When I was in high school, at the end of tenth grade, I was chosen (I don't remember whether it was by teachers or fellow students) to be the editor-in-chief of the school's literary journal. I would have a year to prepare the annual, professionally bound issue. As in years past, we would accept submissions from all the girls in the six-year program, and it would be my job to select and edit the entries for publication. I knew my election was quite an honor, and that my parents were very proud. I was simply scared. But I didn't tell anyone, of course. That would reveal far too much insecurity. Besides, how difficult could it be? The journal had been published continually for over fifty years, always edited by students. The following year would be my turn, and I'd rise to the occasion.

I was given a responsibility, and I failedI won't skip all the gory details, mostly because I don't remember them. What I do remember – and I still have nightmares about it – is that the next year, for the first time in the school's long and stellar history, there was no literary magazine. I was given a responsibility, and I failed. There were all sorts of reasons, of course; the official one being that my staff and I had reviewed the submissions and there were simply not enough good stories to merit publication. I remember believing that with all my heart and the apparent intellectual confidence of a tenth-grade smarty-pants. Looking back, however, with some of the wisdom of my now fifty-one years, I recognize that I was so overwhelmed by my own need for perfection that I lost sight of the purpose; I was supposed to edit a magazine, not pass judgment on fellow students. Instead of giving them, and myself, the opportunity for criticism, appreciation or even mere parental kvelling, I opted out. I quit the game rather than risk losing, failing, or even making a mistake.

This is something we all do, all the time. Experts say that fear of failure combined with the need for perfection is at the root of all procrastination. Better not to do a project at all than to do it badly. We find similar fear-based mistakes in other aspects of our troubled lives: better not to love than to be hurt. Better not to drive than to crash the car. Better not to commit to a Jewish way of life with one little mitzvah at a time than to commit to a path we fear we cannot follow.

One way rabbis explain these nagging fears is by reminding us of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination that exists in all of us that sabotages all of our better instincts, our morality and essential goodness, our yetzer tov. The yetzer hara works in mysterious, dangerously powerful ways. It is a gremlin that preys on our worst doubts, our deepest fears, the most fragile parts of us. It is the voice you hear late at night when you doubt you can get through another day of struggle. It's the voice you hear that tells you to eat another cookie because you've already failed at your diet so you might as well not bother. It's the voice that tells you not to go to synagogue because you're already late for the service. It's the assault on your confidence, the suspicion that you're not good, smart, pretty, rich or kind enough to deserve a better life.

It is all false.

Believe that trying is good enoughOur job as Jews, as women, as people, is to fight that yetzer hara with all our might. Believe that G‑d loves you just the way you are, even if you're not perfect. Believe that trying is good enough. Believe that just for today, just for this minute, you can put down the cookie, pick up the phone, comb your hair, clean your closet, make a condolence call, go to work, read a book, write a poem, bake a cake, start a business, make an investment, take a risk, do anything you want to do but are afraid to try.

Looking back, I forgive myself a little for not publishing that literary journal. After all, there was a faculty advisor who I realize now should have stepped in to say, "It's fine, it's good enough, publish the darn thing instead of worrying how it might be bad." He could have even said, "Work harder, solicit more manuscripts, work with the students to make their writing better." He didn't do any of those things, but neither did I, and I've regretted it ever since. The key is just showing up and getting something done.

So tell that yetzer hara to get out of your way, to get out of your head, and to stop sabotaging your life's work. You've got something worthwhile to accomplish, today.