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We, humans, are imperfect. In every single thing we do, there’s always a chance of failure. However, failure is not the end of everything, there’s always a chance of betterment too. We learn, we practice, and we try hard to not repeat our failure in the future. We strive for excellence, for success. But sometimes, we don’t continue to get to the process of learning from failure straightaway. We get stuck in a hopeless state which I like to call the ‘multiply by zero’ state.
What exactly is ‘multiply by zero’? Here the thing is, in Mathematics (even though I wasn’t even good at Math in school) when we multiply something by zero the result would be zero. One multiplied by zero would be zero. One thousand multiplied by zero would be zero. One million multiplied by zero would be zero too. No matter how big the number, if we multiply it by zero, the result would be, you can guess it: ZERO. On my mind, zero has the equivalent meaning of ‘nothing’. It’s plain, it’s nothing, it’s boring, it’s an apparent statement of failure.
Let’s start with one of our daily routines: getting ready in front of the mirror. Sometimes, I will look into the mirror and wish that I have a certain facial feature differently. I think many people have done it too. We think that maybe a taller body or thicker eyebrows look better on us. And suddenly, the thought of wanting to have a thicker (or thinner) eyebrows making us feel like we’re the ugliest person on earth. That’s a bad thought for sure, na’udhubillahi min dhalik.
The Beauty of Our Whole Face and Body x Our insecurity of having thin (or thick) eyebrows = Ugly
1000 x 0 = 0
That’s an example of when physical insecurities meet the ‘multiply by zero’ state of mind. It can be also in the form of our comparison with other people. There’s a saying that goes with: “comparison is a thief of joy.” In this modern time, the era of non-stop Instagram, we sometimes create that thief of our joy by our own selves.
Let’s say, you were scrolling and swiping through Instagram when you found a series of posts of your friend baking pretty cupcakes and other mouthwatering sweet treats. It seems like several weeks ago when you met her, she didn’t even talk about baking. But now, she’s an expert. Her caption tells that baking is just a new hobby but seriously, her cakes look professionally made. She succeeded. You see the comments from her family and friends who praised the cakes. They said that those cakes taste so delicious. It’s perfect, a delicious cake with a beautiful decoration. Pretty inside, pretty outside.
Then, you start to compare yourself with her. How talented your friend is. She only learned baking for a short period but she has mastered it. You also remembered that she’s indeed a fast learner, she’s was a straight A student and succeeded in many extracurricular activities at school. Even now, she’s thriving with her post-graduate study. And you, how about you? You remember the looks your family gives you when they tried to fake smile and hide their disappointment of your too-dense and bitter chocolate cookies last week. So many people have succeeded in baking those cookies, you have seen the comments from the website you took the recipe. But you couldn’t even bake those simple chocolate cookies.
A scary thought starts crawling all over you. You started to think that you’re very stupid and untalented. Remembering about your plan to try a Japanese curry recipe tomorrow, you suddenly frown. No, you think you’ll end up messing the kitchen again. You lose your enthusiasm for learning how to bake and cook. You forget the support of your family even when your cookings aren’t that good, they were happy and asked you to try again. However, the ‘multiply by zero’ thought makes you think it doesn’t worth it anymore. It’s very obvious now, you think you’re the most incompetent person on earth.
All of Your Talents and Achievements x Your Failure in Baking Cookies = Total Incompetency
1000 x 0 = 0
Okay, the examples might be too exaggerative. But honestly, I’ve encountered this situation numerous times before. A failure of a project would make me feel so ashamed that I lost my excitement with that project and resorted to the ‘multiply by zero’ state of mind again. This toxic state of mind makes me only focused on the dark side. It makes me forget all of the good progress that I have made. It takes me away from realizing that there are so many things I can do to fix a situation, or to improve myself. It lowers my self-esteem, my confidence, my trust in my own self. But most importantly, it makes me ungrateful of all the other bright things that Allah has given to me, be it talents, achievements, social supports, and so many other blessings.
It’s not healthy to get stuck with the ‘multiply by zero’ thought. Instead of using our failures and insecurities as zero in the multiplication, let’s try to get back to the basics: addition and subtraction. The simple ‘plus and minus’ concept. We need to recognize our own progress and achievement by adding it to the calculation. We also need to not exaggerate our failure and insecurities, don’t multiply it by zero, that’s not a respectful act to our own selves. Instead, subtract those failures and insecurities in the calculation.
All of Your Talents and Achievements – Your Failure in Baking Cookies = Better Baking Strategy Next Time
1000 – 10 = 990
All of Your Talents and Achievements – Your Failure in Baking Cookies + Your Relentless Effort in Learning How to Cook = Success
1000 – 10 + 10 = 1000
See? Failures and insecurities are not the end of the world, those things do not define you. It’s never zero since we can always fix our problems and improve ourselves, of course, with hard work and most importantly by the assistance and will of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. You can always try to bake better next time. You may not have the tallest body or the most beautiful eyebrows, but your smile definitely lights some of your loved ones’ world. Our body is not only defined by the outer look, it’s the use of that body that counts.
It’s okay to be disappointed with our failures or insecurities. Like we discussed earlier, humans are imperfect. We make mistakes, we compare ourselves, we are sad sometimes. But Allah has given humans the amazing abilities to ‘try and learn’. He ‘Azza wa jall has promised us with ease after difficulty, and He also instructs us to be focused to finish our task.
“So verily, with the hardship, there is relief,”
“Verily, with the hardship, there is relief (i.e. there is one hardship with two reliefs so one hardship cannot overcome two reliefs).”
“So when you have finished (from your occupation), then stand up for Allah’s worship (i.e. stand up for prayer).”
“And to your Lord (Alone) turn (all your intentions and hopes and) your invocations.”
Surah Ash-Sharh: 5-8
Don’t get stuck with the sadness, don’t let yourself get trapped by the ‘multiple by zero’ mindset again.
Instead, rise and shine. Life must go on. Add and subtract. Recognize your shortcomings but appreciate your own progress too. Keep trying, keep learning. Put a smile on your smile, it looks good on you. Success is waiting. Don’t forget to start anything with the powerful dhikr and du’a: basmalah 🙂