The young woman committed to becoming a doctor knows what’s required of her. She will spend long hours in the library, with her books and her studies. She will sacrifice her leisure time, and her relationships will suffer. She will not get enough sleep, and it will be extremely difficult for her to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But she will acquire new knowledge and learn new skills as she cultivates the discipline she knows she will need to become what she wants to be.
The young man committed to losing weight and getting in shape knows what’s required of him. He will regularly set aside time to exercise. He will give up sweet snacks between meals and limit his desserts. He will say “no” more than he says “yes” to drinking, eating out in restaurants, and staying up late. But his body fat will decline, his muscles will grow stronger, his cardio-vascular system will get more healthy as he cultivates the discipline he knows he will need to become how he wants to be.
So we do know of those who give up what they want in acknowledgment of a more profound want—a more significant priority. In some contexts, we do have an awareness of the need for sacrifice—an appreciation of the commitment required to delay gratification—a celebration of the discipline and the hard work that make of the cliche, “no pain, no gain,” an experiential reality.
But not so much when it comes to who we are. We just are, aren’t we? That’s not something we need to work at. We don’t research and study who we might be. We don’t acquire knowledge about and gain skills at being. We don’t have to exercise various parts of our being. We don’t need to grow in strength. We don’t have to get healthier. We don’t need to sacrifice to be us—don’t need commitment and hard work. It doesn’t require anything of us to just be. We certainly don’t need to deny ourselves—parts of ourselves. Of course, that depends on who we want to be, doesn’t it?
In comments to young people, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art ….”
Will we cultivate the discipline we know we need to become who we want to be—whose we want to be?