Bismillah. If there is anything that can be said about commitments, it is, without a doubt, that they are easier to make than they are to keep. As human beings, most of us have a tendency to file a ‘yes’ for things without thoroughly thinking them through. Call it our fear of letting the next person down, our excessively optimistic view of our ability to do things, or our utter excitement that gets in the way of thinking realistically, the following is true for most of us: our default disposition is to hop on board the ship before making the money to purchase a ticket for the trip back home.
The issue I take with this facet of human nature is its role in increasingly depicting human beings as a species that is rarely true to its word. If you take a look at the world around you, you too will realize that you trust it little and doubt it more. A commitment is rarely a commitment without a safety latch; a bank loan is incomplete without a collateral asset and an agreement is invalid without a written contract. The innate disposition of humans now is of utter distrust; we trust each other only in the presence of applied conditions. Sounds bleak, doesn’t it? To a large extent it is, and one of the foundations of this distrust lies in the little commitments we make with little intention to uphold them.
You may not even realize your commitments are unrealistic. I do not say we are inherently careless and insensitive to the agreements we make with others. Oftentimes, we overestimate our own capacity to come to terms with what we have promised others. It is never easy to tell yourself that 24 hours is simply not enough to conquer the world. I remember as a child I saw the hours past my bedtime as the destination where capacity and potential is unlocked. I told myself any amount of homework could be completed if I stayed up all night. Any math problem could be solved and any essay could be completed in the candle-lit hours of the night. It was college all-nighters that taught me I cannot possibly accomplish all the things on an untapped to-do list. I learnt that in order to achieve much, I must define ‘much’ and limit it. I must sign up for only as much as the hands of the clock and the energy stored in my body will allow me. I must make only the commitments I can guarantee I can work towards, realistically.
You’ve all heard the saying, “Aim for the moon, and you’ll land amongst the stars.” Suffice it to say that my misinterpretation of this emotionally evoking quote was one of the reasons I started missing deadlines and failing my commitments. As a person of multiple passions, any opportunity that knocks on my door has me reaching for the knob and flinging it wide open. And not for a moment do I say ignore the opportunity that Allah sends your way.
What I do advise, however, is to gauge just how much of it you can accept with responsibility. I encourage you to aim for the moon. I encourage you to trust that when you embark on a journey for Allah, it is He who will put barakah in it. I encourage you to challenge yourself and flex your capacities. I encourage you to tread unknown waters. But I also encourage you to do it with a sense of responsibility. Trust does not come without a plan of your own. Optimism is fruitless without careful calculation and premeditation. Commitments don’t have any value when they are made thoughtlessly.
It’s all been a flutter of words and ideas without an action plan so far. God willing, you understand the importance of thoroughly thinking through your commitments before setting them in stone by now. But what do you do? I tell you to challenge yourself but then I ask you to make sure you can do your commitment justice beforehand. I ask you to trust Allah with your affairs but advise you to premeditate a plan of your own. How do you piece these elements together in harmony? Here’s how.
Learn to say, “I’ll think about it.”
There’s a lot you can do to make sure you’re hopping on to the right boat at the right time with the right resources, but the spur of a moment often leads us to go against our otherwise better judgment with regards to major commitments. There is nothing wrong with taking your time to make a decision and you shouldn’t feel any shame in asking for it. Even if you think an opportunity is just right, take your time before jumping at it.
This doesn’t go to say, however, that opportunities shouldn’t be availed as soon as they arrive at your doorstep. Many a times an offer, if not immediately availed, will leave your side and in such cases, one’s better judgment is the only source of reliance.
All in all, if time is not necessarily of the essence, think about it. If time is certainly and urgently of the essence, then a ‘bismillah’ and your best judgment are the way forward.
Stop overestimating yourself.
You are still a human being, and therefore your capacity to work in the amount of time available to you is still limited. Despite the fact that you should try to make the most of your time and capabilities each day, you need to learn to accept the fact that your list of ‘things to do’ needs to be completed within 24 hours. Aiming high is commendable, but aiming unrealistically will only bring you down in the long run. Set tasks you know are humanly possible to complete. There lies a fine line and a key balance between unrealistic goals and dry goals, and that is where you want to be. With time and practice, you’ll find your own balance.
That being said, don’t underestimate yourself either. Although this article is aimed mainly at those of us who sign up for much and achieve little of what we’ve promised, I do not want it to serve as a means of discouragement for those of you who are trying to step out of your comfort zone and share your efforts with the globe. Know that in any great achievement lies preliminary discomfort, but the discomfort should be tapped and limited so it serves only as a further motivation, and not as a demotivation.
Take one thing at a time.
It took me a while to stumble upon the realization that I can always take up another task after completing one. As for things that are important but not necessarily urgent, learn to put them aside until you wrap up your current commitments. Most projects are bound by a timeline, and many a times that timeline is determined by how much time and effort you can devote to the project. Instead of tying yourself up on all ends, strive in one direction and, once you’ve arrived at your destination, head out for the next. Focusing on one thing at a time works wonders that you can fathom only after personally witnessing them.
Divine guidance is the most fool-proof method of ensuring you’re making the right commitment. Once you’ve made your decision, ask Allah to make it easy and blessed for you if it is good for you in this world and the next, and to take it out of your path if it will only lead to disappointments in this life and the next. Knowing that Allah is well aware of the outcome of all your decisions is the greatest safety net for Muslims after you’ve taken the necessary precautions and premeditations yourself. I recommend this to myself before I recommend it to the rest of you: make the process of Istikhara a habit.
Once you embark on your commitment, make a sincere du’a to Allah to help you stay strong in fulfilling it to the best of your abilities. Realise the value of what you’ve just committed yourself to, a promise, and seek the help of Allah in staying true to your word accordingly. And in sha Allah, if you’ve committed your efforts to a cause of great worth, Allah subhana wa ta’ala will not leave your side.
And that wraps up my advice on how to stay true to your commitments without rendering yourself absolutely useless. My disclaimer for this article is that it is directed to those of you who, like me, sometimes feel discouraged because of too many missed over-ambitious commitments. In no way do I suggest you stop challenging yourself, stop aspiring higher and higher and stop pushing your capacities. Do all that, because that is where greatness is born. But when you do, be responsible about it, and make sure the ship you board isn’t bound to sink.
Ayesha Burney is a young student of Mass Communication, an aspiring writer and blogger, and part of the Me Muslima support team. Her passions lie in da’wah, writing, education of all sorts and, typically, baked chocolate goods. Her writing, as you will find, almost always has a reflective element to it, as she uses the fingers-to-keys method to organize the workings of an overthinking mind. She writes to share with you her reflections and her learning experience.