Career Path Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad (saw)

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Allah did not send any prophet except that he shepherded sheep.” His companions asked him, “Did you do the same?” The Prophet (ﷺ) replied, “Yes, I used to shepherd the sheep of the people of Mecca for some Qirats.”

There are a number of lessons we can learn from this narration about leadership and patience (see some of them here). There’s a larger story beyond that though, which to me is more in line with the origin story of the Prophet (ﷺ).

He served as a shepherd. He also served as a traveling businessman for Khadijah (rA). He then served as a Messenger upon receiving Prophethood and eventually what we might call the head of state.

What’s interesting about this is that he received Prophethood at the age of 40. This was the ultimate life mission he was being prepared for. This was his vocation if you will.

Everything up until that point was a preparation process. Shepherding sheep and traveling to do business might seem like disparate experiences, but when we look back at the big picture — we see how they all fit together. Shepherding taught him (ﷺ) how to deal with people. Doing business gives you a host of life experiences, as does travel. He also came to marry Khadijah (rA) through this.

Point being, when you look back, it makes sense.

Many of us have something that mirrors this to a certain degree. Except instead of shepherding sheep, we might work a cashier job at the mall. We might later take a job a little out of our field to get experience. We might become a consultant or sales professional who travels regularly for business.

We hold a number of different roles, and yet it seems like we can’t figure out what it’s all leading to. Some of us have been in the same job for 10 years and can’t figure out why. We’re hoping there’s something better around the corner. We’re hoping that whatever situation we are in is part of the process to get to something better.

It’s stressful to not have things figured out. We think that we’re supposed to pick a major at the age of 18, and that magically we will do that for the rest of our lives.

We compare ourselves to our parents and their friends as we were growing up. They seemed to have everything figured out. We don’t want to let anyone know that we’re still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up — even though we’re in our 30’s or 40’s and have our own kids that look up to us.

It’s important to step back and assess the process. You might not see what the path looks like a couple of years down the road, but there’s a reason you’re in the situation you’re in. What you’re doing now will play a role in what you eventually do, even if you don’t see how quite yet.

Work the process and try to do things daily to start shifting in the direction you want to go. The destination won’t change overnight, but the direction can. There is a purpose, and even if you haven’t found it yet, don’t lose hope.

Make dua for where you want to go.

About
Omar Usman is a project manager and leadership trainer. He has helped start a number of initiatives including MuslimMatters.org, Debt Free Muslims, and Qalam Institute. He regularly teaches seminars on topics such as the Fiqh of Social Media, Public speaking and Khateeb training, and personal development.

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