Al Chet

Sometimes it feels like the Cosmos is a fan of themes. I often joke that obscure legal transactions come in twos, but it also seems that other events in life also seem to whirl together in an eddy of space-time now and again. That happened this week when I read a particularly thoughtful piece by motivational speaker Tony Robbins about forgiveness (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/f-word-youre-trying-ignore-tony-robbins), right on the heels of spending 25 hours fasting and reflecting on my own shortcomings and straight-up failures on the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, and right before I read an article posted by my dear friend Liz about the infamous Mom Guilt (http://www.mamamia.com.au/career/lean-in-women/). After reading the article that Liz shared, I reread Tony’s article about forgiveness in a new light: finding greater satisfaction and meaning in life comes not just from forgiving others, but (and perhaps most importantly) from forgiving ourselves.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement.  On this day, Jews pray to G-d to forgive our sins. This list is long (here’s a link to one version of the list: http://www.aish.com/h/hh/yom-kippur/guide/Exploring_the_Al-Chet_Prayer.html), and the process is pretty rough. Ten different times over the holiday, you pound your fist on your chest over your heart as you say out loud every sin on the list. Not only that, but you directly ask individuals you have wronged over the year for forgiveness. It is a difficult time of year because it causes one to focus on one’s shortcomings, failures, etc., as a friend, parent, child, employee, employer, community member, and human being. But at the end of the day, forgiveness awaits.

I think the notions of expectation, failure, and (hopefully) forgiveness apply to almost anyone with any sense of drive, ambition, or expectation of themselves. Our world is one of high hopes and goals. Every start-up founder dreams of nailing that pitch and securing Series A funding from that prestigious VC fund. Every doctor hopes they are the pioneer that life-saving technique. Every lawyer has visions of making that case-winning argument. Every parent hopes they’ll never yell at their kids in a destructive way. Every friend aspires to be that friend who is there at every moment for their friend in need. Every spouse tries to be that person their spouse thinks they are (same goes for dog owners). Some of us aspire to go to the gym as often as we are supposed to. Others hope they won’t crash their diet in a moment of weakness when eating seems to be the only thing that feels good. Some hope they’ll never have that drink “just to take the edge off.” Or that drug.

Life is hard. Some days it feels like you’re running a track that has a hurdle set up every 10 feet; as soon as you clear one, you’re trying to navigate the next one. Tony’s article made a great point: sometimes those hurdles are set up by other people, and we should change how we approach them. We can see those hurdles as one of two things: an obstacle put up to impede our trajectory, or an object that tips that trajectory further upwards: something that helps us grow, strengthen, and improve in order to face the next hurdle. Tony’s article tells us to look for the positives in the obstacles that are thrown our way by others. Rather than seeing them as things that slow us down, they are things that make us stronger, more resilient, and in some cases, give us insight into how to handle the next problem we’ll face in our lives. This is a fantastic message, and one we can all take to heart. Growth, not grudges.

But let’s switch gears and talk about ourselves. If I’m looking at a .25 mile track of my life with hurdles all over it, chances are about 85% of those were erected by me. The other 15% fall into the category described in the paragraph above–those set up by other people. If I’m smart, I’ll take Tony’s advice and try to grow from those 15%. But what of the hurdles I set up for myself? These are different. These aren’t really hurdles in the same sense, because they aren’t obstacles to me achieving my goals. No, these hurdles are my goals; they are the lofty expectations of myself that I hope to clear on the track. I set them up, so I beat myself up even harder when I can’t leap over them. This happens on a daily basis, which brings me to the article that Liz posted.

