What happens when you go through painful work experiences? Do you pause to reflect on their meaning, and message for you? Do you allow them to teach you and help you grow, or do you numb your heart and mind until they pass?
Being more concerned about work outcomes can lead us to sweep our feelings under the carpet when we face a painful work experience ignoring thereby our holistic well-being. But the truth is, you’re not a work machine, you have feelings and emotions, and more importantly, nothing happens to you without a purpose. Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an: “No calamity befalls ‘anyone’ except by Allah’s Will. And whoever has faith in Allah, He will ‘rightly’ guide their hearts ‘through adversity’. And Allah has ‘perfect’ knowledge of all things.” [Qur’an 64: 11]
When we explore organizational psychology & leadership research, we find abundant evidence for growth following stressful/painful moments. Leaders report that painful moments of hardship were fundamental to their development and understanding of their values. We also learn that people’s levels of cognitive awareness and reflection are among the reasons that allow them to construe benefit from adversity.
What we need to acknowledge is that painful work experiences WILL happen to everyone in any organization. The key here is how people can consciously turn those experiences into opportunities for peace, growth, and success. Introspection & self-accountability is a powerful mindset that helps us grow through painful work experiences in a way that brings internal and external peace and growth.
Three benefits of introspection & self-accountability
1. When you adopt the Barakah mindset of introspection and self-accountability upon facing a painful work experience; you reflect and think about where you went wrong and what you can do to change the situation, instead of playing the victim card of why you didn’t deserve this and whose fault it is. So the first benefit of such a mindset is that you start taking responsibility honorably for the mistake and figuring out how to tackle it. Yes, reflecting on one’s own mistakes and blaming the self instead of others can be painful but it’s a sign that your nafs (self/ego) is uncomfortable with making the mistake and you could have done better. And that’s a good sign – it means your heart is alive. (We all know people who make mistakes and feel no regret if anything they try to justify their mistakes which makes the situation even worse!).
2. The second benefit of the introspection and self-accountability mindset is that it ignites life in your heart and holds you accountable to a higher standard. Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He) in the Qur’an gives an oath by the self-reproaching soul. “I do swear by the Day of Judgment! And I do swear by the self-reproaching soul” [Qur’an 75: 1-2]! In the above verses, Allah swears by the Day of Judgment when people will be held accountable for their deeds. Then He swears by people’s self-reproaching soul that innately holds them accountable and rebukes them for their mistakes BEFORE the day of Judgement. If we don’t hold ourselves accountable in this life, we’ll surely regret in the hereafter.
3. Thirdly, when we introspect and hold ourselves accountable and think of our mistakes from a hereafter-perspective, we shift the focus to the Judge, and the Judge here is The Most Merciful. In the hustle culture we live in, we let our managers be our judge, and sometimes to them, we’re never good enough and our mistakes can never be forgivable. But knowing that Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He) is The One who’ll ultimately judge us for our mistakes and that He forgives everything -once asked- no matter how big or how many times mistakes have been repeated brings a sense of ease and helps release us from the pain that’s gripping our hearts.
From pain to hope
The word for ‘blamed’ in Arabic is ‘Lam’. Those 3 letters in ‘lam’ also form the word ‘Alm’ (Pain), i.e. blame leads to pain. But, the same 3 letters can be rearranged to form the word ‘Aml’ (Hope). The message is clear: Blaming the self can lead to pain. But pain is not a fixed, endless state. The pain must carry and turn into hope…
» Hope because the heart is alive and not numb.
» Hope that this is not the end (and we’ll be held accountable on the Day of Judgement with a Merciful Lord).
» Hope for a better self that can come out of this situation and mistake
» Hope in the mercy of Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He) that encompasses everything
» Hope in His promise that with difficulty there must be ease.
What exacerbates painful experiences for some people is their inability, lack of desire, or refusal to see any hope in their situations. But sometimes Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He) places pain purposefully to guide people to Him and to a more meaningful realization about life. “No calamity befalls ‘anyone’ except by Allah’s Will. And whoever has faith in Allah, He will ‘rightly’ guide their hearts ‘through adversity’. And Allah has ‘perfect’ knowledge of all things” (Qur’an 64: 11).
Finding peace knowing that your pain is valued & rewarded
When we’re talking about painful experiences, we’re not necessarily talking about big disasters. It could be a very small event, but it did leave you feeling pain. Still, to Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He), your pain is not meaningless, purposeless or in vain.
