Tag Archives: personal development

For the Guilty

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An ambitious, hard-working woman recently asked me how I reconcile working full-time, taking on professional projects outside of work, and being a mother. Do I ever feel guilty that my children are suffering?

My answer is no! I think my children receive 100% of me. All the time, each one of them? No. But they receive everything I have to give them.

I assess who needs my time at that moment, and invest.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Life has a way of shining a light on what we need to do at that moment.

My car breaks down? That gets my attention in this moment. My boss calls with a high-priority deadline? He receives my attention. My child needs help with his homework? I’m all his. I need a time-out? Sorry everyone- I get my attention now.

The idea is that we are navigating through life and responding to the stimuli around us.

A highly successful investment banker told my colleague that he never beats himself up for making a poor investment decision. Why not? Because “I made the best decision I could with the information I had at that time”. We do our best to untangle the IMPORTANT things (people)  from the URGENT things (objects) and then make a decision about how to distribute our time. Sometimes we may get it wrong but if we do our best to get it right, then everything unfolded just the way it was meant to. What a profound commentary on how we can all live our lives.

My friend, Rea, recently shared (she heard from Rabbi Leibl Wolf) that someone asked the Kotzker Rebbe what the most important thing was. He replied, “Whatever you’re doing now.”

The Kotzker Rebbe’s answer is my ideal attitude before I was able to articulate it. Hashem shows us what needs our attention and we just need to remember what’s important and respond.

We don’t need to live with a heavy guilt that our work, our social lives, or our homes aren’t getting enough of us. We are not an infinite resource but what we have, we can and should give, wholly.

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It’s a Brand New Year, Baby

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Competitiveness. Infatuation. Greed. Vanity.

Do you know the famous story of the spider and King David? Young David is hiding in a cave from King Saul. He sees a spider and wonders why the Almighty bothered creating spiders at all. (I admit I’ve questioned their purpose at times!) Long story short, the spider saves David from Saul by spinning a web that covers the mouth of the cave. When King Saul approaches the cave, after being tipped off by a spy, he doesn’t even enter since he assumes that David would have broken the intricate web when going in to hide.

Spiders have a purpose in the world and sometimes their purpose is quite lofty.

Our inner ‘spiders’ (competitiveness, infatuation, vanity, and greed) can have a lofty purpose too. They can be the first steps in motivating us to accomplish great deeds.

Lately, I’ve been noticing the volume of people who are at a crossroads. They’re toying with new ideas for their careers, they’re ending relationships, some are feeling anxious about their future, others are experiencing the bittersweet flavor of closing one chapter and beginning the next.

We see that we need to make a change in our lives but we are masters of distraction and rationalization. We stay in the rut and we are sure that’s the most practical course of action.

But then…

We bump into a contemporary who seems to be running his life far more efficiently, happily, and successfully than us.

OR We are attracted to someone who appreciates achievements that we suddenly have energy to accomplish.

OR We look in the mirror or try on that outfit or step on the scale.

OR We want more attention, money, honor, affection, medals, degrees, accolades, or popularity.

Suddenly, we are able to update that resume, skip that dessert, set up that date, book that ticket. We are spontaneously and wholly motivated to accomplish what we were sure was impossible.

What about these negative traits and emotions that we’re capitalizing on to accomplish great things?

A Jewish perspective? Go for it. Seize the day. Just do it. Fake it ’til you make it. What begins with impure intentions can transition into idealistic ones.

So to those around me who feel that they are at a crossroads…and to me, who can appreciate downtime like a champ but knows the value of accomplishing.

DO. Do at all costs. Do ambitiously, boldly, and bravely. Use the hidden ‘spiders’ in yourself to haul your body off of the couch and accomplish.

It’s a brand new year, baby. Live greatly.

 

 

The Most Important Shoes

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I closed my eyes. Just for a second because I was driving. The kids were all speaking at the same time. One child was repeatedly asking me to pass a water bottle over to the backseat. The next one was explaining how he reached his ‘superstar’ status at school (a teacher’s recognition for good work) and interrupted himself to quiet his siblings down. The little one was very angry about her pacifier lying on the floor and was shrieking for it. I prayed that I could keep the wheel steady as I passed the water back two rows and grabbed the pacifier quickly thereafter (nearly dislocating my elbow). I popped the pacifier into my toddler’s mouth and now heard just one frustrated little voice.  I told my son to continue his story and to focus on me instead of the previous noise because I WAS listening.

