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From Survive to Thrive: Maximizing Your Impact on Philanthropy Day

I’m a recovering helper. The one who brings the casserole dish, and the flowers. And who calls you at 2am when your boyfriend just left, your cat is in the pet hospital and your mother-in-law is nagging at you so relentlessly that your conscience feels the weight of a 1955 Brisket Pan (I happen to have one and much like guilt, it is *heavy*).

Having spent the better part of a year asking myself how I got this way, I’m reminded of Martin Luther King’s night-time prayer, which I’ve said to myself for sometime now:

“G-d use me, what would you have me to do?”

Unfortunately, for years, I confused G-d’s words with the whims of others, losing all manner of sanity, sleep and recently, hair, over giving every part of myself to everyone else. This is complicated for me on a faith level as much as it is on an emotional one. My religion calls me to be communally available, open and attuned and yet, too much of that medicine is proving, well, venomous.

Though many have chimed in about the so-called disease to please and the Plato’s cave-like tunnel of our own demons, I have become taken with the notion that the experience of being helpful is actually, often, disguising, life lived for the sole purpose of survival.

What I mean to say is that we so often extol the necessity of our giving, that we mask some of the more complex or difficult reasons that drive our essence to give. And that this veil is clouding our organizations as much as it is clouding the best of ourselves.

Take organizations that are run through shame and guilt, for instance. They are always engaged in a push to get others to give but rarely are they fueled by something other than that which leaves donors and members exasperated and as it happens, exhausted.

It is impossible to work toward mission and vision when you are starving the people you work with of a purpose other than to make ends meet.

Even worse, is when our mode of giving actually sets us up to be taken advantage of. By saying “yes”, are we saying no to what matters to us and even more, to the work that needs to be done? By serving as someone else’s objects, are we neglecting to make ourselves and others active and engaged subjects standing where the world and we need to be?

Perhaps this Philanthropy Day, we can look a little closer at our dearest projects and causes and gently pull apart the barriers of our egos. And once we peel away the unnecessary parts, we can start to look at how we function not only within ourselves but in our workplaces and teams.

Serial helper and recent conscientious favour selector/objector that I am…these days, when I work with others, I ask myself the following

Four Questions for Thriving Leadership:

1. My heart asks: Do I get to fully be myself here, with you or in this?

2. My head  inquires: Can I and we change the operating rules, developing our work, our world and ours selves together for good?

3. My soul yearns: By doing this, am I operating from self-preservation or self-growth and affirmation?

4. Tradition requires: Is this a relationship in which I and all those I encounter are subjects…or objects?

In a week that provided sobering wake-up call after wake-up call for every human being to take up the task of world’s mending, too many of us are consumed by the ongoing cycle of crisis to muster up the awareness to put a spoke on the wheel. We are living to survive and in so doing, we are neglecting to thrive.

Yet, as this People of priests, and scholars, prophetesses and artisans can attest, we know this to be true:

Searching for our true self has always been the beginning of finding G-d and as it happens, each other.

By putting our focus on the best of others and ourself, we can make our philanthropy a force for good on Philanthropy Day and each and every day of the year.

And that is a mitzvah (good deed) in which we should pour all our hearts, heads and souls.

Beyond Deadlines and Compromise: Learning to Tend to Your Work Soul

It begins innocently and self-indulgently: It’s close to midnight and you would rather just go to sleep.

That report you have been compiling gets a lot shorter than it should be. Rationality enters: You have no caffeine, three looming deadlines, and an early morning meeting.  Is this not the perfect time to re-watch Seasons 3-5 of Grey’s Anatomy? (By the way, nothing says “deadline” like eight hospital break-ups and a motivational speech you choose to ignore from the Chief of Surgery).

More than enough has been written on being busy, whether the psychological, political or the existential ramifications, let alone what it does to your marriage, body, and brain. I won’t add to the corpus. But I will say this: we are becoming quite selective with our teams, with our information, and with just about everything that involves working with others. And our selectivity is not only eating up our time, but it’s starving us of what we can collectively accomplish.

Entrepreneurs are notoriously rich in over-scheduling and the trap of what one might call over-aspiring. We want to move mountains and we want to move at light speed. But the problem is that, in our quest to cross the finish line, we are are compromising our work and leadership quality. 

We’re all guilty of it. We’ll take on a new project, but we won’t call the team to gather feedback. We’ll carve out time to create a vision, but make no time for ongoing research or discussion. We’ll collect the data and, because we are tired – or, worse, uncomfortable – we’ll prune it to the bare minimum, so, by the time we are finished with it, it looks like exactly what we want it to be. And it ends up being tidy and without the complexity of thinking or including anybody.

This is precisely the kind of conundrum that links Jewish entrepreneurs and their sages. When the rabbis were faced with even the appearance of impropriety, they were so concerned that they tended to ban all associated acts completely (just take a look at what they had to say about picking up coins in front of idols). Why the fuss? Because every impression mattered and, in every action, existed the possibility for teaching.

The work of entrepreneurs benefits not only from self-reflection, but even more: from communal accountability.

Entrepreneurs are enriched by assessing where they stand in the arc of their tradition and, whenever possible, consulting it. Any movement forward should not come at the expense of difficult conversations, consultation or community. When the approach to our work becomes self-serving, we owe it to the people we work with to re-consider how we work.

Now I am not suggesting we ban prioritization, multi-tasking, or even Grey’s Anatomy, but I am suggesting we seek an alignment between our actions, our intentions and, also, our tradition.

How we select our priorities relates directly to how we choose others and how we choose to engage in living. And, as we create our works and our lives, all of our doings must be accompanied by Jewish teachings.

That’s why I implore you to ask a new question this week. Talk to the people who work closest to you and ask them about your work soul: Who are you at work and how does your soul reflect in what you do?

Feel free to post what you find.