Abu Sa’id and Abu Hurairah radiyAllahu ‘anhum (may Allah be pleased with them) reported that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhiwasallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Never a believer is stricken with a discomfort, an illness, anxiety, a grief or mental worry or even the pricking of a thorn but Allah will expiate his sins on account of his patience” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. The Prophet saallallahu ‘alayhiwasallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) cared for and valued the pain of a little child who was grieving over the loss of his little bird. Anas b. Malik radiyAllahu ‘anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhiwasallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to come to visit us. I had a younger brother who was called Abu ‘Umair’ (nickname). He had a sparrow with which he played, but it died. So one day the prophet ‘sallallahu alayhiwasallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came to see him and saw him grieved. He asked: What is the matter with him? The people replied: His sparrow has died. He then said: Abu ‘Umair! What has happened to the little sparrow’ [Sunan Abi Dawud]. The Prophet saallallahu ‘alayhiwasallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) didn’t say “brush it off, young man. Toughen up and move on. There are much bigger problems in life.”
Rather, the Prophet saallallahu ‘alayhiwasallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) took the time to listen and validate the feelings of the little child, engage with him and console him mercifully. This is the mercy of the Messenger of The Most Merciful; imagine the mercy of the Most Merciful Himself! Every small moment of pain you go through is seen and heard by Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He) and is rewarded by Him. Be it a harsh word you read in an email, a tough meeting that left you uncomfortable or an unpleasant manager who keeps you on your toes, stressed and unable to enjoy life… All of those moments can be rewarded and they also happen for a greater reason.
“We have made some of you a trial for others. Will you ‘not then’ be patient? And your Lord is All-Seeing” [Qur’an 25: 20]. If one is patient, i.e. not giving up, rebelling or defensively turning away, it could be an opportunity for spiritual connection with Allah because Allah says, “Indeed, Allah is with the patient” [Qur’an 8: 46].
So patience puts you in the ma’yya of Allah (the company and care) of Allah. Sometimes we get so self-absorbed or consumed by our lives that we completely forget about the One who gave us life. Those temporary moments of discomfort or pain help us slow down, remember Him, turn to Him and engage with Him.
While we might fixate on the current perceived pain and magnify it thinking it’s the end of the world, we are reminded through painful experiences that this life is not the end, it is just an episode and there is an eternal dimension to it. What are those moments, days, weeks and years of pain, in comparison with an eternity of unlimited pleasures if He is pleased with you…? “Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.”[Qur’an 39:10]
Shifting your mindset & taking action
As we mentioned earlier, pain is not the end. It’s a means to an end. The end is guidance, growth, and connection with Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He). In those painful moments, as a means of relief, try shifting from being ego-centric to being Allah-centric. When one is Allah-centric, he/she thinks about what pleases Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He), instead of what pleases the ego/self.
The nafs can be angry, vengeful, greedy, competitive, restless, hard to please and limited. But Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He) is Ever Kind, Generous, Appreciative, doesn’t compare you to others, accepts and aids you in every step, His Name is the Peace and the Giver of peace; He owns everything and has no limits.
Submitting to Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He) instead of submitting to the self is liberating to the soul from the injustice and limitation of the self. So, in those moments, try thinking like an ‘abd’ (slave of Allah), instead of thinking of yourself as a false master who is entitled to receive everything and be served relentlessly. Free yourself from your own self for a while, and think about Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He). Ask yourself: Did you do something that displeases Him that needs repentance and seeking forgiveness? Are there shortcomings in your duty to Him or others? When you’re more concerned about Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He), Allah will take away your concerns. The Messenger of Allah subhanahuwata’la (glorified and exalted be He) says: “Whoever is focused only on this world, Allah will confound his affairs and make him fear poverty constantly, and he will not get anything of this world except that which has been decreed for him. Whoever is focused on the Hereafter, Allah will settle his affairs for him and make him rich in his heart, and his provision and worldly gains will undoubtedly come to him” [Sunan Ibn Majah].
Think about a painful experience you went through/or are going through currently, and ask yourself:
>What does this experience make you grateful for?
>What does this experience make you hopeful for?
>What can you learn from this experience? How can it make you a better person?
Now, turn the answers into hamd (praise of Allah), tasbeeh (glorification of Allah), and dua (supplications to Allah). Praise Allah for the good things you’re thankful for, the countless moments of ease and well-being you experienced before, then glorify Allah above any negative/flawed perceptions, then seek the help of Allah, ask Him for resolutions and have hope in Him and His relief.
Dina Mohamed Basiony is the Chief Content Officer at the Productive Muslim Company. She frequently writes for global Islamic platforms.