It leads to superficial "improvement" and can even foster bad traits. In this way, comparing yourself to others forces you down a path completely wrong for you. So you think you're improving, but in reality? You're actually falling behind. You're regressing.
A Copy is Never as Good as the Original
But you can't imitate her.
Yes, you can learn from her. You can adapt the qualities you admire in her for yourself.
But you can't emulate her exactly, nor should you.
This gets tricky because sometimes, a person you respect may encourage you to:
- be like another person
- conform to some amorphous "ideal" upheld in a particular venue
- be like him- or herself
When discussing what they think you should be doing, that person can chuckle or smirk in a way that makes you feel incompetent or lazy for not doing what they recommend.
They may have no idea that their chuckling and smiling is a form of ridicule, and instead think they're just being gentle or good-natured.
Regardless, it's important not to give in when you're feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable with the advice.
I've personally capitulated because I honestly believed the hype, then found myself in a situation I didn't know how to get out of (because I went in blind to it in the first place, so couldn't find my way out). Sometimes, it had a terrible effect on my family or health because I'm simply not enough of a high-energy multi-tasker to juggle what other people seem to be able to juggle.
And everything just collapsed, leaving me with a complicated mess to clean up.
A Warped Self-Image
However, Aliza was the kind of person you could call in the middle of the night to watch your children if you needed to rush off to the hospital to give birth. She cheerfully arrived at your home and then got your older children off to school in the morning. In fact, she was great with kids and her home was often open to her neighbors' children.
And she did all this happily.
I tried convincing Aliza that her brand of chessed was actually rarer and more necessary than the conventional meal preparation. In many communities, it's not that hard to find someone to volunteer to make a meal (or at least part of a meal). Furthermore, a family can also order a meal, depending on their location.
But how many people can you call in the middle of the night to come over and watch your kids?
Maybe people want to do it, but they just can't.
Anyway, Aliza ultimately wasn't consoled. Books and lectures are filled with stories of wonderful ladies making food for others. It's a very common chessed in the frum community, so you also know a lot of women who do it.
Because it seemed like something simple that "everyone else" was doing, Aliza saw herself as defective because she couldn't do it too.
And that's too bad.
Aliza's chessed was very precious and obviously exactly what Hashem wanted her to be doing. Yet she could not see it that way.
Only You Can Fulfill Your Own Purpose
Perhaps they mean well. But if you give into their pressure, you can find yourself feeling like you're wearing an ill-fitting shirt that's too small and itchy.
By the way, sometimes another person is right: You do need to go down a certain path or take on a certain task.
But not necessarily right now. And not necessarily in the way they mean for you to do it. It has to be done according to your capabilities and resources, not theirs.
Even our tzaddikim were not carbon copies of each other. While all have been tremendous Torah scholars, some were known for their unwavering hasmadah, some were known for their great chessed, some displayed wonderful social skills while others did not. Some were geniuses at leadership and community organization. Some excelled in redeeming captives or assisting agunahs or dealing with medical issues.
This list could go on and on, but you get the picture.
If you give up your own unique flavor imbued within you by Hashem, then the world actually loses something...even if it's only your one small corner of the world, it's still a loss.
You were put here to fulfill your mission, not someone else's.
Depending on your situation, this can be hard. People, social expectations, and your own insecurities can pull you in different directions.
So what to do?
- If the pressure is coming from others, take a quiet moment to evaluate their opinions and feel free discard whatever doesn't seem right for you (or right for you at this time; maybe later it will be right for you).
- If the pressure is coming from yourself, take a quiet moment to ask yourself if these expectations are right for you at this moment.
You can either talk this out with Hashem or write this down and make lists about the issues or a mind-map, or combine the talking and writing together.
For a related post, please see:
How to Treat Yourself Right