Looking, Listening, and Learning: To the world around us, to ourselves, and to our future

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein

Our last networking event, “Work Life Balance + Wellness” had me feeling refreshed, grounded, and motivated. The ladies from DNK Presents — a company that, “provides people with the opportunity to get out and explore nature in a safe and fun atmosphere” — led ten of us on a “netwalking” hike in Holliday Park. Throughout the hike we participated in activities focused on mindfulness, visualization, and active listening. The group, comprised of friends and strangers alike, quickly opened up and bonded over this different kind of networking.

New Beginnings

At the start of our time together, the facilitators, Danielle and Kate, asked us to go around the circle and say our name and the last time that we had done something for the first time. The answers ranged from trying new foods to getting married. What a unique way to peek into a person’s challenges, fears, and values upon first meeting them, I thought. I love that this question was open for anyone, no matter what stage of life they were in. Some of us had to think for a minute to come up with an answer, but once we started sharing, people seemed to take pride in their answers. This got me thinking: how often do we really take time to do something new? It seems like we’re always trying to find a routine and get comfortable in the positions we have, but since when does comfort lead to growth?

Once we set off on our hike, several people commented that they were amazed by how expansive Holliday Park was, and that they had never been there before – even people who live in Indianapolis! We hadn’t taken the time to get out and explore something right there in our own backyard. This parallels many of our lives, I realized. How much passes us by when we get caught up in routine and mental clutter? In the context of the work world, it’s important to take chances and try new things. Especially for women, there is a fear of stepping out of the box and either being shut down or losing the respect that we work so hard for. Sometimes we feel that there are guidelines we have to follow to ensure that people take us seriously. The question is, how are we ever supposed to move onward and upward if we are stagnant? Change advances growth, development, and ultimately strength and confidence moving forward. Every new challenge conquered means another lesson to draw from when facing the next, bigger blocks in the road, so it’s better to face new experiences with enthusiasm than to run from them.

Learning to Listen

Of the multiple activities we did together, the one many of us found most challenging was a listening exercise. We were paired up and had to listen to our partner speak for two minutes straight while making constant eye contact and not reacting in any way — no head nods, no smiling, no laughing, and no interruptions. For the speaker, this was nerve wracking; how many times as adults do we get two minutes of undivided attention to talk about whatever we want!? It’s a vulnerable position to be in, to let your mind wander aloud to a stranger. At the same time, the listeners struggled not to give any signs of validation or affirmation. It’s surprisingly hard to actively listen without asserting your own agreement or disagreement with what’s being said.

This lesson is twofold. First, just speak your mind! Stop worrying so much about how someone is reacting to you; sometimes it doesn’t matter. It’s healthy to be vulnerable and open to other people, even in the workplace. The more we put ourselves out there (authentically), the more people will draw to us. For women especially, there is a pressure to carefully plan everything we say and every action we take so as not to outstep our bounds. However, spontaneity and vulnerability leave room for connections and creativity, and this is where great ideas spring from. We should confidently throw our ideas out there, because they have value! Second, we miss a lot of what others have to offer because we are concerned with our next step, our next checklist item, or our next comment in a conversation. We’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another – we find ourselves thinking of a response while the other person is still talking. We miss things and when we do that, we’re cheating both parties from valuable bits of dialog. Why not challenge ourselves to be active listeners, and to completely focus on conversations with people around us? In other words, let’s be present in our communications.

See It to Achieve It

The last major lesson I learned from this event was about visualization. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant for me when we started, but the women from DNK Presents made it very tangible. They asked us, “When was a time that you pictured yourself doing something … and then it happened?” After hearing a couple of women share that they had visualized getting a new job before they got it, I caught myself thinking, This seems unrealistic. Just because I picture something happening doesn’t mean it will happen. Also, to think that way seemed almost dangerous to me; everyone knows you shouldn’t get your hopes up too often or you will be disappointed. Then I realized, why not? Why shouldn’t I get my hopes up or dream big? Why shouldn’t I be honest with myself about what my goals and expectations are? Whether it’s work-related or not, we should allow ourselves to set big goals, to be aware of our dreams, and to visualize ourselves achieving these milestones. If for no other reason, do it because research tells us if you do, then it’s more likely to happen!

Ultimately, this event provided a safe space for us to explore not only a beautiful spot in our city, but ourselves. Being in this supportive atmosphere for just a couple of hours had me motivated to make changes in my life. As women, we should encourage each other to set goals and to take the initiative to make personal improvements. We should hold each other accountable and lean on one another for support through these learnings. As much as we humans need stability and routine, we also need to mix it up every once in awhile; and sometimes, all it takes is stepping outside and letting nature do its magic.