Scientists and mystics agree that we are each blessed with tremendous potential.
This means that we possess an awesome capacity for developing ourselves. At times, this awareness may be frustrating, knowing that we are so capable yet somehow stuck in a place that does not give us the satisfaction we are seeking.
In order to access our inner treasure, we need to recognize and release the five locks that keep this treasure confined.
Lock 1: Lack of clarity
Despite our natural strengths as our greatest resources, few of us are clear about the nature of the specific strengths that we possess. Considering that they are the paramount tools that we have been given to make our mark in this world, this is tragic. Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (the spiritual leader of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland (1873-1936), expressed this when he said:
Woe unto he who does not know his weaknesses, but woe and woe unto he who does not know his strengths, for even the tools that he possesses to lift himself up with, he does not know.
Let us then attempt to identify our strengths.
There are four clues that can help us do this:
a) What pulls us? The 11th century Spanish philosopher Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda (author of Duties of the Heart) taught that we each are blessed with a natural proclivity towards those things that are best suited to us. The Talmud likewise teaches that we should study what we are interested in, that which we desire to learn, because our interests will motivate us, thereby making our learning most successful. We need to tune into what pulls us.
b) What fills us? When we engage in an activity that matches who we are, there is a natural positive feedback loop, an inner feeling of “Yeah! That was great. I want to do that again sometime.” It is the sense of satisfaction that comes from doing a task that involved effort, concentration and some level of challenge. We need to notice which activities provide this kind of satisfaction.
c) What occupies us? When we find some activity that provides a good channel to release our natural resources, it will begin to occupy our minds. We suddenly find ourselves thinking about this activity from different angles, dreaming about it during the workday. Take notice of this because our brains are telling us something.
d) Where are our growth spots? Some activities nurture us better. When we find ourselves catching onto something quickly, deeply engaging in the activity and making adaptations naturally – recognize and embrace it. Areas in which we naturally experience a quicker pace of growth tell us a lot about where our potential lies.
Lock 2: Lack of planning
Without a plan we do not have a target to direct our strengths. A good plan provides an aim that allows us to constructively apply our inner resources to our greatest benefit.
To begin planning we need to ask ourselves four questions:
a) What would l like my life to look like ten years from now? What do I want my relationships, character, spirituality, career, and health to look like by then? Rabbi Shlomo Alkavetz (a 16th century kabbalist and poet) wrote, “Last in action is first in thought.” We need to create our vision of what we would like to see, and then work backwards from there. Keeping our big picture in mind also provides us with inspiration and motivation.
b) Where am I now? Just like in Google Maps, we need to have a starting point A in order to get directions to our destination at point B. In life we need to clearly know where we are starting from. We should look at our relationships, character, spirituality, career, and health as they are right now. What do they look like at this present moment? If we wish to chart an accurate path to our goal, we need to have a clear and honest picture as to where we are now.
c) What are the steps necessary to get from point A to point B? We need to set forth the separate, discrete parts that are involved. This means listing the specific actions necessary to move forward from where we are today towards our goal destination (in the five areas mentioned above). Write out each item in terms of what it the practical steps necessary, realistic time frame, and set every step as a separate milestone. Check off each step as we closer to our desired destination.
d) What is my first step? Now that we have a realistic picture as to where we are and where we want to go, what is the first action that we need to take to get there? If our first item seems too big, break it into the smaller pieces and begin with the smallest first step that is manageable for us. (Do this with other steps as well if they seem too big). Once this step is identified, estimate how long it should take, and begin immediately. Never minimize an action in the right direction because of its smallness. Forward momentum possesses tremendous power and by taking that first step, we tap into this power.
Lock 3: Fear of failure
Fear can freeze us in our tracks. Whether it is fear of what others will think of us if we fail, or fear of what we will think of ourselves, if we leave this emotion unchecked, it will prevent us from ever discovering how great we can be.
Keep in mind the famous hockey player, Wayne Gretzky’s, famous line, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” As scary as it may be to step out into the realm of the uncertain and take a chance, this is the only way we can ever find out what is possible. Yes, we may fail, but we may also succeed. And even if we do “fail”, the lessons we learn from trying teach us how to do things better next time, so either way we gain.
Lock 4: Lack of Flexibility
When we grip the steering wheel of our lives too tightly, it is hard to make a turn. Life is full of the unexpected and while acting on our plan we need to stay loose enough to be able to adapt to changes, surprises, and new information. The plague of hail in Egypt illustrates this point: When the hail came, the plants that were flexible survived, while those that could not bend were broken. The best way to become adaptable is by recognizing how tense we may be and reminding ourselves that by letting go of the tension, we will perform much better. Imagine a concert pianist who needs to be loose and focused at the same time if he/she wishes to play at his or her best. Granted this will take some practice, but good practice pays off.
Lock 5: Lack of Perspective
So often we are so focused on our goals that we forget The Universal Law of Giving: Give what you want to receive. If you want more love in your life – give more love. If you want greater wisdom, share wisdom with others. If you want greater abundance, share of your resources, as the Sages taught, “Tithe and you shall become wealthy.” By serving as a funnel of blessing to others our own lives become filled with abundant blessings. As proof of point consider the difference in how we feel when we give something vs. how we feel when we receive something.
In summary, to unlock the possibilities within, we need to find our keys. When we identify our unique strengths, craft a plan to develop, and apply it, we open the lid of the treasure chest under which our dreams lay. When fear tries to freeze our hand, we take our shot anyway, knowing that without action there can be no success. Step by step, we move forward, staying loose, and apply The Universal Law of Giving, as we bring our treasure to the light of day.
This article originally appeared in The Times of Israel.