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Working Hard... or Hardly Working

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

Despite being a workaholic, there’s one type of work I loathe. That is working on myself. Not because I lack self-awareness, or because it might be hard. I like working hard. The struggle here is that it is not quantifiable. Every time I decide to work on anything, like being more attentive to others when they talk instead of just nodding, or being more understanding, it ends up falling to the side. It’s hard to quantify self-improvement, which makes it impossible to cross off my checklist. Whenever I have a spurt of inspiration to “work on myself,” it often dissipates as soon as I try to make a game plan. I need hands-on work and hands-on results. Obviously, that’s just not what working on oneself entails. I’d love to laugh and say that in that case, working on myself “isn’t for me,” but that would probably be another reason I better get working right now.

I also struggle with dieting. The regimen: exercise, eat nutritious meals, and wait. It just doesn’t work for me. That waiting period makes me feel like my work is worthless. Also, how do I fit working on myself into my checklist? Trust me, I’ve tried. I wanted—okay, want—to be more patient. So, I wrote it on my work schedule, “today: work on patience.”

I definitely worked that day, but not on patience. Instead, I was so irritated by this unachievable task that I was anything but patient.

Every time Sefiras Haomer approaches, my stomach churns; it’s the epitome of “working-on-myself” time. The epitome of what’s so hard for me. It’s hard to consciously incorporate small acts that seem isolated and don’t overtly add up. It’s hard to understand how when someone asks me to explain to them how to fill out a form for the third time, taking a deep breath and feigning a smile, just this once, will render me someone who works on herself.

But this year, I decided to try. I put those scattered and isolated tasks on my to-do list. What I’ve found is interesting. Our counting of the Omer actually creates that step-by-step process. Today, we aren’t working on being kind. We are working on a unique type of kindness, breaking down each trait into its most refined details. Then, we work. Each step is a part of the process of refinement, even when we don’t see it. It’s like a growth spurt. One day it’s barely visible, and the next day your clothes are screaming “too short!” When you put in the work, it just happens.

Moshe Rabbeinu epitomizes this. At his first encounter with Hashem, he is asked to go speak to the Jews and Paroh. Moshe responds, “לא איש דברים אנכי—Hashem, I’m not a man of words, speaking isn’t my thing.”

Hashem dismisses this and encourages Moshe to speak up. And Moshe does; as a leader, that is part of his role.

When Moshe delivers his farewell speech to the Jews, it is prefaced with the words “אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה —these are the words which Moshe spoke.” The same wording is used to show us that to do our work in this world, it is possible to change our nature and do the tedious work of self-improvement. Just like introverted Moshe. You won’t necessarily see progress during the process, but when you have mastered it, it is very clear.

Each night as I count Sefirah, I put the trait that I should be working on on my to-do list. It might not seem achievable, but after this soul workout, there just might be a changed me.


Chaya Silver is passionate about continuously learning and finding meaning in the mundane.


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