There is a famous story of Rav Zusha of Hanipol, an 18th century Chasidic luminary and tzaddik. When he was on his deathbed, his students found him crying uncontrollably. They tried to comfort him by saying that he was almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham and for that he would be judged positively by G-d. He replied, however, that what he feared the most was that he would be asked, “Zusha, why weren’t you more like Zusha? Why didn’t you fulfill your potential, why didn’t you follow the path that could have been uniquely yours?”
As we close out 2023 and enter the new Gregorian calendar year, it is a good time to reflect on Rav Zusha’s lesson: which path is uniquely yours, or said slightly differently, how can you be your most authentic self? And for those who are struggling with the challenges of the holiday season, this lesson can be incredibly helpful.
This time of year isn’t an easy one for many. The days are shorter (though growing longer since the Winter Solstice!), there is minimal sunlight, and the holiday spirit can end up leaving many feeling more isolated instead of uplifted. With the increased expectations by friends and family to socialize and relax and enjoy this time of year, comes increased concern about fitting in and pretending that everything is all right. What if you are mourning the loss of a loved one, or if you’ve lost your job, or you are recovering from an illness, or you are a caregiver to a friend or parent or spouse, or if you are estranged from family and friends? What if the holidays just don’t feel like a time that inspires you to enjoy but actually make you feel even worse?
You are not alone! It’s very common to feel as though you can’t wait for the holiday season to be over so you can get back to life as usual. Your precious routine can be upended during these vacation weeks when offices are working with a skeleton staff and so many people go away on vacation, and everyone seems to have someone to celebrate with.
There are some ways to keep yourself in check during this time of year and it is crucial to remember Rav Zusha’s lesson, of following YOUR path. Start from the credo of authenticity and be true to yourself. This is the first lesson in self-care and will help guide you when you are faced with the challenges of this holiday season.
So, how can this be applied practically? First, be realistic about expectations for yourself. Set attainable goals given how you are feeling and how much energy you have and then plan accordingly. Second, be honest about how social you want to be. If you aren’t feeling up for going out, consider staying home or adjusting the excursion to be more manageable. Third, spend time with people who make you feel your best. One of the ways to truly practice authenticity and self-care is to surround yourself with those who see the real you, who understand you and who appreciate you. This ties in to the idea of being in touch with your core values: identifying those ideas and principles that guide you in your life and drive your decisions. When you are in touch with those values and you are surrounded by those who cherish and share them, too, you can live more authentically, you can be you.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” May this holiday season and the New Year bring opportunities to embrace this Jungian sentiment, and to open ourselves to all the goodness that is possible when we live authentically.