When I woke up on Thursday morning I felt excited about "everyone succeed day." I had committed (on a prompt from our personal coach, Christina) to try to live a whole day actively wanting everyone I meet to be successful.
I was not sure how I would do this, but took my cue from our conversation about coaching and listening. I know that I don't know what each person sees as "success," and I know that my job is not to find out exactly what this is for every person I meet:
me: Hi, my name is Sue, before I get on this bus, will you please tell me what your vision is for your own personal success in life? I plan to ensure that it is fulfilled, before my ride is through.
driver: Sorry, this bus is full. (doors close)
I decided that I would simply try to be present for the people I spend time with. I would give them my full attention, try to listen at a higher level, and avoid imposing my own agenda while listening. Maybe this would somehow lift them, even a little, and possibly clear any obstacles to success that I might unconsciously pose in my interactions with them.
My husband left for work at 4:30am, so I didn't have a lot of interaction with him first thing. I think I told him I love him, and I hoped he would have a good day at work. There would be time later to be there. 4:30 is time for sleep for me.
My son got up in the morning to go to his very last Grade 12 Provincial Exam. It was also his very last day to be at the school, pick up his report card, and maybe say good-bye to a teacher or two. When he first got up I missed the boat on being present. I felt a bit rushed, almost ready to leave for work, and trying to fix a quick breakfast for him while I packed up. He seemed pokey and distracted and I wondered if he'd make it to school on time for the exam. While I had the dog out for a short walk, I organized my thoughts. Pokey and distracted is not unusual for my son, but he doesn't always act that way. What was going on? I wondered. As for my time constraints, it would not be the end of the world if I arrived at work a few minutes late. This was more important.
So I came back in with the dog, and found my son sprawled on the couch eating cinnamon toast. I asked "How are you doing?" He told me he felt nervous, but he didn't know why. My agenda for him was bumping around inside my head, but I told it to sit down. I was not letting it out right now. I asked a few questions, "What do you think it will be like today?" "What's happening for you right now?" He didn't talk a lot, but I watched his body language, and he seemed to relax a bit. He ended up talking about what he was going to do after the exam (go see a movie with a friend) and we joked a bit about embarassing tearful farewells with teachers. I think he felt that his feelings were acknowledged. I left for work feeling better connected with him. I was five minutes late. Nobody at work seemed concerned.
At work all day, and at home in the evening, I tried to stop, drop and listen when people were talking to me. I realised how much I usually multi-task - holding conversations while shuffling papers or loading the dishwasher or cooking, for example. I think this is okay, but it was a good experience to try just not doing it for one day. On ordinary days, I think I can exercise better judgement about what conversations need me to totally stop and listen, and which interactions can withstand a bit of shuffling. There are even times when two people doing a task together can talk more freely than two people sitting still. I decided to be more conscious about this and more intentional with my choices.
When I stopped and listened, people's faces changed. I'm not sure how much of them was really changing in response to my attention, and how much was my perception changing because I was really focussed on them. I think it must have been a mixture of both. It will be an interesting exploration to pay attention to this and experiment with it a bit. I wonder what I will notice about people, and how much I will be able to tell from my observations. This aspect of listening piques my curious interest in people's experiences and ways of thinking and understanding things.
I did receive a couple of good insights by paying attention. For example, I paid attention to a group of ladies at the recreation centre where I work. Their fitness teacher had a minor accident on her way to work, and we had to cancel the class. I relayed the information that she was okay, and another staff member was on her way to help her, and give her a ride home. The ladies stayed at the centre, had a coffee, and talked in an unusually animated fashion for about half an hour. I stuck around and listened mostly, wondering what was happening. Then my co-worker returned. I listened to her describing how she had heard about the accident and driven to the location to assist. I tried my listening skills, and watched and listened as her tension seemed to unfurl itself, then subside - in her tone of voice, body language, and pace of conversation. Near the end of our conversation she said, "Those ladies really care for their instructor, you know."
The light went on for me. The ladies were staying because they felt so worried about their instructor. They needed to be together, and possibly distracted, while they were feeling this way. I went back to the coffee room to check in with them. I found the right time to share the story my co-worker had just told, and to reassure them that we knew for sure that their teacher was okay. Now the ladies uncurled a bit. Their faces brightened and their voices grew softer. I stayed and listened while they talked about their feelings of relief, and how they hoped their teacher would be back soon. Soon they finished their conversation and headed out of the centre. I thought about the things I had noticed. Attending gave me a clue to what was going on. Instead of just managing the situation, I tried to be more curious about how people were experiencing it. I think it resulted in a better experience for the ladies, my co-worker and me.
That made me think of what is meant by "wanting people to succeed." If success is measured by how far an interaction goes to fulfilling the intentions of the people involved, then this was a success. The coach-like behaviour we discussed on Wednesday opens the door for this to happen.
At home in the evening I tried to be more attentive to my husband and children. I think I was most successful with my husband. I noticed a lot of distractions around us: the hustle to get dinner cooked and served, the noise of computer and TV, demands of evening chores. I suggested that we run an errand together. He suggested we bring the dog and take her to the park. We ended up going on an impromptu date, dropping a salad at the church and taking the dog to the off-leash park, and we talked. I tried to engage my higher-level listening skills to really hear about his day as he was telling me (not my picture in my mind of what it was like). He seemed more attentive to me, in response. This made me think about how level of attention can be a "norming" function. If one person is being attentive, the other person or people tune in and get that way too. I've noticed this before, but never thought of it in the context of wanting people to be successful. This was another insight for me.
Perhaps the most fun was my stranger-beam that I invented. I walked to the bank and the grocery on my lunch break. Everyone I saw, I beamed my good wishes for success to them. It was like a secret charm that they didn't know about but I was thinking. Maybe I looked a little goofy. Probably they didn't notice, but maybe they picked up a warm or happy vibration as we passed.
I was tired at the end of the day, and wondered if I'd paid attention to my own self too, as I had resolved to do when I took on this assignment. Then I remembered when I stopped for a snack mid-afternoon because I noticed myself feeling a bit low. I also remember doing a self-check at the end of the day, adjusting my tense shoulder posture and listeninging to my breathing (slow down!) and thinking, "what am I thinking about?" just before I left the office. At 5:15 I opted to walk home instead of taking the bus. I phoned home to say I wouldn't be home for another hour because of this. Walking relaxes me and makes a gentle transition from work-me to home-me. My family was okay waiting a while for me to arrive. When I got home, I was greeted by the lovely smell of the barbeque, with supper on the go. Work seemed like a long time ago.
I am not sure if what I did made anybody more successful. But I realised that wasn't the assignment. The assignment was to go through my day wanting everyone I met to be successful. By using a strategy of acknowledging the people around me, I know I made a difference in my interactions with the people in my day. That was a success for me.
Thank you Christina, for this interesting assignment. I felt challenged and energized by it. I will think about the things I discovered and carry some of that into the days to come. I hope your "everybody successful" day was good too.
question: if you wanted everyone you met to be successful, what would you do?
mompoet - taking things in and thinking about them