Not Jewish? Spend a day in reflection anyway

The Jewish highlight of my life was probably Hebrew school, when I honed my ditching skills at the ice-cream store down the street from the synagogue. The reward for my Jewish education was my bat mitzvah, and in the middle of my big Hebrew reading, in front of a hundred friends and relatives, I paused and then said into the microphone, "F**k, I'm lost."

As an adult, it isn't my knowledge of Hebrew that makes me feel attached to Judaism. It's Yom Kippur [which is Friday, October 7 this year–editor].

This is an extreme holiday; Jews fast for 24 hours and attend synagogue during most of that time. I'm a Jew, but I don't do that. (For those of you who don't know, Judaism is a flexible religion with many differing opinions. In an extreme example of this situation, I give myself carte blanche to accept and reject the rules as I please.

Jews spend their day of fasting thinking about the previous year and what they could have done better. I like this– it speaks to the part of me that has been in therapy for most of the past 30 years. I think self-reflection is endlessly interesting, and I love that I was born into a religion that encourages me to take a day off work to be self-absorbed.

Well, not only self-absorbed. Part of the process of reviewing the past year is to ask forgiveness from anyone you have hurt. As a kid, I used to chase my dad around the house saying, "You didn't ask me if I forgive you. You didn't ask me."

As an adult, though, I realize that we each have an almost endless list of transgressions. Most Jews don't parade down the corridors of their offices saying, for instance, "I'm sorry I told you your product ideas were stupid, moronic, and overpriced." But I find comfort in knowing that many Jews are thinking that they should ask for forgiveness, and they should be better people in the coming year.

This is an act that's appropriate for everyone. We hurt people's feelings all year, and even if their ideas are stupid, we certainly don't mean to be cruel. The idea of being kind is a good one.

And the idea of assessing the past year is a good one, too– for everyone, not just Jews. I'm not saying you need to take a day off on Yom Kippur (though it's not a bad idea since every office I've ever worked in has come to a near standstill on that holiday). Every topic I've written about seems to boil down to one thing: know yourself. If you cater to your strengths and overcome your weaknesses, if you're in control and create emotional space to be empathetic to others, you can overcome almost any office problem.

Are you a procrastinator? Believe in yourself. Are you bad at delegating? Trust other people. Do you hate your boss? Practice empathy.

So choose a day, any day. It doesn't have to be Yom Kippur. Don't go to work. Don't play golf. Sit and think. Honestly examine the past year. Not just in a New Year's resolution sort of way, but in a how-can-I-be-a-better-person sort of way. Even if you don't fast, it will be a day well spent.
Penelope Trunk has worked for many businesses and even started a few, and now she's too busy to write her column, so this advice is reprinted from an earlier edition of the Hook.