians who somehow found themselves selling shawarma in Kenya and being successful despite people’s lower income and competition. Just to make a point, we don’t have many Shami’s in Mombasa (Indians, Somalis, Yemenis are common, but Shamis are not). Yet their rizq was maktoob there and they crossed the distance and they got it. So this draft due tomorrow, or this degree, can be thought of as a step in the direction of the rizq written for me. I’ll take that step, and in the end I’ll get what’s written for me in’sha Allah, and worse case scenario if I find myself at home jobless with nowhere to go, I’ll do what I do best in’sha Allah; write on this blog.

And in case you were wondering, I’m still craving that shawarma, who’s going to eat it for me?

Hadeeth of the Day

Narrated Abi Abdurrahman Abdullah bin Mas’ud, May Allah is pleased with him:
Allah’s Apostle, the true and truly inspired said, “(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends an angel who breathes the soul into him, and is ordered to write four things. He is ordered to write down his (i.e. the new creature’s) deeds, his livelihood, his (date of) death, and whether he will be blessed or wretched (in religion). So, by Allah the One, a man amongst you may do good deeds till there is only a cubit between him and Paradise and then what has been written for him decides his behavior and he starts doing (evil) deeds characteristic of the people of the (Hell) Fire. And similarly, a man amongst you may do (evil) deeds till there is only a cubit between him and the (Hell) Fire, and then what has been written for him decides his behavior, and he starts doing deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise.” Narrated by Al-Bukhari.

English translation taken from here