Your biography reflects a very orderly, methodical life. In your twenties you were already married, bought a house, earned two degrees and were managing two careers. Did you never feel lost? You never wanted to drop everything and run off to India?
I wasn’t brought up to feel lost. I was brought up to feel high functioning. I’m the daughter of very high-functioning parents, in the deepest sense. I think I could have been much more success-oriented. But I was always trying all sorts of different tracks.
Still, you stayed on track.
As a teenager, I was very frightened by this mental state. It seemed very boring to me. I saw all my girlfriends who were adrift and wandering in circles, and meanwhile I was super-focused. It was very bizarre.
It’s still very bizarre.
It’s changed a bit, naturally. Now I’m a lot more neurotic and anxious. All the things I wouldn’t allow myself then are coming out now. I let failures touch me. But more than that, I let myself want something so, so bad.
Very. To want something and to admit to myself that I want it.
The desire, the passion − it marks you as somebody who’s very vulnerable.
As weak as can be. And I ran my life this way. When I started to fall in love with boys I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that I was in love with them, because I knew they were beyond my reach. I told myself that I wasn’t in love. I just didn’t have the courage to admit that I was. Desire and appetite and lust are sensual things. Today I let myself experience them. I had a long latency period.
A lot of control.
Are you more an organizational consultant or a writer?
All my life I’ve had this duality.
I grew up in one neighborhood, but I went to school somewhere else, at a school for the gifted. Then I chose two careers − organizational consulting and writing. When I was a civilian IDF employee, I worked at the School for Leadership Development. I ran a very big project about leadership development in the reserves, a real hard-core type of Israeli experience − meeting with battalion commanders and generals and preparing them for the toughest situations. And at the same time I was writing a column about cafes for Akhbar Ha’ir. These two things were going on at exactly the same time, with no overlap whatsoever.
What exactly is organizational consulting? I’m not sure I know.
No one really knows exactly. It’s an amazing profession. Fascinating. I get invited to an organization and the question of potential is raised. I always search for the optimum point between what the person knows and loves to do, and what he can do in the organization. I have a real fetish for potential. I’m quite fixated on this point. Think of a couple that gets married and everything seems wide open to them, and there’s this idea – which is totally false – that we know what we want now and what we’ll want in the future. We think we know, but we don’t know anything.
And later on we start to get wistful about the roads not taken.
When I was young and really stupid, I was once invited to give a weekend workshop sponsored by a workers’ committee. That week they’d shown the movie “Sliding Doors” on television, and inspired by that I put together a workshop that I thought was playful and charming, about the roads not taken. I asked people to think about the choice they hadn’t made, and I used modeling clay. By the way, the nice thing about clay is that after everybody’s sitting there very seriously and sculpting with clay on the first day of the workshop, you show up on the second day and discover that it’s all somehow turned into sculptures of genitalia.
Male or female?
Both. Someone from the hotel staff, and this has happened to me a number of times, has decided to transform the vision and values of society into genitalia.
Poetic and spot-on.
Totally. Anyway, I let them think about the choice they didn’t make, and at first the enthusiasm and excitement was really great. But then I saw that all these crossroads that people were talking about were really awful. Doctor parents who didn’t find out in time that their son had cancer, and he died. I thought it would be fun, but it turned into something so tragic. People talked about the worst experiences. I was shocked by the intensity of the emotions that it released. The stories really haunted me. For a long time.
What motivates you?
I’m a very optimistic person by nature, and I also attribute it to my upbringing at home. I believe that anything is possible. For example, people told me that it’s impossible to make a living from books, but I just know that it is possible. I really, really feel that. Even if the possibility is just 0.01 percent. I won’t let possibilities get away from me. So disappointments and failures are very tough for me. Hard to bear.
Have you had any?
What I’m going to say here is a little contradictory, but I am a serial failure. Maybe because I really do always dare to try. Failure is also something relative. Like, when I was a student in the psychology department, I did well enough. But I wasn’t an outstanding student. And when you’re not outstanding in the psychology department, you might as well forget it. “Only 89” just doesn’t cut it.
In the language of organizational consulting: “Every failure is an opportunity”?
In Nora Ephron’s last book, which wasn’t good − and I’m willing to say so even though it’s not nice to say since she just died − she talked about failure, and said it’s an awful thing, it’s not a good thing, it’s humiliating and embarrassing and depressing, and that in her opinion one can learn a lot more from successes than from failures. And that’s right. So now, when I really have no right to complain, because the book is selling and I’m getting some truly incredible responses, but every so often, I get a response from someone who ...
Who you can tell wasn’t too keen on the book.
Yes, so clearly I should average it in, and also look at the good responses, and in general believe that everyone is entitled to his own opinion and his own taste, but still it hurts. A lot. It’s very wounding. For years I was scornful of the trend of positive psychology, but now I’m a big believer in it. I also use it in my consulting. I believe in positive feedback more than in criticism. And one of the most amazing things is that no matter how much positive reinforcement you’ve received, one bad thing will still make such a deep impression.
In the book [about a married couple with children who go on a trip to Europe], you deal with a universal theme. A marriage, a good one, that comes apart because of a restless search – because of chasing after thrills.
It’s not that we’re searching. It just is. It’s not merely an indulgence of ours, that we feel like being wild. The destruction is in there. In the personality structure. And in the book I celebrated the breakdown, because I once heard someone very wise talking about the joy that exists when everything is coming apart. There is joy in the ruins there. Everything is broken. There are no rules.
