Parenting Podcast: For Teens and All of Us, Success is Being Your Best Self
This week’s parenting podcast addresses the topic of success and the pressures that youth endure in their quest for success. I applaud the efforts and initiatives to challenge the status quo and share the concerns that a myopic vision of success creates for our youth and their families. Moreover, the prevailing trend teaches our youth this path, and they in turn perpetuate it when they become parents, continuing an unhealthy cycle. Our society is obsessed with performance objectives and frequently associates success with achieving these milestones. Certainly goals are important for making and evaluating progress, but to what end? What about the process and the journey? All too often, the milestones are based on a competitive curve, not just in grades but in life, specifically in amassing wealth and attaining things. I sense that youth see themselves on a starting line. A proverbial “On your mark, get set, go!” sets them off running for the highest grades, best schools, high paying or high status jobs, and extravagant lifestyles. If success is so dependent upon winning this imaginary race, there are bound to be many more losers than winners. This has to contribute to the unreasonable amount of stress our youth feel.
We have the opportunity to lead with a gentle hand and pave myriad paths en route to many types of success. URJ Camps provide an excellent antidote for the masses of stressed out teens, young adults and parents in our midst. Jewish camp is countercultural, helping to fend off the prevailing messages bombarding our families and providing alternative perspectives for defining success. We live, breathe and teach many of these alternative visions of success. We live the Jewish value of b’tzelem Elohim, the notion that every person is made in the divine image and therefore has unique gifts to bear. Our culture is one that follows these words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: “Seek the good in everyone, and reveal it, bring it forth.” Campers, staff and faculty develop greater self-esteem, living in a community that discovers and praises the blessings of every individual. This guiding principle teaches the mindset that we are to be not only optimistic but also proactive in seeking and celebrating each other’s goodness. These are successes that all youth can strive towards, where they can all be winners. When I ask youth and young adults why they say that camp is a huge pressure release and that they are happiest when they are at camp, their answers are always about being unconditionally loved and being able to be their best selves. In a Chasidic tale, Zusya fears that God will judge his life by asking him, “Why weren’t you Moses?” until he realized he will be judged with the question, “Why weren’t you Zusya?” As parents we would fare well to remind ourselves and our children of this story when they and we begin to compare our accomplishments to others as a measure of success.
Listen to more on this topic from Challenge Success’s Dr. Denise Pope and Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann as they discuss how to embrace a countercultural message in your family and what to say to your friends and neighbors when they push society’s narrow definition of success.
Ruben Arquilevich is the Senior Director of URJ Newman Camp and Retreat Center.