It was my last semester of university and with the winter came final exams in all their biting glory. I was leaving campus one afternoon, my mind in a swirl. What to study next? But more importantly, what in earth was I going to do when exams came to an end? I had one week left as a student and no job offer.
I felt lost.
That?s when I bumped into Travis.
?Travis! How are you??
Travis paused before speaking. He then responded
I wasn?t expecting his answer. It was as if a snowy hand reached out and slapped me. I felt humbled. I felt invigorated. How refreshing it was to hear such a thought-provoking and uplifting response.
I walked home deep in thought. Why was Travis happy? He seemed at peace. So calm. I wanted what he had. Travis had no idea the impact his response would have on me. It prompted a process of introspection. I asked myself some hard questions. I sought a higher perspective that would eventually give me vision beyond exams and the prestige of a sexy job.
Thank you Travis for your response that day. I hope you are still happy.
Busyness. This one word describes most of our lives. We rush to and from competing responsibilities and struggle to find balance between different roles. As we move from point to point, obsessed with goals and results, we bump into other people also waving the banner of busyness. Sadly, these moments of human interaction, opportunities for connection and meaning, often become mere annoyances and distractions.
Asking how others are doing has become a routine task, born out of social duty but largely meaningless. We keep our answers as short and expected as possible so that we can end the interaction and continue onwards. Think about how many times you ask ?how are you?? in any given day. When was the last time you stopped to earnestly listen to the response? Really listen. When was the last time you genuinely wanted to know how someone was doing? Really understand.
It goes both ways.
When was the last time you responded with the truth and told someone how you were really doing? When was the last time you wholeheartedly thought about your answer before blurting out your canned response of ?I?m doing great, thanks!??
Why don?t we do this more often?
Either we are too busy. We don?t care. We don?t trust. We don?t have the energy. Or we simply aren?t aware of our automatic responses and that there are other words we can use.
There are others way to respond
Lucky for us, the thesaurus teaches us that the English language is teeming with words beyond good, great and OK.
I was leaving a job interview feeling frustrated. The interview had gone well, but I wasn?t feeling right about the position. Yet it was one of the few opportunities I had on my radar. What?s worse is that my phone died during the interview and I had no way to coordinate my ride home. I was staying at a friend?s house who lived high up in the hills. So I decided to make the hour-long journey home on foot. And then it started raining.
Sounds like a scene from a movie, right? Suit. Rain. Me trudging along feeling down.
Then I saw a rainbow.
My reaction wasn?t quite as notable as Yosimitebear?s when he saw a double rainbow in 2010; however, my attitude changed and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude overcame me. I said to myself
?I have so many things to be grateful for and I?ll be damned if I walk through my door without listing 100 of them.?
And so I walked and listed all that I was grateful for. It was easy at first, knocking off the obvious gratefuls, but then it got harder and I was forced to become increasingly specific. I never made it to 100. I arrived at the front door somewhere in the 50?s. I was cold, wet and hungry, and I decided that a fat sandwich was worth more than reaching 100.
I gave that day a name: The Day of 50 Gratefuls (I couldn?t remember the exact number I got to). Since that day I have had many Days of Gratefuls. One on the rooftop of my apartment in Santiago, Chile. Another on a mountainside in Boulder, Colorado. The number of gratefuls varies, as does the location. It is the exercise of listing what I am grateful for that moves the needle.
The original ?Day of 50 Gratefuls.? I snapped this photo with my crappy phone. You can barely see the rainbow. It looked much better in person!
I challenge you to list what you are grateful for. Try get to 100. I haven?t yet, but I am always amazed at how humbled and lucky I feel when I go through this exercise.
Now imagine the next time someone asks you how you are doing. Instead of firing off the casual ?I?m OK,? respond with an enthusiastic ?I am grateful.? What impact would you have on this person? How might this inspire someone? What conversation might this lead to?
Nothing is more frustrating than everyone pretending that everything is dandy all the time. Entrepreneurs are constantly ?killing it,? the new project at work is ?taking off? and life at home ?couldn?t be better.? For some people this may be the case. But often life is tough. Plans don?t always work out and sometimes you can feel like an idiot opening up about what?s truly going on, especially when everyone else is ?doing just fine.?
Why do we fear making ourselves vulnerable? There is power in vulnerability. We need to let people in. It?s OK every once in awhile to let your guard down, make yourself vulnerable, and say ?You know what? I?m struggling.? It is through recognizing our vulnerability and sharing it that we more deeply and meaningfully connect with others.
?We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability.? ? Bren Brown, The Power of Vulnerability
The next time you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed and a little beat down, tell someone you are struggling. Give someone the chance to listen and help. You never know what will happen. Maybe that person is also struggling and your courageous display of vulnerability brings down their defences and you end up being the listener.
And for those who think they can solve everything on their own. It?s not about solving. It?s not about bothering others with your woes. It?s about human connection and trust.
?I?m on a mission?
This is my favourite response. This one is sure to raise eyebrows and invite questions. But that?s exactly what you want, people asking about the mission you are on. Maybe your current mission is to run a marathon or write once a week. Maybe it?s to be more present at home or be more patient with your parents.
Telling people that you?re on a mission is a wonderful opportunity for storytelling. Telling your story involves others in your journey. You may gain new companions. You may discover unsought aid in your quest. More importantly, I believe that you will inspire others to embark on their own missions.
Do you have a current mission? If not, I invite you to begin one. And don?t forget to tell people about it.
Experiment and use appropriately
I have spent the last week trying these different responses. It has been fun, but incredibly hard to overcome the robotic habit of ?I?m good.? Now it?s your turn. Make a goal to use these responses during your daily routine.
I don?t believe we should entirely replace the response ?I?m good.? Otherwise the magic of these three responses would be lost with overuse. My invitation is a simple one ? to be more conscious and aware of how we respond. Let?s start viewing the daily encounters with other people as opportunities for connection and inspiration.