My Basketball Diaries
I am not one of the world’s better athletes. In fact I’m part of the reason why people picture Jews as accountants and lawyers, not hockey players and NASCAR drivers. Nonetheless, despite—or perhaps in celebration of—my mediocrity, I enjoy a game of basketball here and there. I can jump, pass, and run around. Everything except shoot. I can’t shoot for beans.
But one thing I’ve noticed: when I’m going all out on the court, my whole team plays better. Even if I’m the weakest player and not making any statistically significant contributions, we seem to win (or come closer to winning) when I push myself. I may not be scoring any points or stealing the ball from the opponent, but still somehow my hustle is making an impact on the court.
I take this as a message from On High that, even on the basketball court, the good L-rd wants me to move my tuches.
When I try harder, I succeed more often. Even when my efforts are not yielding direct results, results are nonetheless filtering through, seemingly on their own and out of the blue. Somehow the effort finds its reward.
The Talmud states, “Don’t believe one who says, ‘I tried but did not succeed’; nor believe one who says, ‘I did not try, yet I succeeded’; only believe the one who says, ‘I tried and I succeeded.’” Though the Talmud is referring to Torah study, I find those words apply to much of life.
Let me give you another example.
At work, I’ll sit down to make phone calls to clients and prospects. I pick up the phone, begin dialing—and good things start to happen. Sometimes, those results are direct. I dial, my prospect is home, he picks up the phone, we speak, he’s interested. An account is opened.
Other times, it doesn’t happen that way at all. I call a few people. They’re not home. I leave messages. I get a hold of a few of them who can’t talk just now. I get frustrated.
And then the phone rings.
It’s a client calling to ask me how to wire money into his account. Or it’s a banker calling to introduce me to a high-net worth prospect. These productive calls coming in have nothing to do with those fruitless calls going out. They could have just as easily come in while I was twiddling my thumbs.
But when I’m twiddling my thumbs, they usually don’t.
Don’t get me wrong: the reciprocity isn’t perfect. Not even close. Believe me, I’ve known much failure and frustration in my life—even when I’ve expended myself. I could tell you about the NCSY chapter that never panned out, the yeshiva in Israel that I had to leave, the aborted attempt at a writing career. But I have generally viewed those failures as a sign to move on, pocketing the “learning experience” for whatever it may be worth.
When I’m onto something that’s working, however, it always works better when I’m pushing myself.
G-d certainly wants us to work. We recite the Kiddush each Friday night declaring that G-d created the world “la’asos—to do.” Often people answer the question, “What do you do?” by stating what they are: “I’m a doctor/lawyer/florist.” That may be their job, their title, their degree, but it really doesn’t answer the question—it doesn’t describe what they do. Or even if they do.
Working for a large firm, I know plenty of people whose job description is “don’t lose your job.” They aren’t really contributing anything. But they show up, keep their heads down and their noses clean. I’m not offended by them; I simply feel bad for them. They’re not really doing.
Even those of us who are doing, may not be doing it to the best of our abilities. Are teachers constantly looking for ways to reach the kids who don’t seem to be learning? Are parents unfailingly searching to improve how they raise their children? Are financial advisors steadfastly seeking to safely grow their clients’ portfolios?
Are we moving our tucheses?
It’s up to us not simply “to do,” but to do so aggressively—to utilize our talents, skills, and energies to help create a better society, both Jewishly and generally.