Everyone aspires for passive income. Throw up something on the internet, attach it to a payment processor, and then wake up to thousands of dollars in sales every day.
If it was as easy as all those online courses make it out to be, everyone would be doing it. But they’re not. It’s hard. Really really hard.
Even harder than that is to produce something that’s consumed for years and years. Blog posts like this might have a half-life of a few days - a small number of people will read it, and then its lost into the oblivion of the internet. Books may hold prominence for a few weeks and then they’re forgotten. Books that can live on for years - like Harry Potter - are extremely rare.
It stands to reason then that establishing a sadaqah jariyah for yourself will also be extremely difficult, unless you somehow find a magical shortcut.
Like, maybe the internet.
Share some articles that you haven’t actually read on Facebook to change other people’s minds on something, post an open letter to Donald Trump that he’ll never read, rewteet some profound spiritual status update, and voila, watch those good deeds roll in.
It sounds ridiculous. Yet, that’s how many of us operate online. The ability to reach an unlimited audience has fooled us into thinking we are actually reaching an unlimited audience - and making some type of impact in their life.
Establishing a sadaqah jariyah is also really really hard.
We waste time with frivolous activities because we’ve been misled by how to measure success. We focus on short term vanity metrics instead of long term impact.
Vanity metrics are things like how many followers you have, how many views, likes, comments, retweets, subscribers, and so on. These generate hype and provide a false sense of validation by being a lazy measuring stick.
True impact is moving beyond instant gratification and looking at things from a lens of years or decades - not days and weeks.
Look at it from a different perspective. Who are you a sadaqah jariyah for? Parents are the obvious answer. Think broader. Which teachers had the most profound impact on your life? If you’ve had a period of time where you were disconnected from practicing your faith, think about how you came back. Which people influenced you and how? It’s safe to say those people invested time and energy over the long haul. It’s probably safe to say most people don’t drastically change their lives for the better after reading a spiritual tweet sandwiched between memes.
If we want to do something that truly matters, we have to stop measuring ourselves against things that don’t. A teacher who has 20 students for 6 months may have an exponentially more profound impact than someone with a “huge platform” and “tens of thousands of followers” that posts polemics all day - even if that person attains the elusive goal of social media engagement with hundreds of comments and likes.
When we have a shorter perspective, we do what everyone else does. We focus on building our social media following. We like, and post, and comment, and try to get more followers. We post about things we shouldn’t be posting about because it will ‘help the cause’ and hopefully give us some collateral sadaqah jariyah.
It becomes a treadmill that’s impossible to jump off of. We chase engagement and followers, and the compromise we make is producing unremarkable work. Putting things out there for the sake of putting them out there - not leveraging our unique value that we can provide. Unremarkable work produces a facade of success when we see those follower counts grow.
The approach should be to focus on the work first. What are you producing? How are you trying to impact people? Then, and only then, do you figure out which marketing tools will best help fulfill those objectives. We get so busy building the platform that we forget about the work.
The internet can provide shortcuts for marketing. It can’t provide shortcuts for work. Work requires sacrifice.
Legacies aren’t built overnight. They’re cultivated over a lifetime. Work is Imam Bukhari praying 2 rakat before recording a single hadith in his book. Sacrifice is Imam Bukhari throwing gold coins into the ocean to preserve his reputation in narrating the hadith of the Prophet (s). Sacrifice and struggle produce meaning and purpose. Dedication is producing work and students that reflect a lifetime of dedication and meaningful contribution.
This type of work requires patience.
If you’re thinking about how to shortcut the work, you’re not going to leave the sadaqah jariyah you’re envisioning. We think in terms of leverage. If I build a following, I can become an influencer. If I can become an influencer, I can reach more people. If I reach more people, I become more in demand and get more speaking invites and career opportunities. If I get that, I reach a bigger audience. If I do that, I can spread a meaningful message to millions of people.
We’re trying to shortcut the sacrifices that produced the true legacies we look up to.
Intent matters. Tests will come. If there isn’t true purpose behind the work you’re doing, you’ll never have the motivation to push through and persevere in tough times. Most people fall off.
Sadaqah Jariyah really means doing the work while knowing you may not live long enough to see its effects. It’s a long view of not just decades, but to the next life.