Jewish guilt is real. Despite our best intentions, we always feel like we can be doing more. And we are frustrated when we fall short of whatever perceived limits we should have. Even the Talmud speaks about the anxiety that our people experience. So I get it, you should be better than you are. And if only you could push yourself a little bit more, you’d be so much better off.
I’d argue with that whole principle. Jewish mystic tradition teaches that doing more stuff, achieving, building, really isn’t the way to make yourself feel better. In fact, the foundation of warding off frustration and depression seems almost so simple that we don’t even want to do it.
Let’s start with how we should train ourselves to wake up in the morning. The modeh ani prayer tells us that with each day, G-d is voting for us to succeed. No matter what we did yesterday, G-d faithfully gives us the ability to wake up and do it again better today. A lot of time we see ourselves as behind the ball. If only is a thought that plagues us. Not today, say the mystics. Each day you have the opportunity to try again, to start fresh. And if G-d has faith in us to give us another crack at life, shouldn’t we have that same faith in ourselves as well?
And try another idea on for size. R’ Nachman of Breslov says that if a person ever wants to feel good, he should remember the fact that he’s Jewish. Now, in a way that seems like a huge copout. Why should we feel good about something we had really no control over? But that’s the whole point. Despair sets in when we think we need to be something or to accomplish something in order to be valuable.
This terrible idea that we are intrinsically unworthy until we do something fills us with anxiety and dread. And if also permeates how we view others around us. We look at people and wonder, “what did you do for me lately?” If someone doesn’t do something to warrant our appreciation, love, or affection, we start to wonder their utility in our lives.
As soon as someone can move beyond that, to a place where we see ourselves as already valuable, already special, not because of what we do but because of who we are — long before we started doing anything, we start to build self-love and self-esteem. You’re already great. By looking to add onto that, you’re taking away instead of building.
It’s a deep seeded and overlooked phenomenon. Most of us (myself included) operate out of a sense of lack. If I don’t do x, I’m worthless. If I don’t look a certain way, make a certain amount of money, learn enough Torah, etc., I might as well not be here. When we do this, all of what we do is motivated and activated from a dark place. And we can never fill that place.
But if we start from the perspective that we are already wonderful, that we have already won by being here, by being born, etc., then everything we do enhances that which is already fixed and light and wonderful. We show up happier, more confident, and not needing the assurance and approval of others. We can never do our way into being, but once we are valuable, everything we do comes from the right place.
Three practical steps:
1. Each morning, recognize that you’re given a new chance to have the day that you want. And that if you don’t succeed, you’ll have tomorrow.
2. See yourself as valuable already, without needing to do anything.
3. Love others for who they are, not what they do for you.