Friday, September 21, 2012

Hineni - Here I Am

Today, within the span of 30 minutes, one colleague thanked me for showing up and another did a pre-Shabbat teaching about showing up in a meaningful way – Hineni , Hebrew for “Here I Am.”  And in both of those moments, I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude.  In my fast paced world with so many distractions and the responsibilities that weigh me down, today, these two moments lifted my spirits. 

“Thank you for showing up!”  My colleague was preparing for a meeting and shortly after I showed up, she cut her finger and I helped her complete her task.  Her words of gratitude, “Thank you for showing up,” struck me and I responded to her, “I don’t think anyone has ever thanked me for showing up.”  I use this example to illustrate that no one knows the impact they have on someone unless it is voiced or shared directly.   Is it so hard to be kind and to offer compliments and then to accept them?  A couple of years ago, when my daughter was in 4th grade, we went to her class to celebrate her birthday.  The way they celebrated a student’s birthday was the traditional birthday song and sweets.  But first, the teacher did something I had never seen before.  To acknowledge my daughter’s birthday, each of her classmates offers a compliment as a birthday gift.  Several lessons were learned that day.  1) Kids learn to find the good in someone and say it aloud directly to the student.   2) Kids are taught to receive compliments for their unique qualities.  3) At the beginning of the celebration, it took the kids (like any kids) a little while to settle in and then the magic happened.   As each kid spoke words of kindness, the energy in the room changed and the kids were fully engaged in the celebration of the one student.  The kids become united and joyful through the experience of expressing kindness.   4) As the parent of the birthday student, I was moved by witnessing the entire experience.  Hearing such beautiful words said about your child is a gift and to watch your child accept these same words with humility, pride, and some embarrassment brought tears to my eyes and gave me one of my most cherished memories. 
Thank you for showing up!  While my colleague’s show of gratitude kept replaying in my head, this memory of my daughter’s class also kept replaying.  I realized that yes, for some of us, it is not easy to receive compliments and not always easy to give them.  And then it hit me – to bring out the best in people is as simple as acknowledging that you are glad they are there, on your team, by your side and are needed.
Hineni – Here I Am.  To me, this means to be fully present, thoughtful, kind, to be there for and with each other.  As we get lost in our day to day lives, take a moment to say Hineni – Here I Am, or whatever words comfort you and remind you to bring your best self to each situation.   To offer kindness and compassion is more effective and rewarding.  To recognize and acknowledge feels good to you and to those around you.  It is not just for 4th graders, it is a lesson for us all at any age.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Speak Yourself

As the Jewish New Year begins, I am making one very serious commitment – to make sure that my inner voice speaks kindly.   Throughout my life, a constant struggle has been to have a positive inner voice.  Like so many of us,  I am the most critical of myself and the internal conversation is sometimes more active and frustrating than an actual conversation with a loved one.

Recently, I saw a webisode of Amy Poehler’s, “Ask Amy.”    She read a question from a viewer about body image and inner beauty.  She answers the question by telling the audience how women and young girls should find parts of their body to love and when feeling down, they should speak to themselves as if they were speaking to their daughter or younger sister.   What struck me most is how she instructs women to speak to themselves as if they are talking to someone they care for deeply.  Do we really need to be told that?  YES!  When I look in the mirror or think about what steps I need to take, I am more critical than any other person.  My thoughts are mixed – “you can do this, you can’t do this, do it this way, that won’t work.”  
At the suggestion of someone I admire, I began reading “Mindset, The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.  Only 20% into the book, I already see a difference in how I perceive certain situations regarding my own growth and limitations.  I carry a very positive persona.  I am happy, I am pro-active and I like to solve problems.  However, like many women, I have a voice inside that can be more critical than necessary.  It can be overbrearing, mean, relentless and WRONG.  It took me a long time to recognize the mean voice and that I am the one being too critical of myself.

In the past year (before I read the book or saw the webisode) I began to change my mindset.  I want my inner voice to be stronger and kinder and to be able to I say, "Let's go, let's do this, or you will be okay if it doesn't work out."  I have found some freedom in releasing the negative chatter.   I don’t second guess myself and I don’t over analyze (at least not as much).  When I changed my thinking back in January, I started playing tennis again, I learned to meditate, and I began writing and reading more.  I now live and love more deeply.  I experience life with more curiosity and interest.

I’m not perfect, but I am so much more fulfilled.  There are plenty of people who will be the negative voice in my life.  I have worked hard to ignore them and at least, take the constructive criticism.  Now I want to be kinder, more forgiving, and easier on myself.  I want to own a can-do-am attitude and continue to grab and embrace new challenges – those I create and those that come to me.  This is what I want for the New Year.

