For many years the idea of writing a book was a kind of joke in my house.
After one intense conversation or another, usually about our roles as educators, my husband would say, “So, when are you are going to write a book about trust and fear?”
It’s not that I didn’t ever think about it. But I was afraid.
* * *
In 11th and 12th grade, I had been the op-ed editor of my high school newspaper. Every month, I would voice my opinion about some issue that was on my mind. I wrote passionate articles on whether the school microwave was kosher, whether people were as tolerant as they claimed to be and whether the unofficial student-organized blind date night that took place every year with our “brother school” was a good idea or not. In my memory, I had written well developed articles with cogent arguments.
Or so I thought.
When my husband and I were dating, I dug some of my thought pieces out of my closet to share a piece of my personal history and development with him. I was excited to give him that window into my soul. And then we started reading. I was horrified. My face flushed with embarrassment; I quickly shut the newspaper.
The writing was immature, the arguments were silly.
Worst of all, I was smug and condescending in how I presented them. True, I was 16-years-old at the time and very much still forming my identity, but what I saw in front of me did not jive with my clearly romanticized memory of it all.
When you put yourself out there in writing, it is frightening. It is final. Black on white. You can’t take it back or undo it. You can’t revise it or continue to edit.
And you wonder if you had something real and meaningful to contribute, if you expressed and captured your ideas as well as possible, if they will be well received, or if you shared your heart and soul (as well as some personal stories along the way) and will end up regretting it.
These fears and others held me back for a long time from writing publicly. I had no problem sharing thoughts with family, friends and students. You can always clarify, send the next email, or follow up with a phone call to discuss topics more in depth.
The thought of writing for a wider audience, on the other hand, invoked all of my fears and insecurities. What would others think of me? Am I intellectual enough? Do I know how to write well? Do I have something meaningful to say? Am I sharing too much? Will an older version of me, or a current, neutral observer, roll their eyes, as I did about my high school op-eds?
The irony is that what I wanted to write about was precisely how fear gets in the way of our following our gut instincts. Our intuitive sense of what we seek for ourselves. Those deeper wants that, once we cut through all the fears, are left lying out there in plain view.
For years, I pushed off this project, all the while observing — in my students, in my friends, and in myself — how fear can get in the way of good decision-making, and how empowering and clarifying the encouragement to trust one’s own judgments and intuitions can be.
And occasionally, in the throes of some emotional whirlwind, I would allow myself to pour my feelings into a blog post that I would cautiously share with others.
To write was cathartic and would help me process some challenging event or reality or complex thought I was having (often about the themes of fear and trust in decision-making or the willingness to live with tension). To post, though, took the courage to follow my intuition and trust that I could make good decisions — which is still not easy for me, but has usually left me happy with the paths I have taken.
And so, despite all of my self-doubts about a big writing project, I knew what I really wanted.
I wanted to share ideas that my husband and I continue to find so empowering and that my students have seemed to grow from.
I wanted to describe the risks of guilt and the benefits of trust in childrearing and education.
I wanted to encourage parents to trust in the ancient traditions that they are so earnestly trying to pass down, and students to trust their own instincts in identifying healthy and unhealthy models of mentoring.
And I wanted to share my deep, deep conviction that, in granting each one of us free will (bechira chofshit), God puts His trust in our abilities to make good decisions, and that believing in Him means believing in ourselves as well.
In What Do You Really Want? I explore a broad range of situations — from young adulthood to middle-age and beyond — in which I have encountered the benefits of a “trust” approach to decision-making.
I also try to be honest about the fact that making decisions does not necessarily resolve the tensions between competing options and values, but often perpetuates them. But that possibility doesn’t need to scare us. It is okay to acknowledge that making a choice can mean leaving something behind or to wonder about the path not taken. Sometimes, in fact, that license is exactly what we need in order to move forward.
I had a lot of fears about putting this material — some of it autobiographical — out there, and I am definitely still living with the resultant tensions that for me center around exposure and vulnerability.
Ultimately, however, I am driven by a growing awareness of how young people especially are having increasing difficulty feeling confidence in their own instincts and decisions. While developing trust has never been simple, the challenge has been magnified by an abundance of choice, an emphasis on pluralism, problematic trends in education and current fads in parenting.
Furthermore, in multiple conversations with peers about our own decision making, it became clear how much adults struggle with all of these issues as well.
I know I do.
When I make a decision from a place of fear, I usually come to regret it and feel resentful –most often at myself, for not having the strength to do what I knew I really wanted to do.
I knew I wanted to write this book. I believe deeply in its messages. I hope it will help illuminate a path toward better understanding, deeper self-awareness and stronger decisions.
But the fears are real, and they are still here.
I’ve learned that that’s okay.