I closed my eyes. Just for a second. I found myself wishing for a little quiet. I was tired after a long work day and in the mood to think. I wanted to mull over a conversation I’d had with an employee, figure out how to effectively support a friend in mourning, and make a mental to-do list for the following day. I wanted to plan out my evening action steps from calling a colleague back to packing lunches. I didn’t want to hear anymore whining or talking or demands. I almost voiced the thoughts running through my mind but then…

I closed my eyes. One last time. This time, when I opened them, I saw what I had missed. The little blessings in the backseat who needed me to be fully present in mind, body, and soul. The strategies, the analysis, the rushing would have to wait. Right then, I needed to be successful with my most important little clients. Success requires me to slow my mind and my pace (not my natural tempo) and smile or shake my head at the right times to listen wholly.

I am so tempted to become absorbed into every other arguably important task and overlook my most important ones. Not just the children but close relationships in general. Judaism asks us to fill the void that only we can fill first. In other words, if someone else can take the phone meeting but only you can visit your sick best friend to cheer her up, then the right path is clear. If someone else can do your laundry and prepare dinner but only you can help your niece with her homework, then your choice is simple. You are the only person who can fill your unique task. Let’s not lose sight of the most important shoes we need to fill: our own.

My Fear of Groundhog Day

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You wake up when the alarm begins to buzz. But you’re tired. You press the snooze button. You doze off only to be awoken again eight minutes later. That alarm clock of yours is persistent if nothing else.

Oh fine, you’ll get up. So you do. You wash your hands, your face, you use the bathroom, maybe you say a morning prayer, maybe you check your phone.

You get dressed, you give yourself one last look and have one lingering thought: Need. Coffee.

Some of you will splinter into a different phase of the morning but those of you with young children will pack lunchboxes and oversee wake up calls, some good dental hygiene, and offer encouragement (read: nagging) to get everyone dressed.

You pour cereal or coffee. Maybe you exercise. You hop in the car and drive to work or you drive the kids to school.

I could keep going through your day but in the interest of time, and because I think you get it, I’ll stop here.

This concept of living what’s essentially the Groundhog Day movie version of your life scares me to pieces. It always has – since I was a teenager and realized that people waste so much of their lives running on a metaphoric hamster’s wheel. Uninspired or dwelling on pettiness,  or just generally surviving their lives instead of living them.

But is my life any different than that? I wake up the same way you do. You could say we lead parallel lives with a few adjustments.

I saw a 30 Day Fitness Challenge video where people were tasked to do 100 push-ups for 30 days straight. Their journey of emotion- from frustration to exhilaration and back, from physical impossibility to a reality was fascinating. But even more impactful was, of course, the results.

We are all vulnerable in perceiving that our lives resemble the Groundhog Day movie. What differentiates this day from the last one is the effort I put in every single moment. To learn, to work, to be better each day. The moment I take to think through my attitude or speech and choose a higher road is the moment I am elevated to new heights.

Then, we can wake up, take in the newly elevated scenery, and unaided by an alarm, smile.

 

Who makes you feel small?

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There is always someone. He may be overt or she may be surreptitious and not even realize she’s doing it. You may cross paths casually or in a corporate setting or you may see one another everyday at home.

Everyone has someone that makes them feel small. Or something. The high school reunion, the report card, the play date at the park, the scale, the business meeting, the rejection letter.

It’s the way they talk about their kids as if your fertility challenge just doesn’t exist. It’s the dialogue about a client that you personally brought in but it’s as if you had no role in the pitch. It’s the pain you feel when you see someone you knew from long ago and your failures seem to be printed on your forehead.

This someone or something is smoke and mirrors. The mirror is, of course, a reflection of your feelings about yourself. The smoke is the voice in your mind pulling you down, way down.

For me? It’s that woman who smiles as if she cares and speaks in a clipped tone. I tell myself she is not judging me but feel inexplicably smaller when she’s around. She seems to know everyone and be an expert at everything. She explains that she avoids apologies because people need to take ownership of their own feelings. She’ll just be sorry for them that they feel that way. She is always composed.

