Back in college, one of the most influential moments I recall was when Professor Tamara Sonn explained the concept of qadr in relation to human beings. The Arabic word, which can be interpreted to mean ‘power’ or ‘destiny,’ refers to one’s potential. It was the first class of the semester, and Professor Sonn wanted us to think about our potential. Though she didn’t explicitly say this, the class was left in awe, both by the possibilities of qadr and by the other lectures (no doubt embedded with more empowering messages) to come. The narrative presented on this concept went something like this:
Imagine an acorn. Within this oak nut is a seed. The seed’s qadr is limitless. Now, the acorn’s qadr is this: It can rot or decompose. It can be eaten by wildlife. It can re-enter the cycle of nature in another form, a form less recognizable. It’s existence could be brief. The acorn’s qadr is also this: It can fall from the tree and be dispersed, whether it’s by the wind or an animal. It can germinate and with enough water, sun and nutrients, it can survive. It can grow into a majestic oak tree and create the next generation of oak trees.
As an ambitious twentysomething, there are questions that I find myself returning to frequently. What am I doing with my life? Why does everyone else have everything figured out already? How do I figure out my passion? Why can’t someone just give me the directions and instructions to life already? What is my qadr? These questions aren’t unique to my personal story. In fact, these very questions seem to define the quarter life crisis that many recent college grads and young professionals are encountering today. While some are able to secure their post-grad plans prior to graduation, several of my peers and I have found the opposite to be true.
However, this is hope for Generation Y. Last month, Dr. Adolph Brown III, an educator and motivational speaker, told me something that really resonated with me. He said that the thing he really liked about the young leaders of my generation is that we value happiness. Happiness. A concept so simple, yet our society as a whole has found ways to make it seem unattainable. An afterthought. Something you get once you’ve paid your dues. A goal that you can attain after you’ve established a respectable career and maintained financial security. Thought it may be a cliché and idealistic goal, I begin to wonder why our generation – and other generations – don’t strive for it sooner. One can argue that the world’s necessary evils, such as money and power, have both tainted our view of happiness so that it is put on the back burner. As a result, delaying happiness has twisted our definition of success.
In his 2009 TED Talk, Richard St. John discussed success but noted that when we stop trying, we inevitably fail. What it is about failure that makes it so scary? Why can’t we see failure as an opportunity? I’d like to believe that when we make “mistakes,” we are actually directing ourselves toward a more fitting path. A path that is aligned to our potential for greatness.
In her commencement speech for the graduating class of NYU, Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, shared what she learned from the financial crisis and by working with Ben Bernanke.
“We brainstormed and designed a host of programs to unclog the plumbing of the financial system and to keep credit flowing… Not everything worked, but we kept at it, and we remained focused on the task at hand. I learned the lesson during this period that one’s response to the inevitable setbacks matters as much as the balance of victories and defeats.”
Failure is inevitable. But it is not definitive.
Earlier this year, four-star general Stanley McChrystal gave a TED Talk in which he learned a valuable lesson that his former battalion commander taught him:
“.. in one sentence he lifted me, put me back on my feet and taught me that leaders can let you fail and yet, not let you be a failure.”
One of the great things about life is that each of us defines success differently. And that’s okay. Failure is what we make it to be. As pioneers of our own happiness, we have the ability to fail. We also have the ability to redirect ourselves toward our own path of success. We have the ability to decide what our own qadr is and act upon it.
The oiginal version of this post appeared on Ryann’s blog, Mama Tanap, and has been reprinted with permission.