March 30, 2012

“You Like Me. You Really Like Me.”

There Is Something That Feels Even Better Than When The World Notices How Awesome You Are.

While not many of us have accepted an Academy Award, we have all had moments when we’ve felt just like this. Moments when we’ve received accolades that make us want to dance with joy or burst with pride. It feels pretty amazing when the world notices how awesome you are. It feels pretty darn good to be liked.

I suspect it is the fact that we can all intimately relate with the surprisingly powerful feelings of receiving external validation that Sally Field was expressing that night, that makes her speech the most memorable and most parodied of Oscar acceptance speeches. After all, is there a better feeling than receiving a phone call from a client letting you know that “we all think you’re fantastic?” Or winning a coveted award at work? Or reading a grateful, glowing email the morning after the fundraiser you worked on for months on end?

It feels good to be liked.

The issue is that the feelings that wash over you in a moment of recognition can be swept away quite suddenly. Can you imagine how Sally Field felt the morning after her moment of glory when she woke to find her acceptance speech parodied? A word of criticism, a nasty email, a whisper of overheard gossip sometimes stir up even more powerful feelings than the pride and joy we feel when we receive recognition for a job well done. Doubt. Hurt. Anger. These don’t feel so good.

As we practice yoga, we learn to appreciate, trust and value a different kind of feedback. We learn to listen to other voices. We tune out from the external and tune in to the way our practice makes us feel. The grateful releases of our body as it stretches each day on our mat. The appreciative silence of our mind as we deliberately focus it on the simple, consuming act of moving in synchronicity with our breath. The expansive openness of our heart as we pause, even for a moment, from judging, comparing and competing. These effects of our practice leave us feeling great, glowing even.

The feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing that we feel as a result of our practice may not be as dazzling, day-glo bright as the awards, praise and back-slaps that we receive from others. But they are consistent. They are steady. And there is no “flip side.” No one can take them away from us. They are part of us. These feelings of validation come from within. They are always there waiting for us. All we have to do is come to our mat, focus and do our very best.

Think back for a second. Remember the last time you completed a job well done. Remember the moment of actual completion. The moment you reflected on the work and realized you were done and it was good. How did you feel?

As I write this, I am awash in my own memory of a recent job well done. My business partner and I had just cranked out a ten-week anatomy curriculum for our yoga teacher training program. We’d both been dreading the process of putting this curriculum together. There was so much to teach! How would we work in all the necessary details? How could we present the material in a way that would “stick” with our students?

When we sat down to write it, though, it came together more smoothly than we’d dared to hope. We’d just read back through our final product when I had my own “Sally Field moment.” As my partner’s babysitter walked into the kitchen where we were working, I looked up and announced, “You are in the presence of genius.” We all immediately burst out laughing at my audacious lack of humility. But deep inside, we felt like dancing. We’d completed a job well done and it felt good. Really, really good.

Here’s the thing. I know it will feel good to teach the material. I bet it might feel really good if our students like it. But I can’t imagine anything overshadowing that initial wash of pride that I felt (“I like it. I really like it!”) when I realized what we’d done.

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