The Foundation for a Lifetime of Great Decisions
Is Clarifying Your Unique Gifts to Pay Forward
(I’m taking a play from Israelis and pushing forward with life in this article despite another disorienting and painful week in Israel, and lots of other ideas flying around in my head and heart.)
A multi-talented student of mine, with a track record of success in many areas, called me today and told me that he’s decided that he wants to be a teacher. He said that he he’s lived enough and seen enough that he feels in his bones that if he doesn’t do this, he will live with regrets for the rest of his life.
What does it take to be able to not only find this conviction and make a life-altering decision like this, but to stay the course over a lifetime based on this decision?
Last week, we introduced the idea of our lives as the paying forward of our debts of gratitude to the One Who gave us life. In a sentence, what we said was: to the degree to which we take stock of our gifts, we will be filled gratitude, and thereby driven by this sense of gratitude to give to others using our gifts as fully as we can .
Let’s go a bit deeper with this idea.
Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto (“Ramchal”) opens his classic work Mesilat Yesharim by making us aware that having clarity about who we are and what we’re here to do is the “foundation” of our ability to making great decisions over the course of our lives.
How precise is this metaphor?
Quite precise actually! Before one builds up one has to dig deep. The taller the building we’re planning on building, the deeper we have to dig to keep it standing sturdily. Every major decision is like a new floor of the buildings of our lives.
Often, we make decisions either by default, or because “that’s what everyone else is doing,” or because it’s the easier, more comfortable route, or because we frantically asked someone and they told us what to do. These decisions are intrinsically unstable — even if they were technically correct. They can only be as stable as they are based on our unique strengths, our unique experiences, our soul’s truest aspirations, and our unique situation. A person who has no clarity in these areas, is cognitively building on quicksand. At some point, he or she will have to confront the question: “why am I doing this with my life???”
I am proud of this student of mine for arriving at what I perceived to be a pretty solid conviction founded on self-knowledge. Of course, we can always get to know ourselves better, fortify our foundations, and renew “our vows,” but he is well on his way.
Let’s not choose a job solely based on how much money it pays or even its promise of work-life balance.
Let’s have the courage to begin by asking: What are my gifts? What do I love doing? Where will I be able to spend at least 80% of my time/energy using my primary strengths?
And of course, let’s make sure to do this in our lives outside of work as well. After all, all of life is about giving expression to the life we have inside of us waiting to be brought to life.