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Non-Profit Narishkeit: The Life and Times of an Intern in the Non-Profit Jewish World

By Jonny Gottlieb

Week 6-7: Phone Phobia

For the past two weeks I’ve really gotten into the thick of things with my research project. And by “the thick” I mean sending out hundreds of emails and getting a smattering of replies. I’m now in charge of having short preliminary conversations with various synagogues to get a better feel of the congregational landscape and see if we would be a good match in working together. I did eventually get through to some people and arrange a couple of phone calls, but now comes the problem of actually talking to them on the phone.

For some reason even thinking about talking on the phone for an extended period of time gives me anxiety. And I’m not a particularly anxious person. Something about not being able to see the other person’s face is very strange and off-putting. On top of an already established base of nonsensical phone phobia, I was slightly traumatized by my aforementioned PR job. Once in a while I got a quality client who I was instructed to pitch to the top stations. If these station managers did not like what you were saying, they were very comfortable interrupting you or even hanging up mid-call. As you can imagine this did wonders for my calling confidence.

My inner monologue

My inner monologue

Seeing as though I’d be typing up notes whilst conversing, a co-worker suggested I use a headset. Obviously I was thrilled. I figured that the distraction of new office supplies would be just enough to trick me into being comfortable on the phone. I had finally found a solution to years of the phone jitters. However, this headset high lasted but mere moments when I found out that the only unused option in the office did not seem to work.

Just as I was getting discouraged I thought to myself, “If only I was organically given a quote with Jewish content that could both offer inspiration and be used as a tie-in for my blog in a corny yet meaningful way…” As luck would have it I was soon presented with such a quote.

In between not getting emails and staring at the phone I was also helping the rest of my department work on a special event called the Summer Institute (aka the reason the mugs were brought into my life). It’s a full day of conversation and activities that brings together all the different congregations we work with. We discuss what we’ve accomplished and what we can continue to improve in the future. In other words, some stuff happens while people wait nervously to get their hands on The Mugs. I’ve been helping out when I can and that day I was to sit in on a planning meeting with our whole department.

Since this is The Jewish Education Project we started off with a bit of learning and discussed the quote, “The greater your goal, the greater the yearning you’ll need to achieve it,” by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Rebbe Nachman was an amazing thinker who was most famous for reviving the Hasidic movement through the melding of Kabbalah and Torah scholarship. He was an incredible speaker and I’d bet money that if he had lived in modern times he’d be great on the phone.

After the meeting I tried to meditate on the words of the Rebbe on the walk back to my desk. He did seem to have a point. Everything worth fighting for takes that much more drive to get done. While I don’t know if cold calling shuls is on my list of things “worth fighting for”, doing a good job was important to me and something I definitely took seriously. I decided I had to get over my fear and face this task head on.

I'm going to be honest with you, I literally just typed in "confident phone" into Google Images

I’m going to be honest with you, I literally just typed in “confident phone” into Google Images

Once I got into the swing of things I discovered, not surprisingly, that talking to synagogue staff members is only slightly less intimidating than booking agents for top New York radio shows. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in speaking to me and couldn’t be nicer. Okay that was hyperbolic, but they were pretty nice. From now on I’m determined to leave as many awkward messages and learn as many Ed. Director’s kids names and/or college preferences as it takes to get the job done. Until then, I’ll see you next week!

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