During this High Holiday season, we once again face the task of evaluating ourselves, our lives, and our relationship with God. The process can feel overwhelming. After all, when we think back on the previous year, how many of us can say that we have made great strides? When I look at my own list from year to year, the areas that need changing are often pretty much the same.
This year, however, I had a revelation. In my professional life, I work as a grant writer. Whereas it was once enough in the world of fundraising for a non-profit organization to have good intentions and anecdotal evidence of success, nowadays funders demand clear plans and empirical proof of success. That's where I come in. I help non-profit organizations articulate plans for creating achieving and assessing change.
I began to wonder: Why couldn't this method of moving a group of do-gooders who could not prove success, to a group of change agents that show measurable outcomes, be used for individuals trying to become more effective?
Before beginning the process of change, we must first identify what needs to be changed. In the language of the proposal, we call this the Problem Statement. It is important to understand what the challenge is that we are trying to overcome because otherwise we'll never figure out how to overcome it.
For example, let's say that we want to work on building a stronger relationship with God through prayer. I'm not talking about looking for the Freudian root of our problems such as "I don't pray because intrinsically I am a person who struggles with limits due to X event in my life." Rather, we need to focus on the problems, that may be overcome such as, "I don't pray regularly because I don't feel connected to the prayers, never learned how to pray properly, and have so many other things vying for my time that prayer somehow gets pushed aside."
Once we have defined the problem, we can look at creating a Goal. I once heard a goal defined as a big, fat, hairy ambition. It is our pie-in-the-sky place that we someday want to reach. Not today, but "someday." Our goal is the destination.
For personal goals, one should also articulate how this particular goal helps the Jewish people as a whole. In our prayer example, the goal might be, "I want to become a more spiritual person who has a closer relationship with God. Ultimately this will infuse all my actions with more meaning, thereby helping the Jewish people be a light unto the nations."
For many of us, the first two parts are the easiest. We are usually aware of the areas where we fall short and the sort of person we wish to become. Yet the next step -- measurable goals -- begins our process of actually turning these failures into successes. Here is where we make a plan of action for leading us one step closer to our Goal. We understand that the goal itself is unachievable today, but by taking small steps, we get on a path toward the goal.
An effective goal has three main characteristics:
1. Measurable -- When we are finished, we must be able to measure whether or not we have achieved our objectives. "I will feel more spiritual" or "I will daven with more concentration" are not measurable objectives. It is here that we can refer back to our problem statement. If we don't feel connected to the prayers, perhaps we are willing to commit to learning one page each day from a book about prayer. Perhaps we are willing to go to a place that is spiritually invigorating, once a month, in an effort to connect more to prayer. It could be a religiously meaningful spot, or somewhere in nature.
2. Achievable -- When thinking about the goal, make sure it is actually achievable. Don't start out with: "I will pray at the Western Wall three times a day for a month." It is measurable and evaluatable, but for most is probably not achievable. If we haven't achieved that in the past, odds are we will not achieve it in the present. Think realistically.
When I speak with clients, writing a grant for the first time, they usually tell me what they think they can do, because they think that bigger numbers or larger impact sounds more impressive. I always caution them to think realistically about what they can achieve, because at the end of the process they will be asked to prove that they did it.
Overshooting our objectives sets us up for failure. Instead of saying, "I will go to a minyan every morning, on time," we must stop and think about our real life. Maybe we are really tired in the morning and have a hard time getting out of bed. Maybe we work late one night a week and sometimes miss regular prayers the following day. Perhaps we can revise the outcome to read, "I will make it to minyan on time each Sunday morning." Too easy? Then perhaps Sunday and Tuesday. We must be realistic, and careful to neither underestimate nor overestimate our capabilities.
3. Evaluatable -- When our goals are measurable and achievable, then it will be easy to go back and evaluate whether we have achieved them or not. We need to see whether or not we were successful and why.
Let's say for example that you undertake to read a page of a book on prayer each day, and to go to synagogue each Sunday and Tuesday. You might be successful at making it to synagogue for three weeks and then get the flu. You may not have achieved your objective, but you have a reason. Or perhaps we just get bored with the book we are reading. Perhaps we might need to look for a different book to read.
If we know what our ultimate goal is and can keep referring to that goal, then the fact that an objective was not met is merely a wrong turn on the road to success. But, if we forgot to check the map through evaluating where we are, we may miss our destination entirely.
Getting the Grant
Next we need to lay out our program plan and try and anticipate potential obstacles. We must figure out what achieving these objectives will realistically entail. Perhaps we need to purchase an alarm clock and the book we are planning to study. Maybe we want to shower in the evening so we can sleep an extra 15 minutes in the morning. We need to think about what might go wrong. Will our spouse, who in theory supports our goal, be upset if we go to sleep an hour earlier? If so, what can we do to make sure we are providing him/her with the family time needed to support our relationship?
Once you have implemented the plan, keep track along the way of how it is going. Either one month or three months into the process, evaluate your success and reset your objectives based on progress or failure.
Which brings us back to the grant proposal. During the High Holidays, every human being (so to speak) is created anew. We stand before our Creator and say: "This is how I have utilized my resources, and this is my plan for the future." Whether the "Foundation" grants you a budget for the coming year is based on how well you utilized last year's grant -- and how solid your plan is for the coming year. Of course, if you've squandered past resources and are unprepared for the future, your chance of receiving additional grant money is slim.
By following these steps, ultimately, we should be able to chart progress and success in our spiritual journey. Good luck and Shana Tova!