Why hard work is not the key to success.

(Originally written for my campus paper)

If there is one lesson I intend to ingrain in my mind from my many interviews with Dean’s list students, successful entrepreneurs, and communication industry experts, it is that working hard is not the recipe for success.

Having the right intentions and attitude is.

The premise is this:

When you have the right intentions and attitude towards the work you are doing, no work is hard work.

Every hour you put in, every “opportunity cost” you incur, and every extra mile you take on, is part of an enjoyable journey towards that which you intend for.

Take Mr. Irwan Rauf from ASTRO, a Malaysian satellite television service. When he started out in the broadcasting industry, he took it upon himself to extend his internship with a local broadcasting company. For months, he dedicated himself to being the “Yes-boy”; whatever anyone in the company wanted him to do – from driving to assisting in productions – he would say yes without flinching, all for an intern’s pay.

“Why on earth would you do that? Wasn’t it hard?”, I asked.

Without missing a beat, he replied, “It wasn’t hard because my intention was to learn, and by being involved in all areas of production, I learnt how the broadcasting process works from top to bottom!”

Then there’s Mdm. Salbiah, an ex-news editor from BERNAMA. Her eyes twinkled as she recounts stories of her journalism days, from travelling into dangerous areas and working late nights, to soaring the sky in military helicopters.

“I enjoyed every single moment of it,” she said. The corner of her lips hinted at the beginnings of a smile, “I always went beyond that which was required of me because I was really passionate about the work I do.”

The premise applies to not just working professionals, but students as well.

This semester, I interviewed numerous Dean’s List students through my live show on IIUM.FM, Tracklist for the Dean’s List. Although their studying methods differ according to their learning styles, the common threads that bind all of them together are their intentions and attitudes.

Every single one of them, from sister Bermet Kamchybek kyzy from Kyrgyzstan  to brother Ahmad Sharil from Malaysia, shared that having the right intention and attitude towards their work was what enabled them to be involved in so many campus activities while still acing their studies.

And Ahmad Sharil is the juggernaut of jugglers in the elusive study-life balance. With the same amount of time that all of us have, he is able to commit himself to being in the university debating team, in the secretariat of the law society, in the Entrepreneurship programme, acting as the vice president of the Asian Law Society, and even being a part-time writer and teacher (on top of happily sitting in the Dean’s list since pre-college, of course).

In response to my jaw dropping to the floor, Ahmad Sharil laughed and commented, “I find time to do all the things I am involved in only because I love to do them. This way, I have never viewed them as burdensome! For example, since I love to talk, I joined the debate club. And because I love to sell products and do charity work, I enrolled in entrepreneurship programmes. These are unrelated to my major in law, but you have to do what you love.”

The common thread of intentions and attitudes don’t just hold the industry experts and Dean’s list students together; even entrepreneurs swear by it.

“When I started out, I literally had no money in my pocket to even buy food. Sometimes, only one or two students would sign up for my classes, but I still persevered on because my intention in doing what I do is to serve the community, and to please Allah SWT,” explained Ustazah Suaidah Salim, a Muslimah entrepreneur based in Singapore.

Two years on, her classes are regularly sold-out, and demand is ever-increasing. She is currently scouting for a bigger location to host more attendees eager to become better Muslimahs.

Smiling humbly with her toddler in her arms, she advised, “When you intend to live a life that seeks Allah SWT, you will naturally embrace all challenges that come your way.”

The truth is that the intentions we make will determine the attitudes we hold towards things happening in our lives. And the attitude we have will then decide not just the outcomes of our actions, but also the effects that the actions will have on us emotionally, intellectually, physically and even spiritually.

After all, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did tell us that every action is by its intentions!

So the next time when you find yourself toiling through a task, and you realize that you are engaged in “hard work” that is taking a toll on you, perhaps it is time to inspect your attitude, and to reflect again on your intentions.

Because even though it is three in the morning as I am writing this for you, my eyes are wide awake and I am relishing every single moment of it, alhamdulillah :)