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The Rat Race

We are brought into this confusing, fascinating, infuriating world for such a short amount of time, and it’s our mission to accomplish what we can for the several decades we are allotted.

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Originally published at Chabad.org.

By Zehava Deer

“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”—Dr. Seuss

It was about a year after I had gotten married, and I was hopelessly desperate to get pregnant. I looked around me at all the friends who already had children or were pregnant, and I felt despondent. I know it sounds dramatic, but I felt I could not handle the pain. I was certain I would sink into depression if I would not receive my personal redemption soon.

Around that time I was invited to dinner by one of my sisters-in-law, a mom to several adorable kids. After sitting at the dinner table for a few hours, our topic turned to me—specifically, to the fact that I wasn’t pregnant yet. She reassured me that I should just relax, enjoy my time with my husband, and in general not be stressed about it.

Then she told me that she, too, felt pressure every single day.

“Pressure? Pressure from who? Pressure for what?” I asked.

“From people around me. I walk in the street and feel inadequate. There is always something new out there to try, always something someone has that I don’t.”

I was bewildered. It was quite a frightening thought. I understood that societal norms push people to shape their lives in a certain way and in a certain timeframe. For example, in the community I live in, you are prepared to date and marry at quite a young age, and then to start a family shortly thereafter. However, when does it stop? I always believed that at some point you break free of what society expects of you, to live your life as you please. But apparently, this is not a given. Some people never stop reaching for more. Does the pressure ever stop?

Are we living in one long rat race?

It was a sobering thought. I got engaged at what society deemed an appropriate age, got married four months later, and then—and then what? Nope, pregnancy did not follow shortly thereafter. Others were sprinting ahead, while I was lagging behind.

That conversation forced me to dig deep into myself, reflect on what I thought was pain, and realize it was something different that I was experiencing.

We are brought into this confusing, fascinating, infuriating world for such a short amount of time, and it’s our mission to accomplish what we can for the several decades we are allotted. It’s like children released in a field strewn with candy, told they can keep any candy they find. The children run, desperate to find more and more and more candy. One is not enough, and neither is ten—because, look, one child has 20 already! Even if they are tired, even if they couldn’t possibly eat all that candy, they run, desperately seeking more.

Have our lives been reduced to a rat race? Why are we always running, running, running? Always racing, scrambling, snatching? We should be slowing down, taking a second look at what we do have. Those silly children in the field don’t even get to eat their candy, so busy are they collecting more and more. We need to relax, take the time to unwrap our candy, eat it, savor it.

From that moment, I vowed not to continue the rat race. I would savor my life. I would take what I was given and enjoy it, and if I got more, I would praise G‑d for His kindness.

And I have. Oh, I have.

In the beginning, it wasn’t easy. It’s tough to kick a habit. Especially one that has been cultivated since I was born. But since I’ve made the effort to get out of the rat race, my life has gotten so much easier. I can honestly say I am in a much better place right now than I was a few years back. I’ve reached an inner peace that comes with being my own person, running my own program. I can also proudly say that I love my life, thank G‑d. Do I want a child? Of course I do. But I know now more than ever that it is because I want it, not because it is expected of me.

The Kotzker Rebbe once said, “If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.”

I think that’s a brilliant line.

So, be yourself. And be happy.

Zehava Deer is the pen name of a woman living in Brooklyn who is having trouble conceiving. Her column, “Pregnant with Hope—My Journey through Infertility,” describes her journey, and how she strives to remain positive through her pain.

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About the Author: Chabad.org is a division of the Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, under the auspices of the Lubavitch World Headquarters


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