But one truth I have learned over and over again from my own life and from the privilege of being intimately involved in the lives of thousands of men, women, and children of all ages over the last 37 years I have been privileged to be a rabbi, is that it isn’t the ups and downs, the traumas or successes, or the circumstances of our lives at all that really matter. It is always the one thing that every one of us brings to each of these moments in our lives, and that is our own ATTITUDE. It’s our attitude that always matters most, which is why lesson number one for me, is that “attitude is everything. That’s why it is always true that the happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything. I have a wonderful 95-year old congregant named Bob Schiller who is one of the premier comedy writer’s of all time — he wrote for I Love Lucy, Maude, All in the Family and so much more. Every time I ask Bob how he is doing, he always answers, “Perfect, but improving.” That’s what I mean by attitude!
The second most important lesson I have learned as a rabbi, is that most of the time the most important thing you can do in life, is simply SHOWING UP. A family experiences the tragedy of a death — whether a parent, a sibling, or God forbid a child, and people all around them will turn to me and ask, “What can I do? What can I say? I feel so inadequate to comfort them, to help them in any meaningful way at a time like this.”My answer is always the same — the most precious gift you can give to those who are bereft and lost in their sorrow, is just showing up. Your presence is the present.
Since I sent an announcement to my congregation a few months ago about my impending retirement, I have been humbled by the letters and sweet notes from people, sharing rabbi moments from the past with me for which they are grateful. Even though I spent many years earning two BA’s, two Masters degrees, a PH.D., and two Doctors of Divinity degrees, it is never what I learned in school that has made a difference in the lives of people I serve, or people I love. Instead, here is what people tell me:
“Thank you for your love and caring and for all the times you showed up when I needed you.”
“I will never forget how wonderful I felt when you showed up in my hospital room after my mastectomy, 20 years ago. I barely knew you and there you were — for me. That time in the hospital is mostly a haze, with you clearly emerging out of it.”
“From the moment we walked into your office over 14 years ago we could not have asked for a clergy member more caring or sensitive… in good times and not-so-good times you have always been there for us.”
You get the point. So far not one letter of thanks has come in, grateful for all my degrees. And so my third lesson is that PEOPLE DON’T CARE HOW MUCH YOU KNOW, IF THEY KNOW HOW MUCH YOU CARE.
What I have learned from my 37 years as a rabbi is that being smart, or knowing a lot about a lot of things doesn’t ever matter as much as simply being a mentsch. If you want to make a difference in other people’s lives, first be a mentsch, and the rest will follow.
The fourth lesson I learned is reflected in a medieval rabbinic text in Hebrew called, Ecclesiastes Rabbah which teaches, “A man cannot say to the Angel of Death, “I’m not ready yet, wait till I make up my accounts.” “Wait till I make up my accounts.” The lesson is simple: Don’t wait until there is time to say the things that matter, because you never know when that time will suddenly be gone. Don’t wait till someone’s funeral to tell them how much they mean, to share how much they matter, to say the words you want to say and they long to hear. The lesson to remember is simply, DO IT NOW.
Someone once wrote if everyone in the world suddenly knew they only had five minutes to live, every phone would be ablaze with the whole world calling each other to say, “I love you.” None of us ever get more than one day at a time — this day. But this day, right now is all we need to make our lives matter, to say what needs to be said, to do what needs to be done. That is what a vibrant, fulfilled life is really all about — living each day as fully as we can. Embracing every day as if it is the only day — because indeed it really is the only day we get — ever.
Lesson number five appears in the wisdom of the Talmud, as a lesson taught in the name of an ancient rabbi named Ben Zoma — he is quoted as teaching the following: “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” Ben Zoma’s words are a lesson in humility, in never thinking that you know it all, that you are above learning something of value from someone who is younger, or older, or speaks another language, or whose skin is a different color, or even who appears to be your enemy. No matter how smart I might think I am, no matter how much I might know about a variety of things, everyone knows more about something than I do.
Frankly, the only way any of us continue to learn and grow throughout our lives is by embracing humility. The Talmud teaches that the arrogant can never learn. The best students of any age are always those who are humble enough to say, “I know that I don’t know.” I constantly remind myself, that no matter how many people are in the room, there is probably someone there who is smarter than I.
The sixth lesson I have learned is that real “success” as a rabbi has nothing to do with how large your congregation might be, how beautiful your synagogue building might be, how many benefits are included in your contract, how many books or articles you have published, or how often you are quoted in the Huffington Post or the L.A. Times.
Success is a small child from our pre-school holding up her hands and saying with delight, “RABBI REUBEN.” Or a letter of gratitude from a family whom I have helped weather a personal crisis or tragedy, or a quiet “thank you” from a lonely senior citizen with whom I have just spent time sitting and talking about their lives and the things that have mattered most to them.
The real lesson is that success as a human being is recognizing that you just never know what words you might have said, what smile of comfort or support you might have given, what gesture or embrace you might have shared that ultimately meant all the difference in the world to someone. And the miracle is, that someone will cherish that moment forever, and you probably will never even know.
All of the lessons I have learned might be summed up in the story of the young man who felt so overcome by a sense of despair when he thought of all the injustice, pain and cruelty in the world, that he lifted up his voice to God in anger and sorrow and said, “Dear God, how can you allow all this injustice, pain, and cruelty in the world and do nothing?” Then he heard the gentle, inner voice of the divine whispering in his heart, “I didn’t do nothing. I made you.”
I’ve always been a tad nonconformist, but I’m noticing how one of my long-treasured beliefs is coming of age.
Success can, and in some cases must, be defined by individual preference rather than outward norms or previously accepted benchmarks. The world is ever evolving and we’re forced to adapt. In the process, we have opportunity to redefine what it means to discover success in life.
