This Elul, I’m Not Trying to be a Better Person

Every year at this time of year, I brace myself for a new trek down the road of Teshuva. It’s a time to take stock of where I excelled, faltered and plateaued, and challenge myself to do better.

Truth is, as a Millennial, that’s the message I’ve been raised with my whole life, at every time of year:

If you will it, it is no dream.

Keep moving forward. 

Never, never, never give up. 

Don’t be afraid to be great. 

My generation has been trained to think that we are the heroes of our own stories. We can accomplish whatever we put our minds to: push boundaries, lead innovation, change the world.

But what happens when we don’t live up to those heroic expectations?

I know these phrases are meant to motivate, but now, I find them somewhat misguiding. It’s important to believe in ourselves, and to deeply feel that we have something important to achieve, but what I’ve found on my own journey is that sometimes, in the process of becoming a “better person,” I’ve also become intent on proving my worth. In an effort to show that I had something special to offer, I forgot the point.

In Tehillim 16, King David says, “the sorrows of those who hurry after another multiply.” Often it’s connoted that “another” refers to another god, but Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch purposely leaves “god” out of his interpretation. Today, we have Another of a different kind: a insistent emphasis on achievement.

In 2017, we can be anything we want. Doctors. Entrepreneurs. Creators. Global citizens. Or all of the above if we can figure it out. We have great expectations of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. But what happens though when someone doesn’t fit the mold of the ambitious go-getter? What happens when, in our attempt to become better, we lose sight of our true purpose: to be genuine stewards of the gifts G-d gives us. Sometimes, His plans for us aren’t epic. Sometimes, the arenas and challenges wouldn’t make a viral Instagram story or Times of Israel blog post. Sometimes, the greatest glory is considered unextraordinary compared to the expectations of 21st Century life.

Which is why, this year, instead of focusing on being a better person, I’m focusing on being a more grateful person, not just in sentiment, but in practice.

Instead of focusing on who I can be, I’d like to focus on who I already am, and build that person up.

Instead of being so intent on willing dreams into reality, moving forward, and never, never, never giving up, I’d like to bring back some real appreciation for what already is.

Because when I focus on the gracious gifts G-d gives me rather than the gifts I can give Him, I have more to genuinely offer in the long run.

And I think that’s really the point.

About the Author
Eliana is a project manager and writer living in New York. An experienced Wandering Jew, she's lived in 10 cities (so far) including a state capital (Albany), a country's capital (Jerusalem), and the most diverse county in America (Queens).
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