Humility, Openness, And The Path To Growth: What I Learned From My Work Performance Review

Last Wednesday I walked into the CEO’s office at the school I work for. This day had been on my calendar for sometime. In the weeks leading up to it, my supervisor asked me to prepare by openly and honestly answering a packet of questions. The questions had to do with my work. This was my annual performance review–a time as valuable to one’s personal improvement as it is to one’s work output, I’ve come to learn.

After we sat down, and after the usual small talk warming us up to the meat of our meeting, my supervisor (with her boss–the school CAO–sitting to her left) got into it. Sitting across the large, oak table, she looked at me as she read:

“…needs to be improved.”

“…have to be more mindful…”

“…has difficulty….”

Certainly, my supervisor balanced things out with praise for my work as well. But praise doesn’t elicit the same potential for reactivity as does being asked to sit and receive criticism. To do so constructively requires openness and calm, presence and a belief that things are okay despite these hits to our ego.

Naturally, we like to avoid such trials. And I admit some of the criticisms did shake my foundation slightly–me thinking I was doing well in a given area and then learning my supervisor didn’t see things the same way. Such assumptions, I discovered, had been part of a bedrock of my identity as a worker at this school. This meeting challenged this.

But beyond these knee-jerk fears is this place of openness and calm. And doing my best to hold steady in this space, I conversed throughout my review–often in agreement, and when not, having a discussion about an explanation (not excuses.)

I’m glad I could hear this inventory of me as a worker, see it not as an inventory of Brandon as a person–and then see it as a list of ways to improve on (and off) the job. Besides income and purpose, I’ve always found employment to be an endeavor which can help us be better people. With the right attitude, I could walk out of my meeting with a road map to improvement.

I think this all starts by being in this place of “openness and calm, presence and a belief that things are okay.”

Alternatively, we exist closed off with the shell of our ego (pride) blocking a more genuine life, brittle with judgement toward others, thinking we’re better than others, thinking we know it all and are always right.

Remove the shell, and we’re able to exhale, admit we’re wrong, able to learn, and open to feedback (and defend ourselves more effectively if need be.) In this space is where growth happens, where peace is made, where relationships are built, where connections happen, where personal insights occur–in other words, where life is fully lived and progress made.

This was the space in which I observed, sitting around a table two years ago, six young men trying to escape the gang life. For an article I was writing at the time, I watched these quiet, humble, even saddened youth. But they intently listened to the leader of this group session, an old-timer who didn’t want to see his young brothers go the route he had.

Leaders from Minneapolis MADDADS and the city youth they were working with

This was the space in which I saw a former student from my school working at a Walmart last Friday afternoon. No more than 16, and wanting to prove himself at his brand new job, he had that somber, stern game face on as he strategically and quickly put customers’ items into the plastic bags.

Eager to perform, open to improve, hope to grow.

And there’s always room to grow.

My friend Tim revealed this to me last weekend.

I had talked with him about my performance evaluation experience. Then he shared his own. Tim’s in middle-management and gets to receive and give his employees reviews. He said to me, “It’s not easy giving them.” So, when receiving his own, he said he felt for his boss, who had to be frank and critical of Tim’s work.

“Wow,” I said. “I was proud of myself for not getting defensive with my supervisor. You just took things up a notch by suggesting I empathize with her having to dole out these reviews.”


What say you?