The other day, I was speaking to a friend of mine, who is the father of a large family, thank G‑d. He was telling me about his journey dealing with his child who is struggling with addiction. It’s been a long, painful, and excruciating ride for the entire family.

This is not his only child—not by any stretch. For the other children, by and large, he and his wife have figured out what works and what doesn’t work, and by most conventional metrics, they have done a terrific job raising healthy humans.

But along came this child, and everything changed. All the usual methods and parenting approaches simply didn’t work, and my friend realized that he would have to discover radically different parts of himself to be able to rise to the challenge. What had always worked for everyone else was clearly not working here, and it was time to call up his inner reserves and create a new plan.

And so he did.

Jacob’s Three-Pronged Approach

Our parshah opens with Jacob facing the prospect of finally meeting up with his brother, Esau. If you recall, they weren’t exactly the best of friends, as Jacob had received Isaac’s blessing intended for Esau, infuriating the latter. Fearing for his life, Jacob had fled to Charan, to the house of his uncle Laban.

Despite the many challenges he faced there, Jacob flourished. And here he is, many years later, about to greet his only brother. Understandably, he was more than a bit nervous, unsure if Esau was still upset and coming to attack him.

So, Jacob comes up with a three-step plan:

[Jacob] prepared himself for three things: for a gift, for war, and for prayer. For a gift, as the verse states,1 “So the gift passed on before him.” For prayer, as the verse states,2G‑d of my father Abraham…” For war, as the verse states,3 “The remaining camp will escape.”4

This is all quite odd. Remember, this is the very same Jacob who many years prior ran for his life, deathly afraid of his brother. Now, he has made a complete about face! No longer backing away, he’s getting ready to confront his brother. What changed? True, quite some time had passed, but it’s clear that Jacob didn’t really believe Esau had had a change of heart, so why didn’t he do what he did before—cut loose and disappear?

Radically Different Approaches

While Esau may not have changed, Jacob certainly had. Over the course of his many years facing the challenges and hardships of life in Charan, he discovered deeper parts to himself, a new set of resources that would equip him to finally confront his brother.

Jacob’s enhanced character can be seen in the things he chose to do to prepare for the impending confrontation. Think about it: they’re very different! One is peace-making, the other is outright war, and the third is completely different inasmuch as it’s a religious thing.

To find it within himself to do all three, and to be ready to do all of them at the same time, Jacob had to think outside the box. He couldn’t get away with pulling off his usual type of prep work, typical stuff that he was used to doing. No, he would have to mine his inner character and go against nature.

This is remarkable character development. The young man who fled his parents’ home when faced with a threat has now developed into a deep, resilient, and strong person. So, of course, he was ready to face Esau.

When facing challenges (from within or from without), many people resort to a conventional “one-on-one” tactic. Whether it’s a tough competitor in business, a challenge with your child’s teacher, or a bad habit that needs to go, most people will call upon their natural, inner energy that they feel can combat the challenge.

Emotional people will use anger or flattery, shrewd people will try to come up with some cunning trick, expert negotiators will try to talk their way through it, and so forth.

But that is a primitive way of addressing challenges, and Jacob was no longer stuck in that paradigm. This newer version that had developed over time in Charan was now ready to do whatever it took.

You see, the soul has unlimited capacity, but so often, it is left untouched, trapped in a state of potential. So while it may be difficult to develop and try new methods, the soul is eminently capable of doing so—when pushed enough. Over time, Jacob was able to do it—and so can you.

Be Open to Development

There is a push in society for people to identify their personality type. And this push is entirely valid; after all, you should identify the traits that come naturally to you and then harness and develop them. But you owe it to yourself to keep an open mind and broaden your heart; this will make you even greater and more capable, ready to employ different, or even multiple solutions for any challenge that might come your way.

So, the next time you’re dealing with a bad habit, or your boss asks you to lead a project, or you find yourself in a position to help in a situation and there’s nobody else you can ask, remember this: It doesn’t always matter if you’re “cut out for the job.” Don’t get caught on a single-minded track just because it’s always worked for you. Like Jacob, think outside the box for different, varied and even opposite strategies, and put them together for combined use.

Don't be afraid to develop, and try new things, for it is in the laboratory of new ideas, new personality types, and unnatural approaches that you will find success.

Inspired by a talk by the Rebbe, Likutei Sichot, vol. 15., Vayishlach I.