Finding the Courage to Step Outside of Our Comfort Zones: A Conversation with Lori Palatnik


This Saturday night, Jewish people around the world will celebrate Purim, and commemorate a time when the Jews of Persia were saved from destruction. At the center of the story is Esther, a Jewish woman, whose name means “I am hidden,” and who literally never asked for — nor wanted — the spotlight. Yet, first she was chosen to be the queen in King Achashverosh’s palace, and then she found herself in the perilous position of saving the Jewish people. 

In this interview, Lori Palatnik shares the enormous power of courage, why it’s important to step outside of our comfort zones, and how we can imbue this important value in our children. 

What is courage? 

Think of a challenge that you’ve faced. If, in the past, someone had told you that you’d not only face it, but that you’d rise to the occasion, you wouldn’t have believed them. But we’ve all found courage to deal with challenges in life. 

Courage means tapping into your inner power and acting on it. We shouldn’t just wait for challenges to tap into our courage. We should seek out positive opportunities, too. 

Why is courage a Jewish value?

Choosing to act with courage is an important Jewish value, and one that is especially present in the story of Purim. When Mordechai learns that Haman wants to destroy the Jewish people, he tells Queen Esther that she needs to go before King Achashverosh and beg for her people’s lives. At first, she tells him, I can’t. If I go before the king unannounced, he will kill me.

Mordechai responds: If destruction is coming to the Jewish people, don’t think that you and your family will be safe in the palace. And if salvation is coming to the Jewish people, it doesn’t have to come through you. But you have been placed in this time and place in history to make a difference.

Esther ultimately chooses to act with courage, approaching the king unannounced and shedding light on Haman’s plan. 

What is the difference between arrogance and courage? 

Arrogant people believe that everything revolves around them. They are so consumed with themselves that there is no room for other people or for G-d. People who practice courage know that all of their opportunities come from G-d, and that with G-d’s help, everything is possible. 

How can we develop a sense of courage if it does not come naturally to us?

Start slowly. Going out of your comfort zone does not require leaping. Simply take a step. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t yet because of a fear of failure or a sense of insecurity. For example, have an important conversation with your kids, run that extra mile, or take a course in a subject that always interested you. Then, once you experience the pleasure of success, take another step. Remember: Life begins at the end of our comfort zones. If you stay in your box, you’ll never grow. 

What are some situations in our lives that may require courage?

In life, every person needs to be a part of a community. And with every community comes its own social pressures. In my community, there is social pressure not to gossip — which is a good thing. There’s also pressure to take care of your lawn. So, I do it to maintain a sense of peace among my neighbors. But, in every community, there comes a time when you see things happening that you don’t agree with, and you need to decide whether it’s time to stand up against social pressure and try to make changes. Choose wisely. What is worth fighting for?

When is one time in recent history that a Jewish woman went against the grain and acted with courage?

Before Israel became a state, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, sent Golda Meir to the United States to raise money for the Jewish homeland. Israel faced attacks from all sides, and desperately needed money for arms. Ben-Gurion expected her to raise thousands of dollars, but in the end, she raised millions. Why? Because she had no choice. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and you find strength inside of you that you didn’t even know you had. 

How can we teach our children to be courageous, and not arrogant?

Give them G-d. Let them know that G-d loves them and that all of their skills and talents, as well as all of their challenges are gifts from G-d. While they need to put in effort, they also need to know that G-d controls the result. Show them how to act with humility, and to take pleasure in their blessings. 

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