I’m old enough to recall marriage and child rearing as the American ideal. Divorce or an out-of-wedlock child meant moral and religious failure and the parties in question were made social outcasts. Women who didn’t marry by age 23 were labeled old maids, even if they preferred to take a different path.
Life spans were shorter, too. If 23 created old maids, 30 marked full maturity and 40 qualified for Geritol, a popular tonic marketed to those approaching their sunset years. Grandparenthood started early and the time between retirement and death was brief.
Men were generally the economic providers. They worked in easily identifiable occupations like plumber, accountant, lawyer, factory worker and doctor. Job hopping was frowned upon, a sign of instability or insubordination. Most worked at the same place until they retired, usually at 62, often with pension in hand.
In this former era, everyone fit neatly into an order that Americans could understand and rely on. Far from perfect, it provided comfort in its predictability and enabled people to define their identity and relative success in the world.
Many prospered under the old order, enjoying a good run. Others continue to live in that space today. But what about the rest?
These days, I encounter many who believe that success along previously defined lines is eluding them. These include recent graduates, frequently armed with advanced degrees and student loans to match. Hopeful of an employment system they believed in, they’re now confronting a job market where opportunities appear slim.
They’re mature workers whose jobs were eliminated due to outsourcing, downsizing and obsolescence. Still wanting and/or needing to work, they feel marginalized into shadows of their former positions and pay.
They’re women who left careers to raise children and recognize their parenting roles have expired. Unlikely to become grandparents any time soon, they question what to do in the interim.
They’re couples whose careers and home equity vaporized in the recession and an over-blown real estate bubble. Lifestyles they took decades to build turned to sand and now they wonder if they can rebuild from what remains.
They’re young adults living home with parents; middle agers whose spouses left them; and older offspring caring for their elderly parents.
Regardless of age, many today experience an undercurrent of confusion and unease. As the social, economic and occupational order they believed in continues to disappear, so does their relative sense of success.
My intent is neither to approve or disapprove of American measures of success but instead to inspire meaningful, new definitions.
“It’s a good thing we’re so thrifty. We didn’t know we’d live this long.” — Aunt Helen, age 90
Whether by necessity of age, circumstance or era, we’re challenged to find new ways to define ourselves, our purpose and our joy. Easier for some than others, there remains hope to see ourselves from a refreshed perspective.
A few years ago, I came face to face with my own questions about success. I’d enjoyed a corporate career and time as a home schooling mom but was anxious to explore new horizons as our daughter would soon be away at college.
In a move my husband claims was either brilliant or completely insane. We took a leap of faith. Together since our late teens and sharing a sense of adventure, the two of us wanted to create a different future. Attempting to combine a travel-friendly lifestyle and a desire to positively impact culture, we launched an entertainment company.
Taking the road less traveled, we sold our house in advance of the real estate bust and moved to a modest town home. Next, we closed our profitable computer firm and said goodbye to the security that accompanied it.
Playing entrepreneur was a major stretch. We were taking ideas (or ideals) and turning them into reality. Leaving our familiar world, we entered the unknown with new industries, new faces and new digital spaces. Virtual nobodies among young experts and seasoned pros, we constantly had to step up our game to get noticed — or even taken seriously.
A few years ago, the highly purposed idealist in me experienced a brief, but highly personal, crisis. Away on vacation with time for reflection, I looked back on a past I’d already lived and forward to a future I could hardly imagine.
“It’s like going through transition in childbirth. The discomfort is overwhelming but the joy of outcome is ultimately worth the pain.” — A Knowing Friend
While it would take additional time, stretching and mental transformation, I can report some light from the other side. Today, I am redefining success as personal growth and creative self-expression.
Surprisingly, my transition provided content for over 200 Maura4u videos, countless blogs and booklets encouraging others to redefine their idea of success, too.
I may not fit an established norm, but I’ve made myself happy.
Whatever your definition of success, may you find yourself happy, too!
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But he’s also in touch with his emotions — a quality that has helped him create gripping, realistic characters in his books (the latest is “The Longest Ride,” his 18th novel). This week on HuffPost Live, host Nancy Redd asked him about why some men have a hard time finding meaning beyond the span of their influence and paycheck.
Sparks offered the advice he gives his children: The key to a fulfilled life is accepting yourself completely. If someone is unhappy with an aspect of themselves, it’s important to forgive themselves for it and make a real effort to change it.
“Once you do that, then you can open the doors to happiness no matter what, whether you’re successful or not,” Sparks said.
But no matter the hardships anyone faces, he said every person has at least one big reason to celebrate themselves.
“It comes down to the fact that you should like yourself because you are unique in the world,” he said. “Every person out there is the rarest of all diamonds, and if you can’t see that about yourself, no one else can.”
See the full interview with Nicholas Sparks at HuffPost Live HERE.
“I’m here today because I’m two and a half years sober, and I have started to notice that I have a pattern with my relationships — romantic relationships,” Lorena says in the video.
“I choose emotionally unavailable men, and it’s a result of not having a relationship with my father, and I haven’t spoken to him in six years,” she says. “Can I stop this pattern?”
“So all of those three things are connected,” Chopra tells Lorena. “Your addiction was actually an escape from the fear of abandonment, and your dysfunctional relationships are also as a result of that fear of abandonment.”
Chopra tells Lorena to visualize a relationship with someone in her mind. “It could be somebody you know,” he says. “It could be somebody you don’t know. Make him up.”
He says to look that person in the eyes and say, “‘I love myself exactly as I am. I’m a beautiful person. I’m a lovely person. I love myself exactly as I am,'” he says. “Reinforce that. Look that person right in the eye and see the look of recognition in their eyes.
“Do this — you’ll attract the right person,” Chopra says.