5 simple steps to: push uncomfortable, make a connection, and grow empathy.

Intentionally or not, we rob ourselves when we overlook the challenges others face in those situations that we find ourselves breezing through. As a complex and incomprehensibly diverse society, growing ever more connected, this is a consistent issue that none of us can afford to ignore.

The solution? Empathy, of course!

empathy-300x211

Empathy: give me a dose of that. (Source.)

Cultivate empathy. Ok. Got it.

… How?

Here’s an everyday exercise, in five simple steps.* Feel free to put this into action immediately. 

Inadvertently invite a conversation for which you are not equipped. 
Prerequisite: Barely know the language.
Bonus points: If your appearance / position makes it an “obvious” assumption that you would be fluent in said language.

Struggle.
Search for words and terms. Be at a loss. Apologize. Smile lots. Feel awkward.

Understand.
How frustrating it can be to truly represent yourself & communicate in a foreign language. Know in your heart of hearts that you know so much more than what you’re able to articulate.

Hope.
That people ‘get’ and appreciate that you’re not some bumbling idiot. That your stammer and struggle does not overshadow the fact that you’re actually extremely interesting, inquisitive, insightful, and witty. Usually.

5 Be humbled.
By how hard others have to work to be understood in even the simplest of contexts, when outside of their element. By how much we don’t know, when things can’t be communicated. By the untapped – separated by a chasm, inadequately bridged by broken phrases.

•   •   •

Whether the unfamiliar language is English, Mandarin, Portuguese, professional jargon, Python, or an underlying cultural narrative – not knowing how to communicate in a certain medium can make things frustrating. Difficult. Awkward. Staccato.

Yet as native speakers, our fluency, ease, and command can make these struggles easy to overlook;  easy to take for granted.

These five simple steps are an exercise in empathy, broken down. Of course, there are countless permutations, nuances, and opportunities to practice empathy on the daily. Yet sometimes, a good old break-it-down-for-me list is a good reminder of how these imperative human skills aren’t restricted to workshops and grand situations for learning.

It’s in the everyday. It’s the little things are the big ones.

Humbly,
~ H

Have you been in a similar situation – hoping for a bit of understanding and compassion for your little struggle? Has someone else recently looked to you with that same hope? Did you notice?

*Inspired by a simple encounter. This adorable elderly Punjabi lady – silwar kameez, oversized sweater, floppy touque, sneakers, and a semi-toothless grin – joins me in the standing-room only Transit skytrain car. No-one offers her a seat. My thought process: “I’ll ask someone to give her a seat.”

Immediately followed by internal dialogue. “Hold it. Agency. Dignity. No assumptions. Maybe she doesn’t want to sit? Ask her first.” I ask her first. In Punjabi. (A simple, single sentence I can do, no sweat. Before a conversation exists, there’s time to think, search for the right words, and rehearse.)

No, she’s good.

“Ok.” Smile.

“Busy today isn’t it?” she asks. In Punjabi.

Hmm… I had not thought this one all the way through. (Language comprehension outperforming speaking ability in this arena. By a lot. Neither of which are impressive.)

I stumble through my clunky conversation with her. No more than 3 minutes, our entire ‘chatty’ encounter, before we once again became two silent bodies riding in a metal tube towards our repective destinations. She made an impression on me, though. It was awkward. And it was worth it. For that, I thank her.

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Those special days.

When your face hurts from genuinely smiling so much. When your heart aches from being so full, and all you can do is grin it out. When you shake your head in disbelief at how lucky you are to be living what you’re living, and how many incredible people surround you. You are proud, content, secure, and grateful.

Get curious about those days; you’re probably on to something.

• • •

Who were you with?  What is your history with them? How do they make you feel? Who do you become when you are around them? Why?

Where were you? What were the comforts surrounding you? The challenges? The sights, smells, and sounds? Who were you because of those cues?

What was happening?  Doing? Being? Learning? Sharing? Making? Thinking? Feeling? Why?

• • •

Sometimes the answers are far from obvious. Dig deep. Get to those really ninja things that we can so easily overlook.

For example, Colin Farrell hit on the underlying dots when he connected his old drug habits and his current Bikram Yoga practice: they both satisfy his need for ritual.

When you’ve got your answers, that’s when it gets fun. That’s when you get to use them as your tools & starting blocks, as you become an intentional architect of your own life. Here, you can design your everyday so that more of those special little things are peppered throughout. Slowly yet suddenly, those special days then become the default rather than the exception.

Just make sure you’re ready for the pain. Great risks, great rewards.

Humbly,
~ H

(This post was inspired by my day at the 2013 UBC Student Leadership Conference.)

The big dots of the post:
• Be aware. Notice. Question curiously. Adjust. Repeat.

Related
• Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability.

A lesson in growing up: SLC edition


Stop chasing what you want and start chasing who you are. Magic happens when we approach life this way. #2013tips

The UBC Student Leadership Conference was this past weekend. As my 5th SLC experience, it ranks in my heart as the best yet; I struggle to articulate how blessed, humbled, and catalyzed that day has left me.

A bit of context.
I’ve been lucky to play different roles at the SLC since 2008 (day-of volunteer, workshop presenter, panelist, full-day delegate, alumni mentor…) – most years I was more than one. Translation: “always on & hustling from one thing to the next”. Non-stop all day; exhilarating and exhausting.

Each time, a part (if not all) of my intent was like a hungry child unleashed on a buffet: the focus was me. What could I get from these incredible workshops to satiate this hunger? What secrets could I learn from these extraordinary speakers? What did I want delegates to walk away with from my workshop? In short:

Full of entitled expectation.
“What’s imperative for me to get and give?”
Devour and deliver accordingly.

