That dreaded email pops up in your inbox: ‘please complete your self-evaluation by next Friday’.
And so the process of appraisals begins: you try your best to provide an honest, but not too damning, self-evaluation. Others, perhaps a little more freely, also assess your performance. Perhaps you end up with a grade, or a score, or some other marking to reflect how you have performed against a pre-determined set of criteria.
Even the most care-free individual is not to be fooled: this grading is important. Even if your job is not on the line, your bonus might be, or the chances of getting a promotion or some other perk.
The working world, it seems, places a great deal of emphasis of evaluations. A time to step back from whatever you are doing, and refocus the lens through which we see the world. Indeed, whole teams of business analysts and consultants are sometimes brought into companies for this exact purpose.
As we know, there are a number of benefits to this ‘refocusing’ exercise:
- We stop focusing on 1 day, and start looking at 365: Of course our day-to-day work is important, but we must learn to look at progress over time. Each piece of work is only beneficial inasmuch as it contributes to the project as a whole. Goals and objectives, we know, are not achieved overnight, and so it is important that we remind ourselves to keep one eye on the finish line.
- We stop focusing on 1 person, and start looking at the team: We may be meeting our individual responsibilities and targets, but how is the team doing as a whole? If one part of the business is under-resourced and another part is quiet, it may be time for a rethink, to ensure everyone is getting the support they need.
These questions are sometimes difficult, but no business can survive without asking them. Most start-up businesses fail within one year of their birth, for precisely this reason: a good idea, and even a good beginning, is not enough – it’s takes a longer-term view to succeed.
These ideas are tried, tested, and generally widely accepted in firms across the globe.
But do we have equivalent ‘tried and tested’ practices for evaluating our performance in the area of ruchnius? Certainly, we will all accept that it is worthy of regular assessment, and of course there much written on the subject. But how rigorous is our personal evaluation process? It should, it seems, be at least as thorough as the thought we give to our process at work.
Perhaps, at least as a thought experiment, we can borrow the kind of benchmarks we use in the workplace, and apply them to spiritual endeavours:
- 1 in 365: We might have decided what we are going to take on this year, but do we have a so-called ‘Five Year Plan’? What mitzvos are in the pipeline that we want to perform further down the line?
- 1 in 100: How do our individuals actions fit in with the wider interests of klal yisrael. Sure, I may be helping myself and my family, but what am I doing for the community? Are my actions creating a kiddush Hashem? Am I supporting local tzedakah initiatives? Am I learning in the zechus of someone who is unwell?
This may be a helpful starting point, at least, when engaging in a self-evaluation.
And how about inviting others to gentling appraise how we have been doing in the area of ruchnius? This might seem like a radical idea, until we remember that this is routinely done in the workplace. So (of course, depending on the circumstances), why not invite a Rabbi, mentor or friend to provide some constructive feedback? After all, this is arguably what true mussar is all about: individualised feedback and direction, based on an assessment of an person’s kochos (strengths) and middos.
Each individual should tailor these exercises as needed. But let us all try to push ourselves just a little outside of our comfort zones. We may find that an external voice provides a little clarity, not to mention an opportunity to build and strengthen friendships with others, based on a foundation of mutual growth and self-help.
We should all merit to have a great year ahead. And the year after that!
The Working Jew