“Five Minutes on Mondays: Finding Unexpected Purpose, Peace, and Fulfillment at Work”
1. Tell us about your latest book.
I am a Managing Director at Grubb & Ellis, a large national real estate firm in New York City, and am also an ordained Rabbi. My new book, titled “Five Minutes on Mondays: Finding Unexpected Purpose, Peace, and Fulfillment at Work”, published by Pearson/FT Press, is a collection of thirty weekly “messages” that I wrote for the New York business community, addressing such topics as authenticity, balance, honesty, happiness, humor, and how to understand difficult times. Grubb & Ellis’ weekly staff meetings (of over 100 people), begin as I read these messages, which are then sent to our entire staff, clients, colleagues, and friends – reaching thousands of people every week. The book captures a selection of these, along with several other pieces, written of the course of one year. The messages encourage people to view work as a “spiritual gymnasium” where opportunities for growth occur daily, to embrace change, and to see that all great wisdom traditions, whether religious, philosophical, political, or business management theory, point to the same goal – how to become more aware, sensitive, effective, and awakened human beings.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
As a Rabbi I have written for years on spiritual and religious topics, and have published sermons and prayer books. I have also written extensively as an art history student in college. The path to writing and publishing “Five Minutes on Mondays”, though, was very unexpected. Suddenly I became a published author when a friend of mine, who is a well-known writer, sent samples of my weekly messages to Pearson. An editor there loved the work, and asked if he could publish a collection.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
My days are varied, usually hectic, and no two are ever the same – a typical business executive’s day, but with the added responsibilities of a writer and clergy. Since my responsibilities include sales, management, training, recruiting, and being the face of our company to the New York market, some days are spend on the road, meeting with new and prospective clients, and others are spent behind my desk, reviewing my staff’s work, coordinating with other business units, and developing strategies. As a writer, though, which is my passion, I set aside time every day to write, usually during lunch, often at a local Starbucks, after work in my office, and on the train heading home. My writing usually stem from an event or insight that occurred during the work day, so I often write quick notes to myself that later are expanded. As a Rabbi, I am often called to perform weddings, visit the sick, console the bereaved, or lead prayer services. These are the moments that are most meaningful to me.
4. Describe your desk/workspace.
I have a typical business office (with actual walls!) – credenza, desk, pull up chairs, book cases, etc, – which faces out toward Times Square. Nothing unique, except behind my desk is a series of certificates that often surprise people: architectural licenses from several state registrations, a real estate sales license, a certificate that allows me to perform marriages, and my rabbinic diploma.
5. Favorite books (especially for writers)
1. Souls on Fire, by Elie Wiesel: Stories of the lives of the great Chasidic mystics
2. The Five Books of Moses, by Moses, a committee, or God (depending on your inclination): The source and reflection of western consciousness
3. Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss: Powerful spiritual lessons told in an accessible and lighthearted way, with great illustrations
6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you
1. I collect found children’s toys: Several years ago as I was walking home I looked down to see a small finger puppet with the face of a mouse lying on the curb. I took it home and placed it on a bookshelf. Since then, I have found more than a dozen children’s objects in many locations- the sidewalks of New York, the gym parking lot, the local park, on the floor at Starbucks, and on my walk home from the train station. Perhaps these are waiting for my future grandchildren, or are a reminder to me to stay young and playful.
2. I used to be a body-builder: People are surprised to learn that a Rabbi used to be a hard-core gym rat. I loved to lift heavy weights, and to push myself to lift more each time. This was a spiritual experience for me, and taught me the possibility of transformation (literally). I also looked awfully good in jeans and a tee shirt!
3. I make bonsai trees: There was a period when I was obsessed with bonsais. I had a collection of nearly 50 trees, and would spend my weekends (before I got re-married to my current wife) shopping for new material, pruning, wiring, and caring for my little trees. The combination of natural material with human intervention felt very satisfying. This was also something to care for and nourish after my kids went to college.
7. Favorite quote
“Love your neighbor as yourself”. My second favorite, “Are you talkin’ to me?”
8. Best and worst part of being a writer
I absolutely love writing, and the idea of “being” a writer. I can think of no higher calling for me, and new ideas for books and essays are constantly bubbling up. I usually do my best work at Starbucks, sitting in a large green armchair, surrounded by the noise of conversation, grinding coffee, and eclectic music. The worst part of writing is my self-critical nature as I pick apart my writing, and agonize whether I have captured something true and transformative.
