After writing about (spiritual) performance reviews last week, a reader sent me a short clip from the popular TV series Mad Men, set in a 1960’s ad agency. The protagonist, an outstanding creative director called Don, is approached by his direct report, Peggy, who says: “I want to have my performance review – I’ve had quite a year,” as she hands him a document. After briefly looking through it, Don asks her “What do you see for the future?” to which she responds:
I’d like to be the first woman creative director at this agency…
Don: I’m impressed you know exactly (what you want).
Peggy: What else is there?
Don: Let’s say you get that – what’s next?
Peggy: Land something huge.
Don: And then?
Peggy: Have a big idea.
Don: So you want fame?
Peggy (after a pause) Yes.
Don: What else?
Peggy: I don’t know.
Don: Yes you do.
Peggy: Create something of lasting value.
Don: (laughing) In advertising!?
Peggy: This is supposed to be about my job – not the meaning of life.
Don: So you think those things are unrelated?
I was struck that Peggy appeared to initiate her own performance review, something instructive for those readers that don’t have an official performance review period/opportunity: Just create your own. This is not unlike Yom Kippur Katan, where some have the custom to critically reflect on the past month each erev Rosh Chodesh and refine their goals and aspirations for the month ahead. That’s not to say you need to wait until a specific date in the calendar to highlight your achievements to your boss or Hashem (The Ultimate Creative Director), but it’s certainly something we should engage in at least yearly.
I also realized that I needed to refine my message from last week about identifying your goals. For some, this will be stating the obvious:
- Your success will be inversely proportional to the number of goals you establish i.e. the more goals you have, the more overwhelmed you may get in attempting to achieve them and the less likely each one will be fully achieved. There’s no prize for the longest list of goals.
- The goal(s) you set should be personally meaningful and worthwhile. This way, you’ll avoid spending an inordinate amount of time steadily working to accomplish a goal that has little or no lasting impact to you or the company. Even once your goals are selected, be sure to periodically review them. This could be each Rosh Chodesh for your personal goals, and quarterly for professional goals to ensure the company goal posts and priorities haven’t changed.
My wife and I had the privilege of leading explanatory Yamim Norayim services for many years for Gateways and various communities. The participants had mostly been overwhelmed year after year by the size of the machzor and the length of davening. Like someone who lists 30 goals and tries to accomplish all of them, their primary strategy was to just plough through as many tefillos as possible year after year (including a few that are only said by a handful of congregations around the world!), rarely pausing to inject feeling or meaning into their davening. As with resumes and most professional correspondence, so in Judaism: Less is generally a lot more. With this adage, we encouraged our participants to prepare a 60-second inspiration or commentary on one or two prayers that they found meaningful and, if they chose, to share it with the rest of the kehillah. The act of preparing, reflecting, sharing, and starting small and selectively, reduced some of the guilt and frustration that many had felt, empowered participants to engage with the davening and community, and invested our tefillos with meaning.
I was heartened when one year in Teaneck, Rabbi Baum from Keter Torah joined us as a special guest to give words of inspiration for Neilah. He pointed out that when we say in Avinu Malkeinu: “tehei hasha’ah hazos sha’as rachamim…” the first appearance of the word sha’ah in the Torah is: v’el hamincha.. lo sha’ah – Hashem didn’t turn towards Kayin’s offering. Rabbi Baum recommended that while we may have many items on our self-improvement checklist, let’s commit to just one action item – one turn towards Hashem, and just one turn in the area of bein adom l’chaveiro. What will it be?
Much as we may like to, we aren’t expected to excel in every area of our (inter)personal, professional and spiritual lives. But if we select one area of focus in each of these spheres, we are likely to be pleasantly surprised by our progress this time next year.