Try this—answer a question in your head. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Obviously, most people reading this are already grown up, but play along anyway. If you could be something else, what would you be? Got an answer? Good.
This is a little exercise I love to do with groups of kids, especially teenagers. I ask them that simple question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?” And then I take a bunch of their responses. “Veterinarian.” “Teacher.” “Scientist.” “Professional Baseball player.”
Then I point out that, like always, all of the answers I got were careers. They were all nouns. I’ll be your answer was, too. No one, with very, very few exceptions, has ever answered the question with an adjective. Try it that way—what do you want to be when you group up?
“Kind.” “Generous.” “Loving.”
Here's the thing about careers – we have limited control over which ones we’re going to have. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be a veterinarian. But, my first time observing a bloody medical procedure on an animal pretty much put the kibosh on that. Advanced chemistry, which I encountered later, probably would have ended it, if that had still been my dream! I also dreamt of being a baseball player. It's pretty clear that wasn't going to happen.
But the adjectives? There's almost nothing standing in the way of my becoming whichever adjective I really want to be. If I want to be kind, all I have to do is start being kind. If I want to be more generous, all I have to do is start giving more. It's not always easy, obviously. There’s psychology, tendencies, personal histories and lots more with which to contend. But, ultimately, it's very simple. All we have to do in order to be the people we want to be, is to start being them.
I think that's the point of the High Holy Days, and of teshuvah — repentance. It's not really about sitting in synagogue, beating our breasts for all the things we've done wrong, praying that we’ll be spared from God's wrath. Really, it's about thinking about the times when we weren't acting like the people we want to be. And, it’s about committing to doing so, starting right now.
If you're going to Yom Kippur services tomorrow night or Saturday, or even if you're not, try taking a little bit of time and asking yourself what you want to be when you grow up. Ask yourself what traits, which adjectives, you wish you had more of. And then, just do it. Just start being the person you want to be, starting right now. The only thing standing between you and a better version of you, is you.
At least, that's the only thing that's been standing in the way up until now. Maybe tomorrow, there won’t be anything standing in the way, at all.
G'mar Chatima Tova – may we all be sealed in the Book of Life.