9. Advice for other writers
Write from the deepest place of knowing and connection. It is easy to get caught in a circular brain amusement, and at times that’s OK, but the core of the writing must spring from a voice that is not located in your head, or even your stomach or sexual center. The real source is a voice that truly knows. Getting to that, though, requires the ability to move yourself aside long enough for it to be heard.
10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.
The unlikely ingredients in the recipe of events from which “Five minutes on Mondays” emerged include a commuter train, a sweltering August day in New York City, a sweaty business card, recurring random encounters, and a spilled beer. Through these events I met David Arena, President of Grubb & Ellis, a national commercial real estate firm. David and I first met on a hot and humid day in August on the Metro-North commuter train, which travels from Grand Central Station to Connecticut. I had just run 20 blocks to catch the 6:15 train and slipped in as the doors were closing. Sitting across from me was a man whose face I recognized from a recent cover of Crain’s Business Journal.
That’s David Arena! I should introduce myself, I thought, but look at me. I’m drenched. Hey, what’s the worst that can happen?
So, I leaned over to introduce myself. With sweat dripping from my forehead, I reached in to my pocket and pulled out a soggy, limp business card, which he politely accepted, then returned to reading his newspaper.
That certainly went well, Lurie, I thought, assuming I had just blown a promising business opportunity.
Several months later, we ran into each other again. This was on a Friday afternoon, as I was sitting on the train studying a Hebrew text and drinking a beer (two things that I like to do as I head home for the weekend). I looked up to see David sit down next to me. He glanced at my book and, apparently not remembering that we had met, said,
“Excuse me. Is that Hebrew?”
“Yes. It’s actually a section from the Bible.”
“Really? Are you a religious man?” he asked.
“As a matter of fact, I’m an ordained Rabbi,” I answered, “but I also work in commercial real estate. We actually met briefly on this train last summer, and I gave you my card.”
We struck up a conversation, and discovered a shared interest in religion and theology (a conversation that he later described as “being kinda’ out there”). As I got up to leave, I bent over to shake his hand and accidentally spilled beer on his sleeve and into his briefcase.
“Now I’ve been baptized by a Rabbi,” he laughed.
I walked off the train, wondering how I could have been so clumsy, and why I seemed to keep spilling things on this man.
The third time I saw David was in a midtown office reception area. I had taken the day off to do some work around the house but came by this office to drop off a package. Unshaved, uncombed, and dressed in worn jeans and a tee shirt, I turned to see David walk in.
This makes sense, I thought. God forbid I should run into him looking professional!
“Good to see you again, Rabbi,” he said, patting me on the back. “Let’s meet for breakfast soon. Here’s my card. Please call me.”
“Why do you think I keep meeting this man under such awkward circumstances?” I later asked my wife, Shirona. “The first time we met, I looked like I had just run a marathon in a business suit. The second time, I spilled beer all over him, and the third time, I could have been mistaken for the delivery man.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, “At least he’s going to remember you! I think there’s more to this than just random encounters, though.”
After this, David and I continued to run into each other on numerous occasions on the street, in offices, at industry events, and on the train, and we soon became friends. Then, unexpectedly, he asked me to join his team at Grubb & Ellis. (Now, after two years of working together, I have only seen him on the train twice.)
“I’ve got to tell you, it’s not often that a stranger on a train hands me a sweaty business card, discusses mystical ideas about the nature of the cosmos, and then pours beer in my briefcase. You definitely made a unique impression,” he said, then added, “I believe that this will be a good place for you, Alan. With us, you’ll have the opportunity to do good work, both in your profession as a businessman and your passion as a Rabbi. Look, I have an idea. Our entire group meets every Monday morning at 8:00 AM, and I’d like you to begin these meetings by delivering a short message. Something about business and ethics. Something inspirational and informative.”
This was certainly a novel idea. A Rabbi/businessman delivering a sermon to a New York City real estate meeting! David had never heard me speak in public, and didn’t ask to review what I was going to say, yet he somehow had the faith that this would work. Initially, I was not so confident.
And so, on one Monday morning in January 2007, I awkwardly stood in front of 100 or so hard-nosed New York real estate professionals to deliver my first message. I had searched for something to talk about that I hoped would be interesting, useful, inspiring, and entertaining to a business community whose reputation is not exactly toward things spiritual. This first message was titled “Donkey for Sale.” (Well, you’ll have to read it to get the reference!)
Where can people buy your book?
The book is currently available on Amazon.com and directly from Pearson.