Wishing a sweet, joyful, productive, and thoughtful New Year!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Love and Gratitude in the Summer

Not writing in a long time was a mistake.  Distraction, frustration and yes, the joys too got in my way.  And now that Rosh HaShanah is here, I am marking the New Year with my first resolution to start writing again and more.  In the past four months, time swiftly passed by as I worked, played, loved and prayed and through it all I learned… a lot! 

As always, my work teaches me so many lessons about the world.  So many people, colleagues and friends are accomplishing great things and simply doing good in the world.  They have specific interests that truly move their spirit and elevate their work.   We listen to donors share their passions and we get inspired.  Contagious, magnetic, and infectious all describe the exchange of energy that takes place every day in my professional life and I am grateful.  My work is passionate – the best and the worst.  We work hard, we feel our cause deeply, and we want to share it with everyone.  And we get frustrated – sometimes too much.  We want people to understand, show up and give time and money.  Like any love story, we want people to love our cause and when they don’t, we hate rejection.   And like in the same love story, we quickly forgive and try again.  Work is not just a job for us, it is hard to leave it at the office, and we are rewarded big time when our young leaders grow up and are the change we guided and nurtured.

In the last two years, I have taken the word vacation seriously and lived it is as a verb.  Last year, in honor of our 15th wedding anniversary, we took our kids to Puerto Vallarta for 10 days.  And this year, we traveled to Washington, DC, Philadelphia and New York.  Months later, I still smile reliving moments from the trip.  You learn a lot about people when you travel with them, especially your family.  First, my kids are 11 and 6 and great.   And they like to talk a lot… a lot, which is great when you are traveling because without the distraction of television, iPad, cell phones or computers, they are ready to talk about almost anything.  And somehow we, as parents, are less annoying in another part of the world.  In Washington, we loved the museums, the tour of the White House and my favorite, the Monuments by Moonlight tour.  Visiting Lincoln Memorial at night, with all the lights evoked so much emotion.   As I walked up, I tried to put it all in perspective for both kids.  For the 6 year old who loves the Transformers’ movie series, I reminded him of the most recent 3rd movie where the Lincoln Memorial had been destroyed, revealing the magic of the movies.   For my 11 year old, once we finished climbing the stairs, I put my arm around her and read the entire Gettysburg Address.  As I read these words to my daughter, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” I realized that this moment would live on for me and hopefully for her.   I embraced this and every moment of our vacation.

I fell in love this summer.  As my husband and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary, I was reminded of what a great guy he is.  He makes me laugh all the time, even if I am crying.  When I’m down, he makes me smile; when I need strength, he holds my hand; he is a great friend and a wonderful father.  Like many marriages, we are not always on the same page, but luckily and with some work, we come back together.  And then there are my friends.  Ten years ago, I had a friendship break up.  People come in and out of life, but when those who have been around a long time leave you, it is sad.  It took a long time for me to treasure new friendships.  Luckily, I have had a best friend who held onto me during all the rocky roads I walked.   With her help, I learned to trust myself and others again.  She has been my friend since I am 11 and she really has taught me love in friendship.   Because of her, I learned to be a better friend and now am fortunate to have close friends who I can count on and who can count on me.

Praying and meditating are the most healing exercises I practiced this summer.  In January, I began a Jewish meditation class that was half meditation and half Torah study.   At the beginning, my expectations were low as I had no idea what to expect.  I had been to one meditative prayer service in December and it was great, different, beautiful and physically affected me.  My reaction was so visceral that when a friend suggested this class, I said yes without hesitation.   It began as an opportunity to learn to meditate and discuss the weekly Torah portion and it grew into a deeper meaningful experience.  In the past, I had felt out of place in synagogue and longed for the ease and comfort that I saw in others.  This group became my minyan, my place to learn Torah and most important, my place to learn to pray with deeper meaning.  I prayed before, I have always considered myself spiritual, engaging in conversations with G-d.  This was different.   Meditation has helped me cope in other areas of my life, not just in synagogue.  Torah study has given me knowledge, confidence and also impacted other areas in my life.  This summer, after six months studying with an amazing spiritual leader, Rabbi Ruth Sohn and an incredible, generous group of people, I came to understand what a gift this is to me.  After searching for years, I found a place to call my own.

So, if it all was so joyous, what was distracting and frustrating – life.  With all good, there is the not-so-good.  Traffic, noise, heat, and all the petty annoyances seem bigger when you are in it.  And as I write this, I realize just how much writing helps to lessen those and remind me of all the joy and gratitude I have for what is my life.

Wishing all who celebrate a sweet and joyful New Year!