Case in point: SLC 2011. It was the first year (1) as an alumni presenter (2) partnering with a dear friend, creating something ‘all our own’ and (3) presenting a workshop of independent content (i.e. not tied to / dictated by a place of employment). All exciting things. Yet, in all honesty — my eyes were also on a certain prize. The conference has these “Best of the SLC” awards; I wanted one.

So we designed and delivered an un-workshop called “Flip” – to challenge assumptions, and rethink buzz-words & cliché concepts. No doubt, the process and product were both good. I wouldn’t trade the experience in for anything. Yet, in having that award as a disproportionate driving motivation while not admitting to it (hello, denial & dissonance!), I robbed myself and everyone involved of something great.

I know this because I remember sitting in tentative hope at the closing ceremonies while the award winners were revealed. I remember feeling disappointed and confused when we didn’t win (the former for obvious reasons; the latter because I wouldn’t let myself admit to the former). I remember smiling at the winners, feeling happy for them, and simultaneously small within myself. Fueled by the fundamentally flawed focus on an external reward, I’d fallen into playing tactics and dressing them in noble robes. By being dishonest with myself, I sabotaged the very thing I was after.

Success sabotage, and how to avoid it.

• • • Fast forward to this past Saturday • • •

For the first time, I attended this conference with a solid understanding of who I am and what I believe in. The focus was “what are delegates looking for, and what value can I deliver to this end?” It’s like my brain transitioned more fully from “leadership as selfish” to “leadership as service”.

With this shift from “me” to “everyone else”, I presented a session called “Two peas: the keys to unlocking limitless leadership.Magic happened.

 I felt settled and powerful in being vulnerable, living the content, sharing openly, and leading by example.
The possibility of impact is worth any personal discomfort or embarrassment.

 Overwhelming support showed up in the form of a couple of young women I respect, and am so proud of.
They can chat with me at anytime. They could have capitalized on the workshop buffet today, and they chose to be here so we could create a unique ‘us’. (Thanks for being there, ladies!)

Power showed up as a heartfelt comment and a hug at the end of the session, turning someone who was a stranger 50 minutes prior into a face I won’t soon forget. Another small comment humbled me to my core.
They may not realize how much of any impact they have just had on me. (Thank you, gents.)

 The best feeling showed up as my little sister coming to one of my workshops for the first time ever.
She actively does not listen when we talk about these things at home in our jammies, and she chose this session today – over all the others – to support me and hear what I’ve got to say.

In summary: the experience fundamentally changed when I was no longer out to be remembered, and was simply out to be a messenger. Just like that, the message and the content became more important than the fact that I was presenting. The audience – their wants & needs – were now at the forefront of every decision, and risk-taking with authentic design now trumped any question of “what would make the session look good… so that I look good”. Best.

The day somehow kept getting better, as I made space to live it as it felt right (pushed by intention rather than pulled at by obligation). Wrapping up the session, sat solo and jammed to the session playlist as I reflected on what had just happened. Proceeded to find and chat with 3 incredible women over lunch. Wandered and reconnected with familiar faces. Attended a workshop. Had a 3-hour conversation with 2 lovely souls about… everything in life. Fawned over amazing people at the Awards Ceremony. Had a heart-to-heart with Luca ‘Lazy Legz’ about the meaning of unintentional leadership. The day wrapped with dinner in such great company it makes my mind spin. (Seriously, life. Save some ‘incredible’ for the next day…)

Oh, and – surprise! I was awarded a “Best of the SLC” this year. Funny how, when it was the farthest thing from my mind and completely unexpected, this incredible gift chased me down. Dr. Frankl, you were so right.

So much gratitude, and huge congratulations, to the SLC team of 2013. Co-chairs, directors, coordinators, countless day-of volunteers, staff advisors, and all the rest: you created space for magic to happen. It was a hell of a day.

Humbly,
~ H

* Clarifying note: I think it’s absolutely necessary to travel through “leadership as selfish” to work to reach “leadership as service”. You can’t be of service to others if you don’t take care of yourself first. My journey took years of leadership development both in theory and practice, and is a work in progress always.

Other #UBCSLC talk
E – one half of the Passion Project founding duo – on her love affair with the SLC.
Matt – one half of crowd fave #TheCorkers – on how much of a BDF this SLC was.
Mel says stuff about her SLC experience.
• SLC thoughts by Paul Lee.

Do

You can’t just think your way to clarity.

•   

I was the overly-cautious type. Constrained in my exploration. Afraid to show imperfection. Shackled to past decisions. Hesitant to change. ‘Talking so I didn’t need to be walking.’

I have been changing. Slowly but surely. Intentionally & accidentally alike. By focusing inward and in giving to others.

My direction is to grow further into creativity. Revel in exploration. Take even more chances than I have so far. Consistently set intentions into actions. Execute on ideas.

Because I am always curious. More comfortable with myself. Ever-growing. Able to respond, rather than react, to challenges. Still a planner, and now one who can roll with the punches. A creative human, doing.

•   

Many things have been brewing in mind and heart, in scribbles in tucked away pages. My gift to myself in the coming months will be to unleash a few more of these, all the while reveling in the process. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, a relevant favorite tune that merits a share. (Lyrics.)


Nature always did leave me in inspired awe. Here’s to living out “Go Do”. Enjoy.

Humbly, ~ H

Who *were* you? What has been happening for you lately? Who are you now? Who do you wish to become?

Related:
Building identity-based habits (on LifeHacker)