Les Brown, a motivational speaker, retells a moment in high school when a teacher called on him to answer a problem on the blackboard and Les told him he couldn't. “I'm retarded,” he said.
“Who told you that?” the teacher asked.
Les shrugged and mumbled, “The school. The school said I'm slow, I'm retarded. I can't learn.”
The teacher came up to him and looked him in the eyes and said, “Listen to me. Don't you ever let somebody else's opinion of you create your reality.”
That was the moment Les began to tell himself a new story. He could have simply dismissed what the teacher told him. Instead he chose to use those words to change his beliefs about himself and radically change the course of his future.
The moment that we begin to tell ourselves a new story about our lives is the moment when we set ourselves free from our own limiting beliefs.
I remember sitting in the library late one night in college and coming across this quote from Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Up until then I had viewed life more like a series of tests. Be a star student in elementary school. Win the student council election. Get into a prestigious high school.
Then begin the next series of tests. Excel in high school. Become a competitive athlete. Ace the SATs. Have all the right extracurricular activities. Get into an Ivy League college.
Then re-start. Get a high GPA. Take all the right courses. Meet all the right people. And then what? The cycle was just going to keep repeating itself: Get into a good graduate school. Get a good job. And then get ready for the next step, the next test.
I looked up at the dimly lit library and stared at the floor to ceiling books that lined the walls like stacks of infinite possibilities. I thought about Helen Keller’s words and right then, I decided to change my story. Life was no longer going to be a test. It was no longer going to be endless cycles of conforming to everybody else’s goals. I was going to live my life as an adventure. I didn’t know how, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that my whole perspective changed that night. My story was now “an adventure,” not a test.
So I didn’t think twice about moving to Israel right after graduation, getting married, going to graduate school in a different country, having children, traveling and learning and climbing. And when we had to move back to America, after 14 years abroad, we chose to make that a new, exciting chapter in our adventure too.
On Passover, we celebrate the great transformation of our story as a people. We were stuck in a narrow, hopeless place, (Egypt, in Hebrew, means “narrow place”) and God took us out and expanded our ideas of what was possible in our future. We left behind slavery and began a new chapter as a free nation. In the desert, we couldn’t stay in one place, physically or spiritually. We had to move forward.
Run, don't walk. No hesitations. Once you realize that yesterday's story is too narrow for who you want to become, do something today that reinforces your new identity.
The Jews in Egypt had to leave so fast that their bread did not have time to rise. The matzah they brought with them symbolizes this enthusiasm and alacrity, this rock-solid commitment to begin a new journey.
Les Brown did it that moment when he got up and walked towards that blackboard despite the crushing labels from his past. I did it by moving to Israel even though that hadn't been part of the script that was written for my life. If I would have hesitated, if I would have put it off for the "right" time, I would have been remained stuck in my old story.
The freedom that we continue to thank God for today is this ability to move forward without waiting for the "perfect" conditions. To run. To grow. To progress. To change our stories and see our lives as the daring adventures that they really are.