I have to look again. Again and again. If I don’t want to feel small, if I don’t want to BE small, I need to halt the negative voice. I need to remind myself that it’s smoke and mirrors.

There’s an idea is psychology that the people who appear in our dreams are really parts of ourselves. What if this was true of real life? If everyone around you, or your perception of them, was actually just a projection of you?

Maybe it is. Maybe your relationship with your family, friends, and community are reflections of how you feel about yourself. Maybe your relationship with the groups of people who stand for despicable things are reflections of parts of yourself that you hate most. One thing is certain. If you feel small, it’s not about her and it’s not about him.

It’s about you.

The million dollar question is how do you overcome it?

The answer is simple and intuitive. Change the script.

Peel back the superficial conclusions you drew. Reveal the areas of that person or group of people or that situation to discover their vulnerabilities and fears. They have them too. What are they? Stunningly, you will start to feel empathy for that person. You will find common ground.

Best of all, you will become an expanded version of yourself. You will be great. You will be BIG. No more pettiness for you- not about them and not about you. You will be big in the presence of everyone and everything. You will never be made to feel small again.

 

Where The Riches Are

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I took a bite of the steaming hot, four-cheese pasta I had ordered in mid-town Manhattan and nodded my head. Yes, I agreed with my friend sitting across from me, this was too delicious to be true. We were out for a girls lunch. A work/pleasure hybrid of a lunch break as my companion was evolving in her Judaism and wanted to talk about her next steps in learning and growth. She was pretty, composed, and very down-to-earth. I had liked her the minute we met weeks before at an outreach event I helped run in NYC. We were about the same age and instantly hit it off with easy conversation that balanced giggles with depth.

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A little background for the buildup. While I’m pretty grounded, I have this weird sixth sense and I believe that I see people’s auras…just a little bit. Just sometimes. The color, the energy. It doesn’t happen often but I have experienced the phenomenon. (Oy. If I’ve freaked you out and you want to stop reading, I totally get it.) Once, many years ago, I told my roommate in school that a black energy appeared to be radiating from her. The words tumbled out of my mouth and I realized mid-stream how strange and offensive they sounded. She got very quiet but spoke after a few moments. “I was institutionalized”.  Then quiet again. Gulp. I wasn’t prepared for that. Since then, I’m more cautious about sharing my observations though I still get into trouble occasionally.

I share this with you because I felt I really had a grasp on my lunch date’s energy. She was admirably calm. She was patient and it was as if nothing could phase or stress her. She spoke deliberately and slowly; she paused before answering. She was like… a warm blue. (In contrast, I speak quickly and often kick myself mid-sentence for not filtering more. Over the years, I’ve conditioned myself to lock my jaw shut and pad my responses with “Can I process that and get back to you in the next couple of days?” I have yet to regret that answer and use it liberally to ensure that I am thoughtful and not rushed.) I digress but don’t worry, the bombshell is coming.

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So there we were, indulging in carbs, enjoying girl talk, speaking of personal development and lofty ideals when my friend cleared her throat. She wanted to confide in me about something from her past. Of course, I gladly obliged and assured her that my lips were sealed. Whatever she wanted to tell me surely wouldn’t shock me. I knew my friend was on her journey in spirituality and connection to Judaism. It was clear that she hadn’t been particularly sheltered though she came from a solid family and a good home. Whatever was in her past couldn’t be so bad.

Then, with her reflective, collected disposition, she described how she became addicted to cocaine and battled to stay clean. She had a stint in rehab and was a real ‘mess’ (her word) through college. I used up every bit of control I had to show no signs of shock. I knew addiction existed and I had met addicts before but her? I just couldn’t reconcile it. How could this composed, even sophisticated, soft-spoken young woman have such a dark, out of control side? I thought to myself, maybe I don’t know her that well. Perhaps she was unstable? Could it be?

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“I hope I haven’t changed the way you look at me”, she said. I vigorously shook my head and worked hard to convince both of us that she hadn’t. As I walked to the subway from the restaurant, I reminded myself that an addiction shouldn’t define a person and that her future wasn’t hinged on her past.

Fortunately, my friend didn’t vanish from my life. We actually grew closer and stayed in touch for many years. I absolutely adore her and she has taught me a lot about how complex human beings truly are. Looking back, I so admire her confidence that day. She fully accepted herself and felt comfortable to talk about choices that would bring most people shame. Since then, she’s married and had many children. I wonder if she would tell anyone what she told me all those years ago but it doesn’t matter. She has a depth of self-acceptance that most of us would and should envy. Perhaps hitting rock bottom and having to climb out of that pit builds self-acceptance.

