Security. Confidence. High self-esteem. Why does every parent hope for her child to have these traits? Because every parent wants her child to feel good and accomplish good things. Those people who are plagued by insecurity and self-doubt not only feel anxiety and pain, but are slowed down by their hesitancy, sometimes even crippled by it. They may fail to achieve anything of value, missing their mark in this world. It takes confidence to take initiative, to take risks, to innovate and to make a difference. It takes confidence to reach one’s potential. Of course it’s important for children to have this trait, but there’s a rub: what if the parent lacks it? What if the parent is insecure?

Security. Confidence. High self-esteem.

Shifra is a mother who wants her children to be strong, high achievers. She yearns for them to be popular and accomplished, to look great and to get great marks. In fact, she has all sorts of ambitions for each one. The only problem is that all this wanting is coming from Shifra’s own deep insecurity. Her siblings are high achievers, and their children are über-successful; Shifra doesn’t want her family to fall behind, not only for their sake but for hers as well. If her children are just average, Shifra will feel like she’s a failure.

So, Shifra pushes her kids hard. “If your cousins can do it, you can do it,” she tells them when they want to slack off. Shifra has them working hard with tutors and teachers, coaches and mentors. They resent it. They’re still young, and they’re not ambitious. And, like most kids, they can read between the lines. They sense their mother’s competitive spirit and her desperate need for them to shine. They don’t want to be showcased; they just want to be accepted and loved for who they are.

One night, Shifra has a vivid dream. She sees her nieces and nephews lined up, receiving prizes and rewards for their accomplishments. She sees her siblings beaming with pride, and many strangers coming up to offer congratulations to the families. She is standing off to the side with her own children, in tattered clothing, playing on the ground. Someone asks her if her children will also be receiving prizes. Shifra smiles and answers, “No. They’re happy as they are—you can see for yourself.” Then Shifra wakes up.

Shifra is very disturbed by her dream. In real life, she would be mortified if her children were to be left out of the circle of honor. And yet, in the dream, she looked relaxed and calm, and the kids were “They’re happy as they are—you can see for yourself.”totally content. In fact, Shifra realized that she’s never that relaxed; she’s always anxious, striving, feeling insecure and threatened. She suddenly feels exhausted from it all. Maybe it isn’t worth it. Maybe she could step off the treadmill, and stop trying so hard. What a relief that would be! But how could she do it? How could she admit to herself and her family that she and her children are just average people? It would be like saying to her siblings, “I give up. I admit it. I and my children are inadequate. You are the winners, the superior ones.”

But then, something strange happened. The more Shifra thought about the humiliating defeat, the less it began to matter. “Okay, so that’s how it is. And now we don’t have to try so hard.” She began to feel more and more relaxed, more and more confident in her new stance. “Yes, that’s it: I am an average person with average children. We are not exceptional.” She kept repeating the idea, liking it more and more, growing more and more comfortable with it, more and more certain of the truth of it. She played with it in her mind for days on end, until she finally realized the irony of her experience: Shifra was actually feeling confident for the first time. She was experiencing the inevitable consequences of self-acceptance: self-confidence and inner security! These were the exact feelings she had been longing for her whole life—the ones she so desperately wanted her children to have.

Don’t misunderstand: Shifra was not an inadequate person. Nor was she giving up on herself or her children. She simply realized that she could be herself, and that she was fine as she was. When she stopped trying to be like her siblings, and stopped trying to make her kids be like her nieces and nephews, she could finally appreciate both herself and her family, with all of their unique strengths and beauties. “We may not win the prize in the swim competition, but we’re a loving bunch of people who bring kindness “We’re a loving bunch of people who bring kindness into the world.”into the world. That’s certainly valuable!”

Shifra began to feel the truth behind the tale of Reb Zusha. Reb Zusha was a great tzaddik who was very close to the first Chabad leader, the Alter Rebbe. He taught us not to compare ourselves to other people, but rather to measure ourselves against our own potential, because ultimately, G‑d won’t ask us, “Why weren’t you as great as Moses?” but rather, “Why weren’t you as great as you yourself could have been?” When we try to be someone else, our inner self becomes strained and uncomfortable, as if our soul is saying, You are going in the wrong direction. On the other hand, when we remain true to ourselves, trying to be the best us that we can be, our soul joyfully expands. It knows that we are now on the correct path, and it fills us with certainty and confidence to go further, try harder and accomplish more.

All people have their strengths and weaknesses. We all have to use our special gifts and strengths to do good in this world, and we all have to continually strive to improve our flaws. Accepting ourselves is the only way we can utilize both our strengths and weaknesses for spiritual growth. Tremendous confidence comes to us and our children as we endeavor to be ourselves—our best selves.