This is pretty embarrassing.
I was all excited about writing a book review about the book, WIN. change your thinking, change your destiny by Rabbi Stephen Baars. Now I admit the title of this article may be just the teeniest bit of hyperbole. But, I can say, without reservation or exaggeration, that the book is pretty darned good. And R. Baars is an extremely nice man and a very smart Rabbi, which is my favorite kind. (And yes, I do know him personally.)
The thing that I’m embarrassed to admit is that I spent an hour this morning thinking about what it means “to win.” Now you wouldn’t think that would be a hard question. But I realized I didn’t know.
The people he talks about in his book are folks who have done REALLY BIG things: Steve Jobs, the Wright Brothers, Warren Buffet, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Oprah Winfrey. They’ve achieved great things. World changing things.
Sitting there, with my cup of coffee, staring at the wall, I’m thinking: All of that is sooo far out of my league. And that’s when it came to me, the point of the book: Any of us, all of us, CAN do something world changing. And that’s the definition of WINning.
“If you want to win, you have to think like a winner… Every successful person has had their share of hurdles to overcome. And everyone could have given up… There is only one variable: Some people believe winners are born, some people believe winners are not. And that alone will explain your, and everyone else’s, level of success.” [page 51]
Chew on that for a minute, or drink it in with your morning coffee.
“Steve Jobs did not exit the womb with a computer chip in his mouth. Warren Buffet was not born holding a stock tip, and Thomas Edison didn’t change the light bulb above his crib… what this means: Winning is no easier or harder for you than it is for anyone else – including the people who have succeeded [before you].” [page 49]
“It’s not what they did that made them a success. It’s what they thought. [page 37]
And if we thought the way winners think, we would do what they do.” [page 40]
Winners are not born. It is a question of how they think. And thinking like a winner is something that can be learned. After all, the winners before us did.
In general, I am not fond of self help books, although I’ve read a lot of them. I guess because I often think I could use a lot of help.
They tend to advocate things like eating a lot of something I’m unlikely to eat even once.
Or doing things I can’t imagine my body ever recovering from, assuming I could figure out how to do them in the first place.
Or solving depression by taking trips around the world, studying with gurus I can’t even imagine how to find, and falling in love with exotic men.
Now I’ll admit if I could afford a trip around the world, it probably would clear up at least some of any depressed mood I might be in, even if I didn’t actually take the trip. As far as the gurus and the exotic men, I’m kind of past those two things. I’ve found my spiritual path and I already had a relationship with a very nice man. It didn’t work out, but we’re still friends, and I’m good with that. Plus… raging introvert here. Not looking for another relationship.
So most of those books: pretty much a definite no go for me. But this?
I sat there for quite awhile staring at that wall. Really? Could it be that simple? More important, was this something *I* could actually do? Something *I* could learn? It reminded me of the Little Engine that Could. Was “I think I can” enough?
According to R. Baars: “It is practically impossible to read this book three times and not change.” At this point, I’ve only read it twice. I’m not saying I don’t want to change, but I am talented at being stubborn. Although I know there will definitely be a third read, I can’t say I’ve personally seen even 2/3 of any major changes so far.
But I can say that there is a story in the book that has motivated me in the direction of at least a small change. It’s a story about one of the Rabbi’s children who simply didn’t believe riding a bike was possible. No amount of evidence to the contrary could convince her. But once a younger sibling starting riding, she learned to do it in a single day.
“Suddenly the belief it was impossible became irrelevant. Ideas don’t make the impossible possible, they make the impossible irrelevant.” [page 36]
Irrelevant? Isn’t impossible just… well… impossible?
I’ve spent ten years thinking I wanted to learn Hebrew. For years, I’ve been told that if you want to understand Jewish texts, you have to be able to read them in Hebrew because all translations are commentaries and because words in Hebrew have so many layers of meaning. (This, of course, assumes they were written in Hebrew. If they were written in Aramaic, as some were, well… I’m not even going there right now. One complex, seemingly impossible to learn, ancient language at a time.)
