Thursday, April 24, 2008

Parenting My Inner Child

I want to revisit some ideas I put forth in a previous post. I had borrowed some parenting advice from the famous Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and turned it around by applying it to myself. Today, I will talk about these ideas in more detail.

Yes, co-opting parenting advice as self-help shows me to be a bit egocentric, which is part of the problem. Yet, I feel there is real wisdom in Rabbi Boteach's principles that I can use to improve my attitudes and behavior.

Stop Asking What I Want to Do with My Life—Start Asking Who I Want to Be
It's no problem to ask who I want to be, but I don't think I know the answer. Perhaps there isn't supposed to be one answer or one answer that holds true now and forever. I know I want to be a "good dad" and a "good husband." I also know I want to be "successful" and "accomplished."

Honestly, though, who I want to be is me. And who am I? Just some guy who loves his kids and wife, loves his life, and loves to learn more about his G-d and his G-d's people. On the one hand, I want to embrace my anonymity and commonality, but on the other hand, I want to cultivate my uniqueness. Is who I am tied to what I do? No, it's tied to who I love and what I love.

Stop Speaking About My Career—Talk Instead About My Calling
What is a "calling"? It is the work for which I was made. What work or kinds of work was I made to do? Hmm. I feel like I was made to explain things and write, but mainly I feel I was made to play and work with other people. I was made to build a community. Not build it myself, but to be part of the building and to be a leading force in it. There are many communities already established that I could be part of - I do not need to build an entirely new one. Certainly, the community I want to build is a Jewish community.

Now, I work as a proposal writer - how does this help me fulfill my calling to build communities and help people? It doesn't, at least directly. It's not the work as proposal writer that's important. Meeting new people and establishing positive working relationships with them is the meaningful part. When I think about what's happened to me at my former job, what I made happen, I see that I violated one of the sayings of the Pirkei Avot, from Rabbi Joshua: "An evil eye, the evil inclination, and the hatred of one's fellows, drive a person from the world." I was - and have been - envious of others, lazy and inattentive, and two-faced. Now I am driven from this "world."

Stop Focusing on Achievements and Accomplishments and Start Focusing on Intellectual Curiosity
I know that I am very much focused on achievements and accomplishments - or rather, my lack of them. But the advice is to focus on intellectual curiosity.

This last term is quite interesting because curiosity is by definition already intellectual. It refers to the desire to learn and know things. Intellectual curiosity means just this kind of wanting to learn new concepts and arguments, and it also suggests a wanting to understand the makeup of one's own intellect.

In real world terms, the advice for me is not to pursue and MBA but rather to study the direction of my passions for business-related knowledge. What is it in business that I really want to investigate? The nice thing about curiosity is that it combines emotion and reason - passion drives thinking.

Stop Speaking About Happiness—Start Speaking Instead About Purpose
For some time now, I have been concerned with being happier, with the idea that I am not happy enough or as happy as I could be. I have bought several books on it, the best of them being Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar. Yet, in this principle I am asked to jettison the enitire concept for the idea of purpose.

Or maybe I am not supposed to abandon the idea so much as realize that it is a product of a process and not necessarily an active state. I could be way off here - I certainly feel as though I am not correctly or fully expressing the principle - but purpose is about meaning, lasting value, and representation of interests that are not solely my own. I realize I do not do many things that have or that embody purpose. If I truly want happiness, and it is not entirely certain that I do, it must be as a by-product of living my purpose.

Stop Emphasizing Friends—Start Emphasizing Family
This one really should be easy, seeing as I have few friends. Yes, I am trying to build and expand my professional and social network, but these are not friends.

On the other hand, I wonder if I can truly say I emphasize family. In many ways, I emphasize work and my personal projects over my own family. I am often impatient with my wife and children. I am frequently reluctant to visit or entertain my parents, brothers, in-laws and neighbors. It's sometimes a struggle for me to act and feel genuine in front of even the people to whom I feel closest.

The reason for these feelings lies right out in the open: I am ashamed of myself because I have not accomplished anything of the greatness that I always thought was inside me. This is the source of all for me, and until I deal with this either by acceptance or by accomplishing something that seems worthy then I will always have this cancer in my mind.

Stop Speaking About Attention Span and Focus—Start Focusing on Love
I am very critical of myself, and I see I have passed this on to my children. I feel bad that I am spread out among too many tasks and aspirations and obligations, so much so that I sometimes have to sneak in other work while I am at my primary job. This kind of multi-tasking is clearly not good for me or my career.

The advice being given here is is one of adjusting priorities. Instead of telling myself that I need to be more focused and disciplined, I need to assert my need to love what I am doing, to do it passionately and with a spirit that only I can bring. In the end, we are talking about the same thing, about sustaining work in a concentrated area, but the difference is one of uniting my head, my heart and my activity into one energy. When I focus only on my lack of attention and focus, only part of the problem - and not the real problem - is being addressed.

This guidance, too, works in the realm of how I deal with my wife and children. Yes, I need to pay better attention and be a better listener. Changing the behavior, however, will be much better and more effective if I use my love as a husband and father to drive the activity. I'm not just trying to ge practiced at real listening, I'm trying toremember that if I love someone I want to show it through genuine engagement.

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