RACHEL ALWAYS seems to be dating someone. Or she isn’t, but then she’s happy being single. She seems to meet really great guys, and even if a relationship doesn’t work out, they often remain friends. You, on the other hand, can’t seem to find a guy to date when you want to, and when you do meet someone, he’s not what you had hoped for.
Avi always seems to have a great job.
Sure, he got laid off once, but he bounced right back and found a new one. It appears that whenever he gets laid off or just decides to look for something else, the new job is even better. You, on the other hand, send out résumé after résumé, with little to show for it.
Sarah’s kids seem to get every opportunity.
They’re no brighter or talented than yours, but things seem to go their way.
They get more attention in ballet or soccer.
Friends follow them home. Even teachers seem to favor them.
Luck cuts both ways There is no denying that nature has something to do with it.
Some people are more attractive, extroverted, athletic, connected or easygoing.
For those people, success may come more naturally. But, there is also no denying that there are ways to make your luck.
The Talmud in Tractate Shabbat, page 156A, teaches us “there is no mazal for Israel.” Mazal is often translated as luck, and this phrase is often quoted, ironically to explain one’s misfortune as in – of course things went wrong, because Jews have no luck. However, that isn’t what the Talmud intended to say.
Literally, mazal in this context refers to stars as they are grouped and interpreted by astrologists. In the ancient world, astrology was considered to be a serious science, and people believed their fate was determined by the stars. Today, many of us reject astrology as an interesting artifact, yet we’re still haunted by the idea of fate.
The Talmud continues to tell us how we know that there is no mazal for Israel. When at the beginning of Genesis Chapter 15, God promises Abraham that his reward will be very great, and Abraham questions Him, “Since you have granted me no offspring, my steward will be my heir!” God then tells Abraham not to be concerned, for his own offspring will inherit him. God took Abraham outside and told him to look toward the heavens and count the stars, etc. Our Sages learn from these verses, as a midrash, that Abraham said to God, “I have looked at my constellation and find that I am not fated to have a son.” To which God answers, “Go outside, leave your faith in astrology, for Israel is free from astrological influence.”
In short, Abraham thinks that his fate or “luck” is to have no children; it is his bad luck, and there is nothing to be done. God tells him that things will soon change, for Israel is not guided by constellations – or a fixed sense of fate.
The Torah teaches repeatedly that what happens to us is connected to our actions.
Moses sums it up in Deuteronomy 30:19, “I have put before you, life and death, blessing and curse – choose life.”
Moses is referring, of course, to choosing the way of life that God has prescribed in the Torah. Nonetheless, once we accept the principle that we have the ability to shape our own life, and that we are not controlled by random fate, the idea that we can make our own luck – and better our odds – is empowering.
Now, there is no tried and true way to make your luck. Yet, you’d be surprised at just how much power you have in making lady luck work for you and your family.
Here are a few examples to think about.
Time: Start with valuing time in a different way. Use your time to connect with others; often opportunities come up. You get an invitation to a networking event. There’s an email about helping with a school project. A friend of yours needs attention and you go.
Since you’re busy, you may say to yourself; “Not today. It isn’t what I want to be doing right now.”
Opportunities are like windows in time.
You can choose to ignore them. But, they don’t come back. Or, you can choose to jump into them, and you never know what you may find. An event that you turn down now is an event that will never – ever – happen again. Remember that girl you never asked out? There may be a similar opportunity in the future but it is not the same opportunity – and you are not the same person.
Years ago, a friend invited me on a fiveday hike to a remote mountain range in Turkey (at least remote to me). While I wasn’t in terrible shape, it scared me. Yet, it was an opportunity that wasn’t circling back; so, I said yes and prepared. The experience exposed me to a special place in the world and to the simple grandeur of a real trek.
Later, I wrote about the experience; one of my early trials at magazine writing.
Of course, you can’t go through every window of opportunity, like you can’t dance at every wedding – and, yes, the hiking in Turkey could have been a bust. We are not talking about impetuousness here, rather openness informed by balance. Ask good questions. Get curious about something you see. Step up and try something novel.
So, you are not an extrovert? Actually it can work in your favor. Sometimes the extrovert is so concerned with being seen, that he or she moves on, when the introvert takes the time to ask the question, or hear an answer that opens a door.
The science of optimism: Rachel tries to be friendly to people. It is the way she wants to be treated. She enjoys her boyfriend, Jonathan, but still connects to people.
Is she a flirt? Not really; she talks with men – and women – as people, because she enjoys the connection. Jonathan is her man, but she’s in the world. When he gets a new job in London, Rachel is upset, but balanced.
It hurts. It’s disorienting, but Rachel understands what’s good for her. She takes an open stance – rather than instinctually holding on – or rejecting the relationship.
They talk, and opt to date others. There is sadness…and loss. Yet, not every relationship has to work. Rachel understands this and moves on.
One door closing does not mean that another won’t open.
Avi goes to yet another reunion, when he would rather hang out at home. He meets George, a guy who admired him in high school, who is now in the same business.
Avi brings optimism and curiosity to the moment. He’s happy to connect with George – and George is thrilled to talk to Avi. It opens another window in time.
As it turns out, George has a connection that turns out to open more doors.
Sarah enjoys being a mother and her children benefit from it. Some are jealous of her. Others attribute her kid’s happiness and success in school to the fact that Sarah is gifted with natural calm. Actually, the kids are not so easy. And, Sarah is far from happy every day. Yet, Sarah is committed even when feeling shy or blue. It’s a habit.
In grade school Sarah showed up to help the teachers. In middle school she schlepped her nine-year-old son, Jason, to chess matches after showing a smidgen of talent. Sarah also went to lectures on child development and such. People who could help Jason stepped up; they naturally did so with a smile on their face. Sarah made that kind of impression.
Rachel, Avi and Sarah have something in common. They engage opportunities with optimism and goodwill.
As Tali Sharot in “The Science of Optimism” tells us, “Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travel. That is, the ability to move back and forth through time and space in one’s mind. To think positively about our prospects…” That’s exactly it – by being optimistic, by envisioning positive thoughts and nursing good feelings we can give ourselves a gift.
Optimistic thinking can bring about surprisingly optimistic realities, by infusing the experience of the present with possibility and eliciting goodwill that sits dormant in many of us.
According to Gary Player, the Hall of Fame golfer, “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.”
There is no simple formula for making one’s luck. Yet, goodwill, derech eretz [respect or courtesy] that makes others feel appreciated, optimism that one never knows what today or tomorrow may bring, and an awareness of possibility – can all nurture moments that count.
Despite generations of trauma, we Jews continue to believe in the good that lies ahead, and behave accordingly. We yearn for the Messiah, or simply hope for the promise of Passover – or redemption. We are a people who understand the preciousness of life’s moments, the power of imagination, the opportunities for good, and like Gary Player – we have benefitted from our practices enormously.
Make your own luck. It may not be in the stars.
It may be right in front of you!
Mark Banschick MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with a practice in Katonah, New York. He is the author of ‘The Intelligent Divorce’ book series, offers a free video course on divorce, and is a co-founder of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), a StandWithUs non-profit initiative that mobilizes alumni to improve campus life for the pro-Israel community