My Salam

Are you a professional bragger or shameless self-promoter at work?

There’s a unique dilemma that you as a professional face in the workplace.

You are taught that, to advance in your career, you need to “professionally” brag about your accomplishments, claim credit for work you did, and build your personal brand so that you can make a strong case that you are worthy of the next corporate carrot (i.e., a bonus or a promotion).

At the same, in spiritual circles, you are taught to be humble; be content; not inflate your ego; and free your heart from ostentation, arrogance, and vanity. You are told that God will provide for you without you boasting about yourself, that you should just focus on your intentions and work.

So how do you resolve this dilemma?

I would like you to reflect on three instances in the Quran relating to the life of Prophet Yusuf, or Joseph (PBUH), that might give you a clue of how best to resolve this dilemma.

1. The first instance is when he’s sent to prison on false charges and meets two cellmates. Both men approach Yusuf (PBUH) and ask him to interpret their dream. They didn’t know he was a prophet or that he was the best dream interpreter at that time. Instead of immediately explaining the dreams to them, Yusuf (PBUH) began his response by highlighting his credentials and why he was the best person for that task:

"He said, ‘You will not receive food that is provided to you except that I will inform you of its interpretation before it comes to you. That is from what my Lord has taught me….’”

2. The second instance took place a few years later, when he met the Pharaoh of Egypt. Yusuf (PBUH) put himself forward to become his treasurer:

“[Joseph] said, ‘Appoint me over the storehouses of the land. Indeed, I will be a knowing guardian.’”

3. The third instance was towards the end of his story, when he forgave his brothers and brought his family to live with him Egypt. He used this opportunity not to brag but to show gratitude to God for what he was able to achieve.

“And he said, ‘O my father, this is the explanation of my vision of before. My Lord has made it a reality. And He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you [here] from Bedouin life after Satan had induced [estrangement] between me and my brothers. Indeed, my Lord is Subtle in what He wills. Indeed, it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise.’”

What do we learn from these incidents?

1. Be the best at what you do so that when someone asks you to do something you can confidently claim that you’re the best at it. This is what Yusuf (PBUH) did in prison; he was the best dream interpreter alive, and he made sure his cellmates were aware of this. This is not about showing off but genuinely informing people that they can’t find a better person to do the job than you.

2. Connect your achievements or credentials to an overall purpose or mission that you care about. It’s not about you or about what awards you achieved or goals you accomplished but about the people you serve. And if you think that you’re the best person to help others in a specific role, put yourself forward the way Yusuf (PBUH) did to the Pharaoh of Egypt to become the treasurer.

3. Even if you’re in a situation where you literally did all the work (or others tried to sabotage you), don’t take all the credit or put others down. First and foremost, show gratitude to God, and thank others who helped you in your journey. To those who were against you, be forgiving. Note how, though Yusuf's jealous brothers caused him pain and suffering by separating him from his family when he was young, he didn’t blame them but thanked God for the life he was given.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel there’s a contradiction between showing off your credentials or achievements and being humble? Tell us in the comments below.

Mohammed Faris is an international coach, author, and speaker who helps executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs rebalance their lives spiritually, physically and socially to achieve peak performance and live meaningful lives. He’s the founder of and author of The Productive Muslim: Where Faith Meets Productivity.

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Mohammed Faris