On the first day of my expository writing class in college, the professor conducted an icebreaker. She asked us to gather together in groups of three and answer the following question: "If you could be anyone in the entire world, who would you be?"

In my group, one student said the name of a famous celebrity and another said the "If you could be anyone in the entire world, who would you be?" name of a politician. Me? I simply said, "Myself." After all, why would I want to be anyone else?

In today’s world, it’s hard not to get caught up in the strengths and talents of others. So many of us find ourselves thinking things like: "Wow, she’s so charismatic! Look at how popular she is! I wish I were like that!" To make matters worse, we tend to downplay our own strengths.

Have you ever complimented a close friend for creating something truly beautiful only to find him replying, "Oh, that painting––it’s okay." You leave the conversation scratching your head, thinking, "What are you talking about? People would gladly hang that above their fireplace!" All too often, we yearn for the positive character traits of others and summarily reject or completely forget about our own.

Pretend for a moment that your ultimate purpose in life is to build birdhouses. You’ve honed your craft. You have the best wood on the market, the latest and greatest hammer, and incredibly sturdy nails. You know everything there is to know about carpentry. One day, while walking to your wood shop, you notice your best friend––who happens to be a metal worker––skillfully soldering with a blowtorch. You start thinking: "The noise it makes…the brightness of the fire…wow! I’ve GOT to have that blowtorch!" In reality, if a birdhouse builder used that blowtorch to build his wooden birdhouses, not only would it be utterly unhelpful for his unique purpose in the world, but it would also undermine it completely. The birdhouses would be burnt to a crisp!

Our rabbis tell us that our task in life is to build the world. However, each one of us is in charge of building a different portion of it with the unique set of tools given to us by G‑d. What are these tools? They’re all of the talents, unique strengths and positive character traits deeply rooted within us that make us who we are. Although some people may have some similar strengths, no two people will ever have exactly the same combination of characteristics. Instead of longing for the traits of others, it’s our job to channel our energy and time toward discovering, enhancing and perfecting the special set of strengths that G‑d gave us.

Many people talk about actualizing potential, but how do you do it? It starts with recognizing the value of your unique toolbox of character traits and answering three questions:

  1. What are your natural strengths?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. What does the world need?

The goal then becomes proactively doing things that directly involve all three. Ask yourself: How can I use my strengths to do something I’m passionate about that the world needs? When you’re involved in those things, you’re actualizing your potential and fulfilling your life mission.

Appreciating our natural strengths and actively using them to affect our corner of the world helps us shift our focus from wishing we had what others have to being at Appreciating our natural strengths helps shift our focuspeace with the person G‑d created us to be. In this way, jealousy disappears. No matter how alluring the metal worker’s blowtorch might seem, we’ll be able to appreciate how it’s a great tool for him, while simultaneously being happy with our hammer and nails.

Back in college, I never really grasped the depth of the response I gave to my peers and college professor when I responded, "Myself" to the icebreaker question. While being a celebrity or politician might have seemed cool and appealing, I just wasn’t interested in being any of the people I read about in magazines or saw on television. However, after hearing these powerful ideas and growing in the world of Torah for close to six years now, that one word carries with it so much more depth and meaning. There’s someone to strive to be, but it’s still me.

May we all merit to become our best selves, actualize our potential and truly see our inner greatness.