It was a familiar scene…my son was taking a bath in his morning oatmeal. My baby had managed to get out of her high chair and was preparing to bungee jump without a cord off the side. I was on bucket of coffee number two and was oblivious to everything around me because 1) I’m a male and can’t multitask and 2) my lap top had decided to stop working.
After talking to it, throwing it, hitting it, and resetting it eighteen times, I began my usual thought process: it’s broken, let’s get a new one. Thankfully my wife stops me from half (well, less than that) of my emotional buys; at least the big ticket ones. But seriously, who fixes computers? Where would even take them?
This is a phenomenon that permeates our mindset much more than we might want to admit. How often do we try to fix broken stuff? Your blender breaks. Your shaver breaks. Get a new one. What about important things? Like ourselves, our computer, or our relationships? Is there an app for that? Could I order if from Costco.com or Google Shopping Express? I might not be able to yet, but who wouldn’t want to if you could?
The need to have a near flawless product is an expectation in our society. We want it new, and when it breaks, or gets old, we just get a new one. There’s no need or desire to have something get old, get broken, and then get fixed. You could say we live in a world of innovation, which is another way of saying we don’t like or don’t know what to do with someone once it doesn’t work like it used to.
Believe it or not, it’s easier to replace than to fix. It’s easier to medicate or ignore a problem that comes up that might suggest that the smooth sailing we’ve come to demand and desire isn’t as smooth as we’d expect. How many of us want to work through friendships or jobs when it gets tough, versus make a passive disconnect and “replace it” with something better?
The problem is that more often than not, the thing that needs fixing is us. Superimposing a new job, boyfriend (girlfriend), career, college, social scene or cover photo won’t help when we get tired or need to repair ourselves. That takes work. And work is bad, because we live in an era where somehow no one expects to or wants to do it. And app can do it without the work. So I just have to find the app.
Shameless plug; between the two of us, Julie and I lost over 60 pounds this summer. It was a great diet/lifestyle plan and I’m happy to tell anyone about it. I can get you started on it. EVERYONE wants to lose a few pounds. And while many have been inspired and want to be able to fit into the yoga pants I wear otherwise known as my dress pants (just kidding, it’s just the smallest size pants I’ve worn since I was born), very few people are willing to actually do the work. The excuses abound! “Let’s see if you can maintain it before I try it.” “I don’t think I’ll like the food.” “I’ll try to exercise more (yea good luck with that).” We want results, but we don’t want to work. We want to just order the smaller us from Target.
The coaching industry is big business these days. People claim they want a path. If I just knew how to do something I’d do it. College, for all of its merit, brilliantly plays of this basic human weakness to want to relegate the process to someone else. If I work hard in college, I’ll get a good job. If I get a good job, I’ll have a profound sense of meaning. I’ll be happy. So college = happy. Move in the Panda Express and charge your parents thousands of dollars! The proof that it’s such an effective marketing campaign is that people spend four years and thousands of dollars in college and then, once they graduate, realize that maybe life isn’t so figured out or people aren’t so thrilled to throw a six or seven figure job at you. Time and time again, I hear people say they’d take experience over education in a nutshell. Why is that?
Experience means that you cut your teeth. It means you learned how to work. You actually had to do something hard. If you get a person who’s learned that nothing is coming to you in life that you don’t work for, he’s worth more. You can work with a person who isn’t expecting anything on a silver platter. The highly successful people I speak to, and learn from, don’t have a straight path to success. Our reliance on technology has brainwashed us to thinking everything is simple. And we think that if it isn’t, we just haven’t discovered the right tools. The dirty little secret is that the only tools that make you successful lie within you, and actually have to be activated by you.
I learned this summer that the way you deal with fear is do the things you’re afraid to do. Fear is a mental condition which tries to stop us from doing what we really want and need to do. So the solution to fear is to do what makes you scared. Then you won’t be afraid, and you’ll own fear, and see it as an opportunity for greatness, not paralysis. We fear/despair fixing things. Like a fat person in a Chipotle that convinces himself it’s healthy because there’s protein in chicken, we attack and lavish the technological, materialistic culture we live in because everything is so quick to replace that we think that fixes and repairs are going to be a thing of the past.
Well, it’s not. To survive life, we have to be able to repair. It’s what makes us human, and the great news is that it means that we’ll never be replaced by robots or apps. The Torah says “See I present before you today a blessing and curse.” Two massive concepts come out from here that are relevant to the discussion at hand; “see” and “today.”
See. So often in life, we accept mediocrity because we don’t want to see that we are choosing the lives we lead. If we aren’t popular, successful, or happy, it’s because we’re making that choice to be that way. I recently told a dear friend and confidant during the stressful moments before Shabbat was about to start, that no matter what happens, for the next half hour until I make Kiddush, I wouldn’t get upset.
Now this moment was the perfect storm for me to get upset. People were over, so I had to look rabbinical and put together. We were way behind; everything was a mess. My daughter, who inherited all of my drama, had just collided with a door and was inconsolable. My baby had decided to bond with me, and therefore would scream with indignity should I put her down. My son had seized the moment, and decided to start eating all the dessert with his hands. I was about to freak out. But then I said, I can choose if I want to lose it or not.
And guess what? I managed not to get upset. I chose. It had nothing to do with the fact everything around me was stressful. You have to see for yourself that you can make the choice.
Secondly, Today. The time to fix, heal, repair, or become great isn’t yesterday. You can’t change what you did yesterday. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet so don’t bank on being successful then. In my many years now as a college rabbi, the single biggest thing that disappoints me about most people (get ready) is their reliance that somehow they’ll be better tomorrow or fix their problems down the road. Maybe they will. But most people who can’t be excellent today aren’t excellent tomorrow. Today, this moment, is the time when you are obligated to become or try to become what you want to be.
The idea of “today” is fundamental in another way; change is in the small details. It is such an important idea for success. Rome wasn’t build in a day, so to speak. Little changes, over time, compound to create greatness. You can’t just drop the 90lbs I’ve lost over my life (trust me) in a moment, but day by day, hour by hour, eating or not eating is what creates the change.
A dear student of mine complained that while she wanted to embrace her Judaism and incorporate more spirituality into her life, her experience with Judaism thus far made her realize there is so much to learn and to do that it would take a long time before she felt proficient. Other things in life are easier and take less time. I pointed out that is a perfect indication that they are less valuable. It takes a long time, there’s a lot to do, but so what? You couldn’t do the whole thing now if you wanted to—no one can become great in a day, but you could do a little right now. It’s taking a bite-sized chunk now that over the long run will turn you into who you want to be.
So in short, the lesson is that you are not pre-programmed. There’s no app for you. There’s no path. In life there is no way to just replace yourself when you’re broken. You have to learn how to fix. You have to become conscious that you choose your life, what you want, and how you will respond to the externalities. You have to see your ability, your uniquely human ability, to choose.
And you have to see today as all that matters. As Al Pachino screams in Any Given Sunday (Not kosher, just one lesson from there) “It’s the six inches in front of your face that’s the difference between living and dying.” Life is determined by what we do now. Act now. Even if you wanted to, all you can do now is take a little step. A little step is not scary because there’s not so much you can do now. But it’s scary because you actually have something to do now. Those that do something now become the exceptional and not the mediocre. I don’t like mediocre.