Last year when I read Sherre Hirsch’s book, “We Plan, God Laughs: Ten Steps to Finding Your Divine Path When Life Is Not Turning Out Like You Wanted,” I knew I wanted to interview her on Beyond Blue because I think I can confidently say that for most you, well, things aren’t going as expected. And Sherre’s humor on this very subject is refreshing. She was Associate Rabbi at Sinai Temple in L.A. for eight years and is currently on the nationwide faculty of Canyon Ranch.
Question: What is your biggest “disappointment,” or rather “surprise,” and how did you cope and move forward?
Sherre: Four months after “We Plan, God Laughs” was published, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. I had dedicated the book to her for her amazing courage and strength and I was not prepared to see her fight for her life once again. Over the next few months, I revisited a lot of the same questions that I posed in the book. She is still fighting and there are many times I have to remind myself that God is on our side, even when it does not feel like it, because with God I am stronger than alone. The paperback edition came out on June 16, the same day my mother turned 65 – it inspired me to focus on our blessings and what I can give back, so I’m donating a percentage of all book sales to The Art of the Brain.
Question: Could you provide an abbreviated version of the ten steps you offer to devise a plan that reflects, as you say, who we are now and who we want to be?
Sherre: We all have dreams of what life “should” be like–what we were supposed to do, where we were going to be at a certain age. Maybe it was a Cinderella plan: you’d marry the prince, move into a castle, and live happily ever after. Or, maybe you were going to be the head of your own company by 35, retired by 40, and living it up on an island in the Caribbean. How do you get from this life to the one you really want?
1. First, Look Back
We all get stuck in our lives. The lucky ones, once; the rest of us, quite often. In order to live the life you dream, you need to figure out what got you stuck in the first place. What is it you need to move forward from? When was it you first thought, “My life was supposed to be different?” You need to look back in order to move forward.
2. End the Excuses
If you want to move forward, you’ve also got to end the excuses. No more “I shoulds,” “If onlys,” or “Well, everyone expects me to…” Excuses are a language to mask our fears. It’s time to turn those fears into faith. Figure out what it is that YOU really want. Promise yourself that, today, there will be no excuses.
3. Understand the “Now”
To discover the life you want, you need to be living in the present. When couples get married I remind them to be present–put resentments, anger, blame behind them for a moment, take a deep breath, and just be here now. To move ahead, we have to fully understand our current state. Count to three and realize that this moment is sacred.
4. Celebrate Your Divine Gifts
It’s so important to realize that you are a person endowed with many gifts. Recognize these tremendous qualities and celebrate them. In the Torah, God describes himself as having 13 divine attributes. You have at least that many too! Celebrate those attributes by identifying 13–yes, 13–amazing qualities that make you, you. You have to appreciate your gifts before you can use them to discover the life you want.
5. Personalize Your Creator
So who is this creator anyhow? Your creator is your partner, your mother, your best self, and your best friend. Your creator is always by your side, through the good and the bad. Use your own language to talk to this creator–talk, laugh, cry, scream, sing. You’ll discover that you are never alone on this journey, and knowing this is vital in getting wherever you want to go.
6. Your “Spark” Matters
Each one of us has a special spark. Your goal is to turn this spark into a flame and give your own light to the world. You might think of the moments that have brought you peace and meaning–what thread ran through them? You might ask a friend or look to the people who inspire you. Above all, remember, your spark matters and is helping to light our world. It can just as easily light your way in discovering the path you desire.
7. Move Forward and Up
I hate the term “settle down.” Why settle? Why go down? It’s time to realize that the true mark of living the life you dream is to “engage up.” It is to take a chance and break the routine. Even a small step is a huge leap of courage. You are a courageous person! You are!
8. Enjoy the Ride
It is easy to judge your path when the results are obvious. Are you happy? Are you successful? But when you are on the path to living the life you want, what really matters is not the immediate outcome, but the meaning that it brings to your life. You know there is meaning when the process starts to matter more than the end results. It’s then that you exude the divine beauty that shines from within.
9. Keep Asking Questions
Living a life of meaning means that you have to keep living–keep “engaging up,” keep sparkling. You can only do this if you keep questioning. Doubts and questions are what make your path in life so dynamic. If you are afraid to ask and reassess, what feels fresh today may feel stale tomorrow.
10. Repairing Yourself Can Change the World
So, why should you try to live the life you dream when it is easier just to live the life you already have? Because you matter and your life will be an inspiration to those around you–your children, your friends, their children, and their grandchildren.
In Judaism, we have the task of tikkun olam, repairing the world. However, the first step in repairing the world is to repair yourself. It’s true for every one of us, regardless of time, place and situation–once you begin, you too will change the world and discover the life you want.