Hit the road running

A senior manager in Dubai who I am coaching asked me this question.

Question: I want to be able to improve my self-belief the way you did this while in the plantation industry and later on in America when you stuck to your guns to become a highly paid consultant. Increasing my Imaan would be one aspect. Additionally I would like to focus on the behavioral part as well.

My answer:

Increase your competence. Our Imaan (Faith) is on Allahﷻ. But that, by itself, won’t get you ahead in the world. You must become an expert in your area. Imaan guides what you do with that expertise. It gives you the boundary conditions which tell you what you can and can’t do. Should and shouldn’t do. It lights the road that you must traverse in the cold, dark reaches of the night when confidence is at its lowest ebb and fears abound. Imaan sustains you through emotional stress. Imaan gives you confidence, courage and good sleep because you believe in Allahﷻ. Imaan is your booster. Imaan is an extremely valuable support. But if you don’t have expertise, Imaan is not a substitute. There is NO substitute for Core Competence.

Remember Rasoolullahﷺ (The Prophet Muhammadﷺ) made Khalid bin Waleed (R) the Commander in Chief of the army, not Abu Bakr (R). Though in terms of piety, Islamic knowledge, status with Rasoolullahﷺ and level of Imaan, Abu Bakr (R) was far higher.

Even if one argues that this was because Rasoolullahﷺ wanted Abu Bakr (R) with himself, there were others like Ali bin Abi Talib (R), Omar ibn Al Khattab (R) and so on who were higher than Khalid bin Waleed (R) in terms of Islamic knowledge and practice. Rasoolullahﷺ chose the most competent man, not the most pious. That doesn’t mean that piety is not important. It means that piety is a boundary condition. But for advancement, you need core competence in the line that you have chosen.

Treat your career like a race track.

Where are you most likely to find Usain Bolt on the morning after he wins the Olympic Gold Medal? On the track. For winners, there is no rest. They strive, not because they are forced to. But because they love to test themselves. They don’t complain about making effort. They love making effort. Anyone who complains about difficulty or constraints or the need to strive harder, is a loser. That is the most reliable self-test. Monitor your own conversation and see how you speak about tough conditions. Do you see them as hurdles or opportunities. This is not about semantics and playing word games. This is very real. Monitor your conversation. Listen to yourself.

On January 26, 2020, there was the great tragedy of the deaths of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. People feel sad about Kobe Bryant’s death because of what he contributed, not only to basketball and the Lakers, but to people in general. His life was a great source of motivation for countless people. His drive to excel in every game led him to go to the court after every match, when his fellow players had all gone home, to practice endlessly to score the one or two shots that he would have missed in that game. He was not doing that because he had lost. He did that after every game that he and his team won. He did it because he was Kobe.

Discipline is to do what must be done. Not only what you like to do. One of Kobe Bryant’s teammates said, “One time, the coach called an 8.00 a.m. breakfast meeting, the day after we returned from a match that we had won. We had spent most of the night in the celebration party, everyone was sleep deprived and hated having to go to an early morning meeting. We arrived in the restaurant, bleary eyed and heavy-headed, when Kobe walked in, in full kit, dripping with sweat. He had been on the court since 5.00 a.m. He had put in 3 hours of practice before the 8.00 a.m. meeting. That is the meaning of discipline. That is the meaning of focus. That is what winners do, while losers try to tell you why they couldn’t do it.

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” Muhammad Ali

It is the same story with all winners in every field. They win not because of magic or faith. They win because they work very hard, while others are sleeping. They win because they are not concerned about others. They are concerned about themselves. About improving their own competence.

Winners also fail. What distinguishes them from losers, is how they fail. Winners learn from their mistakes. They document that learning and NEVER repeat that mistake. They make new mistakes which shows that they don’t lose confidence when they lose. Losers on the other hand, make excuses and try to justify their losing actions.

What is it that drives a man to excel? What if we make that the goal of our lives? To excel. Even if you are running in the right direction, you will lose the race if you don’t run fast enough. So if you want to win the race you don’t just have to run but you must constantly improve your running; technique, speed, stamina. That comes from hitting the track every morning with the single-minded focus to improve over your past record. And you must do this as long as you live. Remember you will only be able to do this if you love doing it.

Today and for over three decades now, I answer to no man. I don’t say ‘no man or woman’ because I answer to my wife. But I still work with single-minded focus to do better each day. I started photography a couple of years ago. I have three coaches. All of them dear friends. Each one known to me by the number of my photos he trashes. I am most grateful to them for their refusal to accept anything but the best. So when one of them says, ‘This photo is really good. Needs nothing to be done to it’, I am happier than I am when many other people tell me that my photographs are ‘National Geographic quality’. I am grateful to those who tell me that and love them with all my heart, but I listen to my coaches; not to them. If you are not improving measurably day by day, you are regressing. That is why the Prophet Muhammadﷺ said, “If two of your days are equal, you wasted one of them.”

As they say, ‘Even if you sit on the right highway, you will get run over.’ If you stand still on the belt of the treadmill, you will fall off. If you are too slow, you will still fall off. Try it if you don’t believe me. If you want to reach your destination, you must keep moving. It you want to win a race, simply moving is not enough. You must move faster, smarter and harder than your competition. And you must do it, not because they are doing it, but because you are YOU.

If you are competing, you are already losing. Look at your competition and then focus on your competence. Leverage yourself OUT of the competition. Become the benchmark for what you do for others to compare themselves to. Let them chase you, not you, them.

Strive because nobody knows the best that he can do. Go out, trying to find out.

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MashaAllah Shaykh


Great distinction on competence. One can (should?) also use iman to boost one’s effort and in turn, competence.

Abu Zubair

Very good article and need of this hour to tell people to focus on their competencies . Thanks to the senior manager in Dubai who asked this question . Jazakallahu Khair

Malik K.I. Melamu

Salaam sheikh!! A nice inspirational blog!! Bismillah MashaAllah!! I find a focus on making sure that anything I do adds value to someone else, my community, society. This also helps me to keep pushing. Passion for what you do also helps and as you so eloquently stressed, then the umbrella is imaan!!

Very interesting point about competence. Can we say that Competence and Imaan are in away inter linked. Ideally a person of strong Imaan should excel in his chosen vocation as elucidated above.


JazakAllah khair for the massive inspiration shaikh.


This article got me thinking deeply on the Life Goals I have set for myself and yes, Sheikh Yawar is right, treat your career like a race track. This is a remarkable quote too and motivational because a race has a result and no one likes coming out last. The very striking aspect of the depth of authenticity that informs it. I read Sheikh’s book and realised that the advice comes from experience on the ground and yes, where rubber meets the road. For me the last paragraph is very instructive because it demands leverage of the self. This is… Read more »


Great reminder that Imaan without Amal doesn’t get you far in life. Self discipline as Br. Yawar has encouraged is definitely a very valuable tool to succeed in life. Thanks so much for the wonderful life lessons Br. Yawar. May Allah reward you.

David McCririck

Thank you very much for sending me the blog “Hit the Road Running”. It really is a fabulous piece of writing, not only for the style of the piece, but even more for the sheer professionalism behind it. Well done!

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