Finding Direction in the Midst of Uncertainty By: Soundous Louardiane
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This seems to be the go-to question that all adults love to ask children. As a child, I always had an answer: princess, ballerina, teacher, fashion designer… But now, when it arguably matters the most, my mind is blank. I have no idea what I want to pursue professionally, and I’m sure that most of us also feel the same way. We are lost, drifting in a sea of possibilities, and uncertain about our future. Nowadays, as young adults, we are presented with endless career options. A quick Google search brings up a list of over twelve thousand possible professions1. This is a blessing, of course, but it can also be a curse. Making decisions that determine the course of one’s life is already incredibly daunting, and the seemingly infinite number of vocational pathways only worsens that feeling. This can also give rise to the problem of choice overload, which is a “cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options”2. Not only does this add to the already difficult task of making the right choices for our future, but it also leaves us feeling more confused, hesitant, and stressed than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has exponentially increased the uncertainty we feel regarding the future. Most, if not all, professional fields have had to make great changes to how they operate, including, of course, the transition to an online work environment. However, some professions, due to their nature, could not undergo this online transition, making many jobs disappear and leaving many people unemployed. Moreover, these drastic changes to the professional world have introduced new factors for us to consider when making career decisions. This high level of uncertainty can be a source of great anxiety for many of us, as no one but Allah (SWT) knows what the future holds. However, the situation is not as hopeless as it seems. It is possible to find some sense of direction and serenity in the face of uncertainty, notably by developing an Islamic mentality. This would involve fully internalizing the concepts of Tawakkul (reliance on God) and al-Qadar (God’s plan). Tawakkul involves putting one’s full trust in Allah (SWT). As stated in the Holy Qur’an, “whoever relies upon Allah - then He is sufficient for him” (Q65:3). By building a relationship of deep trust with Allah (SWT), we will worry less about whatever occurs, especially that which is out of our control, and take uncertainty in stride. This goes hand in hand with the notion of al-Qadar, that God has a plan for everybody. Whatever is meant for us will undeniably reach us and whatever is meant to be, will be. Our sole responsibility is to work to the best of our ability and be sincere in our efforts; the rest will work out according to Allah’s (SWT) decree. This is a very comforting thought, especially knowing that Allah (SWT) is the Best of Planners and the Most Merciful. Of course, changing our mentality by internalizing these concepts and living by them is easier said than done, but it can be achieved. We must only be willing to put in the work, and InshaAllah, with Allah’s (SWT) help, it will soon become easier and easier. Circling back to the practical matter of career choices, there are many ways to narrow them down. We can begin by reflecting on different elements that are relevant to our professional lives. Notably, we should think about the things we love doing and see whether they can be part of our professions. Equally important, then, would be to think about what we dislike and would rather avoid. It would also be useful to reflect on the boundaries that Allah (SWT) has set, in terms of Islamically lawful and (potentially) unlawful professional pursuits. All this could help eliminate many professional pathways and simplify the decision-making process. We should also consider exploring career options that both cater to our strengths and put our abilities to good use. Doing thorough research on different professions and fields can give us a better idea of what they entail and require, allowing us to better assess whether they match our personalities and priorities. Other important aspects to consider would be the type of salaries we want and are willing to work for. Continuously trying new and different activities, as well as reflecting on all our past experiences, can give us a deeper and clearer understanding of ourselves, which in turn helps us make important decisions about the future. Moreover, discussing this topic with friends and family can provide us with different perspectives that can help us see things more clearly. From an Islamic perspective, a good way to figure out what is best for our future is to perform Salat al-Istikhara (the prayer for seeking guidance). Allah’s (SWT) help and guidance will no doubt facilitate the best course of action. It is important to continue performing this prayer even if no clear sign or direction seems to present itself, because Allah (SWT) always answers our duas, sometimes in ways that we do not expect. Overall, it can be challenging for us to navigate through life. We often feel adrift and confused, especially when it comes to making important decisions about our future. However, strengthening our trust in Allah (SWT) and cultivating our self-awareness can provide us with a sense of direction that will help us in various aspects throughout our lives.
As the chill of autumn sets in and makes itself comfortable for the long haul - the flora and fauna that inhabit the university campus alongside us have begun their shift to prepare for the cold season ahead. Leaves begin their metamorphosis, as the uniform green hue along St. George Street rapidly shifts into an array of fierce reds, muted yellows, and vibrant oranges; a final burst of color before they bow down to the winter, leaving behind only barren branches. The sights and sounds of autumn are praised for their beauty, time and time again, across countless prose and poetry. For students, however, this ethereal transfiguration of nature arrives at a time when the demands of the Dunya are at their peak. As the workload continues to rise, it takes all of our physical and mental strength just to make it through the day, with night only bringing the dread of the multitudinous tasks to follow the next morning. On one hand, it does feel quite inconvenient that this splendor arrives at a time when we are least able to appreciate it. However, we know that the world and our lives do not operate on coincidence. Perhaps then, autumn arrives as a reminder when students need it the most. When our tunnel vision is so intense as we struggle to attain temporary accolades, a grand physical spectacle is needed to cure our myopia. Witnessing the physical manifestation of the passage of time naturally brings one to think of their internal clock. The ephemeral nature of the leaves and foliage mirror our own temporary nature. Our bodies morph on a slower time scale than the autumnal transformation of these faunas but the clock ticks for us just as much as them. Next autumn, we may be buried in the ground alongside these leaves, and it is well worth thinking of what transformations we will undergo before the final hour.