Growing Without Bounds – One Small Step at a Time

When I was growing up, for New Years Eve I would sleep over at a friend’s house, eat bags and bags of M&Ms and watch some New Years program on TV until I couldn’t stand it anymore. In between talking with my friends about which celebrity is wearing what, we would write or discuss the resolutions we would take upon ourselves in the coming year. I remember how carefully I chose what my resolutions would be, how we would discuss the pros and cons, and how ashamed I was in thinking, oh I didn’t accomplish that in the old year, but surely I’ll be able to do it in the new year.

I have now realized that I should just as seriously take this upcoming New Year.

Not only is Rosh Hashana the time when we start to stand accountable for our actions, but it is also the perfect opportunity to commit to some resolutions. The resolutions should not be as lofty as “I will become more spiritual”, but rather they should be concrete, tangible resolutions that we can SEE ourselves doing. It is the last part – seeing myself doing the resolution – that I failed to understand when I was growing up. I didn’t see myself going to the gym every day, but my resolution was to exercise more. I was setting myself up for failure by committing to a resolution I knew I couldn’t fulfil.

It is easy to say that “I will become more spiritual”. But the real question is, how will I accomplish that? I believe that is what Rosh Hashana is really asking us: what are the exact steps we will take to reach that higher level? Will I attend morning davening 3 times a week instead of just on Shabbat? Will I say Modeh Ani in the morning? Will I be kinder to my parents? Will I watch TV less? Will I read more Jewish-oriented books? What do I actually believe and know I will be able to accomplish?

I have found that I can accomplish baby steps. I may not be ready to cover my hair all of the time, even at work, but I can cover my hair when I am doing my shopping. I am not ready yet to refrain from eating lunch with my work colleagues at a non-kosher restaurant – as a matter of fact, I failed miserably and berated myself over that – but I am ready to take baby steps to remedy that. I can’t guarantee to myself that I will accomplish something major by next Rosh Hashana, but I can confidently say that I will be able to take a certain number of steps to get there.

And getting there is half the battle. Who knows what I will learn about myself during that process, but I already learned that if I am confident in the process, then I can grow without bounds.

9 comments on “Growing Without Bounds – One Small Step at a Time

  1. Ilanit, great post. I like the points you make and the personal examples.

    Charnie, OMG, my thoughts exactly: “I’m finding that as this Rosh Hashana is fast approaching, I’m still stuck on last year’s rung.”

    I find it hard to do teshuva when I feel like I’m just doing a ‘repeat’ of old teshuva. I thought I should be ‘farther’ by now, yikes.

    Really, my relationship with Hashem is like other relationships…if I move away, I have to take the steps back, treading familiar path.

    The difference from human relationships is that Hashem doesn’t move away from me; I can have the kind of relationship with him that I want to.

    I can’t believe I am such a last-minute person that I’m FINALLY feeling ready for RH on erev RH, but better late than never!

    Thanks Ilanit for an inspiring post.

  2. Thanks, Ilanit, for the reminder that we shouldn’t berate ourselves for perhaps failing to get up the next rung of the ladder. In fact, I’m finding that as this Rosh Hashana is fast approaching, I’m still stuck on last year’s rung. Some years we can leap up rapidly, other years virtually the same size “rung” is seemingly insurmountable. In my case this can be attributed to that old nemisis, yetza hora. But slowly, I’m finding new rungs also.
    It’s all a growth process. None of us were born walking, talking, reading, driving, etc. And life is a continual growth process. Just as a baby takes a few steps and then tumbles, we have to once again get up and just try to a little harder the next time.
    Wishing everyone on this great blog a K’siva v’chasima tova!

  3. Illanit–Great post! When I first thought that maybe I wanted to be a little more observant, I went “gung ho” and mostly felt overwhelmed and disappointed in myself when I wasn’t the frummest (is that a word) of the frum. Recently I came to the same conclusion as you have come to. I’ve been much more happy, and not surprisingly, I’ve progressed much more by taking lots of baby steps than I ever did before.

    Newcomer–I like your idea of taking on something new each month. I think I might try that myself.

  4. Ilanit,
    Great and honest post. You bring up a very important point in our journey of growth. Becoming more observant is not (always) an “all-or-nothing” situation. You’re fortunate that you live in a community that is open to your own personal growth.

  5. Wherever one may be on the ladder of our journey, what is most significant is if one is on the way up, or going down. Thank you so much for the inspiration.

  6. Ilanit and A Newcomer

    Thank you for sharing your progress with us. I find your stories tremendously inspiring and help strengthen me to take the next steps I need to take.

  7. I’ve been breaking things into every month or two. Started using Tefillin in April; wearing Tzitzits in June (in hindsight, starting in the heat of summer may not have been the best idea, but that’s when the inspiration came); July I worked up the nerve to tell my “for fun job” boss that I would no longer teach motorcycle riding classes on Saturdays; added Mincha and Maariv in Sept. My goal for post Rosh Hashana is to stop with the non-kosher lunches out with the co-workers, and go completely kosher.

    Basically as each inspiration comes, I’ve been researching it, getting ready, then take a deep breath and do it. I still forget the Tefillin and/or Tzitzits once in a while (fighting over 30 years of ingrained habit here) but I try to focus more on the successes.

    If I keep up at this rate, I may have to change my username/handle. ;-) (I’ve used computer forums for over 15 years, it just feels too weird to use my real name… maybe I’ll get that bold someday)

  8. A year is a long time. It’s really useful to set tangible intermediate goals and to reflect often on to how best to reach them, and how quickly. Even without a real schedule, any planning helps.

    Friends who have already gotten past an obstacle you’re facing can tell you how they did it. They have had setbacks, too.

    If you know someone on the same general path as you, you can provide moral support to each other.

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