Words by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Matthew Henry
“I once asked my Mum, what happens if everything falls apart? What if I lose everything? I’ll always remember her response: ‘Well, nobody gave you what you got now. You worked for what you have. So you have to believe that you can work for it again’.”
For someone just on the cusp of 26, Yassmin Abdel-Magied has achieved incredible things. She is an author, founder, engineer, speaker, television host, podcast presenter – the list goes on.
While hard work, intelligence, maturity and insightfulness are often credited for such success, what is often overlooked is a capacity to deal with the uncertain, the uncomfortable, and the uncontrollable.
Yassmin has a bold approach towards the uncomfortable. “When you're uncomfortable, you will learn. When you're uncomfortable, you'll grow. I learnt early on that I'm only growing and learning when I'm uncomfortable. Yes, it can feel awful, but I think it’s good because it means I'm learning something. I may not always know what I'm learning, but I'm learning something.”
Constantly seeking out situations where she doesn’t quite belong – whether it’s as one of the few woman in the male-dominated fields of engineering and motorsports, or as an outspoken young Muslim female in a predominately white Australia –Yassmin is unafraid of the uncertain. Instead of buckling when challenged or uncomfortable, she chooses to seek out the novel and adventurous.
Her faith and Sharia, the guiding principles that shape her day-to-day life, are at least partly responsible for this attitude of curiosity and trust in the face of uncertainty. From a faith perspective, Sharia provides a private moral code to being the best person one can be – patient, kind and helpful to others.
“The core of Islam as a faith is service – service to God, service to society, service to your family. I'm trying to always make sure that that's my intention.”
Part of a generation primed for self-criticism and doubt, her belief in striving to be your best self, as opposed to your perfect self, is a refreshing one. “It’s about learning to believe in yourself, and to understand that whatever comes your way you will be able to handle it.”
As Yassmin points out, some people are driven by fear, others by trust. “You need to trust that you can deal with anything that comes your way.”
In her memoir, Yassmin’s Story, she explains this approach in relation to Sharia: “A'akila wa tawakal, is what we are taught as Muslims. Pretty loosely translated it means: Do your thang, do your best...and the rest is up to Allah, who will only give you what you can handle.”
“Knowing that you'll be able to handle it means that you can face uncertainty and instead of being afraid of it, you can look at it as an opportunity.”
You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you think about it
Trusting uncertainty means that while we may not be able to control what happens to us, we can control our response to it.
“The only thing you can control in your life is how you respond to a situation. Literally everything else is outside your control. If you realise that, yes, maybe certain circumstances may be pushing you to respond in a certain way but, at the end of the day, you have the choice.”
Ultimately, taking control of your response to any given situation is what builds resilience.
“Whatever the situation I find myself in, I think‘Okay. What is my perception here? How can I look at this in a way that is positive? How can I make the most of the situation even if it's terrible?’”
When we think about how often we replay a conversation in our minds, how often we worry about what other people think of us, how often we try to please and appease, it’s astonishing how much of ourselves we place in the hands of others.
“If somebody says something bad to or about me, and as a response I feel bad about it, then I've given away control of my feelings to that other person. All of a sudden I've communicated ‘Hey, here's the passport to my life, and how I feel about my day. Feel free to ruin it.’”
Of course this doesn’t mean that we should be sheltered from criticism or hide from confrontation. “Think about the feedback that you're given, and think about it critically. But then at the end of the day, you choose how you want to respond. You choose what you let into your life.”
This too shall pass
The other side to uncertainty is the knowledge that whether something’s good or bad, nothing lasts forever.
“People look at my life, and they think that it's been awesome. Alhamdulillah, there's been many, many moments where it could've gone either way. I think the one thing that I can say is that I always try to make the best of every situation.”
Whatever it may be, this too shall pass, especially if we think deeply about our attitude towards something.
“Remembering nothing lasts is a way to remind myself to be grateful for what I have now. Being positive about it, but also knowing at some level that it could all disappear at any moment. At any moment, anything can happen and anything can change,” she said.
At the end of the day, anything can happen, and that’s both empowering and humbling. “Living our lives consciously and deliberately is a choice that we make, and a choice that is very powerful.”
“Difficult experiences can make for the greatest stories, right? After enough time, I hope.”