The Year I Woke Up and Became a Jewish Entrepreneur

For years, it was drilled in to me to follow my strengths. With a spatial sense that was and remains virtually non-existent, I was told to focus on what I could do. So I went to drama camp, and Jewish camp, and became a camp counselor and then – before I knew it – I was a community developer,  a non-social work social worker, paid to be proficient in what I was really good at.

Unfortunately, I was running away from myself. By the time I hit my mid-twenties, I could teach the class on how to transform, by which I mean dress-up failure. Faced with a series of doomed relationships, a litany of academic rejections and, at one point, the possibility of being homeless, I spent most of my time trying to seem okay with the next wave of devastation around me. Life wasn’t pretty, but I sure made it look that way – touting the learning experiences at my job and, yes, the next deceptive selfie, as the sort of positive turn-arounds that redeemed a world of unconfronted pain. Sure, I was showing parts of myself, but the rest of me was hiding.

And there was something else to this faux okay-ness. See, I wasn’t just failing, I wasn’t purposefully failing. While I was bragging about all the useful skills I accrued while being at various points abused, confused and removed from how I really wanted to be living, I wasn’t staking a claim on what I wanted. I wasn’t raising the stakes to the highest level, crying out from the bottom: “I may die or, worse, fail going after the truth of who I am…but that is worth everything compared to another moment living the lie of who I am not.”

I had to stop being okay in order to step forward. I had to stop confusing being useful with being purposeful because the conflation was not only antithetical to facing my sheer distance from living the life I wanted, but also pursuing the kind of spiritual proximity that only comes from honest failures, the spoils and toils en route to what one really wants to be doing. Failing in a direction of my choosing did not make the hard parts more bearable. Or even less rare.

But it did make me re-learn what it means to be alive.

It also brought me to learn Hebrew (I mean really commit, failing badly, outrageously, often) after years of being told I would never master a single language. And, as I continue to muck up on the winding path to mastery, I now understand why taking on this learning curve was the precursor to my decision to become a rabbinical student and then a poet and blogger. As my spatial sense grows stronger, so does my sight into my own soul. I have to continue failing at what I really want in order to end up in the places I desire most. And I have to forsake the failsafe of what is comfortable and okay to get there.

In a month where, according to the medieval work, The Zohar, Jews make the existential move from back-to-back to face-to-face, seeing ourselves for who we are and setting out on the tasks we crave to do could not be more pressing. For there is nothing more forward-facing and, as it happens, entrepreneurial, than failure when it meets the sincerity of a veritable purpose.

Devon Spier
Devon Spier is a rabbinical student and spiritual entrepreneur. Over the last decade, she has made her home in the small suburban shtetl of Kitchener-Waterloo, where she supports the leadership of Jewish young professionals, children, new mums and donors so that they may lead in innovative ways that raise up the institutions to which they belong.