Working on Myself

God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves

Ar Ra’d (The Thunder) 13:11

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’


People with opinions just go around bothering others.


I’ve noticed that whenever I don’t want to fix the problems in my own life, I suddenly become interested in fixing the problems in other people’s lives. When I was agnostic that’s when I had the most criticism for religious people. When I’ve felt frustrated in my dating life that’s when I want to lecture other people about the problems and solutions in modern dating. I stroke my ego as I daydream about how I, a single man who has never had a relationship longer than four months (yet) will teach people about how relationships should work. When I felt frustrated with the modern political system I ran away to Zuzalu and joined a group of other people as we pontificated about how we would start our own country (a “network state” and make a better political system. Never mind the fact that most of us had never even served in local politics.

This also helps me understand why men in particular tend to be so interested in politics. We want to be in control. So when we feel like we can’t control ourselves, we want to control others. In general, the people who have the least control over their lives are the ones who are most eager to control other people. One of the great ironies of life is that from my observation, men desire freedom more than women, yet men are more controlling than women.

Intellectually I know I should focus on myself more but it’s actually very hard to internalize in practice. Particularly because like most self-serving and anti-social behaviours there are actually some legitimate benefits. When I pontificate on how other people should live their lives or make plans for what I want other people to do. Those pontifications and plans are occasionally useful to the receiver. However, it may be the case that someone has gone and implemented my advice while I’m still there, yapping on my high horse.

It’s also much easier. Fixing the problems in my life often requires a lot of mundane steps like call my accountant, study cloud computing, make a spreadsheet, fill some forms, send some emails, go to the gym, reply messages, cook etc. While fixing the world’s problems merely requires having an opinion.

My friend McKenna said I’m too hard on myself. It’s true. I’ve actually gotten a lot easier on myself in recent years and that’s made it easier to be easier on the people around me. Actually, I’ve found that most people know what they need to do and will do the right thing, my job is to provide a safe space and increase their self-esteem. That’s actually why I’ve changed a lot of my writing from outward-focused to inward-focused. Instead of telling people what they should do, I’m trying to get better at just doing my own thing and documenting it in case posterity finds it useful. “Document don’t create” as Gary Vee would say. I’m not even going to actively promote my blog because when it’s time to receive the information people will find it or I will share it if God directs me to share it with someone. 

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. – Tao Te Ching

My friend McKenna also frequently sends me the quote from Rumi, ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’

What’s the balance? My friend McKenna is very wise but her disposition leans more Buddhist. She’s very content to do her own thing but I feel like we must make an impact. We must “make a difference”. But then I think about it and I ask myself “Why?”. She often tells me she wants to go to an Ashram or be an ascetic. However, I read about messengers and I feel like I’m called to make a positive impact. Many people who damaged the world also started off wanting to make a positive impact. Even the statement “we” must make an impact is too much of a generalization. Also what does making an impact even mean? McKenna says she prefers 1 on 1 conversations. I also prefer 1-1 conversations but I also enjoy talking to groups of people. Who’s to say that 1 type of impact is more than another? 

Should I just not do anything for fear of unintentionally harming people? The balance seems to be sincerity and sequencing. Start with being very sincere to myself about my intentions. My intention is to make heaven. Then I work backward and think about what things would help me get there.

Believe in God, pray, almsgiving.

Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them.

Al Baqarah 2:3

Sequencing. I do feel a calling or urge to make a difference. I introspect if it’s my ego talking but I don’t believe so. It’s the only way for me to make sense of the gifts of communication, vision, and leadership that God has given me. The way to do this is to start very small.

Focusing very intently on my urge to be a good person. Privately first. Doing acts of kindness and not telling people about it is of utmost importance.

If you give charity openly, it is good, but if you keep it secret and give to the needy in private, that is better for you, and it will atone for some of your bad deeds: God is well aware of all that you do.

Al Baqarah 2:271

One of the things my dad taught me is the importance of sequencing in life. So the question is how can I make a positive impact in the world? Well, first I had to introspect on “Why do I want to make an impact on the world?” The answer was because I have gifts from God so I have to find ways to express them to glorify God. So how can I express my gifts without becoming an arrogant ideologue who has opinions about how other people should live?

I’ve adopted some personal rules to live by.

  1. I will only offer my opinion or advice if directly asked or if I think someone is in the midst of danger or I have a high degree of conviction or divine revelation that I should get involved.
  2. I will frame my advice in terms of “This is what I did or learned from my experience”
  3. I will pay less attention to people and events that are far removed from my life and the lives of those around me.

This even translates to my social media usage, I have drastically cut down on social media usage and usually only read social media messages or tweets sent to me from my sister. I refuse to let an algorithm who doesn’t know me tell me what they think is important for me to think about. Alihamduliah, I have a good and wide social network and I trust their curation more than the curation of some profit-optimizing algorithm.

I’ve decided to sequence my order of priorities in the following way. God, family, community.

Community can be further sorted by: close friends, friends, religious/social/professional local communities, local politics, and online communities.

In practice this means that I will focus more of my efforts on things like being a more pious follower of God, being a better son, brother, cousin, and nephew, and preparing to be a good Husband and Father. Especially in my walk with God, I will focus more on what submitting to God’s will means to me and focus less on what other people are doing.

In the preface to the Yusuf Ali Qur’an. He talks about how the Mecca Surahs are more focused on rules and beliefs for the individual self while the Medinah Surahs which are revealed later talk about rules and beliefs for society. This is a good analogy for how I should live my life and relate to others as well. Focus first on learning about God and myself, following rules from God, following rules from myself, and making sure I follow those rules. Then when it’s time for me to share those rules with more people, they will ask, I don’t need to go and give people unsolicited lectures.

My friend and I were talking about building discipline. He told me he’s restarting the 75 hard challenge again after starting and stopping a few times. I was about to tell him how the best and simplest discipline-building habit I’ve found is praying 5 times a day. As I was about to continue he cut me off and said, “You just got fired from a job, instead of telling people about how praying 5 times a day changed your life, why don’t you go make a million dollars first and then people will listen to what you have to say.” Some people may feel like that’s harsh, but that is one of the best pieces of advice he’s given me. So on that note, I have to go.