Do You Have the Necessary Grit to Cross Your Red Sea?

April 13, 2022

5 min read


Passover relives the moment when the Jewish nation were all in.

‘Crossing the Rubicon’ is a metaphor used by Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer to explain the difference between being fully committed to a goal versus still weighing its pros and cons. The Rubicon is the river that Julius Caesar crossed in opposition to direct orders from the Roman Senate not to do so. When Caesar crossed the river, it was an act of treason – there was no turning back. On one side of the river, he still had options. Now that he crossed the river, he was 100% committed. In other words, Caesar was all in.

After we cross our metaphorical Rubicon, our mindset changes. A why-orientated mindset (‘Why I am doing this?’, ‘Is this feasible?’, ‘Do I want this?’) is replaced with a how-orientated approach (‘How do I reach my goal?’, ‘What strategies can I use?’, ‘How do I deal with this setback?’). Not surprisingly, research shows that people with this latter mindset are more effective at reaching their goals. The reason is simple: when you have a how-orientated mindset, you plan specifically the what, where and when of actions to meet your goal, rather than being focused on the distractions – such as fears, insecurities, indecision, doubts – that get in your way of moving forward.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth relates the metaphor of ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ to grit – the passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals. People with grit do not give up – they continually work to achieve their aspiration, even in the face of serious disappointment. Their ambition defines their sense of meaning and purpose in this world. Failures become opportunities for learning and growth, however painful.

People with grit earn our respect not only for their talents and abilities but also because their journey has been such a challenging one. The appeal of ‘freebies’ and ‘lucky breaks’ is fleeting. What we value is hard-won achievements – reaching goals despite numerous missteps and stumbling blocks along the way. Our greatest accomplishments are those which we fight to achieve. Through our own efforts, we merit what is meant to be ours in the first place. It is only then that our achievements become truly ours.

The Jewish people emulated this grit when crossing the Red Sea.

As the vengeful Egyptian army advanced, the Jewish people stood with indecision and fear at the edge of the sea. Nachshon ben Aminadav, prince of the tribe of Judah, jumped into the sea, and as the waters reached his mouth and nostrils, he almost drowned. With God’s command, Moses lifted his staff and the waters parted. The Jewish people entered and were saved from assault. After this miracle, the Jewish nation reached such a high level of faith and trust in God that it continues to sustain us even during the most challenging times.

How do we cross our own metaphorical sea to arrive at a place where we are fully committed to striving toward our dreams?

While the Jewish people experienced many setbacks along the way (the Golden Calf, 12 spies, Korach’s rebellion -- just to name a few), they finally made it to the promised land (after more than 40 years!). Crossing the Red Sea was the crucial turning point of their momentous journey. It is the defining moment when the Jewish People committed to their mission. Whatever the cost, there was no turning back. Now, they could move forward from slavery into freedom, accepting the Torah and becoming a nation.

As modern Jews, we can relate to the struggles of our ancestors. We are often in a place of indecision – considering all the available options (there are so many!). How do we cross our own metaphorical sea to arrive at a place where we are fully committed to striving toward our dreams? Psychological research offers a few tips.

  • First, consider what are your goals, dreams, ambitions – in other words, your sense of purpose in life. What drives your sense of meaning?
  • Once this is clear, ask yourself – what is my mindset? Am I focused on why or how? With a why mindset, we are always questioning our commitment. When we have a how mindset, in contrast, we concentrate on when, where and how to act, staying on track to reach our goal.

So, how can we change our mindset from a why to a how approach? Here are a few evidence-based suggestions:

  • List a series of steps necessary to implement your goal. Write down when, where, and how you plan to enact each of these envisioned steps.
  • Identify at least three specific situations you face regularly and what behavior would best serve your goal in each of those situations. “If this (opportunity/barrier/critical situation) arises, then I will (goal-orientated response).”

Judaism teaches us that each of us has our own unique mission. Psychological research emphasizes that having a sense of purpose and striving for meaningful goals are important for our mental health and wellbeing. Passover offers us an opportunity to become gritty, re-committing ourselves to reaching our dreams and meeting our highest potential. Crossing our metaphorical Red Sea can be the first step on this journey.

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