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Be what you might have been

Only when we embrace our mortality can we truly live our life as our authentic self, author Jacob Burak tells Lorella Fava.

Jacob Burak has authored four bestsellers: Do Chimpanzees Dream of Retirement: An Encounter Between Psychology, Evolution and Business (2007), Noise (2009), Why Kamikaze Pilots Wear Helmets (2011) and How to Find a Black Cat in a Dark Room (2013).

Jacob Burak has authored four bestsellers: Do Chimpanzees Dream of Retirement: An Encounter Between Psychology, Evolution and Business (2007), Noise (2009), Why Kamikaze Pilots Wear Helmets (2011) and How to Find a Black Cat in a Dark Room (2013).

“As you read this, you might be missing a party that some friends are throwing or the meal that other friends are eating without you.”

Jacob Burak, a Tel Aviv-based writer who draws from psychology, science and art to examine human nature, wrote the above quote in an article, entitled Escaping the Matrix.

In this article he tackles what he refers to as “the latest cultural disorder”, the fear of missing out (FOMO).

Burak suggests that the advance in technology is becoming very disturbing and “it calls for a lot of self-discipline in order to get rid of it”.

This ‘FOMO itch’, however, is simply one thing that demands our attention in our everyday lives.

Burak refers to others, including but limited to that of perfectionism, the frantic nature of our lives today, any type of information that consumes us, and so on.

If looked at in this manner, one can start to view people as being in some ways trapped in a society wherein the unimportant becomes vital. But why do we allow ourselves to focus on such pointless affairs?

This, Burak suggests, is simply a way we as humans distract ourselves from the reality that surrounds us.

These so-called distractions are tackled by the writer in his earlier novel Noise (2009), in which he lists many ‘noises’ – one of them being the “ceaseless noise of useless information” that infiltrate our life, in other words FOMO, ranging from internal disturbances caused by the need to belong and the urge to achieve to the external sounds generated on the job or by the media.

We control around 40 per cent of our happiness

We are not victims of such ‘noise’, however. Burak explains how we allow such noise to enter our lives to prevent us from hearing the ultimate noise that links us with all other forms of life: that of our own demise.

Burak expands further: “It is such a disturbing noise that we allow other noises to come in to distract us.

“We are the only species that is aware of its own existence and the way we deal with it is either by leaving a mark in any way we can, such as having a large family, or distracting ourselves by letting social networks, television infiltrate our lives. So, Noise deals with this very idea, some of them form from the outside but most of them from the inside.”

One Day When I am Younger takes the point of view of someone who is trying to reflect on his life.One Day When I am Younger takes the point of view of someone who is trying to reflect on his life.

In his new novel One Day When I am Younger, which was launched in Malta, Burak appears to take a step back from this ‘noise’ and focuses more on facing the very real fact of our mortality and asserts how, only when we do this,  can we truly live our life as our true, authentic self.

“Only when we embrace this can we make sure we live fully,” he says.

“I focus more on regrets in this book: the people we didn’t approach, the ones we didn’t dance with, the ones we turned down. This book is from a point of view of someone who is trying to reflect on his life,” Burak continues.

Encouraging the reader to eliminate all distractions and focus one’s attention on getting to know oneself, Burak lists 10 steps on how to make the most out of the time we have and achieve happiness.

As Burak explains: “We control around 40 per cent of our happiness. 50 per cent of our capacity to happiness we do not control, it’s DNA, and it’s genetics. The other 10 per cent is purely circumstantial.”

One of the steps, listed in One Day When I am Younger, is the importance of maintaining a social network. This, Burak insists, should not be a superficial one as those formed on social media but rather one based on intimacy with true friends and partners.

“Interestingly, there is a research in the US about the relation between the number of friends you have within 15 minutes walking distance and the level of crime,” adds the writer.

Another step would be that of setting up goals that are achievable, both short and long term.

“We all tend to underestimate what we can achieve within a year but overestimate what we can achieve within a day.”

By expanding on these steps among others, and placing the spotlight on the importance of eliminating the distractions that hold us back from getting to know one’s self, One Day When I am Younger is a novel on reconstructing one’s way of thinking and bettering ourselves. As George Eliot once wrote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

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