Do you experience self-doubt? Do you feel like an imposter at work? at home? In the big goals that you want to achieve in life?
You’re not alone.
I used to think confidence was a genetic trait imprinted on those destined to greatness. It was only after studying the lives of the accomplished- like prophets, business owners, athletes, change makers- that I came to a transformative realization: confidence must be built purposefully!
Musa is the most mentioned prophet in the Qur’an. He is known to have stood fearlessly in the face of the Pharaoh in an attempt to free the people from tyranny: the epitome of bravery.
His courage and confidence were not built by happenstance, but rather a consequence of a very purposeful dua (supplication to Allah ).
Remember, Musa started off pampered and privileged in the Pharaoh’s palace but an unfortunate accident led him to flee and become destitute. Years later, still with a guilty conscience, Musa is called upon by Allah [SWT]. He must go back to the Pharaoh and intercede on behalf of the oppressed Israelites. At this point, Musa makes his emotional dua:
My Lord, expand for me my breast [with assurance].
And ease for me my task
And untie the knot from my tongue
That they may understand my speech
And appoint for me a minister from my family -Aaron, my brother.
Increase through him my strength
That we may exalt You much
And remember You much.
Indeed, You are of us ever Seeing.”
The Quranic description is vivid. What resonates in this account is the internal struggle between feelings of inadequacy, confidence, humility and self-awareness.
We experience similar feelings.
Know that Your Feelings are Not Uncommon
How often have we felt that despite our qualifications, the task ahead of us intimidates us?
Everything within us and around us says that this is the right next move, yet we hesitate. It may be the presentation to our colleagues, a career change, writing an article, enrolling in a course, or advocating for someone wronged. This sensation of fear, overwhelm, and self-doubt, often leads to unhealthy paralysis.
Fortunately, we can repurpose these feelings to our benefit.
Allah [SWT] shows us how to do that in describing Musa’s dua.
First, Musa begins with recognizing the status of Allah [SWT] as The Lord, and that all success comes from Him[SWT]. He asks Allah [SWT] to expand his mind/chest and ease the affair; he then acknowledges his impediment and asks for its removal; in the last part, he pleads for a supporter from his immediate family.
I’ll elucidate the intricacies and implications of each step.
1. Remember Allah & that You were Chosen to Do Your Own Best
Allah [SWT] called upon Musa,
“Indeed, I am your Lord…and I have chosen you…” [Qur’an: Chapter 20, Verses 12-13]
Imagine being spoken to by The Mightiest Lord. What an incredible boost of confidence; the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth has chosen you to fulfil a role.
Everything starts with Allah [SWT].
Allah [SWT] is our Creator, Provider, Sustainer, and life’s Controller. When facing a new opportunity, a scary venture, it often gives us butterflies in our stomach. We feel an anxious sentiment of excitement. This is definitely out of our comfort zone.
How can we proceed in a way pleasing to Allah [SWT]?
Ask yourself “what direction does your moral compass point you?” Do those you respect and those who respect you consider this opportunity good for your growth?
Do you think 5, 10, 20 years from now you would look back on this decision positively?
Ultimately, is this new gig pleasing to Allah?
If yes, then continue :)
2. Ask Allah [SWT] to Expand You
Allah [SWT] had tasked Musa ,
“Go to Pharoah. Indeed, he has transgressed.” [Qur’an: Chapter 20, Verse 24]
Pharaoh, the same ferocious tyrant who massacred baby boys and enslaved populations. Imagine how Musa must have felt being asked to face the leader of the wicked. Undoubtedly daunting. In humility, Musa pleads
“My lord, expand for me my chest” [Qur’an: Chapter 20, Verse 25]
– as if the calling has constricted his chest.
Sometimes we feel our responsibilities are overbearing.
I can’t stop eating and drinking for 18 hours.
I can’t wake up at 5 am to pray. I can’t speak up to criticize the new work policy.
I can’t be successful at work and have a loving relationship with my family.
“I can’t do that.”
Can you think of the last time an advisor or mentor asked you to do something and this was your immediate reaction?
These statements are classic examples of what psychologist Carol Dweck calls “fixed mindset.” It’s opposite, “the growth mindset” has been associated with greater success and accomplishment.
Expanding your chest is the Islamic growth mindset.
If you perceive your resources to be scarce, you will feel constricted and this will restrain your ability to see success. Allah [SWT] is The One who grants us our resources, and the abilities to utilize those resources.
By asking Allah [SWT] to expand your chest, you may see the abundance of opportunity and obtain a vision of what success may look like.
3. Own Your Obstacles
Musa [Alayhis] pleaded:
“Make easy for me this task and untie the knot from my tongue,” [Qur’an: Chapter 20, Verses 26-27]
He took his greatest concerns and impediments to success directly to Allah [SWT].
How often do we choose to ignore our obstacles instead of acknowledging their presence?
A toxic manager, an early deadline, inadequate experience, a limited budget…etc. Obstacles not only impede our progress, they often present very real harm. This harm is magnified when compounded with an unhealthy level of anxiety and fear.
The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad , taught us “If Allah wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts them with trials.” [Bukhari]
In this lens, we see that obstacles by themselves are not evil. But rather, our obstacles, can be a means for us to draw closer to Allah and that which Allah deems good for us.
We learn from Musa to not ignore the obstacles in our way, but rather — as Author Ryan Holiday described — “The obstacle is the way.”
Every new endeavour comes with territorial unfamiliarity that stems from our own inexperience.
First, acknowledge this inexperience. “I have never done anything of this scope. I have never launched a product in this industry. I have never interviewed for this type of position.”
Once we characterize the nature of our inexperience can we humbly pray for the courage to overcome it?
If we ignore our fears and downplay our obstacles, we hinder our growth- our ability to be greater tomorrow than who we are today.
4. Build a Support Network- Starting with Your Family
Musa knew the critical nature of good company:
“and grant for me a helper from my family.” [Qur’an: Chapter 20, verse 29]
As a chubby high school freshman, I joined the wrestling team thinking that with enough training I could win at this individualized sport.
For the next three years, failure became my friend. My senior year was different; both in my success and in my approach. I swallowed my ego and solicited the help of my older, much more athletic brother in improving my stamina and technique.
His help led to my triumph. The sport became a family affair. In that season, Allah [SWT] showed me a lesson I continue to learn: those around you can either ground you or drown you.
Every success requires rock solid intentions and an unwavering vision of the destination. A friend may join you for the ride, but the family was placed by Allah to always be by your side.
Family comes first. I have often reflected on the beautiful dua in the Quran :
Our lord, grant us spouses and children who are coolness to our eyes and make us leaders of the pious! [Qur’an: Chapter 25: Verse 74].
If your spouse, family, and loved ones are not in support of your aspirations, kiss your dreams goodbye. Although there is value in garnering help from friends, I say first find support in your family by giving them support. Build their dreams, desires, and goals. Value their counsel. Appreciate their encouragement. And thank them when they critique you for straying. Let their presence be the twinkle in your eye.
With these steps in mind, apply the lessons of this dua to your own struggles; use the dua to not only acknowledge your fears and feelings but also embrace them to empower you.
As with other Quranic duas, this one carries weight not only because they are the words of Allah but also because they were used by the greatest people of the past when facing fierce tribulations. During our own tough times, internal feelings of inadequacy, fear, and self-doubt can bring out the worst in us. Honesty with ourselves, humility in making dua, and a family-centred support network help transform these feelings into the confidence and courage needed to succeed.