Wednesday Words

At My Life’s Work, we view opportunities for independent reflection as important in a person’s own process for building self-awareness, wisdom, new behaviors, and different actions.

Every other week, we publish a new edition of our “Wednesday Words” to support your own personal or professional development process. Check back regularly for new essays, email us your feedback, and please share with friends and colleagues.

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September 24, 2014 - Raise Your Hand

September arrives with its set of post-summer “mantras” – applicable to the young (and occasionally the “old”)  – “make sure to set your alarm,” “you can’t wear that to school,” “have you finished your homework?”    That said, one message, in particular, speaks to all of us.

Raise your Hand 

It is one of those lessons we inherited early in our lives.  Yet, as adults, it remains with us — its interpretation subject to our unique personality, professional values, self- and other-awareness.

Imagining a classroom of, perhaps, first graders…some hands shoot up when the teacher requests the “answer.”  Bodies and voices belonging to those eager hands may wiggle and squeal.  Holding a response quietly and calmly is next to impossible for these children while some of their classmates may shrink into their seats when requested to participate.   They either don’t know or are reluctant to share what they know.

Fast forward to the team meetings, board meetings, and community committee meetings of adulthood.   “Raising hand” behavior (or its somewhat comparable “raising voice” behavior) reveals a great deal about ourselves and who we are in the company of others – the brainstormers, information-sharers, strategic planners, and decision makers.

First, there are those who must have a voice (show a hand) at every meeting.  Of course, they have something to contribute – everyone does.  Unfortunately, it’s human nature for the uber enthusiasm of a few to overwhelm the process and its people.

Second, there are equally, perhaps differently wise meeting members who do not raise their hands or voice volume.  Of course, they have something to contribute –everyone does.  Unfortunately, its human nature for the uber silence of a few to underwhelm the process and its people.

Third, there are those who try to navigate between the two extremes.  Negotiating opportunities to burst at the seams with ideas or relinquish the floor to others..    Navigating in this way can exhaust a person and the process.

A child’s job in grade school is to raise his/her hand.  It’s a simple rule with generally straightforward consequences.  Those who don’t follow the rule are “penalized” — they either have spoken out of turn or have failed to speak at all.

As adults, the rules are more nuanced.  It’s not about the frequency or intensity of raising one’s hand but calibrating our professional reach so we contribute but not at the expense of other people or process or our own professional capacity.

In yoga class, of all places, I learned this lesson.  The teacher – master of wrapping muscle to bone and encouraging “straight lines” within the body not among a student body – instructs us to raise our arms from shoulder to finger tips.  His words create intimate personal awareness of our extension and exertion.  He encourages us to assess whether we can go a little higher or are straining too much for the enviable but unnecessary or, likely non-existent,  “top” position.

His question is an important one – it supports our success on the mat but on the job (any job) as well.  Raising one’s hand beyond first grade is ultimately about elevating our position without damage to self or others.  When we succeed, we are also raising the capacity of our work in a most compelling way.