Day 30: Where Do We Go From Here?

So now that I’ve finally arrived at the end of this 30-for-30 challenge, the question naturally arises: what’s next? I think the hidden, even from me, agenda of this whole series was to figure out my 1, 5, and 10-year vision. With the caveat that all of this is not only subject to change, but almost certainly will, here goes.

The truth is, I don’t really want to change anything. I love my life and what I do. I am an educator now and forever, inshAllah. I have established sacred red lines that I never wish to cross. I want to continue to lead a modest life committed to helping young people discover their potential. I want to build into my daily architecture a Central Park—an oasis of green that buttresses me against the frenetic pull of modern life and hustle culture—where I am free to walk, play pickleball with my son, pray in the mosque, and generally follow the beat of my own drummer. I want to continue to spend my summers in Maine and to begin traveling in the path of Allah on a regular cadence.

When I began this series, my vision was to found an educational consultancy aimed at the top-end of the Muslim market. I wanted to help the children of the sorts of sophisticated “muppies” that I went to college with get into great colleges of their own. But something about this just didn’t feel right. I have spent all my life working with students who couldn’t possibly afford the quality of education we were providing them. The satisfaction of watching the daughter of an immigrant Uber driver get her diploma at Tufts was overwhelming. And now I was going to just chase the money of people who could afford, but didn’t really need, such high-end advice?

I have always had an elitist blind spot. As much as I told people that I dreaded dropping the H-bomb, in my heart of hearts I know that I relished the dance that ensued when I told people I went to “school in Cambridge.” Even though helping youth get into great colleges is my single most “marketable” skill, I’d like it to be a byproduct of whatever I do, rather than the product itself. I know that real success does not lie in getting into a top 20 college; it lies in developing rock solid values that the tempests of the “real world” cannot shake. Yes, I want everyone to succeed in this world and the next, but I don’t wish to restrict my message to a Muslim audience alone. I am an American and a Muslim and a teacher and a father and a husband. I contain multitudes. We all do.

I have two priorities that I believe will change everything while leaving it all just the same: I want to have an equity stake in my life, and I want to be in near complete control of my time. Of course, I will work with people in the future, but I never want to work for anyone ever again. Of course, I will have to take meetings and do some travel, but I want to say no to most opportunities and hell yes (or in my formulation, heaven yes) to only the few that genuinely excite me. I want to model my life on that of my friend whose commitment to FIRE (financial independence, retire early), as laid out by the curiously named Mr. Money Mustache, allowed him to retire at 36. I want to retire from doing other people’s bidding but work as hard as I wish for myself and the umma (global community).

So, the big question is how. I plan to create a platform through which I will collect, distill, and share the secrets of success from one generation to the next. What the young lack in experience, they more than make up for in time. My mission will be to catch kids early—around that magical age of 15—when their minds are still alive with imagination and possibilities. By igniting the pilot light of their curiosity before it gets too late, I hope to enable them to start earlier and go further than they could have by figuring it out on their own. I will keep listening to my podcasts and reading my books and living my Islam and then distributing the gems I find in a way that a high schooler can understand but from which anyone can benefit.

Ali Abdaal, a medical doctor turned digital entrepreneur, has an intoxicating video in which he explains in exacting detail how he makes $27K in passive income each week. The key to nearly all his ideas is that you need to build up an audience on the internet. He argues that this is easier to do than you might imagine. All you need is to put high quality material on the internet every week for two years. My daughter has shown me the way on this. She, at 13, has built a YouTube channel that has 3.5K subs and counting.

What I have done for the last 30 days, I plan to continue to do two days a week, putting out high quality essays and content every Monday and Thursday, the days that Muslims are encouraged to fast. This will help me build up a large mailing list, the backbone of all the businesses I most want to emulate. My goal is to inspire a tribe of high school superstars, to borrow a phrase from Cal Newport’s brilliant book. Of course, the upshot of this is that members of my audience will, inshAllah, become compelling college candidates.

I do recognize that if all this goes right, I may earn significantly more than I do as a teacher at a small Islamic school. I plan to start a foundation to give most of this money away and help non-profits like mine, which have been doing God’s work in the trenches for years, build the infrastructure they deserve and earn the respect that they merit.

I know this is not really a “business plan,” but more a hazy set of values and ideas. I know all this requires significant refinement and expertise and capital and that I can’t do it alone. But I truly believe that Allah has been guiding me every step of the way. If I always focus on pleasing Him, then I can never fail, even if all these plans crumble to dust.

I often give my students the example that trying to find success by seeking the treasures of this world is like chasing your shadow. It always stays one step ahead of you. If you achieve one valley of gold, you desperately yearn for the next. The solution? Turn to the source of the light, the Noor of Allah, and your shadow will follow obediently along behind you.

When they zig, I zag, and I’ll teach you all to do the same.

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