The article’s focus is moms who are struggling with either side of the terrible mom coin: working mom vs. stay at home mom.  I’m not going to get into the whole Mommy Wars thing, because that’s not the focus of the piece. The article’s audience is moms who are struggling with feeling like they’re not meeting an expectation they’ve set up. If they had a career prior to baby and their body and soul, but perhaps not their mind, is telling them to stay home a bit longer with the baby and “lean out,” so to speak, they are struggling with this because boss, co-workers, other professionals in their sphere are telling them they shouldn’t.  If they have been home with the baby for a few months are are itching to get back to work, society is telling them they are wrong for not enjoying time home with the baby and not making the most of it. Shame! Shame! that they “lean in” in baby is not yet weaned. The focus of the article is moms who are setting up hurdles based on what they think is right or what they’ve been told is right or “normal,” and who are tripping in the most gangly, uncoordinated, awkward way possible over those hurdles of “good mom,” and not getting anything from it. Sisters, have I ever been there. On both sides with my two kids.

But this isn’t just about how moms fail to meet their own expectations–that article just happened to be timely and relevant.  We ALL fail our own expectations. Every. Damn. Day. I have a great list of mom failures (including forgetting to sign my daughter up for after-school care–not realized until I got a call from her school asking who was picking her up. I also forgot to sign her up for pizza lunch on Fridays, and failed to send her with a lunch on that first Friday). And I yell, and get frustrated, and roll my eyes, but I have lots of other failures. I fail my spouse with frustration, displaced stress, and lack of (or delayed) appreciation for the many times he is simply a wonderful person. I fail my friends by not being there for them when they need me. After my daughter was born, my best friend’s father passed away suddenly, and I simply was not there for her because I was overwhelmed with juggling parenthood with a demanding job. It was inexcusable in my mind, but I still make that excuse like it makes it better somehow to someone. Not to her, and not to me.  I fail my partners and my clients when the other side of my life pulls at me and I sacrifice productivity for family or friends. I have put at great risk a long-term and very valuable mentor relationship in part because of my own pride and stubbornness.  This is my al chet; my confession. For all of these sins, pardon me, forgive me, atone for me. But most of all, I must forgive myself. Back to Tony’s piece…

There is much to be gained from forgiveness, particularly in forgiving ourselves. Failure is part of life. We will fail ourselves, our friends, our coworkers, our spouses, our children, and countless others. The key to success is achieving growth from that failure. We can sit and beat ourselves up over our perceived or actual inadequacies, or we can use those moments when those inadequacies are revealed as a path for growth that helps us get to a point where those inadequacies are kept at bay, and in their place are our strengths.  This is hard to do because it requires that we (1) admit that we failed, (2) recover from that failure, and (3) maintain enough ego to recognize that there is a lesson to be learned from the failure.  Many people never get to step 2, and even more never get to step 3.  I personally think the key to getting as many people to step 3 as possible is supporting one another and admitting failure to our peers who are experiencing it, and sharing stories of how we overcame and grew from it. The more horrible and cringe-worthy the better! We are all in this together. In a world of curated Facebook profiles where everyone appears to have the perfect life, family, and background, and curated LinkedIn profiles where everyone has a failure-proof pedigree, it’s up to us to pull back the curtain of perfection and show that failure is not something to be ashamed of, but something to grow from. In order to do that, we have to be open to growing from our own failures; in order to do that, we have to forgive ourselves for our failures. Growth will come from this, and then we can be thankful for the experience that led us to that growth. Here is Tony’s advice, applied to our own failures (brackets mine):

“So pick [a failure] in your life today and go blame [it] for [its] impact on your life. Blame [it] intelligently and consciously. Tell [it] all the good you have because of the “gift” [it] gave you. This kind of blame makes forgiveness automatic because instead of expecting anything, you are appreciating [its] impact. Try it for a week, and use the F words of Forgiveness & Faith (and their partner Gratitude) [towards yourself] to set yourself free. Whatever that thing is you’re hanging onto, just let it go and find the good.”

Throughout the year, we have the opportunity to learn from our shortcomings–as long as we are willing to admit them and forgive ourselves for them.

Shana tova umetukah! Have a good and sweet new year, and may we all practice forgiving ourselves!

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