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Although I’ve published many articles covering the topics of success and joy, I’d never written one about success and joy combined. We don’t often think of the two as being connected. We equate success with ruthlessness and hard work – and joy with happiness or a special experience in the moment. But what if we could achieve both together? What would it take?

I was asked three questions recently:


Did you have a good day or a bad day today?

A bad day.

Why did you have a bad day?

My children were tired, cranky, and acting out, and I had tons of pregnancy nausea.

Do you want to have a good day or a bad day tomorrow?

Clearly, a good day.

The third question is the easiest of all. Of course we all want to have a good day tomorrow. Yet that is determined by how we answer the first two questions.

Notice that all my answers relied on external circumstances. If we blame our feelings of unhappiness and challenges on external forces, we thwart our ability to achieve true happiness and true success.

I recently attended a class delivered by Dr. Ariella Agatstein. She described a fascinating study by the University of Pennsylvania which examined the top neurosurgeons at their hospital to determine what made them successful. The goal was to discover a pattern to emulate and teach their students. It turns out the top neurosurgeons reviewed each case post-surgery, asking themselves, “Where did I go wrong?” “What could I have done better?”

Surgeons with poor surgical outcomes were found to point to outward excuses. Upon reviewing their surgeries (if forced to), they would blame their staff, bad lighting, etc. They never took responsibility for what they could have improved upon.

The study determined that when we blame others, success is impeded. Although seemingly unrelated, blame has everything to do with success and, ultimately, joy.

My father-in-law, Dr. H. Leon Pachter, is a highly skilled surgeon who gives a weekly lecture to all surgeons throughout his hospital. Each week he leads the entire department in reviewing select surgical cases, and evaluates where they can strive to improve. The surgeons all point inward, not outward. No blaming is allowed. It is no coincidence that the hospital features a top-ranking surgical department, one of the best in the country.

In a recent speech to NYU’s graduating class of 2017, he gave the following message:

What is preventing me from getting “there”? The only one preventing you from getting there is yourself. Realistically, there is no surgeon worth his or her salt that does not have complications or experience failure, which at times can be depressing, or more seriously, catastrophic. However, there can be no effort without shortcomings, as we are human, and do not have the luxury of divine infallibility.

The key, however, is to look yourself in the mirror and be honest, be transparent, accept responsibility and ownership of what’s gone wrong.

Blaming others is suicidal. Blaming yourself is difficult – it means living with criticism. It implies that because we are accountable for what has occurred, we also have the ability to chart a different course in the future.

On a personal level, when we address our shortcomings, when we turn inward to change ourselves, we empower ourselves to grow in all areas of our lives.

In the book EntreLeadership, bestselling author and radio host Dave Ramsey says the reason we are in debt as a nation is not because of the economy, hospital bills, or the need for new appliances but because of the poor choices we’ve made. In other words, our life looks the way it does because of ourselves, no one else.

In Ramsey’s younger years he made a tremendous amount of money, only to eventually lose everything and go bankrupt. For so long he blamed the economy, inflation, the cost of everyday goods, the recession, etc. But when he finally realized that he was the cause of his debt – his poor choices, his lack of planning and saving – everything changed. Only after his epiphany was he able to turn himself around, achieving financial success that far surpassed his earlier gains while maintaining financial solvency. This made him much friendlier to be around and allowed a lot more joy into his life. It inspired him to help others and create an entirely new business.

Rebbetzin Shifra Revah gave a class explaining that Hashem hints at this concept of taking responsibility in the scene in Gan Eden with the word “ayekah.”

Adam and Eve eat from the tree – a grave sin. And then Hashem asked Adam, “Ayekah?” – “Where are you, Adam?” At first glance the question seems rather strange. Hashem sees exactly where they are. It is true that Adam and Eve were trying to “hide” themselves from shame, but the explanation of this powerful word goes deeper.

Ayekah is related to the word eichah, which means how. On Tisha B’Av, when we mourn the loss and destruction of the First and Second Temple, among other disasters in Jewish history, we ask: How did this happen? How did we get into this mess? How did such massive destruction take place?

We often ask ourselves the same question when facing personal adversity. How did it come to be that I am in financial crisis? How did I become so dissatisfied with life? How?

The answer to eichah is ayekah. Where are you?

We must ask ourselves, Where am I? And we must learn to say hineni – here I amas Moshe and Avraham did. I am responsible. Here I am, and once and for all I am going to stand up and take responsibility for my actions. I will stop the blame game and look inward to make real changes.

How long will we continue to rationalize and even lie to ourselves, saying “I have an anger problem because of my parents” or “I am depressed because my boss treats me like garbage,” or “I can’t make more money because there is no upward mobility at my firm”? Enough excuses! Stand up. Hineni. Here I am, and I am ready to change myself to create the outcome I deeply desire.

After the bad day with my children, I decided to take responsibility for the level of joy in my life and was determined to enjoy my day, whether my children decided to act out or not. To my surprise, the shift in my attitude seemed to rub off on the attitude of my children. We had a joyous day. When I put my head on my pillow that night, I thought, “Now that was a day filled with joy – and it was successful.”

Adam was punished not because of his mistake but because he blamed others for his sin. The key to success in any area of life is in ayekah. Pointing the finger at ourselves is incredibly frightening, but if we are honest, it becomes liberating. Because if I am the problem, I can also be the solution. If I am responsible, I also have the power to repair.


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Sarah Pachter is a motivational speaker, kallah teacher, dating coach, mentor, and the author of "Small Choices Big Changes" (published by Targum Press). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and five children.