Have a meaningful life

December 8, 2015

As I sit to write this  reflection, I am once again drawn to the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks and his book, The Road to Character, in which he distinguishes between what he calls the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues.Résumé virtues are the ones we write on our CV: our achievements, our qualifications, our skills. But it is the eulogy virtues that are the ones for which we will be remembered – what will be said about us after we are gone. Are we kind, honest, faithful? What are the ideals for which we live, how do we live them and how do we act on them? Although we do not write them on our résumé, the eulogy virtues make all the difference to our quality of life and the impact we have on those around us.

Brooks writes, “We live in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career, but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life.” Maimonides also spoke about wasting time on vain pursuits that neither profit nor save. It is not to say that résumé virtues are unimportant… they are not all-important. The relentless pressure on material success and goods gives us too little time and encouragement to develop the virtues of character that make all the difference in the quality of our relationships, our sense of a meaningful life, and the love we give and receive.

This brings me to Federation – for many, next to family, the impact we make in the world through our philanthropic engagement will perhaps be the most significant legacy we leave. I have interviewed several mega philanthropists, individuals who have contributed millions to charitable causes. When asked why they did it – phrases like “It brought meaning to my life”, “Giving made me happier than making it,” and “I wanted to be remembered for how I helped rather than what I made,” were common answers.

As individuals, it is unlikely that we can end global warming or bring peace to the Middle East. But we can develop the strength of character that will make a difference not only to our own lives, but also to those around us. As I reflect back on the year and look forward to the next, I hope that each of us consider not the material nature of our lives but rather the actions we can take that really are life-enhancing, and help forge each of us together as a stronger community.

As some already know, I will shortly be leaving Atlanta to become the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Broward County. Reflecting back on my more than three years serving as Atlanta’s Chief Development Officer, career success is but one notation. Did the Community Campaign improve? Did we grow the endowment? Are new leaders poised to take the helm?  While I can proudly answer yes, the question of future impact still remains – and fortunately, that is still in the making for me and for each of you.

With best wishes to you and your family for a 2016 filled with peace, prosperity and life-enhancing actions that will propel us forward.

Mike Balaban

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