I really, really want to understand the texts. But for whatever reason, at some point, I decided it wasn’t possible for me to learn Hebrew. I just could not do it. So I did exactly what the little girl with the bike did, I refused to accept the idea that I could learn.
This required me to entirely ignore the fact that I taught myself basic French and Spanish when I had a job where I was too impatient to wait for other people to translate documents for me. At that point, I was only motivated by impatience. But I learned. And yet… for something so much more important to me, somehow I just couldn’t believe I could do it. So of course, I didn’t, for over a decade.
After reading the bicycle story, I made the decision to change my thinking. It took three tries, but I found myself a teacher. Right now I’m just starting – working on really basic stuff: the difference between male and female endings, and singular and plural nouns, mumbling little mnemonic poems to myself as I walk to the Metro.
I will not accept that this language is something that is impossible for me to learn. This is a small thing. And it won’t change the whole world, but if changing my thinking allows me to learn this language, it will absolutely change my little piece of it.
But there is something that I’m not sure is possible, that would be world changing if I could figure out how to do it: I want to end homelessness among women. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, but it keeps creeping into my thinking that it’s probably an unrealistic goal.
“Any goal that is realistic in never, ever going to excite you… Your unrealistic goals can be as big as you want, as long as they are equally inspiring. The bigger the goal, the bigger the inspiration – the greater the life… Could President Kennedy have inspired the world with anything less than the moon? Kennedy himself admitted that they did not have the technology to pull it off…” [page 103-104]
“A magnificent goal gives you a great journey.” [page 105 ]
A great journey of a life. Personally I think that would be the best thing ever. Never bored. Always fired up. And if you happen to do something magnificent in the end, especially for other people, that would just be the cherry on top.
I think ending homelessness for other women is a big, inspiring goal. I don’t know how… yet. To WIN you don’t have to know that:
“Great goals don’t come with instructions: they only come with one thing – the next step…. The only step you ever need is just the next one. Every great and fantastic goal is equally obscure.” [page 175-176]
At this moment, I am still not clear on what the next step is. I don’t know how to make sure that every woman has her own little place, with her own little door that she can close, so that she can feel safe.
I’m a writer. By which I mean I write stories about what is going on around me. Not so long ago, and likely still in some places, being able to even write your name was kind of magical. It was something very few people could do. Writing my stories isn’t easy, but writing my name is.
The trick to doing anything, to finding the next step, R. Baars says, is to find the easy.
“We all win at goals we think are easy, and inevitably fail at ones we think only a superhuman can achieve. It’s not the goal that is stopping us, it’s how we think about that goal. As [the man who broke the 4 minute mile] Roger Bannister said ‘It wasn’t a physical boundary. It was a mental one…’
Bannister just learned how to think about the goal in a way that made him believe it was possible… It’s not talent, or stamina, or strength, or even perseverance. It is far simpler and much more available. He simply realized it was possible.” [page 166]
“He simply realized it was possible.” At least for me, that’s not so simple.
Well, with the Hebrew, maybe a little. The next step I’ve been working on this week seems pretty easy. Ending homelessness, even just in my own city, not so much. I’m not feeling the easy, or the simplicity of what I want to accomplish with that. I don’t see the next step… yet.
But I have faith in the most wonderful Rabbi in the world. I’m hoping the third time through WIN. will shake lose some ideas; will help me find the easy.
And there is sooo much more in the pages of this book. So much more knowledge. So much more humor. So much more inspiration. I feel almost as though I’m misleading you by only sharing these few little gleaming nuggets. Believe me, the only way to get it all is to read it all.
If you’ve got a big dream that you’ve lost track of, or that you don’t quite believe in anymore, or if you haven’t found your big dream yet, read this book. Three times. I think you’ll find your dream, or find it again. I think you’ll WIN.
Feature Photo by Jorge Martínez on Unsplash