Category: Living Judaism


The Ends Are the Means: Goalsetting & The Good Life

By Todd J. Sukol
Goals are exactly the opposite of what you think they are.

I have recently been teaching an emerging staff member a system of principle centered goal setting that I began developing in 2009 — originally for my own use — in consultation with a behavioral and organizational expert then serving as my professional coach.

Borrowing heavily from the second habit of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and incorporating elements from several other philosophies, my system has served me incredibly well, giving me renewed energy, freedom, accomplishment and fulfillment while invigorating my most important relationships. When I was running Do More Mission I helped numerous coaching clients adapt the system to their own styles and priorities. Nearly everyone who applied it found it similarly game changing.

The power of this approach is that it creates direct links between tiny, granular actions and profound, big-picture visions for “the good life.” Through a sequence of five successive stages, precise to-do lists emerge from the individual’s most preciously held values. As simple as it is challenging, the system can be learned and deployed by anyone with the self-honesty, open-mindedness and courage to give it a sincere try.

We’ll save teaching my system for another time. Today I want to share something paradoxical that I’ve learned about goals and goal setting while experimenting with this powerful system. I hope this observation will motivate you to devote more attention to goal setting in your own life, whatever approach you use.

Most of us believe goals are ends toward which we strive. In fact, the reverse is true. “The good life” is Now. It emerges in the details of how we live our lives in each moment. Goal setting is one way of directing those actions, right now, toward what matters most to us. Goals are a hedge, if you will, against our distractible and impulsive nature. Creating well-formed goals and action plans carefully linked back to personal values and beliefs is a difficult and sometimes tedious process. The payoff of the hard work is that goals give us guideposts that tell us whether any given action moves us toward or away from our best selves. Goal setting reveals governing values to protect us from the vicissitudes of mood, impulse, emotion and circumstance. Though none of us will consistently make right choices, goals give us a fighting chance. This has never been more important than in our contemporary, always-on world with its infinite inputs grabbing mercilessly for our scattered attention.

When looked at this way, goals paradoxically become “means,” and good choices in each moment become “ends”. The ultimate righteous purpose of making value centered choices as often as possible is served well by the means — the strategy — of thoughtful and detailed goal setting and planning.

“Integrity in the moment of choice,” as my wise coach often reminded me, is the name of the game. It is, after all, the only thing we have control over.

Confronting Organizational Entropy

By Todd J. Sukol
Today I had the pleasure of attending a luncheon in honor of Joshua Venture Group‘s most recent cohort of talented social entrepreneurs setting out to the change the world through Jewish values and teachings. What an impressive group! What stood out most to me was the way that the two year experience they had with Joshua Venture Group has given them the support — and the tools — to turn their respective bold visions into clear, impactful actions. The degreee to which this group had learned to care for and bring out the best in each other was palpable. As I sat among these inspiring young visionaries, my thoughts turned to my more established colleagues in blue chip Jewish organizations we all know and sometimes love.

upstart bikkurim joshua venture group presentenselish. There is a risk in being too hard on the old guard, of course. It is no easy task to remain sustainable and relevant in the face of financial pressures, changing circumstances, a tough labor market and immutable forces of diminishing returns. Twenty years ago I was outraged at what I have come to call “organizational entropy,” the tendency of established nonprofit organizations to slide into an impotent state of self preservation as primary mission, with lofty visions deployed only as fundraising rhetoric and anti-accountability tactics. Today I am no less saddened by the tendency, but I no longer blame individuals. No one goes into this line of work because they yearn for mediocrity.  Rather, organizational entropy is a natural condition that necessarily accompanies nonprofit efforts just as greed accompanies commercial enterprise and corruption accompanies government. The trick is not to get angry about the tendency or blame individual actors, but rather to productively seek ways to mitigate the negative forces in order to keep positive efforts on track. I think many nonprofits — large and small — recognize this trend. Some are trying hard to confront it. A few are succeeding. 

What lessons could this newly minted group of Jewish social entrepreneurs teach old time professionals at established Jewish communal organizations that play such important roles in the fabric of American Jewish life? How could the support JVG taught them to give each other be applied to BigOrga? Are there ways we can take care of each others’ neshamas (souls) to keep individuals and organizations vibrant and impactful, even in the face of organizational entropy? Success happens when inspiration coexists with environments of structure, support and accountability. This is what Lisa Lepson and her Joshua Venture Group colleagues have taught today’s young leaders to strive toward. It is time we stop looking at these innovative young leaders with kind eyes that say “awww, isn’t that nice,” and start opening our eyes widely to their wisdom, learning from them as we mentor them — allowing them to show us how to repair what is broken, how to take care of our most precious commodity, each other.

This Morning I reach

Here’s a beautiful meditation that was shared with me…

This morning I reach gently for the cup
The container in which Your spirit is carried
Carried to me and to all humankind
I drink from the precious cup
And know that the cup is treasured only for its role


It is but a container of Your Joy, Your Treasure, Your Essence
The cup is flawed, but is precious nonetheless
It will never be a perfect or true conduit
But it is good enough
And it is essential


I cannot apprehend you
I cannot approach you
Your approach to me is through this vessel
I treasure it, I reject it
You


You I seek
You I require
You have chosen me
You have chosen us
You have created something I will never understand


But you have placed me here now
Here I stand
Here I walk
Walk with you now
For you


About you on my best days
May today be such a day
I drink from the cup and invite you inside
To fill me with your holy spirit
Please guide me to act and not act in accordance with what matters

JEIC 2nd Round Announcements

Today we held the final review session for Letters of Inquiry to the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC). In this, our third, year of the Challenge we saw a collection of applicants that was the very best yet. Those advancing to Round Two will be notified this weekend. Congratulations to all applicants — this year’s was the best group of LOIs we’ve seen yet — you made our job very difficult. I wish we could fund and work with all of you. Please check your email in the coming days to see whether your LOI has been accepted to the next round. For those advancing, jeic-logo1we look forward to seeing your full proposals and meeting you in your interviews. To those who did not, please keep trying. You are on the right track and we see you all as our partners in building a bright future for our children and our children’s children. Yasher Koach and Shabbat Shalom to all. Todd