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The Problem With The C-Word


 By Shaykh Yawar Baig Quote

One of the things that I have been very fond of, is trekking; especially climbing mountains. I have done a good bit of that in the Western Ghats in Southern India, climbing on one occasion through thick forest straight up the side of the mountain, 4500 feet. I went up to Singampatti from Kanyakumari.

4500 feet may not sound like much in itself, but put it on an almost vertical hillside, no clear pathway, the opportunity to descend without brakes at any time, thorn-bush, razor grass, hot, humid weather, nettles, cicadas buzzing in the heat, all ad infinitum, and you have an entirely different perspective. However, one thing that I always looked forward to was to cross the half way, no return mark. At that point, you have not achieved the goal. You are exhausted, sweaty, irritated with yourself for having started this stupid enterprise and with no way to go back – because it is even more difficult to descend a steep path than it is to ascend it. Yet when you sit for a while and take a drink of the by now tepid water that you are carrying, your second wind kicks in.

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Then you start up the hillside once again, looking forward to scaling the last height in due course. And then comes the moment -not too soon, but after some more hours of effort- but by now the altitude has cooled the heat, the forest is getting less thick and the anticipation of success gives you the energy that you need.

Finally you reach the top. And what do you see? You see the land spread out before you as far as the eye can see. You see the glint of the ocean on the horizon. You see blue lakes and irrigation tanks, punctuating the patchwork quilt of innumerable shades of green, each a neat square that grows rice. You see the serpent eagle and his mate floating effortlessly on motionless out-spread wings riding the thermals. You can see the minute adjustment of their pinion feathers which guide their direction.

And on one occasion as I stood watching all this, I looked up at the hillside behind me and saw a leopard sitting on his haunches and watching me. We looked at each other for a while and then he decided that I looked decidedly unappetizing, and turned up his nose and walked away. I agreed with him and walked the 14 kilometers to habitation in the tea gardens which straddle this tail end of the Western Ghat mountain range with Madurai on one side and KanyaKumari on the other.

Why am I telling you this story?

I am telling you this story because as we work towards a great goal, you will begin to become restless, irritated and impatient and inclined to take shortcuts and cut corners; all for the excellent reason that you want to see the project up and started as soon as possible. But in this urgency, there will be the tendency to accept compromises. I am writing this to warn you of the biggest danger to success. The C -Word: Compromise. For to compromise is to die a death without honor.

Those who have the courage to work for a great goal understand that ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ are terms that define your own standpoint, how you see yourself. They point to who you are and not to the goal at all. Soaring at 30,000 feet is possible for an eagle or for a man with a flying machine. It is not possible or impossible in itself. All it needs is for you to ask, ‘How can I do it?’ Not, ‘Can it be done?’

[box type=”note” ]Differentiation creates brand. Brand creates identity. Identity creates influence. Influence creates followers and loyalty and the opportunity to change society. Without differentiation you are a grain of rice in a sack.[/box]

Excellence is an expression of self-respect. So is mediocrity. We strive for excellence not because someone is watching or because we are playing to the gallery, but because excellence is about us; how we see ourselves, what we think of ourselves, how we choose to define ourselves.

We define ourselves and the world accepts that definition and treats us accordingly. So think before you define yourself.

Excellence requires sustained heroic effort, often in the face of great discouragement. So only those excel —who revel in the effort— the adrenalin drives them. Paradoxically they are goal-focused, but take pleasure from the difficulty of reaching that goal. For them the journey is the destination; because the excitement is only in the chase and ends with the catch. Mount Everest is a worthy goal to strive for because its dimensions are measured in height. The same distance on level ground wouldn’t be worth talking about. It is the difficulty which adds value to the goal. If you think success is difficult, try failure. To accept mediocrity is to accept failure at the start. Mediocrity ensures that your failure is permanent. That drug is called ‘compromise.’ I know that there are more mediocre people in the world than those who achieve excellence. But ask yourself who you would rather be? Who would you like to emulate? Who do you choose as your role model?

That is why Tipu Sultan said,

One day in the life of a tiger is worth more than a hundred years in the life of a jackal.

Ask yourself which life you would like to live – for in the end, both die.

Compromise is to attitude what cancer is to the body. The body doesn’t fight cancer but accepts it because it doesn’t recognize the threat. It accepts cancer cells until they kill it. Only those who hate mediocrity can excel. Not dislike, not are irritated by it, not anything mild – but those who pathologically hate mediocrity. Those who can’t stomach it at any cost. Those who are repelled by it, find it disgusting, abhorrent and hateful and would do anything to get out of it. Compromise, like cancer, destroys from within. But unlike cancer it is infectious.

Excellence takes effort. Few make it. Failure is painful. Nobody likes it. Mediocrity is a narcotic which makes destruction seem acceptable. So people settle for less than what they can be. They get distracted by others and their mediocre efforts and they make excuses as if they can change reality. They imagine that if they can find others who will agree with them, their mediocrity will be acceptable. It will be, to other mediocre people. But to those focused on excellence, who look not at others but at their own potential and beyond it, mediocrity is despicable, no matter what guise it comes in.

And to tell you the truth, the mediocre ones also recognize this in the dead of the night, when they are alone with themselves, that their efforts don’t even begin to approach the boundaries of what could have been if only they had not compromised. Failure is not the enemy of excellence, mediocrity is. Failure is painful and drives effort. Nobody willingly fails or remains in failure. But mediocrity is anesthetized failure. It is fatal because the victim does nothing to counter it because he can’t feel the pain.

