Not everyone gets this kind of chance – to build from the ground up, then watch from afar, then come back to receive praise, and then to move on with confidence.
“It’s not often that you get to thank someone for really saving your life, so I am going to take this opportunity now and tell you what you and Mayyim Hayyim did for me…” All of the feedback and praise that we’ve been collecting and cherishing for the past 10 years is not quite this intense, but it is this direct. We’ve been asking for feedback in the forms of online surveys, course evaluations, focus groups and even our guestbook, which collects immediate reactions from our visitors, while their hair is still wet.
The feedback allows us to constantly improve the services we provide, the classes we teach, the support we offer. The feedback also fuels our staff and volunteers and inspires donations.
This summer, and over the past few months, since announcing my resignation from Mayyim Hayyim, I have received several deeply personal letters and calls expressing appreciation for my work and leadership. Honestly, it feels great to receive and it’s difficult to take in. The praise inspires me to do as much as I can to make our world more welcoming and inclusive and at the same time I feel pressured to make sure that my next job will also inspire transformative experiences for those in need of support, healing, celebration and meaning. In other words, the praise is loaded, not by the person generously giving it, but for me, doing my best to absorb it.
I believe in praising others, generously, frequently, honestly. Praise is best when it’s specific – not “you did great,” but “I loved the way you welcomed our visitor and then provided her the space she needed to reflect while making yourself scarce preparing tea; it was clearly just what she needed,” or “the blog post you wrote struck just the right balance of personal and professional, and makes me feel confident that Mayyim Hayyim is in good hands.”
Receiving praise is another thing all together. It takes listening, accepting, nodding, believing and a simple, “thank you” in response. There are lots of great articles about the benefits of accepting praise, internalizing it, sharing it with others and gaining inspiration from it. The blogosphere is full of these articles because for many of us, soaking up the praise goes against every self-doubting bone in our body too.
I am no different. It’s easier for me to deflect the praise, to share it with others, to acknowledge my incredible partners than to say, and mean, “thank you.” But I am working on it. I want to own this success, to feel deep down – and right up to the surface that I am worthy of this praise and that my role at Mayyim Hayyim has been significant.
With this gift, I can smile, nod and then get back to praising others for their sacred, valuable, generous and inspiring work.
Aliza Kline, Founding Executive Director, has led Mayyim Hayyim from its initial stages, overseeing fund raising, publicity, design, construction, staffing, recruiting volunteers, and board development. In May, 2009, Aliza was awarded an AVI CHAI Fellowship (best described as the “Jewish MacArthur Genius Grant”) in recognition of her accomplishments, creativity and commitment to the Jewish people.