It can sound pretty overwhelming.
“The High Holidays”
“The Days of Awe”
“Inscription in the Book of Life or Death”
This is heavy stuff.
Is it true that this is our one shot for the year?
How can we understand the idea of only 10 days - between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur - to seal our fate for the year when we believe in the power of consistent repentance?
Perhaps the answer lies within ourselves. Of course we can repent at any time. But do we? Do we take the time for self-reflection and change? We are given 10 days, the Days of Awe, when God says - focus on yourself. What have you become over the past year? What is it that you want to be? What do you need to do to get there?
If we have trouble focusing during a time period specifically carved out for this purpose, how are we going to be able to focus during the rest of the year?
So, perhaps, we are inscribing our own year.
When we ignore the opportunity we have during this period from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur to reflect and commit to change, we set ourselves up for a year of same ol’, same ol’, if not worse. We know how hard it is to do better even with the reflection and new years’ resolutions. We set out on a high of commitment and slowly life rolls over all our good intentions. Well, maybe not all.
This year, let’s put focus not only into how we want this year to be different, but also into how we are going to make it different. Take time to lay out steps and milestones to getting you there. How will you know you have reached the first step? How are you going to celebrate your accomplishment? How are you going to motivate yourself to the next step?
Let us do the work to inscribe ourselves in the book of life and happiness for many years to come.
“For the sin we committed before You with verbal confession”
This time of year everyone is always beating the drum of confession and apology. It makes sense – after all, the time period from Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and stretching all the way to the end of the Holiday of Sukkot three weeks later, is known as the Days of Repentance. And repentance is confession and apology. Or is it?
How many times have you apologized for behavior you didn’t change?
I’m not going to call this being dishonest – because most times we do feel regret that we behaved in such a manner. Yet how many of us take the time to do the work to actually change?
Thus the line of our liturgical confessional, where we ask forgiveness for confessing.
We recognize our fault and did not undertake the task of remedying our flaw. As leaders, how many times have we tripped over the same obstacle to success? Maybe it’s lack of communication. Maybe it’s stubbornness. Maybe it’s arrogance. We all know our Achilles’ heel. We’ve been called on it many times. We’ve apologized for it over and over. And how many of us are actively engaged in fixing it?
Martha Beck, coach and writer in O Magazine, has a piece of advice that always stays with me: baby steps are the answer. I am a terrible communicator. I hate over communicating and I make tons of assumptions that people are on the same wavelength as me. I prefer to steam full force ahead and not have to hit the brakes to “communicate” with everyone else. Let them just catch up. You can imagine that has gotten me into a lot of trouble, especially with my husband. I have apologized for this many times – so many time, in fact, that my husband, bless his soul, now says “thanks, but can you also change this next time?” I really do want to try in that moment. But then…
So what do I do? How do I be true to my verbal confession and not slink guiltily into the next year’s Rosh Hashana knowing I haven’t done what it takes?
The key is in the baby step. If I am to be honest about my confession I must also commit to the first step towards remedy. I can’t say I will tell everyone everything every time. I CAN say that when I make an appointment I will shoot you an email and let you know. Or if a teacher calls me, I will shoot you a text to let you know I spoke with her and that gives you the opportunity to ask me about it. To move away from my spousal issues, I could say that I will shoot my boss an email after talking with a lay leader, or let the committee know when progress has been made on an issue.
Be specific. Start small. Keep your commitment. Then move to the next small step. You have a year!
Most importantly, don’t be satisfied with a verbal confession. You know God won’t be.
Who knew that a roller coaster would provide a professional development experience?
I am always looking for new and exciting ways to introduce growth to leaders and I tripped across one just this past week. I was coaching a leader who is thinking about a career change and is paralyzed by his fear. It occurred to me that he needed some reframing.
What if he looked at his fear as a good sign, rather than a reason to walk away?
What is fear? Is it an indicator that we should stay away or run forward? Our innate fear comes from a pre-programmed sense of danger. Which brings me to my recent excursion to Busch Gardens. What makes roller coasters so exhilarating is the ability to experience the rush of fear knowing that you will be safe. We play on our innate instinct of fear to give us that experience. People can go on a roller coaster 10 times in a row and still experience the rush. We cannot control it. That’s the fun. We feel great after we ride that wave. It is probably the same if not more so when bungee jumping, or sky-diving, but those I have never done and they do up the risk-factor. The lesson is the same though.
Change can be very scary. The unknown is inherently dangerous. We react to that with fear. Yet that can’t be the end of the story. What do we do with that fear? Do we embrace it and say – Weewhooo! – as we plummet into the unknown?
I think we might go even further. Depending on the level of the fear, the presence of fear might be a good indication of the right direction. Our bodies are saying, “whoa, this is different and exhilarating.” Maybe that’s exactly what you need. Maybe that is the job for you.
