What’s your first step?
Where do we begin our journey? Should we “have” to “be,” or should we “be” to “have.”
Let’s first dispel false self-righteousness and loudly declare, “it is good to have!” Many Biblical characters, such as Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, their husband Jacob, and Mattew, were wealthy. Good for them! Be fulfilled, live comfortably, and make a better world through your means and blessings!
My question instead focuses on “what steps do we take first?” Do we invest energy in the domain of having to gain comfort and security and then, free of preoccupations, cultivate the Self? Or do we tend to the Self and then use our wisdom to succeed? I know, life resembles that low-fat vanilla-chocolate swirl frozen yogurt I love; a twisted mixture. But for the sake of exploration, I invite you to work together with the binary categories of “having” and “being.” Have to be or be to have? What’s your first step?
Gambling Your Life
I recall an older friend, a very successful business owner, who once advised me: “Alfredo, you have until age 65 to make real money. Then you can think what you want to do.” He added, “at my bar mitzvah, I decided that by 20, I would own a Mercedes and have a million dollars in the bank.” At that time, I felt so envious of his drive to succeed. I was jealous of the clarity of his life journey. He was so self-confident. A few years later, he stayed at my home. One morning the longest-stretched black limousine appeared in my driveway. I wondered, “where is he going”? He returned three days later.
Alfredo, “I had such a great time in Atlantic City,” That’s life, Alfredo!” He was such a loyal “client” that the casinos provided him with free luxury transportation and lodging. Years later, I heard that he had ended his life in debt. I learned a valuable unintended lesson from him. Regarding values, the time is always now. Paradoxically, the ultimate life questions lie at the origin of our journey.
The Great Confusion
“Having” is closer to goals, while “Being” is to values. We “own” a mansion while “being” compassionate. Our society has chosen goals as its primary goal. Having and Goals have fused. Goals have become more valuable than values. In a world of being absorbed in “careers,” the finish line is the journey. The problem is that we spend most of our life traveling. If we exclusively focus on our destiny, we become absent from our Selves. The challenge is how to make the in-between destinations meaningful. In the realm of big goals, dinner with the family, an “I love you” in the morning, slowing down and reflecting, or cleaning the dishes do not stand a chance. We sacrifice the blessings of the now for a picture in our mind. But we do not dream of humility. We act humbly. Values are the journey. You don’t need to achieve anything to be compassionate. You do not need to be hired by a prestigious firm to be empathic.
A Valuable Compass
Goals motivate and inspire us. Values direct our steps. They are our life compass. Decisions about who we want to be must precede what we want to achieve. “Whom” leads the “what.” Traveling overseas to exotic lands may be your goal. But if you do not exercise the values of curiosity, openness, and appreciation, the trip may end up in a bunch of selfies. You may want to recover from an illness. But how can one become well without self-compassion, self-caring, and discipline?
I have heard so many times, “Rabbi, did you notice? When people talk at a funeral, they do not mention the car you drove or your bank account, but if you were a good parent and friend.” Why are we so attached to our possessions if we all know that? Psychologists answer that we are still living in a prehistoric cave. We continue fighting for survival. A nicer car means attracting a better mate for propagating our genes. Bigger homes provide more solid protection from a storm. Let’s face it; our brains are still whispering, “things are so scarce; to have or not to have must be the question.” Values set us free from that fear. Empathy, compassion, and forgiveness do not provide bonuses, advancements, or galas. Instead, they invite us to write our eulogy while alive. Do you need to lose your existence to become your best Self?
Compare and be Miserable
Cave people compare to survive. A sharper spear ensured a successful hunt. Sharing in a world of scarcity was counterintuitive, even unthinkable. Goals without values foster envy. But values are not graded. There is no love, forgiveness, or compassion competition. Becoming your best Self according to your values is an exercise in giving. You do not achieve empathy. You are empathic as you cultivate, apply, and bless others. Though, there is a significant gain in activating your values, a sense of deep authenticity.
“Be to have” or “Have to be.” I prefer the first. Know yourself and trace your goals. Within this alignment of purpose and action, journey and destination will overlap. I envision that there won’t be rampant depression anymore. There won’t be so much emptiness anymore. And there won’t be so much envy anymore. Just you. Just us. Shining by the light of our inner value. Unconditional.
Your First Step
But Rabbi Alfredo, I don’t know my values. Where do I find them? The science of Positive Psychology has given us the gift of the VIA (Values in Action) Instrument. The VIA maps the 24 universal values in preferential order. Your top five are core to you. You can take it for free at:
“Be” to the full and pursue your dream. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to explore your VIA result.