The Opportunity in Front of Us
As we make our way into the holiday season, I find myself reflecting on all that we’ve come through individually and as a society… these last few years have definitely taken a lot out of us. During this holiday season of 2022 many of us are again gathering in groups and at events that we haven’t experienced in a few years providing us the opportunity to reconnect, to share, and experience others in a potentially new-ish way. And so, I’m here with a few thoughts that I feel are worth sharing, ideas that may help to enrich your holidays.
Your Attention Matters
I talk with so many clients – women and men who range in age from 24 to 60 — who are grappling with questions of how to make and live a life that feels satisfying and which provides the kind of lifestyle worth living — different for each person. I hear, in subtle and obvious ways, how the last, say four years have impacted them. This sample of the population – a goal oriented, educated and humane group – is burned out, mulling over many big questions, ambitions and fears. I’m no stranger to this experience myself! Working together we find ways for them to re-engage, find new aspirational dreams, consider ways to make the most of their lives so they bring their positive impact in and on the world. We look for small actions, or sometimes non-actions, so they can re-fuel, recharge and find meaning. We identify what the work is that can bring them to engage in ways that will bring their vision to fruition.
What enhances one person’s life, doesn’t work for another. What works for you, won’t necessarily work for your most cherished loved ones. In my coaching sessions I’m not, usually, offering my advice and opinions. I’m offering my attention and questions so my client finds their own answers. This is what we third party experts do – we offer our attention and expertise to help our clients find their unique answers. Of course, there’s more beyond that, but this is the foundation. This holiday season, I suggest we all make a supreme effort to offer the gift of our attention in all of our personal and professional interactions. After living through so much upheaval I see so clearly how much we each need to feel seen and heard by those around us. The gatherings we will be attending during the days ahead can be stressful for many of us, but with intentionality, we can slow our conversations down, see those in front of us, and give them our full attention. That’s a gift.
Listen with Your Whole Body
I know that listening is my work and I love what I do. I’m on this planet to do what I do. But I know that so many, many people want to be helpful to their friends, family, co-workers, employees and neighbors. We all hear about others’ transitions or have a hunch something’s up. We sense things about people or overhear things. But we are also possibly staying in our lane, fearful that if we get too interested in someone’s life we’ll over-step, or pry. And in this act of politeness we may miss an opportunity to learn what’s genuinely impacting someone; we may miss an opportunity to recognize a strength or encourage an ability. We may miss the opportunity to really connect.
What I’ve learned from my decades of coaching is that most people do not feel seen and heard for who they uniquely are. They may know they are loved, but they also feel judged for their confusion or pain so they work so hard to hide it. But if we listen with our whole self it’s possible to know more about those around you. So how do we show we care? By offering the advice you’re sure will work? Does unsolicited advice ever work? The upbeat pep talk you give may help a bit in the moment which is kind of course. But what can you do to show you really care, to show you’re genuinely interested?
Pay attention. Ask open ended questions. Allow someone to tell you how their life is happening. Let another show you who they are.
Fine, Busy, Great
As you meet with others, be brave to get curious. Don’t settle for the patter of ‘I’m fine’, ‘Busy’ or ‘Great!’ Ask an open-ended question and then another, then wait to hear more. Settle your gaze on the person in front of you and let yourself be surprised by what you learn. Look for cues about who is in front of you. Does this person look almost too perfect? Just beneath the surface of perfection is possibly a terribly stressed out person who’s peddling as fast as s/he can to keep up with life. Be willing to be with another person as they are and give them the gift of your full attention without unintentionally dismissing or overly flattering them. As you approach your social events remember that everyone has bumped along through these sobering and turbulent times just as you have.
Look for Joy and Don’t be Afraid of Sorrow
As you enjoy your time together remember to look for others’ joys, but don’t be afraid to learn of their disappointments and sorrows. We’ve all been through a lot. Let’s not deny that. Our attention provides us all with much missed and much needed connection. Allow pauses in the conversation… allow for more to come out. Just slow the conversation down enough to be with whoever you’re with, and feel your own experience of connection, your heartbeat, your breath and pace of aliveness in your body. If we all pay more attention and notice the details of the people in front of us we can all heal a bit more. And collectively we can revive our much-needed spirit, clarity and even love for others.