Be Great, Be Yourself
God doesn't compare us to others or expect us to be like anyone else, so why should we do it to ourselves? The Torah praises Noah and refers to him as "a righteous man in his generation." He is called righteous even though compared to others in other generations he was lacking. We can learn from this not to make the mistake of comparing ourselves to others - but rather succeed by being the best 'us' we can be.
In our story a kid learns how the secret of being great is being himself.
"IT'S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME"
Despite drizzle and howling winds, the stands were packed with fans as the two top school football teams in the county went head to head in the league championship game. Johnny Hart, the star quarterback for the Glenville Lions, was in top form and toward the end of the first half it looked like his team was going to roar to victory.
With just a minute to go until half-time, Johnny went back to throw one last pass. He managed to throw the ball just before getting tackled hard. But the fans groaned when the obviously hurt Johnny went limping off the field, held up by two teammates on either side.
Of all those hoping Johnny would be well enough to keep playing, none was more concerned than Mike Ross. Mike was the Lions' back-up quarterback and would be called in to substitute for Johnny if he couldn't play. Mike was more than happy to be #2. He knew Johnny was a one-of-a-kind talent and was happy to warm the bench and let Johnny bring him and his teammates to victory.
But it wasn't to be. Johnny had suffered a fracture and would have to hang up his helmet probably until next year!
"Start warming up, Mike!" snapped Coach Riley with a tense look on his usually smiling face.
As Mike made some practice throws with the football to get ready to play, he started to feel more and more nervous. Sure he was a good solid player - he never would have made the team otherwise. But still, Johnny Hart was a star. How could he ever hope to fill his shoes?
The whistle blew, signaling the start of the second half. The Lions ran out onto the field, but when they got ready to play it seemed as if someone was missing - where was Mike, the quarterback?!
The fans buzzed, wondering what was causing the delay. Phil, Mike's best friend, ran back to the bench to see what the problem was. He found Mike all right, but instead of putting on his helmet, he was taking it off!
"Hey Mike, now's not the time to get some air. We have a game to win!"
Mike shook his head. "I can't ... I just can't go out there."
"What do you mean?" asked a confused Phil.
"How can I go out there and take Johnny's place? He's the star quarterback, not me. Really, let's face it. I'm no Johnny Hart and I never will be."
"That's exactly right," Phil said.
Mike was happy his friend saw his point. "So, then, you agree that I shouldn't go out there, right?"
Phil shook his head and smiled. "Of course not! You're not Johnny Hart, but you ARE Mike Ross, and that is exactly the reason you SHOULD go out there."
"No one expects you to be Johnny, or anyone else, and neither should you. Just go out there, be your own man and do the best YOU can. Then everything's going to be just fine."
Mike thought about it and felt himself relax. Phil's words made things sound much more doable. Maybe it was true he couldn't be another Johnny, but he could certainly be himself.
"Okay, I'll just do the best I can," he said as he strapped on his helmet.
The Lions went on to have a great second half and win the game. As Mike and his teammates hugged each other after the game, he felt great they had won, but even greater that he discovered that he didn't have to compare himself to others or be anyone except himself to be great.
Q. How did Mike feel at first about having to play in place of Johnny?
A. He felt scared and thought he shouldn't play at all because he wasn't a big star like Johnny was.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt like it was okay to just go out and try his best, since he didn't have to be just like Johnny - he just had to be himself.
Q. What life-lesson did Mike learn on that rainy day on the football field?
A. He discovered that we don't have to compare ourselves to anyone else. All we have to do is try to do our best with our own unique abilities, and if we do that we are successful, regardless of whether we do as well as somebody else or not.
Q. Do you think Mike's new attitude affected the way he played once he went out on the field? Why or why not?
A. It almost certainly helped him to play much better than if he was still mistakenly convinced he had to compare himself to Johnny. Once we realize that the best thing to be is ourselves, not only do we feel better, but since we are more happy and relaxed we have much more energy and concentration to apply to whatever task we want to accomplish.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that each person should look at the world as if it was created and exists only for him. What do you think this means and how is this idea related to the value of not comparing ourselves to others?
A. This idea doesn't mean we should be selfish, rather it comes to teach us a deep spiritual secret: God has put each of us in the world with a unique growth-related life task that only we can accomplish. Every talent we have or don't have, every thing that happens to us and every person we meet are all somehow part of the setting we need to accomplish that task. Once we realize that each of us is essentially on our own unique learning trip through life it makes absolutely no sense to compare ourselves to others and we can easily get down to the real task of being the best 'ourselves' we can be.
Q. What does it mean to 'be yourself'? And how do we do it?
A. First of all it means we should step back and get a clear idea of what are our strengths and weaknesses, our most important values, and our likes and dislikes. This shouldn't be based on what seems to be the cool or right thing to say, but how we really feel deep inside. Once we do that we should try to find ways to apply this self-knowledge to life situations as they come up and make the best decisions we can, based upon it. Anyone who is doing this can be pretty sure he is well on the road to 'being himself.'