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Fast forward ten years to the opposite scenario. I was working on campus and had developed a relationship with one of our students. She was a sorority girl who would do coffee with me from time to time. She joined our weekly learning program. Her etiquette was always on point. Based on her Facebook profile, she seemed to have an exciting party life but never spoke of it to me. I always had the sense that she was holding back in the hopes of making a good impression.

One day, after about a year, she and I met at the Starbucks on campus. I could see she was going through something but didn’t want to share. In the hopes of convincing her of the importance of vulnerability, I said to her, “Y’know…you don’t have to be perfect all the time. That must be really draining.” She started crying despite valiant efforts of staying composed. Suddenly, she was mortified that she had dropped her guard, apologized profusely, and excused herself. This poor young woman really wanted to reach out, she spent so much energy acting like everything was okay, and she just couldn’t make peace with herself. She couldn’t accept that she was flawed, like the rest of us.

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I’ve quoted this line before but it bears repeating. My very favorite verse of all time from the Torah is one pertaining to offerings. While I can’t say all laws of korbanos (ritual offerings) are my favorite area of Judaism to explore, this particular point is so profound that (even) I cling on to it. All meal offerings, the Torah demands, must be offered with salt and not honey or yeast (Vayikra 2:11-2:13). Yeast inflates and honey sweetens. G-d doesn’t need us to offer falsely inflated or sweetened versions of our true selves. Rather, we are required to use salt, something that brings out the natural flavors and preserves. (Rabbi Mordechai Gifter)

What a gift. G-d, who is perfect by definition, is requiring us to be as we were created. Flawed. Broken. Vulnerable. Makes sense. After all, He created us that way. But why?? Why can’t we achieve perfection? Why can’t I love myself…once I’m perfect?

The whole point of this life, the one that begins the moment we are born and ends the moment we die is our quest for correction, our journey to perfection. I’m awed by people who try to make an impact and be an “influencer” under the guise of perfection. I have no desire to emulate that. I want to embrace this life, accept every part of myself, and understand that the creased, bent, and fractured pieces are where the riches are.

Adult Friendships

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Adult Friendships
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Some friends and I in Jerusalem, 2011 (I’m on the far left)

Well, this is embarrassing. For years, I’ve been telling a few choice family members and acquaintances that I find it extremely difficult to establish friendships as an adult. Sometimes, I smile facetiously and announce that I have no friends at all and sometimes, on a good day, I concede that perhaps I have one or two. I must be the only person in the world who feels this way because, so often, listeners respond with an air of disdain. It’s as if they’re thinking: Sorry that you have this problem. Luckily, we don’t.

What was easy at 13 seems so daunting at 33. Do friendships have an expiration date? How much investment is required in a friendship? If we talk this much, share this much, connect this much…are we friends??

How did I have so many friends before adulthood? For me, adulthood began when I got my first full-time job in New York at 21 years old. Before that, I was able to prioritize friendships above all else with nearly endless time and care. Once I began working, I just didn’t have the energy to stay awake late with a friend on the phone. I was too tired to go out with friends unless it was the weekend or a special occasion.  I would often get home from work very late and the thought of using up my little downtime on socializing was too much to bear. I just wasn’t interested. After all, I had to wake up the next morning and work a long day! I was leading a very full life, albeit alone.

Marriage and children only served to reinforce my challenge. Today, now that I work full-time while juggling a young family, I’m thankful for a bathroom break undisturbed (still a rare occurrence). Showering and sitting down for a meal are luxuries. I don’t walk into a store unless it’s for groceries (don’t worry too much though, Amazon has cured me of my other shopping needs). Friends?? Impossible!

But maybe we need to define our terms before I write myself off as a recluse. What are friends anyway? Are they the people who will bail you out of jail or pick you up from the hospital? I would argue that any kind soul would do that for you, friend or foe. Here are three reasons you may call someone a friend and a little push back on that definition from yours truly.

You’re friends because of….

