Thursday, April 17, 2008

Praise, some words about

A colleague observed me in a meeting, uncomfortable at being praised in front of the entire staff. It made her feel sad that I had my head down and couldn't accept the praise. She would have preferred me with head up, smiling, taking it all in. Her conclusion was that I didn't somehow feel I deserved the praise, and that, for her, was sad.

The truth, for me, was the praise felt excessive and I was embarrassed. I don't have a problem accepting praise, I said; it's just when the praise seems so far out of scale with the actual accomplishment that I start to squirm. I love the spotlight, believe me, and like all creatures I like to be recognized when I've made a contribution or done something great.

In reflecting a bit more about my response to praise, I realized that I have two very different sets of reactions to it. In yoga, when a teacher praises me, I feel good, I take it in, I expand more -- I deeply feel it and it resonates for hours, even days. I'll go home and say to Joe, "Laura praised me tonight," and walk a little taller. It creates a stable platform of confidence that allows me to try more new things.

At work when a colleague praises me, I am generally bothered.

Last night in yoga, the answer came to me. And it came to me in the form of the dolphin image above.

People get so excited at dolphin shows when the dolphins jump out the water on cue, interact with people, follow commands. Aren't they so cute and amazing? This has always struck me as wrong-headed somehow. A dolphin is so intelligent, has so much wild potential, that to praise it for demonstrating the simplest of its capabilities is such a diminishment of its full individual value. That has always seemed so sad to me, that we measure its worth in such a small way.

When I'm in class, practicing, and receive praise, I drink it in because I'm actually working, pushing, stretching, expanding my own limits. I'm actually trying, so the praise matches my effort, rewards it. At work, the things I'm generally praised for are such a tiny fraction of what I'm capable of, and I don't feel I really have to try as I'm producing them. They're easy, no stretch, no expansion. This is why the praise feels excessive to me, when my colleagues heap it on for something I could have done with my eyes closed. That may sound arrogant, but I think it's important and true for me, a serious sign that I need to jump out of the performance pool and realize some of that bigger potential.

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