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Goal Setting Joseph’s Way

Goal Setting Joseph’s Way

A 12-Step Biblical Program


Recently, many books have been written on the subject of "Goal Setting." These books explain how you can become a high achiever and succeed in today's world. They use examples of sports players who have won gold medals, politicians who reached positions of power, and people who have become financially successful. They suggest that we use these "success stories" as role models, and urge the reader: Do what they did and you get the same results they got. If it worked for them, it will work for you!

The Rebbe teaches us that if you want to know whether something is good for us, examine what the Torah has to say about it. If it is good, the Torah will promote it, and if it is not, the Torah will instruct us not to do it. The Torah is called torat chaim, an instruction of life, so that following the ways of the Torah guarantees a meaningful, fulfilling and successful life in this world.

These weeks we've been reading the in Torah the story of Joseph and his dramatic transformations from favorite son to slave to prisoner to effective ruler of the ancient world's most powerful empire. Let's see if we can get some free Goal Setting advice from the Torah, without having to spend millions of dollars on research, or even $25 on a hardcover self-help book...

Rule #1: Desire it

According to Chassidic teaching, desire is one of the highest powers of the soul, as without desire nothing would ever be achieved. No person who attains the state of a happy marriage, financial security or spiritual fulfillment does so by accident. I have never heard a principal of a school or a business executive say, "I can't understand how it all happened! I just woke up one morning and I find myself here as principal or CEO…"

Joseph had a vision. He wanted to be in a position where he could make a difference to the world. He wanted this so strongly and thought about it so much that he even had dreams about it. It is for this reason that his brothers were so angry with him. They understood that what he spoke of was not merely a dream; it was a clear and strong desire, and they interpreted it to mean that he wanted to rule over them.

Rule #2: Be a dreamer

All significant reality begins with a dream. The great achievers throughout time started their life's journey with a dream. The definition of a dream is a vision that sounds and looks impossible when you measure it against your current stage in life and your past life's experiences. The example of Joseph, dreaming as a seventeen-year-old Hebrew shepherd that one day he would be a king, illustrates the powerful possibilities that could be unleashed by a dream.

What you need to decide is that the past does not equal the future and that you are prepared to take on and accomplish something that you have never done before!

When you were a baby, you did not decide that judging by your past experiences, there was no way you would ever be able to walk. If you were to have adopted this approach, you would not be on your feet today. What did you do? You decided simply that you would go ahead and try. True, in the process you fell a number of times, but nevertheless you continued trying until the impossible happened, and your dream became a reality. The same method that worked then can be applied to anything else you are prepared to dream about.

Rule # 3: Be careful who you share your goal with.

In life, there are always some people around you (and you'd better find out who they are quickly if you don't yet know) who feel that the pie called "life" is not big enough for everyone, and that if you are going to have a part of it, they will be losing out. Don't share your dreams, goals and aspirations with them. They will try to undermine you.

Joseph caused his brothers' increased hatred against him by sharing his dreams with them. Perhaps they felt that if and when Joseph reached his goals, it would be at their expense. They would have to compromise their freedom. On the other hand, his father, Jacob, was awaiting the fulfillment of Joseph's dreams. Jacob nonetheless reprimanded Joseph for sharing his dreams with his brothers. He knew the value of this lesson from his personal experience with his brother Esau, and from the story about the first set of brothers in the Torah, Cain and Abel. Jealousy, even amongst brothers, can lead to appalling destruction, as in the extreme example of the primal sin of fratricide, the murder of Abel by Cain.

Indeed, in the Torah, this first murder on earth was committed when there were only few people alive in the world. At that time, there was more than enough of everything for everybody. Yet, Cain still felt threatened by G‑d's recognition of Abel. He was convinced that this acknowledgement was taking something away from him… and it was that fear which led him to kill his own brother.

Rule #4: Picture your dream accomplished

Visualize that you have already achieved your goal. You must believe in advance that you will reach your goal no matter what, because as long as you believe that success is assured, you will be sure to make the maximum effort towards achieving your goal.

Joseph kept on repeating his dreams in great detail. In his mind, they were already a reality that existed firmly in the mental world; all that was left for him to do was to bring them into the physical plane. The Rebbe said that as a very young child he already had a clear vision in his mind of Moshiach; of how the rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem would look, of how the koanim would serve G‑d in the Temple all the Jews would be together in Jerusalem. To the Rebbe, Moshiach wasn't just a dream that would perchance happen one day. It was a reality that was simply awaiting its final appearance in the physical world. And as the Rebbe would repeatedly tell us, we need to begin seeing and feeling the state of redemption now, even while still in exile. We have to change our way of thinking and start thinking about Moshiach as a reality, because only by living with this reality will we give ourselves over completely to the task of actualizing it in this physical world.

