There was once a rich man who invited a lot of his friends to his house for a big party. At the party, he took his friends to the backyard where there was a swimming pool. The swimming pool was filled with a few man-eating sharks. The rich man announced that if someone would swim from one end of the pool to the other end, the rich man would give that man anything he wanted. Thirty seconds passed. Forty-five seconds passed. Finally, a minute later, there was a splash, and a man was frantically swimming for his life from one end of the pool to the other end trying to avoid the sharks. Somehow, the man made it to the other end of the pool. When he got out of the pool, the rich man congratulated him and said, “As I promised, I will give you whatever you want. Tell me what you want.” The man, who was breathing heavily, said, “I want to know the name of the guy who pushed me in the pool!”
In our lives, it is God who pushes us in the pool. God creates challenges for us that may at first seem insurmountable. We find ourselves in situations that seem unmanageable, unfair, and make us wish we could just bury our heads in the sand. But when we are pushed in, forced to step up to the task, so often we find that we are capable of more than we realized. And only then do we see our own potential – “Wow! I’m a baal chesed!” “Wow! I have a passion for Israel advocacy!” “Wow! I can experience heartfelt meaningful prayer!” “Wow! I do have leadership potential!” Sometimes, if we adopt the right perspective, we can see that the challenges God presents us with are in reality opportunities for growth. Indeed, that’s a primary goal of the Aseret Ymei Teshuva. We think about all the times that God has thrown us in the pool over the past year, and take stock of how we’ve grown from those experiences, how they have helped us recognize our strengths, our passions and ultimately our calling in life.
This process is akin to the Strengthsfinder 2.0 test that tens of millions of people have taken to discover their top traits. Based on positive psychology and the science of strengths, Strengthsfinder 2.0 builds on what people do well, rather than focusing on their weaknesses. Strengths are far less static than many people think and understanding this helps people adopt a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset, a concept introduced by Carol Dweck. If we understand our strengths and believe that we can nurture those strengths, then we will identity opportunities to develop them, set goals around them, and achieve those goals.
In Out of the Whirlwind, Rav Soloveitchik writes, “Judaism believes that each person has a fixed place in creation. If I find myself thrust in here and now, it is because God thinks that I can act here and now efficiently. If I had been born a hundred years ago or if I would come into this world a century later, my contribution as a servant would be nil. God wills me to act right here and now. On Yom Kippur, we pray, ‘My Lord, before I was created I was of no worth, and now that I have been created it is as if I had not been created.’ Before I was created there was no need for my service. I had no place in the order of things and events, and I could not serve God. My creation implies a twofold message: my service is required and I have the ability to act here and now. With the birth of every person, a situation is formed within which he can serve God; otherwise he would not have be born… If man comprehends the role of a servant of God, then his life is one long service, and death is the conclusion of this hallowed service.”
May we all recognize that God put us on this earth at this moment for a purpose, may each one of us embark on our own spiritual Strengthsfinder journey this week, and discover who we truly are.