Thursday, August 26, 2004

Defining Moments

The most difficult decisions in life aren’t between right and wrong. Ethical decisions are easy. Yes, we often fail and make the wrong choice. But even in moments of moral weakness, we at least know what was supposed to be the right choice.

The truly difficult choices in life are between right and right. There are times when there are too many good options for us to pursue. The Supermom, running from demanding job to carpool to the gym to volunteer work, has to reconsider her priorities on a daily basis: should she take out clients for dinner, take her kids swimming, or go to a charitable function? These “all good choices” decisions are difficult to make, because whatever you end up doing, you feel guilty for having overlooked something important.

Because the “all good choices” decisions leave us feeling guilty, we try to avoid them; we’ll run ourselves ragged doing everything so we don’t have to choose. Then, when we’re finally exhausted, we’ll choose in an impulsive fashion . If we’re feeling insecure about work, we’ll work late; insecure about family, we’ll run home early; insecure about our contributions to society, we’ll go to more community meetings than we can handle. But we are so uncomfortable with these decisions we rarely think about them in a comprehensive fashion. And that’s a shame, because these choices offer us an opportunity to truly define ourselves.

Joseph L. Badaracco Jr., in his book Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right, notes that the decisions between right and right are our truly defining moments. We have many deeply rooted values; how we prioritize them defines who we are. That is why the “all good choices” decisions are so important. We cannot simply decide to be “good people”; we must also follow choices that reflect our own personal mission.

There is a wonderful anecdote about the Chassidic Rabbi Zushe. He explained to his students that after one dies and appears before God for judgement, God doesn’t ask you why you weren’t like Moses or Abraham; Rather, God asks you “why weren’t you Zushe?”.

Reb Zushe is teaching us the importance of having an authentic identity. God didn’t make us to be like everyone else. Each of us is supposed to be our own “Zushe” (or “Chaim”, or whatever your name may be). Our job is not to imitate the success of others, but rather to to discover our own unique mission on this world.

It is during defining moments that we can best discover ourselves. We have to choose not only what is right, but what is right for ourselves. Instead of trying to be everything to everybody, these moments allow us to pursue our own destiny, to find out who “Zushe” really is.

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