"I have achieved almost every personal and professional goal I have set. I have gotten the very most out of my life playing baseball, and I have absolutely no regrets."
The above words were said by Derek Jeter who retired from the NY Yankees at the end of this past baseball season, twenty years after he began his career. It is truly an amazing statement! How many of us could say the same about our lives? Have we “achieved almost every personal and professional goal?” Do we even know what our goals are?
The most difficult thing about writing a book or an essay is not coming up with an idea, it is writing the very first sentence. There is a well-known Jewish book called the Path of the Just written back in the 18th century by a man named Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato. The book is all about the development of character and it follows a step by step approach. But how does the book begin? What is the very first sentence?
I want you to pause for a moment and think about how you would begin a book that is all about spiritual character development. Not to so easy. So here is how he begins. “The foundation of all foundations is knowing what your goals and aspirations in this world are.” In other words, it is impossible to know what path of development you should take, what character traits should be developed without knowing where you are going. Reminds me of the joke about the guy who is hopelessly lost and turns to his friend and says, “I have no idea where we are but we are making good time.” You can’t go anywhere, you can’t achieve anything without first knowing what the goal is. Once you know where you are going, then you know how to plan.
Let’s put it in real terms. If a person believes that his goal in life is to make it to the finish line (i.e. death) with the most money then he will prepare himself accordingly. The decisions he makes, the friendships he cultivates and the education he chooses will all be reflected through his desire to make money. If a person believes that his goal is to bring Godliness and goodliness in to this world, he will make very different types of decisions. Until you know what your goals are, you are just shooting in the dark and you very well may end up in a place that you don’t want to be. Unfortunately, many people go through life this way, it is tragic but very common.
“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5) While it sounds like the Bible is offering financial advice here, it is only a metaphor for what we have been saying all along. Set goals and it will lead you to where you want to be, running forward without a plan is recipe for disaster.
The world we live in is a world based on results. Society tells you that goal setting is nice, but if you don’t achieve your goals you won’t amount to much. A doctor whose goal is to cure his patients, yet they all seem to remain sick will not remain in the profession for long. A financial planner who sets financial goals but loses everyone’s money, likewise will be out of a job.
However, in the world of the Bible this is not so. If you set a goal and work to achieve that goal you are already a success. It is not about achieving goals it is all about setting goals and working at them. There is a beautiful rabbinic teaching that says as follows: “It is not upon you to complete the work, however you are not free from the effort.” While you may not achieve and complete every spiritual goal, paradoxically, when you put in the effort you are already there. Quite different than the material world we live in, where results matter but effort plays a very small role.
Look again at the verse from Proverbs and you will notice something interesting. It says the PLANS lead to abundance. It does not say success leads to abundance. The Bible is clear that if you set a goal, work at it, success is already at hand. Hopefully the words of Derek Jeter will resonate in our lives, not because we necessarily have achieved all of our goals, but it will inspire us to set goals and put our heart and soul in to achieving them.