  1. Shared interest, stage of life, or community. Examples: We both have babies and we spend lots of time together on the playground. We love sports and play basketball every morning. We are next door neighbors. In all three cases, these friendships likely take up most of our quota for “friend time” and, I would argue, count the least. Why? Because they’re dependent on something external to exist. Judaism teaches that a love dependent on something is only as strong as that thing. Move out of your neighborhood, stop playing basketball, no longer go to the park and your friendship will disappear.
  2. History. I have friends who I rarely/never speak to but love and they have a special place in my heart. We went to school together or we spent summers together, we talked and talked, sometimes about nothing and other times about everything. While these friends are very important to me, many of them play a big role in my rear-view mirror but don’t really know me as I am today. If I was in trouble, I wouldn’t call them because there’s a lack of familiarity with our adult versions of each other. I have tried to rekindle these friendship over the years and end up awkwardly stumbling in and out of connection.
  3. A safe space. These are the friends that we can really spill to, feel safe with, and share our innermost thoughts without fear of being judged. This category is the one I am most inclined to give credit. There’s just one problem. In a time when privacy is as undervalued as it is today (how many times have you signed off on the privacy terms and conditions of your favorite app?), we may indeed feel “safe” with any supportive, open people in our lives. Also, feeling safe or confident to share is a function of our own self-confidence and not a reflection of friendship necessarily. I have seen some gut-wrenching posts on Facebook and I continue to be surprised by people’s raw vulnerability on scaled social media sites.

You may disagree with me and consider any of the above definitions as entirely reasonable. If that’s the case, I too have friends (yay!).

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Two special friends who visited me in San Diego, 2007 (I’m on the far left again)

Until I have an intuitive understanding, I will have to rely on my intellectual understanding of how the Torah defines friendship. Judaism has a lot to say on the subject but the most compelling teaching, for me, is the story of David and Yonatan. Yonatan was the son of King Saul whereas David was just a young shepherd from a large family who became prominent through a remarkable series of events. Their backgrounds had no overlap, they didn’t have similar interests, yet the Mishna describes their friendship as loyal and devoted, dependent on nothing, and everlasting. Even more remarkable was that Yonatan was the heir to his father’s throne but David took it over- a move that should have made Yonatan jealous and yet he was entirely supportive.

So the Torah defines friendship in very simple terms.

Friendship is simply an outpouring of constant love and loyalty. It may start out as connecting with someone because you both love golf, attend the same school, or share cubicle space. But that does not make a friendship. Spilling your deepest, darkest secrets doesn’t make a friendship either. Being friends with someone in your childhood or teenage years of angst is also not the magic bullet.

The answer comes down to the question: Will you allow your relationship with this person to exist superficially or will you opt to go “all in” and choose to care for him/her deeply? Do you choose to love that person? Do you choose to help that person and invest in that person? Will you allow them to help you?

The lesson for me is that friendship is a choice to prioritize a person outside of myself or my family. In this light, I am starting to wonder if maybe I have more friends than I thought.

It’s Not About Me (but I think it is)

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I really should make a video about this because I love telling the story. I laugh every time (horrified). There I was, in downtown Jerusalem, enjoying frozen yogurt with my sister, who was visiting me for the week. Somehow the cold stuff that was meant for my mouth lands on my skirt. The nearest paper towel was a good 50 feet away back in the yogurt store.

As I walk, holding my skirt,  a man sitting on the ground gesticulates at me. Embarrassed, I react in a broken Hebrew, “I know, I know. there’s a stain on my skirt. Don’t worry, I’m going to clean it now.” He doesn’t respond so I hurry past  him.

Two minutes later, my skirt is drenched but clean. I turn around and find my sister laughing. “What’s so funny?” I smile wanting in on the joke. She says, “Rachel! That man wasn’t pointing at your skirt! He was holding out his hand for charity!”.

I take a moment to process what she tells me. I am mortified by how preoccupied I was with my Number One Focus- me! I laughed, shocked by my own behavior.

Thankfully, my quick-thinking, generous sister had already offered the bewildered man a few shekalim (Israeli money) for his trouble so there was nothing left for me to do but reflect on my own self-absorption. My little splotch compared to his challenges? I was too wrapped up in my spilled snack to think about his empty stomach? Our minds are so fixated on our own personal narratives that we end up missing out on so much color and character, pain and joy, richness and texture from the the world around us.