I remind myself about a basic principle that I have always followed in my own life.

[box type=”note” ]It is better to fail trying to achieve an extraordinary goal, than to settle for a compromise. Why extraordinary? Because good enough, never is. The important thing for us to remember is never to compromise. [/box] No matter how frustrating it seems.

As I always say, when weighing things in a balance, it is only the last few grains which tip the balance. Until then you don’t see any difference. And that is why in my view, there are two fundamental laws:

1. That the balance will not tip until the last few grains fall on it.

2.That the last few grains will always tip the balance.

Both laws are equally true. Remember that if we compromise for anything less than what we dreamed of, then in the evening of our days we too will be forced to look back on our lives and say, “If only we had not sold our dream so cheaply!”

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Mirza Yawar Baig is the Founder & President of Yawar Baig & Associates. He is an international speaker, coach, trainer and facilitator, specializing in leadership in family businesses.



  1. basmah

    May 2, 2014 at 1:38 AM

    That was very motivating! JazakAllah Khair. And very thoughtful and well written. MashAllah :) )

  2. Mahmud B.

    May 2, 2014 at 2:45 AM

    Jazakallah khair. It was a good lesson

    Inshallah the author can provide with a list of action steps in his next article to get us started. Many of us dont know where to start our journey to greatness

    A little guidance who have gone before us and have already walked the path would be much appreciated.

    [edit] thank you for your suggestions -fwd to editorial

  3. ummi

    May 2, 2014 at 10:18 AM

    What about moms & wives , our life is all about C words

    • Mahmud B.

      May 2, 2014 at 1:37 PM

      Yes you are right @ummi

      Our life is full of compromises sometimes between us and our wives
      and us and our parents and so on.

      I think what the Shaykh is trying to say is that in addition to our relationship
      with others, we are also on a personal journey in this life. And in that
      personal journey, many people settle in their comfort zone. They settle
      after meeting a few mere obstacles.

      Imagine if the Prophet had given up after a few people that he preached
      to declined to accept Islam. Obstacles are actually what teach us lessons
      that we need and make our character stronger.

      If you look at nature, the lesson of overcoming obstacles is prevalent.
      Like the pregnant salmon that travels a long and hard journey upstream
      to the place of their birth to give birth themselves.

      Like the silkworm that struggles to come out of its cocoon to emerge as a
      strong and beautiful butterfly. In fact, did you know that if you just opened
      the cocoon and let the silkworm come out it would die. It needs the struggle
      to come out alive and strong.

      I think when it comes to our goals and ambitions, many of us are very impatient.

      Look at a human baby, it needs 7-9 months of gestation to form properly.
      If it came out earlier than that, it would die.

      The bamboo tree gestates and stays underground for 5 whole years.
      And right after the 5th year it shoots up 90 feet in 6 weeks.

      Where do you think the growth actually occurred: from the 5 years or the 6 weeks?

      It was those 5 years of preparation that we didnt see, that caused it to grow so tall.

      So if you have goals and ambitions, be patient, success may just be around the corner.

      i would add to the article by saying that mediocrity or “settling” is
      actually promoted by many parents and teachers (albeit indirectly).

      Lets say a child says he or she wants to become an astronaut.

      What kind of criticisms do you think some muslim parents would give
      to that child

      “Oh beta….what do you want to go to space for?”
      “There is no money in being an astronaut”

      And other discouraging statements

      PS…if the shaykh has pictures of his trip, it would be great to be added to the article.

  4. umm habiba

    May 3, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    Are excellence n perfection the same. When we strive for excellence in one field, that which we have passion for, in another field we may not exactly excel.. So is that not good enough.
    Like I can give an example from my life. Alhamdulillah when I strive for excellence in bringing up my kids n with my work at school, then the maintenance of my house suffers, according to my mil, while according to me it’s good enough..
    Is that also mediocrity.. But then u only have 24 hrs n can’t prioritize everything. Pls comment.

    • Mahmud B.

      May 6, 2014 at 1:09 AM

      @umm habiba

      What you are describing, that would not be considered mediocrity,

      Mashallah you are wanting the best for you and your family….that is a high ideal that should not be compromised on

      No one is perfect

      In fact perfectionism is not a good quality to have and it generally is hiding the issue of procrastination and fear of failure in someone

  5. Muhammad Jassim

    May 3, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    Excellent article! Marvelous!

  6. Anon

    May 4, 2014 at 11:51 PM

    On this note, I think the lives we lead need to be based on 2 things –

    1) Sacrificing & building the Deen
    2) Raising a Good family – though this is not as important as Sacrificing for the Deen (for Men at least) – intact our families should help us in our work for Deen.

    Some exceptions can be made – namely, taking care of our Elderly parents.

    If we just want to raise a family, and ignore sacrificing for the Deen, or even make that a second priority, than that IS Mediocrity
    (see examples of Sahaba, Prophet SAW, Tabi’, various other courageous Muslim leaders; they were never cowed by their families, content to sit by their wife’s side while the battle raged around them)

    “O you who have believed, indeed, among your wives and your children are enemies to you, so beware of them. But if you pardon and overlook and forgive – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

    Your wealth and your children are but a trial, and Allah has with Him a great reward.

    So fear Allah as much as you are able and listen and obey and spend [in the way of Allah ]; it is better for your selves. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul – it is those who will be the successful.” (Surah At- Taghabun 14-16)

  7. harleykitten

    May 7, 2014 at 7:55 AM

    That was beautiful Masha’Allah! Jazak Allah Khayr.

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