One of my favorite movies to watch growing up was Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. On a whim, I decided to watch it this past weekend, taking a break from intensive LSAT studying. Julia Roberts plays a woman who works at her family’s small-town hardware store. She has earned a notorious reputation for ditching her fiancée on her wedding day. Richard Gere plays a reporter, who has heard of her exploits and arrives in town to write about her. During his research, Richard discovers that Julia told each man she dated that she preferred her eggs prepared exactly the same way that he did. When Richard asks Gill, the hippie auto mechanic its “fried — just like me.” When he asks Brian, the priest, it’s “scrambled with salt, pepper, and dill — just like me.” When he asks George, the entomologist, its “poached — just like me.” And when he asks Bob, the football coach, its “garden omelet, egg whites only — just like me.”
Watching the scene made me pause for a minute and wonder. Am I living in the shadows of other people’s expectations? How well do I really know myself? Unfortunately, there are times where we base our likes and dislikes on other people’s opinions. Feeling accepted can be so important to us that we behave the way we think others want us to, and never take the time to discover a true sense of self. As Julia Robert’s so aptly put it, “When I was walking down the aisle, I was walking toward somebody who had no idea who I really was. And it was only half the other person’s fault because I had done everything to convince him I was exactly what he wanted.” One can often get so caught up in the need for approval from others that one forgets about what truly brings us joy. In order to truly be happy, it’s important to develop a personal identity. One of the most famous and familiar mitzvot in the entire Torah is “V’ahavata l’rayacha kamocha You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Vayikra 19:18).” The Torah is telling us that it’s impossible to make a commitment to another relationship if you don’t first make a commitment to yourself.
We are each given a unique mission in life, assigned just to us. And the more we strive to maintain a more differentiated sense of “self”, the more our individual purpose can become defined. In his book, Mesilat Yesharim, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto writes that if you pay attention to your life, your mission should become as clear to you as day or night. By striving to examine our own unique talents and gifts, and using those same abilities to improve ourselves, we are taking our own “shape.” In doing so, we balance the drive for both individuality and intimacy and hopefully achieve a greater awareness of self-validation. This process of maintaining symmetry between the two allows us to maintain our sense of self when we are in relationships with other people — be they friends, family, or spouses – as well as when we find ourselves alone. Appreciating the fact that we each have our own mission helps us to focus on our own lives. Since everyone has a purpose unique to them, it is impossible to worry about how we stack up in relation to our peers. We stop worrying about how we measure against others and focus solely on ourselves. As in everything in life, Judaism lays a solid foundation to help us build ourselves up and achieve the ultimate connection to ourselves, to Hashem, and to others.
I have discovered that saying “Modeh Ani” every morning gives me a renewed appreciation for each and every day. Sitting down at the piano and letting my fingers float over the keys for an hour or so soothes me after a rough day. I would rather be baking in my tiny kitchen than almost anywhere else. I have discovered that a bouquet of fresh peonies can brighten even the rainiest of days. I prefer curling up with a good book to watching television (and I’m no longer embarrassed if I’m not up to date on the latest shows). I appreciate time to myself and time spent with friends. I learn more about myself every day, simply because I made the conscious decision to be more mindful. So take the time to figure out what makes you unique – what makes you so special. Take the time to figure out how you like your eggs.