Sunday, November 21, 2010

Strive for Greatness

“Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”  - William Shakespeare

Chassidic philosophy teaches that all of us are destined for greatness.  We all have genius in some aspect of our lives and it is our obligation to discover and use that genius.  Neglecting this obligation can lead to fundamental and persistent psychological problems.  A healthy psyche does not result from a life free from strife, but rather, it is the natural consequence of a life in pursuit of greatness. 

The pursuit of greatness starts with an exploration of our personal and innate talents, traits, and preferences – basically “who are we?”  This is not as hard as it sounds.  It can be as simple as remembering back to childhood and asking, “What did I love back then?  What was I good at?  What could I do in my sleep?”  I have asked these questions to literally hundreds of my clients in therapy and have never had someone stumped.  It may take a little prodding and encouragement, but everyone can find something they have always loved and been good at.  This little exercise begins the process of discovering the essential self.

Next, we have to scan our world to determine what needs to be accomplished.  The world we live in is, to say the least, imperfect – it needs to be fixed.  According to Chassidic Philosophy everyone has the obligation (and ability) to make the world just a little bit better.  We are hard-wired for this job and feel unsettled when we are unable to do it.  Unfortunately, we are often distracted away from this core function.  The main reason we don’t always follow this path, I believe, is because we are too busy warding off perceived threats.  We can’t accomplish anything great when we are in “fight or flight” mode – all we can do is survive.

I remember one day when my oldest son was just a toddler he ran up to me with pure joy and jumped into my arms.  I expected him to look lovingly into my eyes, but instead he turned his face away from me and happily gazed out at the world around him.  I realized at that moment what my job as a father is – to make sure my mere presence allows my children to feel safe looking out into their worlds.

Unfortunately, many people have never experienced this feeling of comfort, so instead of exploring their worlds, making mistakes, dusting themselves off and trying again, they do whatever they can to keep dangerous situations and people at bay. 

In order to move out of this survival mode we need to find someone – a teacher, mentor, or guide – who can be a stabilizing and reassuring presence in our lives.  We need someone to connect with.  In the Chassidic world this person is called a mashpia.  A therapist can be this person – so can a parent.  It is any person who makes us feel comfortable enough to look out into the world in pursuit of opportunities rather than in avoidance of threats.

When we feel comfortable in our own skins and can walk with our heads up and our eyes forward we are ready for the last step in the pursuit of greatness – namely, plugging ourselves into that particular part of the world that needs our natural traits and talents.  Truly, we are the answer to what’s ailing our planet.  You’ve always had a way with kids?  Great, be a parent, a teacher, or a coach.  You’ve always been good with plants?  Fabulous, start an urban garden, grow organic vegetables, or give a class at a retirement center.  You’ve always had a knack for business?  Stupendous, mentor a non-profit on how to manage their finances or teach single moms how to manage their budgets.

Whoever you are – you are needed.  Find out what you’re good at, discover what needs to be accomplished in this world, and plug yourself in so that you can be of use to those around you.  This will automatically lead to greatness and is the recipe for a happy and well-adjusted life.

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