There is a famous parable of three bricklayers building a Synagogue
They are asked, “What are you doing?”
The first says, “I am laying bricks.”
The second says, “I am building a Synagogue.”
The third says, “I am building the house of G-d.”
The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling or a meaningful purpose.
Living our life with purpose and passion seems to be the latest catchphrase. However, it should not be considered a passing phase, or something to be taken lightly.
According to Angela Duckworth, author of “ Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence”, living your life with purpose is one of the most essential ingredients of living a successful, happy, meaningful life.
Duckworth, defines purpose as the “intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” Anything you do, if it benefits others, whether it be, your wife, husband, children, employees, students, even your country, science, or society at large, adds a significant layer of meaning to your life. If one attaches a purpose to their work, they experience a deeper satisfaction with their life. They will also pursue their goals with passionate doggedness, which ultimately leads to success, and a true passion for their work. Passion and purpose seem to work hand in hand.
It is a bit easier for those in the helping professions but it works with any job. A real estate agent, can attach purpose to her work, “I am helping others find their dream home.” Or “I am helping my client open their dream business.” An engineer can find meaning in building bridges, making travel easier for thousands of people.
I know that I find the mundane chores of everyday, cooking, vacuming, scrubbing, laundry and diapering, to be tedious and draining. However, to get me through, I think of the purpose of my work, the benefit to my family. Maybe it is just me, but it immediately perks me up. “I am doing this to raise a beautiful family.” “I am feeding my family so that they have energy to go to school, or to work.” I feel happier, more satisfied and can finish my tasks more cheerfully.
So, how can we teach this to our children? How can we teach them to live their life with passion and purpose?
1. It starts with a dream: Everyone’s passions and talents are different. Finding a purpose to your work is generally tied to having work that you like. Finding your passion can take a while; it is a journey. It often starts with your childhood dreams. We need to let our children have their dreams. Even if your dreams were unrealistic as a child, (I want to be the next LeBron James! I want to own a horse.) there is a kernel of truth in them. These are important clues for your child. They might need to live a life where they are not tied to a desk job. A love of animals or nature can be the steppingstone to many different fulfilling careers. So don’t squelch your child’s dreams. Listen to them and dream with them.
Not only that, when you listen to your child’s dreams, you can attribute a purpose to that dream.
“You want to own all the toy stores in the world! Think of how many children who don’t have toys you can help!”
“You want to play soccer for Israel! Those soccer players always do a lot of mitzvoth. They are always visiting sick children in the hospital!”
2. Let kids hear you attribute purpose to your work:
As I have said many times, children do what we do, not what we say. If they hear us attributing purpose to our work, or any of our activities, then it will be more natural to them. Instead of lecturing, we should use the “Talk out loud” technique:
“The best thing about being a doctor is being able to help people get well.”
“I love what I do! I love teaching families better ways to get along!”
“I hope this cake that I am baking for the Schwartz family cheers them up! It is hard when the Mom of the family breaks her arm!”
3. Role model Jewish values:
According to Rav Noach Weingberg, “If you don’t know what you’re living for, you haven’t yet lived.” Living your life with purpose is the ultimate Jewish value, it should really have been mentioned at the beginning of this article. Any mitzvah we do, is attached to a larger purpose. Prayer always includes tefillot for others, who are sick, who are struggling with fertility or livelihood. We pray not only for ourselves, our fellow Jews, but for all of humankind. Money is to be used to benefit others, we give 10% of our earnings to Tzedakah. We attribute purpose to the act of eating, recognizing it as a gift from G-d. We are urged to share our homes as well and to offer hospitality whenever we can. Living your life as a Jew and having your child watch you perform mitzvoth, means that you are role modeling for your child, a life of purpose. It can be that simple.