Ever have an epiphany when you read something that takes you aback and makes you think in a very different way?
Well, on May 30, David Brooks, noted columnist for the New York Times, wrote an article titled, It’s Not About You. His column was in response to the myriad of university commencement speeches that urge young people to pursue their dreams and do what makes them happy (sound like your college graduation?). Instead of cheering this mindset on, Brooks provides a warning against the ideals of self-fulfillment and the typical focus on oneself. As Brooks states, “today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks.”
Perhaps a genuine sense of satisfaction comes, as Brooks suggests, not from “finding yourself but from losing yourself” – in a cause you are prepared to fight for or perhaps a commitment to solve a problem that has a challenging solution. In other words, “we” is bigger than the “me.” As Bill Taylor, co-founder of one of my favorite periodicals, Fast Company magazine, puts it, “The true measure of success is not the value you create for yourself but the values that define your work and how you lead your life. The most effective leaders spend their time focused on things bigger than themselves – on their sense of purpose, their willingness to struggle, and the legacy they and their colleagues hope to leave.”
Leadership is about service. One cannot lead if you cannot also follow. It is never solely about you. It is always about something much larger -- mission. My sense is that people will follow you if you are prepared to fulfill a mission, something with a goal that is a little beyond our reach. I truly believe that the Jewish Federation and our partner agencies are striving to do this every day. We, along with every other Jewish organization, have the challenging task of meeting the needs of a 47,000 person diverse and dispersed Jewish community. Our mission is solely focused on making the Jewish community a better place for all of us. With meaningful and mindful leadership, we can achieve anything.
At the risk of sounding "preachy," this same spirit also applies to how each of us conducts our lives as individuals. The trouble with always searching to find oneself and work on what makes one happy is that we often spend too much time looking in the mirror rather than at the larger world. As Brooks writes, “Today’s graduates are told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live their quest.”
These are challenging times personally and professionally for many. Yet, each of us could spend more time exhibiting greater interest in the world around us. Altruism and goodness are inspiring and motivating characteristics that could lead to a new ideal of working together for the greater good. As Mordecai Holtz recently wrote, “In an “I” generation – iphone…ipad…itouch – the only “we” this generation knows is Wii (as in Nintendo).” How is the Jewish world going to engage a generation of “I’s” to recognize the power of the “we?”
Let me close with a short story. During our “Next Great Jewish Idea” contest -- the winner will be announced on Monday -- we had four entries from one family. More important than their ideas was how they developed them. The family shared with me how the two parents sat with their two young children at the Shabbat dinner table and discussed ideas that would make the Jewish world a better place. They wanted this to be a “family discussion” about what could have a profound impact on the greater Jewish community. Their ideas were not just for their benefit -- their ideas were about all of us.
It is truly a gift to be interested – interested in big problems, interested in the talents and struggles of others, and interested in a larger purpose. Thank you for your continued interest in Federation and Jewish life -- and we are interested in you.
PS – Once again, I invite you to please join us for the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s Annual Meeting on Monday, June 13 from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. at the Rose Schnitzer Manor (6140 SW Boundary Street). We will celebrate Gersham Goldstein as our outgoing Chairman and other members of our Board who are rotating off, and welcome Michael Weiner as our new Chair and several new Board members. In addition, we will announce the winner of our “Next Great Jewish Idea” contest and the recipients of the $300,000 in Community Impact Grants. Please RSVP by clicking here.