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I’ve come to see that thinking the world revolves around me is a recipe for misery. Why does my colleague hate me? Why did that driver cut me off? Why is my friend not calling me ? Maybe, just maybe, the answer has absolutely nothing to do with me.

Now, I’m well aware that I write this in an age when the “selfie” is a socially acceptable photograph to share with thousands of strangers. Sales revenue for the selfie-stick back in 2014 was about $6 million. If our self-absorption is so blatant on the outside, imagine the monster within.

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I attended a workshop on running a home with happiness and energy a few years ago. The teacher shared an insight that sticks with me today. People who are masters of their study don’t ask themselves how they can appear to be masters. They just are. For example, an authentic community leader doesn’t ponder on what clothes best position him/her for leadership. Rather the lenses are pointed outward. How can I better serve these people?

Our Patriarch, Abraham, reversed human nature. Usually, we concern ourselves with our own physical and emotional well-being. Am I hungry? Thirsty? Hot? Cold? Tired? Sick? Sad? Happy? When we think of others, by default, we consider their spiritual well-being. She really shouldn’t talk like that. He has an anger issue! I guess they don’t keep kosher- a shame! Incredibly, Abraham did the opposite. He worried about his own spiritual health and took care of others’ physical and emotional well-being. Even when in tremendous physical pain, he hosted guests with gusto that most of us can only dream to attain.

Bishvili Nivra HaOlam The world was created just for me. V’Anochi Afar V’Efer I am but dust and ashes. In a world where self-absorption is the new normal and our minds are programmed to focus on ourselves, it is critical that we re-calibrate. Let’s together turn our attention outward and invest in the needs of others. The others in our home, the others in our community, the others in our world.

Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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I was the only woman in an office filled with rabbis when the phone rang. Someone was calling. I picked up the phone.

At 23 years old, my job was to create inspiring programs for Jewish women on the Upper West Side (I was elated). The caller was female and would only speak to a woman. She sounded upset and I wanted to help. I’ve replayed that call many times in my mind over the last decade and know that the responsible thing to do would have been to ask someone older and wiser to call her back. Luckily, I was irresponsible.

Sarah was brought up in a religious home. She was a sweet little girl with her family and a good student in school. She was kind to others and had friends. As she got older, she volunteered in after school activities. She knew that she was a “good girl” and expected to have a good life in return for her efforts. Sadly, in her teenage years, she was exposed to an adult male character who was no good at all. Following high school, when she traveled to Israel for her gap year, she experienced another negative incident.

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Sarah was a good girl and wanted a good life so she tried to shake off her unpleasant encounters. At 21, she was set up with a nice Jewish boy and married him. They had a few children and she tried to build her home and move on with her life. Despite her best efforts and what should have been a happy stage in her life, she felt trapped in her pain and sadness.

Why had God put her in a position to suffer? She was a good girl, after all.

Despite my youth, I knew to validate Sarah’s pain and listen. When she was finished, I told her what I was sure she already knew. Life is not meant to be a stroll in the park. We’re here to work. Life is full of pleasures and we should savor every one but we are meant to climb and develop, rung by rung, to reach the greatest heights we can reach. At times, those rungs come in the form of painful circumstances. We are made or broken by those circumstances.

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She asked what happens if that’s not the kind of life she signed up for? It was not the life she wanted. She preferred to follow the rules and, in exchange, be granted shelter from sadness, anger, and pain. She came into this world with an expectation of an unspoken deal with her Creator. If she’s obedient, then she’s protected from heartache.

We spoke for a long time and ended up keeping in touch for years. I relate to Sarah in that we both share a false expectation. The human experience seems to be hard-wired with a cycle of process, milestone, and then process again. We think we have everything figured out and in that very moment of confidence, the rug is pulled out from underneath, leaving us disoriented and forced to adjust to a new reality. It often comes as a shock and just as often humbles us to our core. I would argue that the rug-pulling may be for the express purpose of jarring us from our feelings of security, confidence, and (perhaps) complacency.

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So many examples come to mind.