Because it’s freeing. The power of Thanatos.
I think that a lot of people fantasize about that moment when an accident or an illness will bring the whole house of cards of their life tumbling down.
There’s something about always having to function well that’s like a major punishment. From my work with the army and with a lot of high-tech companies, I’ve come to be very familiar with this thing called ‘crisis mode.’ And it’s one of the most invigorating things there is.
As Israelis we’re in a constant state of crisis mode. We have an crazy appetite for death, we enjoy it − the adrenaline, the danger. Already we have a ‘battle heritage’ about a war that may not even take place. What do we need the destruction of a marriage for? We’ll just destroy the place we live in. We love danger.
Do you love danger?
Yes, but I’m also very much afraid of endangering myself.
Where are you in the book? Could it happen to you?
Yes. It could happen. Today I know that there is no such thing as a couple that is immune to trouble. I know this thing that can’t be known. That no couple is immune. No one and nothing is immune, not only couples.
No structure or situation.
Exactly. With each pregnancy, I waited to see my daughters, I wanted for them to be born so I would know that everything was okay. And then when they were born, it hit me that now they’re out in the world, and I really should have been hoping to keep them protected inside me. I talk about this and the thought of something going wrong with the kids’ health physically pains me, and of course it can happen. And yet, it can’t truly be clear to you.
Our whole lives are built upon a basic repression of the awareness of our mortality. It’s all right.
I do try not to repress the destructive mechanisms, first of all in order to take joy in them, the joy that is found in the things that upset your balance, that is mixed with great fear. I do try to live a brave life. In my counseling, and in my writing. And I do try to be alert to those reminders of the things that are fragile, of the passions and desires.
I’m getting the impression that despite all your accomplishments, you’re not satisfied.
Yes, you’re right. It comes from my parents. Their wonderful contribution to my emotional makeup. I can never just say that I’m satisfied and that’s it. These are the cracks, the parts where I’m not realistic. The ambition. I know that this week most likely I won’t be in the top spot on the best-seller list, and I’m like, “Really? Is that all there is?” There’s no end to it.
It’s exhausting. And yet, it doesn’t affect your functioning.
It is very exhausting. It’s a very strong and confusing impulse. I’m not relaxed, because it really is not very practical to write a book. I work like crazy. I’ve done that since I was very, very young, to support myself, and then to suddenly enter this track where, by definition, my earnings are going to decline ... I don’t have the guts to say, “Stop the world, I’m writing a book.” And I aspire to be an author, and a consultant, and a writer, and a good mother, and a wonderful wife and somebody who looks great and is an excellent cook. And in fact, amid all of this functioning, I am lugging around a lot of baggage of dissatisfaction. But not because I’m unhappy. I really am happy.
Maybe you should quit trying to function so much. How many years have you been married?
How does it work for you?
My husband is very much like me. We’re both dorks, trying to live a rock and roll life in spite of it all. Moshik has left his job a few times. He’s had some very good jobs, he was successful from a very young age, but he still could listen to that question − What do I want? Am I happy? − even though having to make a living, especially when you have children, is really a prison.
When you’re in that kind of place − of kids and a house and nowhere to run to, destruction is a lot more inviting somehow.
True. Sometimes, and this doesn’t sound like the best organizational advice, I say, “Wreck things for yourself.” It may be very frightening, and being fired is a terrible thing, and being unemployed is really hard. But sometimes you do have to break everything down. Not just because you can do so; you must do so. And not only in your career.
At home too? Just wreck things? Turn your back on your lovely husband and well-kept apartment and your three adorable children?
So here is where you really need all kinds of sublimations. And you have to be aware of this reduction, of your idea of perfection. There is no perfection. When I studied photography, there was this moment when you put the picture into the fixer. And then you say that everything is perfect − that’s exactly what it is. It’s putting the picture in the fixer. And although it might look like everything is just fine with me, I don’t put my life in a fixer.
Okay, but the time comes in life when you can’t just jump off the cliff. You’re carrying your baggage, and it’s heavy.
Look, when people say, “I can’t just go off traveling to India,” it’s not true. Or, “I can’t leave work early.” I don’t believe in that. Taking a leap is a very important thing. I also don’t think that dynamism and passion and movement always have sex in the background. The handsome architect in the book [a character that enters the couple’s lives and upsets their relationship] is a force majeure. I could just as well have had a building crash down upon [the book’s protagonists]. And the question is also how much you attribute to your own powers as a force majeure.
Does this passion for destruction also serve as a force majeure? Is it okay to surrender to it?
Of course not. If it weren’t forbidden, it wouldn’t be true destruction. I think − and this isn’t a statement that I can really stand behind − that it’s clear that I do everything very, very carefully and in a more controlled way than what I see around me. When you don’t surrender to it, then you’re destroyed from the inside.
A lose-lose situation.
Yes. So the best advice is to listen to your desires and passions as soon as possible. The idea is to get up one day and do that thing you never thought you could do. There’s no easy solution to it. The smartest thing is to listen to yourself in real time, but this is basically the wisdom of hindsight. I do think that things are less scary than they seem to us. And still, it’s also okay to hold back sometimes. But to hold back and maintain that desire.
What does that mean?
Not repressing the desire. I try to enjoy what I have as much as possible without forgetting what I want.
And what do you want?
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