Rule #5: Have a Plan

"Failing to plan is planning to fail," a wise man said. In order to succeed, you need a clear road map that will guide you on the best possible route to follow in achieving your goal.

Joseph appeared before Pharaoh for one reason: to interpret his dreams. He did this job very well. However, he did not stop there. He knew that in order to prevent Pharaoh's dreams from fading away and to ensure that they became reality, a proper and detailed plan of action was required.

Thus, without being asked, when Joseph had finished interpreting the dream, he did not stop there, but continued to advise Pharaoh in great detail as to what measures were necessary for to achieve the goal of saving the entire region. He offered Pharaoh a plan to consider as to how to deal with the seven years of hunger which would follow upcoming seven years of abundance. Joseph suggested a detailed plan with precise methods on how to save during the good years in order to lessen the burden of the hunger years. He also suggested a management plan that would be necessary for the plan to succeed.

Joseph knew that failing to have a plan would mean that this dream would fade as many dreams do.

Rule #6: Work your plan

The Talmud tells us: "Who is a wise man? One who sees the outcome of his actions before he takes action." In other words a smart person has a vision and a plan of action. He or she assesses the consequences of his/her actions well in advance before ever engaging in action. The smart person draws up a precise plan of the actions necessary to achieve goals, and then he gets down to work.

In other words, plan your work and then work your plan.

Pharaoh was more impressed with Joseph's precise plan than with his interpretation of the dreams. He therefore decided right there and then to appoint Joseph as second to the king with instructions to all his people that they must obey Joseph's commands. Joseph was thus give the power and the duty to actually implement the plan of action he had proposed.

Rule #7: Help others achieve their goals and they will help you achieve yours.

All Joseph had been asked by Pharaoh was to interpret his dreams. His interpretation was that there would be seven years of abundance of food, followed immediately by seven years of famine. He had not been asked to provide a solution as to how to deal with the seven years of famine. It was indeed only when Joseph helped Pharaoh achieve his goal of dealing with the famine, that Pharaoh reciprocated by helping Joseph fulfill his goal of becoming a king and ruler; precisely as Joseph had dreamed 13 years earlier.

Rule #8: Do not abandon your goal when the going gets tough.

When an airplane takes off, let's say from Sydney to Los Angles, the pilots are given a flight plan which, at the time of take off, appears to be the best and the quickest way to get to Los Angeles. However, at the same time, experienced pilots know that in the course of their flight they are likely to encounter some unexpected turbulence. When they encounter the turbulence, the pilot does not grab the loudspeaker and announce: "Ladies and Gentleman, we are sorry, the plan is not working. We are quitting the trip to Los Angeles and returning to Sydney."

The pilot is determined and certain that he will land this plane in Los Angeles. Radically abandoning his course is not an option, neither is continuing with the original plan. The sole option is to make sensible, intelligent adjustments to the original plan. These might include trying different altitudes by means of ascent or descent, or maybe opting to make a detour and land at a different airport until the storm has passed.

But the most important factor is the determination to continue through rain, hail or shine. The essential point is "the show must go on."

When Joseph was put in the pit by his brothers, his goal of being a king was seemed a cruel illusion; when he was sold as a slave and later imprisoned, he could have despaired. Many, in such circumstances, I would have said, "Forget it. I give up. I'm not cut out for success. Being successful is only for an elite group. I'll just stop dreaming. At least then I won't be disappointed."

None of these thoughts appears to have been in Joseph's mind. As soon as became a slave, he gave that position his best shot. Within a short time he was recognized by his master as a man of determination and commitment. Soon he had promoted Joseph to take charge of his entire household. Thus, in contemporary language, in a short time he had climbed the corporate ladder and become the general manager. It is the kind of job you don't usually get in a short time unless your father is the president of the company!

The lesson: Never allow yourself to feel a victim. Do not abandon your goals just because you plans did not initially work out the way you wanted them to.

Rule #9: Stick to your morals and beliefs at all costs

We all face, at times, situations where our belief system seems to collide with our goals. Then the question we have to ask ourselves loud and clear is: which one is more important to me? For example, if my friend and I are going for the same job, and only one of us will get it, would I say something bad about my friend which will enable me to reach my goal? Would I tell a small lie in my business transaction so that I can win that deal which will help me achieve my financial goal? Would I skip my daily study session today because I am too busy organizing an event?

The good news is that thousands of years before our time, people have been there and faced these decisions. The Torah tells us their stories so we can learn from previous experiences. Joseph was put to the ultimate test with Potifar's wife. "All your goals will be scattered," she threatened him, "if you don't do what I want". She put enormous pressure on Joseph so that he should break his G‑dly principles, offering him a better life and the fulfillment of his goals. This tempting conversation did not occur once only, but took place on an ongoing basis day after day. But Joseph stuck firmly to his morals and beliefs, even though he risked losing is life's ambition.

