"One day in college, my best friend noted in passing that while I enthusiastically initiated grand projects, my track record for completion was fairly poor. His comment landed heavily; I had never really considered my tendency to slack off at the end. But I conceded that his observation was spot-on and it got me to focus on an important skill — learning to stay in the fire from start to finish.
"Zeal refers to the energy we bring to our work. This trait encompasses a range of qualities: diligence, enthusiasm, willingness, dedication, commitment, and alacrity. In the Yoga Sutras, zeal is called tapas and is one of the five disciplines (niyamas) of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Tap, the root of the word tapas, refers to fire or heat. It implies a burning commitment to achieving a goal. 'By tapas,' writes renowned yogi B. K. S. Iyengar, 'the yogi develops strength in body, mind, and character.'
"Traditional Mussar texts refer to zerizut and promote enthusiastic willingness and readiness to act at the beginning of a task and unrelenting commitment and diligence toward its completion. Zerizut conveys a sense of what Alan Morinis calls 'awakened energy,' which arises when we feel inspired and dedicated to the work at hand.
"Cultivating enthusiasm is both deeply spiritual and critical for our Mussar work. Fundamentally, zeal is the enlightened directing of energy to our life's work — the greater purpose of our existence. Ultimately, the focus of our zeal is to create a better world in whatever way God or the Universe has ordained through our given talents. Pursuing fame for the sake of feeding our ego is not spiritual work or the purpose of our Mussar Yoga work. We do not need to (or should not) cultivate passion for work that exploits or degrades other people or resources. As long as the work we pursue has integrity of spirit, we are meant to engage in it with zeal. A gardener or a teacher who heads off to her work in the morning with passion and discipline is engaging with the Divine.
"Enthusiasm and diligence, which comprise the quality of zeal, are fundamental to transformation. Without them, the work of self-study will be limited. Every intention will be thwarted; every hurdle will turn into a dead end. Many people assume that enthusiasm and passion are organic or noncultivatable, like truffles that can only be found in the wild with the help of specially trained pigs. In fact, enthusiasm and diligence are like muscles that can be exercised to grow stronger and bigger. Enthusiasm can actually be a self-sustaining energy: Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm."