|I spend a lot of time with young people who often ask me for advice as they begin their journey into the future. So here are five ideas worth thinking about as we begin our journey into 2019.
1) The first thing to do is dream. Seemingly the least practical activity turns out to be the most practical, and most often left undone. I know people who spend months planning a holiday but very little time planning a life. Imagine setting out on a journey without deciding where you are going to. However fast you travel, you will never reach your destination because you never decided where you want to be. In fact, the faster you travel, the more lost you will become. Dreams are where we visit the many lands and landscapes of human possibility and discover the one where we feel at home.
2) The second idea is: Follow your passion. Nothing — not wealth, success, accolades or fame — is worth spending a lifetime doing things you don’t enjoy. I have seen too many people enter careers to earn money to give their partners and children everything they want, only to lose their partners and become estranged from their children because they never had time for them. People who follow their passion tend to lead blessed lives. Happy in what they do, they tend to spread happiness to those whose lives they touch. That is a life worth living.
3) The third idea I learned from the psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl, whose “Man’s Search for Meaning” is one of the most widely read books of our time. Frankl used to say: Don’t ask what you want from life. Ask what life wants from you. The great lives are ones where people heard a call, had a sense of vocation. There is a story about three men who spent their lives quarrying rocks. When asked what they were doing, one replied, “Breaking rocks.” The second said, “Earning a living.” The third said, “Building a cathedral.” We don’t need to ask which of the three had the most job satisfaction. An overarching sense of the Why preceded the How. Where what we want to do meets what is crying out to be done, that is where we should be.
4) The fourth idea is: Make space in your life for the things that matter, for family and friends, love and generosity, fun and joy. Without this, you will burn out in mid-career and wonder where your life went. In Judaism we have the Sabbath, a dedicated day of stillness each week, where we make space for all the things that are important but not urgent. Not every culture has a Sabbath, but life without dedicated time for renewal, like a life without exercise or music or a sense of humour, is a lesser life.
5) The fifth idea is: Work hard, the way an athlete or concert pianist or cutting-edge scientist works hard. The American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, calls this the principle of “flow.” By this he means the peak experience you have when you are working so hard at a task that you are unaware of the passing of time. No great achiever — even those who made it seem easy — ever succeeded without hard work. The Jewish word for serving God, avodah, also means hard work.
There are many other ideas, but these are some of the most important. Try them and you will be surprised by joy.
Jonathan Henry Sacks