[I love this post at Life in Israel, even though we didn’t build them in the first place.]
Okay, so everyone who has known me during the past 20-plus years is laughing at the title to this post. But I’m actually serious.
Since mid-adolescence, I’ve unconsciously pressed myself into Type-A, schedule/rush behavior, along the way to certain goals. While in YU I wanted to complete certain sefarim, and I pushed to do that. Then I became a rabbi, and I pressed in a lot of different directions. Then I entered the world of the start-up kollel, and I’ve packed my schedule since Day 1. I had good reason for doing these things – I wanted the best and broadest success, and my role models were people who had led hard-driving, 24-7 lives. And that wasn’t bad, and, thank Gd, I’ve had some success and I’ve been healthy.
But the pressure makes me anxious, and when I'm under great pressure I become irritable, and for some time now I’ve begun to believe two ideas:
1 – It is possible to be hard-driving, 24-7, and still be laid back in going about it.
2 – Anxiety and tension are not what I want or need.
Psychologists like to say that people don’t change unless their current situation becomes unbearable. I don’t agree (unless you tautologically define the situations in which people attempt change as a priori unbearable). My life is quite bearable and satisfying, and I’m doing well, thank Gd. But I still want this change.
I want it because people who are laid back live longer. (Case in point: I daven mainly in two shuls when I’m in Israel, the Nasi on Ussishkin and the GRA shul in Shaarei Chesed. In both of those, during this past week’s trip, I learned that long-time stalwarts of the minyan, men who always struck me as strongly Type A and who were not that old, had died recently.) Enjoying my children, and Gd-willing grandchildren some day, is a priority of mine.
I want it because anxiety is habit-forming and contagious; it spreads, quickly, from necessary situations to silliness. Certainly, worrying about antagozing people, or about doing a poor job, makes sense. But once I begin to worry about major issues, that anxiety spreads to matters like missing a train (you can catch the next one, or just start out earlier), or sitting behind a slow-moving car in traffic.
I want it because this is the kind of life I want to model for my children. In the beginning of this week I described my belief that a primary job of parents is to teach their children how to cope; if my children would see me grow tense and upset over problems and prospective problems, they would naturally emulate this (at least until they would become mature enough to rebel, anyway).
I want it because I believe this is Jewishly correct. The concept of bitachon (trusting Gd to choose what is best for you) demands a degree of surrender, and emphasis on personal control encourages the illusion of כחי ועוצם ידי, that I am the source of my accomplishments.
And I want it because I like people who are laid back.
I believe that sheviras hamidos, breaking one’s traits, is possible. And I’m going to try.
I will still aim to accomplish everything, but I will be more careful about the cost/benefit in investing time in that goal. In the past I would willingly devote uncalled-for hours to pursue an additional tangent for a shiur, for example; I will need to remind myself daily to avoid that.
I will need to recognize the fungability of time – that time spent in one place truly can be made up elsewhere, on most occasions, and so I don’t need to be uptight about losing 15 minutes here or there. This realization can do wonders for road rage.
Finally, I will commit myself to Rush Happy. This means looking for humor in potentially-frustrating situations which really aren’t the end of the world, but which can feel like it (like when I boarded the plane for my return trip from Israel and realized I didn’t have a power outlet to charge my computer; or when I arrived in Newark from Israel to discover that my connection to Toronto had been cancelled). And it means that even when I need to rush, such as in leaving minyan early for carpool, I can keep in mind the positive aspects of the things I get to do – like driving carpool.
I don’t know that I’ll succeed, but I’m going to try. Advice and chizuk (encouragement) welcome.