Imagine G-d as the ultimate angel investor.
As we approach the holiday of Shavuot, we see the extent of human potential. Our people reached such an elevated level that they merited meeting G-d at Sinai, and changed human history forever. But how did they do it? And more importantly, how can we faithfully follow in their footsteps?
Everyone wants to be at the top but no one likes to climb.
Chris Sacca, billionaire angel investor, said that the thing that makes him want to invest in a fledgling company (like he did with Twitter and Uber) is that the founders were so certain of success that they “felt it in their bones.” How many of us feel that certainty of success?
Deep down, we’re really afraid of failure more than we are afraid of hard work. If we knew what path would make us successful, then we would do it. In my work as a health coach, once my clients see they can lose the weight with my system, they’re successful in doing it. And it is hard work, but they see the game is winnable. What blocks us is the self doubt that we can actually go through with it.
Judaism provides two fundamental and beautiful insights into the mindset of a champion. The first is that a tsaddik falls seven times, and keeps getting back up. Greatness and excellence are only built by making mistakes, suffering setbacks, and pushing forward. That’s why people who are street smart usually succeed in business more than people who are book smart. Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates—all these guys were brilliant in business specifically because they kept pushing forward and innovating rather than quitting. Our current education system in America punishes failure instead of embracing it. Judaism says not only do you have to embrace your failure, but if you don’t go through it, you’ll never get to the top.
Secondly, Judaism teaches that we need to be open and upfront with our challenges. This is truly revolutionary. What we in the west are trained to see and respect is the final steps of a person’s journey. The huge weight loss, the billion dollar company, the millions of followers, the ‘perfect marriage or children.’ When we accustom ourselves to see this very erroneous perspective of success, we hide our true selves, and get discouraged. What we should be looking at instead is how they got there.
Human greatness is so diverse and impressive that when we compare ourselves to the final product of anyone, we feel bad because we’re so far away. But what we don’t see is what they had to do to get there, or where they started from, or what they lost to get to where they are. So we see only a part of the picture. If we’d see the whole picture suddenly we’d be a lot more inspired. If we understood where people started, we’d understand it doesn’t make sense to compare. If we see how hard people had to work to get to where they are we’d see what we had to do. Bill Gates used to work 18 hour days! The Chazon Ish would learn Torah until he literally collapsed from exhaustion. If we saw what people had to sacrifice for their goals, maybe we’d decide we didn’t want them anymore, or that we’d be ok working a bit harder to get them.
Secondly, by focusing on the final product as indicators of success, we hide our true selves. That means that the things we need to do most are the things we don’t want to do. I always had large biceps and calf muscles, my whole life I needed to lose weight and do sit ups. Guess how often I did abs? 0. Guess how often I did arms? Every day! If we aren’t honest with ourselves, or we are too embarrassed by the accomplishments of others, we only focus on what we do well and not what we need to work on because we’re embarrassed to admit our shortcomings. If we focus on the process that others took to become great, we realize this strange phenomenon: champions focused on improving of their weak spots, not their great areas.
It made such a huge impression when I read that Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame realized that if he wanted to be rich, he had to learn how to sell. He was really shy. So he took a job as a salesman specifically because it was his weak area. How many of us would take a major we weren’t good at, or select a subject we needed the most help as to be the focus of our lives? Judaism teaches us that to be a growth oriented person means accepting you aren’t perfect. Be open with your lack of perfection. And WORK on that area that makes you not perfect.
Shavuot comes at the end of the counting of the Omer. Each day we take one step closer to Sinai. Success happens in stages. One foot in front of the other. And in the period of time between Passover and Shavuot, we learn Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers. This compilation of lessons of how to be great starts with a profound idea; that we all have a path to Heaven. It’s not a question of if we’ll be successful–by taking the journey we already are.
So the question isn’t if we can attract G-d as our angel investor. He’s already all in. It’s a question of if we can sell ourselves on our own potential. Are WE willing to invest in us? If we can do that, we’re already en route to our highest self.