I am a professional caretaker. I minister to my four children as a mother, my 5,000 congregants as a rabbi, and my global audience as a motivational speaker and author. Everyone asks me how I do it all. In response, I share the code I live by, which helps me face any challenge that comes my way.
1. Stop trying to fix others.
Why is it that we know exactly how to fix other people’s problems? The truth is that when we try to fix others, we rob them of the opportunity to fix themselves. We’re saying to them, I know better than you. In reality most people don’t want to be “fixed,” they want to be heard. Rather than tell your best friend, your partner or your co-worker what to do, let them be their own guru. Listen.
2. Believe in you.
Whom or what you believe in is up to you. The Hebrew word for “to pray” is l’hitpallel. It is in the reflexive voice, which means that when you pray, you pray to yourself. With this small grammatical distinction the Jewish language is telling us an important truth about our lives; faith begins with you. So if you feel you have lost almost all faith, at the very least don’t stop believing in you.
3. Ditch the F-word (fear, of course).
Our human tendency is to believe that all unknowns are dangerous. It’s part of our evolutionary make-up. When faced with a life-changing or life-upending decision or opportunity, we tend to find all kinds of reasons to avoid leaving our comfort zones and crossing new thresholds. But it’s time to ditch the F-word. Courage is feeling the fear and moving forward anyway. Be courageous.
4. Accept that you won't always know why something bad has happened.
We all know that bad things happen to good people. Life moves without our consent. Yet we can spend a lifetime trying to figure out “why.” Rather than stay fixated on that question, as Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People tells us, ask “What now?” When you do, I promise you that the next threshold will be waiting for you.
5. Stop comparing.
Why is it that everyone else’s life looks easier, better and more glamorous than your own? The grass is truly greener if you compare the outsides of others with your insides. Remember if we want to overcome our (very human) instinct to measure our happiness against the happiness we see around us, we must realize that our perception of others’ happiness is often very wrong. Just because a room might be right for your friend, your co-worker, or your neighbor doesn’t mean that room is right for you. If you can celebrate others, you will find your own life worth celebrating.
6. Search for meaning, not happiness.
Happiness is overrated. There is no universal recipe, even though we would like to think there is. As a society, we have a very narrow definition of what happiness is: fame, wealth, power, and prestige. But these things are not universally attainable and quite often fleeting. Instead, create experiences that give you meaning and purpose, and you will find a new kind of “happiness” that will sustain you throughout all of life’s challenges.
7. Let go of perfect. Strive for the best you can do.
We have become a society that believes that everything falls into two buckets: things that are perfect and then everything else. So if our decision to cross a threshold does not lead directly to perfect, our reasoning goes, then why bother? Bother because life is made up of more than two buckets and contrary to what we may believe, no one has a perfect life. Perfection is not a destination, but there is a lot of pretty good along the way.
8. Each day is an act of faith.
Getting out of bed each morning is an act of faith. In Judaism we even say a blessing of gratitude the moment we open our eyes. Having faith does not necessarily mean believing in God (I know, shocking, coming from a rabbi!). it means having faith in you. It means knowing that you have the inner tools and resources to face all the obstacles in your way.
9. Don't let your emotions determine your reaction.
I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to emotion, restraint is not always my strong suit. To combat this tendency, I developed the Wait Box: a file on my computer that exists today. Whenever I am tempted to react viscerally to a person or situation, I write my response — holding nothing back — and file it in the Wait Box. There my emotional response sits for twenty-four hours and marinates.
Of course, rarely does the response I initially write ever see the light of day. Usually it gets dumped in the trash and later replaced with something much more thoughtful, logical, and productive. There is always value in waiting and letting the thoughtful response catch up with the emotional one.
10. Believe that tomorrow will be better.
The adage “tomorrow is a new day” may be cliché, but it rings true for a reason. The nature of life is that we can’t go back. We can only go forward. When we wish to re-create the past, we are really wishing to go back to a place that no longer exists. Find strength in knowing that we are not the same as yesterday, and we can move onward and upward. Today may be extremely challenging, but tomorrow will be different.
Rabbi Hirsch's new book Thresholds: How to Thrive Through Life’s Transitions to Live Fearlessly and Regret-Free is on sale now.