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What I Learned Chanting Torah on Rosh Hashanah

Chanting Torah is kind of a big deal. It requires an ability to read Hebrew, the willingness to sing in public, the ability to learn a special melody unique to Torah and the tenacity to practically memorize the portion because in the Torah there are no vowels. What makes it even more intimidating is that there can be no mistakes while chanting. Each word must be chanted correctly. In fact, there is someone there whose primary job is to make sure there are no mistakes and to correct you on the spot if something is said incorrectly.

The first time I chanted Torah I was 13 years old at my Bat Mitzvah (quite a few years ago!) and I may have read a few more times in my childhood. In March 2014 my daughter had her Bat Mitzvah and I had the opportunity to read again and I loved it! It offered me the opportunity to relate to what my daughter was doing as she studied and reminded me that this is about more than invitations and DJs. Connecting to this ancient practice is powerful.

An attainable challenge

For some reason I really enjoy chanting Torah. For me it hits the sweet spot between boredom and stress. I know that if I put my mind to it I can learn it, so I have confidence for mastery. However, it is not easy for me so I have to practice and commit. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has researched this idea of balance between ability and challenge and has discovered it is a strong predictor for success and happiness. It is recommended that people find activities in their life that hit that sweet spot. So career coaching west orange nj
everyday for four weeks I practiced my Torah portion.

Allowed for a pause each day

Preparing for the high holidays has always been a goal of mine. I would start reading Alan Lew’s This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, or writing up New Year’s resolutions, but I would rarely commit. When preparing to read Torah, I had a deadline and a motivation—not to embarrass myself. Therefore, I stuck to it and practiced every morning and sometimes at night. I would listen to my Cantor’s voice chanting and then I would try to “copy” her (ha!). I loved hearing her beautiful voice fill my kitchen as I practiced and I really loved that my kids would hear her voice too. Perhaps this was helping them prepare for the high holidays too?

In the past, I have dabbled in maintaining a meditation and yoga practice, but this practice was just as meditative and fulfilling. I connected to the music and the upcoming events. I was able to experience the Rosh Hashanah service before there was a hint of chill in the air. It was peaceful, spiritual and satisfying because each day I learned more of the portion. I was able to observe my progress in a tangible way.

Mental Preparation for High Holiday Services

This preparation benefited me greatly during Rosh Hashanah. As someone who has introverted tendencies, I find High Holiday services overwhelming. There is the constant socializing in the hallways, and when I finally find my seat I find myself replaying various conversations to make sure I said the right thing or I worry that I did not go up to someone to say hello in an effort to career coaching west orange njfinally enter the sanctuary. For me, I find it difficult to just sit, pray and enjoy. This time, however, it was different. I was ok with the social element because I had already had a nice fill of Hebrew, Torah and chanting. I didn’t feel like I had to try to connect with the service as much and without that pressure, I actually was able to connect in a way I have not before. It was like I had been working a muscle ahead of time so I was able to jump into the game.

Reading Torah Involves Teamwork

My synagogue places the Torah reader in the front of the room; however, the reader faces the ark rather than the congregation. This arrangement diminishes the feeling that the reader is performing. The reader is leading and the congregation is following – it is a group effort. In addition, our Bima is on the floor-it is not on a stage above the congregation. This contributes to the team vibe since I was on the same level with the congregation.

career coaching west orange njWhile I was reading Torah, several congregants surrounded me. Standing around the Torah with me was the person who read the Aliya (the introduction to my portion) and the individual who was there to help me if I made a mistake as well as a gabbai who is in charge of the logistics for the reading—he or she calls up the participants as they are needed. My reading was a little less smooth than in the past. I fumbled a bit in the beginning trying to remember the tune, I got back on track and then needed a correction in the end. It was the first time I had to be corrected while reading the Torah. Surprisingly, I actually found it comforting to know that someone is there to help me if I ran into trouble. Even as he corrected me, he did it in the most supportive and kind way. He was not trying to embarrass me instead we were in it together.

This was what I liked most about the experience. Everyone knows it is tough to get up there and read and you get the sense that everyone wants you to do well. The fact that you are up there doing something challenging while connecting with Judaism is what is important. Being a gifted Torah chanter is great, but not necessary thankfully, because we need people to read the Torah constantly in synagogue and we cannot just rely on the most talented. We need subs as well as starters.

Later in the service our Rabbi had a wonderful sermon where he talked about how connection is often more important than being right. I feel like this is what is taught with chanting the Torah portion. There is no shame in making mistakes, it is considered part of the experience. If you make a mistake, you are corrected, you fix your mistake, and then you move on. Wouldn’t it be good if we could all live life that way?

