4 things Ramadan teaches me about winning at work


"Ramadan Mubarak" means "Congratulations on the start of Ramadan!"

I always wish I could use a different tone to raise awareness about what Ramadan is. For practicing Muslims, Ramadan embodies the epic challenge of controlling your body’s physical demands so that you can focus on inner, spiritual rejuvenation. I usually turn this into a gripe about how we can’t drink or eat anything from sunrise to sunset and how the summer days are long and make for challenging fasts.*

While those things are true, they don’t capture the essence of Muslim reverence toward Ramadan. It’s a month that many Muslims look forward to. In the realm of the unseen, (bear with me non-religious folks) Muslims believe that the gates of heaven are open, the gates of hell are closed, and the devils are chained up during the month so that people’s ability to do good is maximized.

Here are a few things that Ramadan has taught me about doing better at work (and life):

1. Self mastery takes sacrifice (painful short-term, SO worth it long-term)

Okay, so you’re probably thinking, what’s the deal with basically starving yourself between sunrise and sunset for 30 days? The thing is, Muslims are striving to attain an ideal that transcends our physical reality. In that sense, completing a fast is like experiencing otherworldly success.

Every time we can successfully deny our urge to consume for the whole day (feeling hunger pangs, dry throat, bad breath, and all) we gain a sense that we can master ourselves. This skill translates well into controlling anger (effective for dealing with tough co-workers), resisting temptation (thinking mainly chocolate cake here), and finding focus (helpful to get stuff done).

2. Patience takes the (metaphorical) cake

There’s no kind of patience like the food kind of patience. In our culture of eating, snacking, and then eating some more, it’s easy to blow your inner-hangry fuse and rile up when good food is in your face (or maybe that’s just me on some days in Ramadan). The trick to survival is not losing your cool.

Fasting is just as much about building and practicing inner calm as it is about restraining from food and drink. It builds consciousness of what I can control. It reminds me of the benefit of working diligently toward the end-goal and being a little more accepting of whatever circumstances come my way. This also translates into putting forth my best effort at work and trying not to be overly worried about the outcome (good practice in reducing stress).

3. Finding the good in challenges is a skill

While not being able to eat and drink can be hard, at the end of the day, I have access to good, wholesome food that I’ll use to break my fast. That is a tremendous privilege given that many people lack access to clean water and/or substantial food. Ramadan reminds me to practice appreciation for the daily little when I’m fasting, which turns out to be a tremendous lot when I think about the bigger picture.

Slowing down to find the good within our challenges (things those tough coworkers do right or when we fail on a project but learn a lot) can boost your positivity and shift your perspective in powerful ways. Of course, this takes practice and doesn't come naturally for most people, but it makes you better at solving problems using an assets-based approach.

field.gif4. Generosity reaps what it sows

Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was more generous in Ramadan than the blowing wind. This means that his generosity was no-holds-barred. Generosity is a cornerstone of Ramadan in everything from monetary donations to generosity in relationships (e.g. overlooking people’s mistakes, etc.).

We’re a part of the nonprofit sector. It goes without saying that giving makes the sector and our work stronger for everyone. Having a specific, set time to challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone and be more creative in the ways that you give is a tool to build your giving muscle. Similarly, intentionality in practicing generosity through softer interpersonal skills (like learning to want for others what we want for ourselves, or giving people the benefit of doubt) goes a long way in building trust.

These lessons (and many more) get me into the habit of pushing myself to do better at work during Ramadan. And that is the ultimate goal of the month; to train yourself rigorously in the “off-season” so you can own it in the “regular season” (i.e. the rest of the 335 days in the year that Muslims get to eat if they’re not fasting voluntarily).

What are some spiritual practices that help you get better at work and life?

* Islamic observances and holidays follow a lunar calendar, which means that Ramadan starts 11 days earlier every year (May 26 - June 25 this year). This also means that Ramadan traverses through all of the seasons – it just happens to fall in the summer (and close to summer) months this year. So the opposite is true in winter months – shorter fasts!

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Please Note: The YNPN Twin Cities blog is an opportunity for YNPN-TC members (and others) to share their opinions about issues important to young nonprofit professionals. Each blog is written by the individual author, and the views expressed may not be shared by all YNPN members.

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