Now let me caution that I am not talking about the gut-feeling of dread. That is not fear. Pay attention to what your body is saying. Dread = stay away. Fear = plunge in.
So next time you have a crisis of indecision – meet me at the amusement park.
I love driving vacations. They afford incredible opportunities. I’ve almost given up on dreaming that I’ll have a meaningful conversation with my four teenagers, but the need to break up the drives to keep my headache down, leads to some real finds and teaching moments along the way.
Yesterday on our way back from Williamsburg, VA, we stopped in Richmond. Searching out a quick tourist spot, we settled on the Edgar Allen Poe museum right on the edge of the city.
Although a bit bleak, my family and I learned quite a bit about the dark poet. And I learned an interesting leadership lesson. Poe led a pretty miserable life and was never fully appreciated as a gifted writer in his lifetime. (No that’s not the lesson – we all know that leaders’ lives can be like that as well) What fascinates me is that Poe changed the style of writing and his influence created a literary genre that has captured the world today. Back in Poe’s day (1830’s-40’s), writing was light and romantic and had cheerful messages for readers. Poe had a different idea about the purpose of a story. He was not looking for moralizing; he wanted to have an emotional impact on the reader. He knew that if he hit people in the gut, they would react.
He wrote for effect. This focus on emotional impact freed him to write stories that broke the laws of science and intermingle reality and fantasy. New writers H.G. Wells and Jules Verne picked up on this theme and created science fiction, which is reaching an all-time mainstream high these days.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that at the same time that science fiction is reaching massive popularity, leadership books are pushing the importance of emotional connections and impact. Books like the Heath brothers’ Switch and Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein pound away at the necessity for leaders to think about and play to emotional impact.
In a way, God and Moses understood the essential role that emotions play in driving behavior and decision-making. The objective in the Bible is to inspire God-fearing and moral people. Yet, in this week’s Torah portion, a person in the Jewish camp who is proven to worship idols is condemned to be stoned to death in the public square – with the participation of the entire camp. Harsh! In actuality, our Rabbis tell us that the punishment was never carried out. But the image of the whole camp stoning someone still leaves the reader jarred. That could be a decision-maker.
As leaders we can learn a few lessons from Poe. First, we need fearlessness in the face of adversity and those with narrower vision. Second, don’t be afraid to hit your audience where it’s uncomfortable. Remember, the key to moving people is the tell-tale heart.
In the July/August edition, The Atlantic lists “23 ½ Big Ideas” on their annual list. The ideas range from hiring introverts to banning gasoline to having a lottery for college admissions. It’s an impressive and thought-provoking few pages from an even more impressive group of people (I stopped counting the number of books represented). What’s great about the ideas is that they aren’t censured. One idea might be banning gasoline while the very next idea refers to the new availability of gas sources. It is an open forum of ideas.
So open in fact that contributing editor, PJ O’Rourke, argues on the last page that we should give up big ideas all together. Stop thinking so big he claims. “The twentieth century was a test-bed for big ideas – fascism, communism, the atomic bomb…Liberty wasn’t a big idea. It’s a lot of little ideas about what individuals want to say and do.” Boy am I glad John Adams can’t hear him say that.
The thing about successful big ideas is that at some point they begin to feel like a lot of little ideas. As they take root and grow they become commonplace and fragmented. Freedom from a singular ruler was a big and very radical idea. Who thought people could rule themselves? Just a few radical thinkers who managed to convince others of a way out of their sense of unfairness. That idea led to the strongest nation in the world. There are countless more big ideas that are invaluable. The vision of putting a computer on every desk was revolutionary at a time when computers were as large as rooms. This Big Idea came after countless other ideas starting in a chain leading back to Thomas Edison. O’Rourke is right about this – big ideas are born from lots of little ideas and need a lot more little ideas to bring them to reality.
True, just like anything else in the world, not all ideas are good ones, and the bigger the idea, the worse the consequences from a bad one. But what’s the alternative? If we are satisfied with little ideas, we will grow, but who knows how far? We need one small step, but then one giant leap.
There is space for plodding along. We don’t want to upend everything all the time. How many of us wish we could keep an electronic device for more than 6 months (I know, I’m slow to change)? While it would be nice to not have to use an “obsolete” phone until you can afford the shiny new version, the lightning speed of progress is still much slower than the demand would dictate. I can’t wait for a reliable Siri version. Please let me talk to my phone rather than getting carpel tunnel every time I need to look something up (which is very often). I see people reading their kindles on the plane and I’m thinking – that’s an idea that has saved the book industry (sorry publishers).
We need big ideas. We need more places people can share their ideas, both big and small. We are a world fascinated with ideas. It is our very basic human distinction. Let’s encourage all of them. Let’s just try to act on the good ones.
Perhaps O’Rourke’s argument didn’t sit very well with me as I sat on the tarmac ready for take-off. As we took flight, I couldn’t help thinking of one Big Idea that has transformed the world.
"Be the change you wish to see in the world."