You Got This!
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Kindest
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
“If you want to know exactly where Egypt is, I suggest you ask a swallow. Every autumn, when it gets cold, swallows fly south. Over the mountains to Italy, and on across a little stretch of sea, and then they’re in Africa, in the part that lies nearest to Europe. Egypt is close by,” wrote E.H. Gombrich in A Little History of the World. I remember reading this passage to the girls in 2015 and being dumbstruck. How can Egypt be close? Then it occurred to me that one’s vantage point depends on where you’re standing. For someone living in Europe, Egypt is close, closer than the United States. And I began to marvel at how different my worldview and perspective would be had I been born in another place.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ advised his companions to “be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler along a path.” Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Mouhammad, an exchange student from Lebanon, who is living with my sister’s family for the year. It’s exciting to have a new family member, especially one who speaks Arabic, French, and English. And whose ancestry combines Indian, Lebanese, and Turkish roots. He is, without doubt, the most far-sighted 16-year old I know. We spoke at length about his country, productivity and business books, Khalil Gibran, and how adversity makes you stronger. I gifted him Saracen Chivalry, a work I love for its subtleties, language, intent, and counsels, and an Arabic comic book. He gifted me Unsafe Thinking, a book on how to be creative and bold when you need it most.
As we talked I marveled at what he’s seen and the gift he gave me, which he brought with him from home. Lebanon has endured civil war (1975), revolution after revolution (2005 and 2019), and economic crisis (2019 to date). Famed for being the Paris of the East, this beautiful country and its indomitable people have continued to fight for what they love and look to the future, young people like Mouhammad to light the way. In my opinion, immigrants made America great and they will continue to do so because they have a growth mindset, which is open to opportunities, adaptable, solutions-oriented, resilient, bold, entrepreneurial, and future-focused.
And while Mouhammad and I were talking, my seven-year-old niece kept saying “I got this!” as she playfully undertook a task. What a positive, powerful attitude. If only we could keep this spirit alive. How do we retain this confidence, zeal, and daring from the cradle to the grave? By adopting “unsafe thinking: the ability to meet challenges with a willingness to depart from standard operating procedures; to confront anxiety, tolerate criticism, take intelligent risks, and refute conventional wisdom—especially one’s own views—in order to achieve breakthroughs.”
Unsafe thinking entails exploring unfamiliar approaches and leaning into what scares us knowing that fear becomes fuel when we turn towards it. It necessitates a readiness to “fail, fail again, and fail better,” as Pema Chödrön would say. Couple this with the willingness to look up to young people and encourage their innovation, talent, and untapped potentiality.
It is unfortunate that “The management cultures and systems of most organizations squelch our freedom to challenge conventional wisdom and take risks. We [unsafe thinkers] can be subject to ridicule, resentment, and even reprisals at work when we rock the boat,” notes the author Jonah Sachs. He further points out how “a strong commitment to do the ‘right’ thing can sometimes be a dangerous commitment to do the same old thing.”
In summary, it helps to see the world from a different vantage point. An immigrant mindset is about growth and seizing the day. Learning from up-and-coming young people who often thrive when given more creative freedom and opportunities is a chance to witness, experience, and apply what Zen Buddhists call “beginner’s mind” (初心). It is an excellent opportunity for those of us who’ve seen more years to learn, nurture, and mentor. All of this is possible when we widen our outlook and encounter people who stretch our minds “to the breadth of their heart” (Vadan). No matter what happens, today, tomorrow, and every day, remember: “You’ve got this!”
In faith and kinship,
PS. Name one young adult who gives you hope and inspires you.
PPS. Checked and approved by Mouhammad!
“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”