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Returning to Work: Leveraging Organizational Resources

In the first blog of this series, Returning to Work: Details and Dreams, we focused on identifying our responsibilities and prioritizing them according to our values. In Blog #2 of this series Returning to Work: Leveraging Your Village, we focused on how to get the things done on your list after going back to work. In this blog, we will focus on how to utilize your employer’s work-life programs and policies and how to communicate with your manager to figure out work arrangements that foster work-life success.

Taking advantage of corporate programs can be hugely helpful and worth exploring. In addition, companies may also have work-life policies to consider, including work from home options, part-time arrangements and other flexible work options. In many ways, however, the best way to find work-life balance at work is to have a supportive manager who respects your autonomy and lets you get your work done in the way that best utilizes your strengths and family responsibilities. Developing a healthy relationship with your manager is one of the best ways to achieve work-life balance and job satisfaction.

If you are a freelancer or self-employed?

This blog can also apply to you as it can provide you with a template for evaluating how to organize your time. How do you work best? How many hours should you work? Please use this lens as you read through the rest of the blog.

Work-life Programs

The good news is that many companies offer work-life programs—especially the larger companies. Often organizations partner with vendors like LifeCare, Harris Rothenberg International and Bright Horizons Family Solutions (to name a few) to provide a variety of family friendly services. If you have not done so already, familiarize yourself with your company’s family–friendly benefits. Programs can include (but are not limited to):

  • Childcare – full-time and back-up
    • Companies can provide on-site full-time care or partner with full-time childcare facilities located near the office.
    • Back-up childcare is helpful for the occasional school holiday or when your nanny calls in sick and can be located on-site or at off-site affiliates
  • Eldercare assistance
  • On-site Gym
  • On-site Wellness programs: nurses and doctors on-site, health screenings, flu shots
  • Concierge services –these services can make life a little bit easier—e.g. on-site dry cleaning
  • Homework help for your kids: homework help via the internet or by phone
  • College Coaching: Assistance with the college search and application process
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): counseling services that are free and convenient
  • On-site Lactation programs
  • Mentoring programs and Parenting Groups—learn from other working parents

Work-life Policies

In addition to work-life programs, there are work-life policies to consider. Parental leave is a popular one in the news today with companies like Netflix announcing very generous policies. (Of course having a policy does not necessarily mean people feel safe to take it advantage of it—but that is for a separate blog.) Since you are returning to work, parental leave policies probably don’t apply to you so let’s focus on Flexible Work Arrangement (FWAs). FWAs are hugely helpful because standard work hours are not always ideal for real life. FWAs include:

  • Part-time arrangements – involves working less than full-time so it is accompanied by a pay reduction
  • FlexTime arrangements: flexibility with when you work
    • Compressed work-week: nurses often work longer hours a day for fewer days a week.
    • Irregular hours: working different hours -– often seen in retail where evening and weekend hours are often the most wanted timesimages-5
  • FlexPlace: Working from home or from a satellite location
  • Job Sharing: Creating a full-time schedule for one position with two employees

These arrangements can be negotiated during the job offer process, but they can also be arranged as needed. Sometimes it takes working a bit to realize you need an FWA and sometimes it takes being in the job to see whether an FWA is conducive to your job. You may even find that working an FWA is actually preferable for your job situation. For instance, if you work with clients in a different time zone.

Informal Work-life Options

Informal work-life options are an ideal solution to work-life issues. Things change constantly—a child gets sick, after school activities change, work is busy, work is not busy. It is great for all involved when you can work out arrangements with your manager on an as needed basis. Sometimes a particular project lends itself to telecommuting while a different project requires working late. How can you communicate with your boss to make things work for you?

Which Work-Life Resource Do You Need?

First you should ask, what do you want?

  • Are there days you need to be home earlier due to carpools?
  • Are there days you want to be home to volunteer?
  • Do you want to go in later some mornings so you can bring your kids to school?
  • Do you want to be home by 5:00 so you can help your kids with homework?
  • Do you need one day off a week to tackle your errands, self-care, etc.?
  • Do you need a day off a month to take an elderly parent to a medical treatment?

Now evaluate ways to meet the needs that you identify. Do you need to work from home some days? Do you need a part-time schedule? Do you want flexible hours (a full-time schedule but with modified work times)?

Communicating with Your Manager

The key to success with negotiating with your manager is to make it a conversation—not a negotiation. Come with a suggestion, but be open to modifying it. As a positive psychology coach, these are some things I recommend thinking about before your meeting:

  • What are your strengths? Are those leveraged in your modified job responsibilities?
  • Can you fill a need with your job change? For instance, can you volunteer to work late one day a week so you can work with West coast time zone and then come in late a different day?

I love exploring creative solutions to work-life dilemmas and I am pleasantly surprised by how often there are win/win situations. For instance, a client of mine was hoping to work fewer than 5 days a week, but she was not sure how to ask. After talking with her, we realized that her boss was in a difficult situation trying to give another employee more hours. By volunteering one of her days to her boss, her boss was ecstatic since she was able to give those hours to an employee who needed them. It was a win/win.  My client was able to keep a job she loved and have improved work-life balance and her boss was grateful to have a work dilemma resolved.