Rule #10: Have a positive role model

The Talmud tells us that, at one point, Joseph weakened and nearly succumbed to temptation and do the wrong thing. But two things happened that made Joseph refuse the temptation. One is that he said to her, "If I do this, I will be sinning against G‑d, and although nobody may ever find out, and it may bring me closer to my goals, my spiritual principles are everlasting, and totally override any other goal. The goal of staying true to my G‑d has a veto power over everything else.

Another source of strength was that, as our sages tell us, Joseph "saw the visage of his father." He saw his father's image and he heard his voice: "If you go ahead and do this you are cutting your self away from me, and your name will be removed from the list of the Children of Israel."

In the short term Joseph's decision to refuse doing the wrong thing got him in to trouble. He was jailed for twelve years — a high price to pay for staying true to your principles. But ultimately, only because he refused to compromise his principles he ended up in jail, did he eventually come to fulfill his ultimate goal of being ruler. This would not have been achieved had he placed his goals ahead of his Godly and spiritual values. And what had empowered him to stick to his principle was his bond with his father.

Rule #11: When encounter difficulties and setbacks, react by seeing what you can learn and benefit from them

Being imprisoned in an Egyptian jail is no holiday. Joseph had every right to feel a victim and give up. He could have adopted the attitude that, "life is not fair." He could have said to himself: "I am destined to suffer. My goals will never be attained. All the evidence before me shows that not only am I not getting closer to my goals, rather, I am going in the opposite direction—from being a slave, I have now become a prisoner. And why? Because I refused to do the wrong thing!'

Instead, Joseph told himself: "If Divine Providence had brought him to this place it must be for a reason. There must be a mission for me to accomplish here, and this would eventually take me to my goal."

Joseph threw himself into the task of seeing what he could do to improve the lives of other prisoners. He stopped focusing on what he himself needed and started focusing on what he was needed for. Soon he was recognized by the warden of the prison as someone different from the average prisoner; clearly this man wanted to make a difference wherever he was, and by whatever means he could. And so the warden appointed him to the task looking after the prisoners' needs. In the end, this resulted on Joseph's freedom and the fulfillment of his goals and aspirations.

Rule #12: Be fully focused on the job at hand

Joseph decided to put his personal needs aside, and applied himself completely to the task that was entrusted to him. He did this job as he had done every other job before, with total dedication, giving it his fullest attention.

One morning Joseph walked in to the cell of two famous prisoners, the royal baker and the royal butler, and noticed that they were not themselves. Something was bothering them. Now, not looking well in an Egyptian prison is not an unusual thing — only a person with a heightened sensitivity for the feelings of others would be aware that there was something more than the usual misery of being in jail bothering these two prisoners. You have to be totally without regard for your own misery and totally in tune with the other person's situation to notice that something is amiss.

Joseph said the following words which eventually changed the lives of the butler and the baker as well as his own life and indeed the life of the all the world. Those words were, "Why do you have a sad face today?" To which they responded by relating their dreams, and Joseph explained the dreams to them. As a result, Joseph later recommended to Pharaoh as an interpreter of dreams. It was this that eventually led to his becoming second to the king of Egypt.

All of this was only possible because he was fully focused on the task at hand. He was fully focused on the now, and not on the past or even the future.

When we review these twelve steps, we realize how each one of was a part of a long chain of events, and each part was and essential one as it led to the next. You could not skip any of these steps. Joseph had a difficult journey, but throughout it all her persevered, always remaining focused on the job, never stopping when there were obstacles. He kept the vision and the dream alive, always in the forefront of his mind. And when the going got tough, he asked for help and inspiration from G‑d and from his father. And while he waited, he continued to be fully dedicated and focused on the mission ahead.

You and I are not like Joseph, and we may not have his strength of character, but neither are we likely to end up in an Egyptian jail. The Rebbe often quotes the Talmud which says, According to the camel is the load and G‑d does not give a person a test which he cannot overcome. We are all in possession of the power and the tools necessary to fulfill our dreams, although at times those gifts and opportunities may come wrapped up in problems. But, once we unwrap them we will find the gifts, and fulfill the mission for which G‑d send our souls to this world.

Rabbi Yaakov Lieder has served as a teacher and principal, and in a variety of other educational positions, for more than 30 years in Israel, the U.S., and Sydney, Australia. He is the founder and director of the Support Centre to aid families struggling with relationship and child-rearing issues. Click here for more articles by Rabbi Lieder.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
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Jonathan Gaiya Nigeria January 11, 2016

These steps have unlocked newer secrets for advancement in my life. Thanks Sir. Reply

Delicia Darson Singapore September 20, 2014

Thank you Thank you Rabbi Yaakov.So much useful insights and wisdom.I enjoyed it and would want to apply it in my daily life

Delicia Reply

Gladys Ngwenya Johannesburg August 13, 2014

wow, all the steps make sense and are easy to follow, I wish many people would read this message. Thanks Rabbi Yaakov.