  1. Dating- You work so hard to meet The One. When you do, no matter your education, a part of you is sure you’ll ride off into the distance together. Details for the ride are fuzzy. GPS not included.
  2. Parenting- You spend your childhood (just me?) sure you will be the best parent. Then you have a child and realize you are clueless and the most knowledgeable experts in the world have less insight than you do about your child. (Note: That shouldn’t stop us from consulting them).
  3. Personal Development- I finally figured out how to be a good person after years of study and practice only to realize that I’ve mastered an exceptionally narrow lane and I have miles to go.
  4. Reputation- After significant effort invested in community service or professional endeavors, I make a mistake or suffer a humiliation in the presence of others.

I’m really glossing over these big categories but you catch my gist.

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Sometimes, nothing goes wrong but the things that were supposed to go right just never happen. We wake up and look at our lives through the eyes of our past selves. This is NOT what I signed up for. 

If you’re reading this – or if you’re not reading this- you did NOT sign up for your life. You were supposed to have kids by now. You weren’t supposed to get divorced. You were supposed to have a great job that you love. You weren’t supposed to be this old. Your finances were supposed to be better. You weren’t supposed to suffer with physical pain or illness.

So what now?

Dear family, friends, and me: Our lives are not what we signed up for but they are exactly what we need. Your life is tailor-made for what you need right now. The big gaping holes and the terrible messes are by design. So what is life asking of you right now? What are you supposed to be doing?

Maybe you need to focus on healing. Maybe you need to focus on sharing. Perhaps more time doing and less time thinking (perhaps more time thinking and less time doing). Move faster. Invest more. Slow down. Be deliberate. Whatever circumstance you have in front of you, there is something important being asked of you. Someone is calling.

Pick up the phone.

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Potentially Fabulous

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I really want to make something of myself. I know people who have. I know a guy who doesn’t quit. He works around the clock to build up his non-profit organization that he’s passionate about- all while holding down a job to support his family. Another example is my friend who almost never sits down. Not kidding. She seems to feed off of an undetectable energy and works incredibly hard to make her home warm and happy, constantly helps members of the community, hosts countless meals, and somehow has endless time to listen attentively to all sorts of people she encounters.

Another fabulous woman I know – I wish you could meet her because there’s no way to do her justice here- is incredibly generous with her time, energy, and talents. A fellow teacher, since the beginning of the year she has constantly tried to help me navigate through projects, students, parents, and colleagues. “Oh, I’ll do that” is her motto and she has quickly become my first stop when I need help at work. Peeking through her classroom window showed me I’m not unique- this lady gives to many with a full heart. Those who are close with her know that if you need a sympathetic ear, sage advice, help with cutting and pasting, or even a kosher (she’s not Jewish) snack – she provides and a relationship is built. When teaching at a public school in a “bad”  neighborhood, she nearly adopted one of her young students who was neglected and abused by his parents. This might surprise you but if you knew her, it wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong- none of these people are saints. I’ve actually seen them when they’re not being fabulous. There’s no point in sharing their flaws but, rest assured, they exist. What distinguishes them for me is that most of the time, these people have captured something. A generosity of spirit, a strong work ethic, they’re LIVING LIFE and not just living. Thinking of them moves me off of my couch and towards real-world activity and connection.

You know the classic report card guaranteeing that a student is full of potential? That she or he would be FABULOUS if only…. Well what happens many years after the report cards have been signed and the parent/teacher conferences (strategizing about how this vague potential will be actualized) are long over? Do these little rug-rats, exploding with potential, actualize, maximize, LIVE?

Until recently, I considered my life as an extension of my childhood; I felt I was a (incredibly blessed) Youth of the Nation. It took me three years to figure out that the real Youth no longer view me as one of the Nation. Maybe it was my age, or my children, or my maturity (ok, maybe not the maturity) but clearly something changed. This is the next chapter of my life, the one where all the supposed potential unleashes…right?

Childhood and adolescence is often marked by living in the moment (hopefully joyful ones) and self-absorption. As children, we thought the world revolved around us, that our parents’ lives began when we were born, that our needs should come first. As teenagers, we just didn’t think (should I only speak for myself?). Our decisions were shaped by our whims with no forethought to consequences or aftermath. To fulfill our potential as adults, we’d have to break free of the narcissism and selfishness, simultaneously maintaining the joie de vivre that most children have in spades. For me- if not for all of us- it is that happy spirit, appreciation for life, selflessness, and ACTION that largely defines “actualizing potential”. These are the hallmarks of people who are LIVING. Like I said, I really want to make something of myself and not get stuck just potentially fabulous.