Listening to my heart… the acid test

I recently called a friend and mentor to discuss a decision I had to make that was keeping me up at night.

After talking for over an hour, her advice to me was simple: “Follow your heart. You already know the answer. At the end of the day the one true test is this: Can you look at yourself in the mirror and be proud?”

That “test” — the one of being able to be proud of the decisions we make, the words we speak, and the way we live our lives — seemingly is without nuance. How hard could it possibly be to decide whether an action will allow you to be proud of the person looking back at you in the mirror? It should be black and white, right or wrong.

But once I started to let this marinate a bit, I began to examine more closely some of the very complex and tangled roots that feed our sense of pride and inform our notions of right and wrong, of good and bad. After all, we are taught these kinds of things from birth: What makes our parents proud? Our siblings? Our friends? Our teachers? Can we be proud of choices that make those we love unhappy? Can we embrace things about ourselves and others in our lives that we know would make someone important to us cringe with disapproval? Can we ever really shed the voice in our head that clouds our own wants and needs with the multitude of opinions we have learned along the way?

I kept playing the words over in my head: “You have to be proud. Your heart knows the answer already. Can you look at yourself in the mirror and approve?” After a few days of this (well, let’s be honest — it was mostly nights), I was fairly pleased to learn that after 37 years of life, I actually can clear away the noise in my head long enough to listen to my heart in most matters. I can examine decisions, unravel and uncover which pieces are truly mine, and go with my gut.

It has been a long and sometimes difficult path to get to this place of assuredness and confidence, but I feel like the prize that I won — knowing what makes me happy and proud regardless of outside pressure or others’ opinions — is well worth the climb.

However, as we all know, our work in life is never done. It’s not enough to achieve a moment of success and growth and think we have nothing left to learn. After this period of reflection, I am committing myself to really work on the ways in which I may be clouding my children’s inner voices. I want them also to know what makes them happy, content, and proud — and I want them to have to work less than I did in order to listen to their hearts. I want them to think less about what pleases me and more about what they truly want.

After all, at the end of the day, if each of us takes ownership of fulfilling our own dreams as opposed to the desires of others, the world would be a much more honest and uncomplicated place to live.

I want this for my children as much as for myself.

About the Author
Cheryl Rosenberg lives in Englewood, NJ where she is a councilmember representing Ward 1 and a member of Kehilat Kesher Synagogue. Cheryl is the senior director of marketing and communications for Prizmah: Center for Jewish day Schools and is the immediate past president of Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. She is an executive board member of Teach NJS, a leadership councilmember of the Jewish New Teach Project, a recent graduate of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program, and a long-time activist in the areas of civil liberties, equality, and women’s rights.