Jide Ologun June 17, 2014

Created in God's image, we all have seed of greatness.
What we do with the seed is up to us.
God already promised that His grace is sufficient towards us, but often His children allow circumstances to overwhelm grace, this is a matter of choice, it never makes grace less effective. Grace is buoyant and as long as we are inspired by the Spirit of God as we encounter situations in the course of life, we will pass through and not be stuck just like an inflated football that can not be submerged in water.
When we let go of inspiration, we are subdued. Through it all Joseph remained inspired and rose from dream to fame glorifying God with the spirit of service that ensures we never end in negative. with God, it always ends well. Never give up your seed, sow it, water it, tend it, nourish it, harvest the fruits and share by sowing in others. You are blessed. Remain blessed! Reply

Moshe FL December 19, 2013

Woah O_O Well such an inspirational article. As a young lad in High school I fell in love with music, and had join band, etc. After years of graduating and going through the many emotional pain that HS, and life. I thought to myself "You know perhaps I may have a disability that damages my muscle, but perhaps if I try, and devote myself I will be able to sing, and reach out to others just like Matisyahu, and Nosson Zand has reached to me". I may not have the greatest voice, but at the end of the day I thought to myself "I'm not the one that gives me the energy to move, and breathe". So perhaps with dedication to Torah study, goods deeds, and vocal classes. I will be able to bring positivity to the world with my mouth. :D thanks. Reply

Marvin Falz Germany December 1, 2013

Thank you for this helpful article!
I too think that one should be cautious and only tell one's dreams to the right, the supportive people. Makes things easier. I've interpreted the story that unfolds because Joseph told his dreams to his wicked brothers as a sign that Divine Providence always brings one to one's divinely ordained goal. Who knows what would have happenend if Joseph hadn't told his dreams to his brothers. If being second ruler of Egypt would've been what G-d intended him to be he would've gotten to Egypt and to Pharaoh in any way. I'm reminded of seemingly frail plants which have the power to break through the thick asphalt of streets. Reply

Malka Montreal, Canada via December 18, 2012

Kol Hakavod This article is inspiring and elegantly written. Thank you. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous kent, Wa. October 10, 2010

Goal setting Joseph's way This is such an encouragement to me because I've been wanting to start my business but I don't really know how. I would sit for hours and just daydream about it because there's so many obstacles to overcome to get to that goal. Thank you for the great examples from the Torah.
Thank you and blessings to you! Reply

Anonymous July 1, 2010

This is really beauitfully written and a great guide!
Thank you! Reply

Yaron Los Angeles, Ca via January 3, 2010

Torah is TRUTH I have read MANY of the self help books you describe; in a very short and easy to understand essay you have summarized all of them; To see such an easy and understandable set of rules from the torah is so powerful and inspiring. Thank you very much for sharing. Reply

P.Kandaswamy Coimbatore, India September 3, 2009

Life's Goal Very Good Reply

Avigail Denver, CO January 5, 2009

I think that one other rule should be added. "Don't take G-d out of the picture". If we don't have G-d in mind all the way then our goals easily crumble. We need to say, "G-d, how can my goals fit into your plan?" rather then "G-d how can you fit into my plan?". We have seen over time how easy it is for people to forget Hashem and easily take Him out of the picture when something isn't going right. Just commenting with all due respect... Reply

Olivia Kroth Friedrichsdorf, Germany December 11, 2007

A helpful article, thank you very much. I printed it out to paste it in my diary and follow your advice step by step. Reply

shabaz Plymouth, UK December 6, 2007

Yosef's Way This article is simply brilliant. I am going to save a copy of these inspirational words. Reply

Anonymous Greenville, SC December 3, 2007

Goal-setting Yosef's Way I enjoyed reading this article and will probably write down the twelve steps somewhere so I can remember them. I just have one thought that runs counter to this: Yosef dreamed dreams that showed he would rule over his brothers. He did not set out to dream those dreams. You suggest that he had the desire inside to be the ruler; I would say more that G-d intended him to rule before he had even thought about it, like Moshe was chosen to lead the people out in spite of the fact that he tried hard to get out of doing so, like David was chosen as king before he had given any thought to ruling or doing anything other than being a shepherd.

I like the admonition to desire it first (whatever the appropriate "it" is for each of us); it's just that I find the mystical element also true to life and more mysterious, less in our control, than this article suggests. Reply

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