There is a story from the Talmud that goes like this: When Akiba was on his deathbed, he bemoaned to his rabbi that he felt he was a failure. His rabbi moved closer and asked why, and Akiba confessed that he had not lived a life like Moses. The poor man began to cry, admitting that he feared God’s judgment. At this, his rabbi leaned into his ear and whispered gently, `God will not judge Akiba for not being Moses. God will judge Akiba for not being Akiba.’

I thought of that story the other day while talking to Elizabeth, a middle aged woman who had spent the last twenty-five years as an operating room nurse. She had been feeling stale for the past few years and was considering a career change. She thought she might go back to school, a move that would cost her about $20,000. Something didn’t feel right about it so she called me.

I asked her what school would give her in terms of opportunities that she didn’t have now. She said she’d always heard that education opens many doors. Then I asked if she had ever enjoyed school. “Only as a means to an end,” she said. “I wish I were the kind of person who likes academics. I wish I were someone who breezed through school.”

“Hold it right there,” I said. “Wishing you were someone else is a big red flag. It only gets in the way of your becoming more yourself. What I know about you is that you are very goal oriented. Once you know what you want to go for, you put all of your energy, talent, and intelligence into getting it. That’s how you got your nursing certificate, your husband, your children, and your beautiful house. Given that, does it make sense for you to go back to school?”

“Not until I know what I want to do,” she immediately replied. “So I guess my hesitation isn’t procrastination but my inner wisdom telling me this isn’t right for me.”

Elizabeth is like so many of us. We’re so full of ideas of how we are supposed to be that we don’t even understand who we are. Like Akiba, we can get so obsessed with trying to be Moses that we miss out on the grand adventure of becoming ourselves. This is a terrible tragedy. Each of us is unique and we are here to grow that uniqueness for the benefit of all. Our souls demand it—and we will not be happy unless we take this task full on. More next time.

Author's Bio: 

About MJ Ryan

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.