Take some time now to evaluate your needs and your employer’s work options. Keep an open mind and be willing to experiment.  Going back to work can be challenging, but there are resources out there to explore.  Creativity and communication are keys leveraging organizational resources to enhance your work-life balance.

Click here for more information on the benefits of Career Coaching.

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Returning to Work: Leveraging Your Village

When returning to work after being a Stay at Home Parent, the list of To-Dos can be mind-boggling. In the first blog of this series Returning to work: Details and Dreams, I reviewed how to create a list that lays out all of your responsibilities and then prioritize them based on your values. Now, with this list in hand, we need to figure out how to get it done. In the end, we cannot do it all alone—especially if we are going back to work. We also need to identify and leverage our resources. Luckily, there are many resources available; you just need to take the time to identify them.

Child labor (aka: chores)

Resources come in a variety of shapes and sizes. One of the many benefits of returning to work is giving your child the gift of independence. Depending on the age of your children, you may be able to have them help out around the house more. Taking the time to identify age appropriate chores is the first step in this process. When figuring out chores for your children to do, think about the following:

  • Which chores do you no longer have time for?
  • What are good skills for your kids to develop?
  • What chores do you really dislike? (Shhh….A secret benefit of going back to work is to outsource the tasks you never really liked in the first place.)
  • What special skills do your children have that you can leverage?

A wonderful resource for identifying age appropriate chores is in one of my favorite parenting books: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel. She devotes an entire chapter to children and chores. It is definitely worth a read.

Once you have identified the chores you would like your children to do, you need to make sure they know how to do them. Things that seem obvious are not always obvious to our kids. Show them how to get the bowl and pour the cereal, or how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch or Mac and Cheese for dinner if they are old enough to use the stove. If your child has not had these responsibilities before, you need to take the time to teach your children.

Kids are often excited for parents returning to work. Share the excitement and let them know it is a team effort. But remember change takes time and going back to work involves a learning curve for everyone. In Positive Psychology coaching we promote a Growth Mindset — where taking risks and making mistakes are part of the learning process and effort is rewarded. Keep this in mind as you teach your children new skills. While you may want everything to be done as well as you do it, a more effective expectation would be to expect mistakes and imperfection, particularly in the beginning.

Carpools and playdates.. oh my!

So your kids can’t drive yet, this is a problem. How are they going to get to their sports/dance/chess/karate lessons or practices? Our kids are so busy after school that if you are working past 3:00, you need to think about how your children are going to get to their after-school activities. This is where your community can come in handy. Below are ideas for you to consider around your neighborhood, which involve local friends, neighbors, nannies, schools and companies.

  • Are you working part time? Perhaps you can set up a carpool schedule where you can drive on the days you are not working and another parent can drive when you are working.
  • Are there after-school activities at your child’s school to buy you a little extra time? Can you sign up for that and then pick the kids up a little later after these activities end?
  • Can a friend drive your child during the week and then you can drive to games on the weekend or provide sleepovers over the weekend?
  • Can you employ a nanny/helper for the afternoon to provide homework help, make dinner and drive carpools? It may be difficult to hire someone just for the afternoons, but a nanny share could help with this problem. My friend created a nanny share with her neighbor. Her neighbor needed a nanny for the afternoons and my friend needed her for the mornings. A perfect arrangement for everyone.
  • Contact your local college’s career office to hire college students (who can drive) to babysit.images-3
  • Is there a driving company in your community? We have a wonderful service called Vantastic in our neighborhood. Local dads established this service to drive children in our community to school, after-school activities and to camp in the summer. This service is a huge help for working parents!

Shake things up!—Review roles and responsibilities with your spouse

If you are married, another great resource can be your spouse. Returning to work allows for an adjustment in parenting roles within a couple. It is a great opportunity to revisit roles and consider sharing certain responsibilities. For the non-stay at home spouse, this offers an incredible opportunity to interact with the kids in a different way and for parents to revise their game plan. Shaking things up can be a powerful way to reinvigorate a marriage and a home. So be creative and work together to think outside the box and question assumptions. Some possible areas to shake up are:

  • Change up who handles the morning routine.
  • Can either of you work from home on certain days to help with carpools?
  • Are there ways either parent can help with school volunteering?
  • Does the same parent bring the kids to the doctor? Does it have to be that way? Would sharing that role be helpful?

By working together to re-think parenting roles, both parents have an opportunity to grow and stretch in different ways and to better appreciate each other’s prior responsibilities.

You are not alone in your journey back to work. You have many resources available within your own family and community. Look around to see what is available and then find a way to piece these resources together to make your transition back to work more manageable. Know that these challenges truly can provide opportunities to grow and learn as a family.

Click here for more information on the benefits of Life Coaching.