Listening to the World Around Me

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I believe in serendipity.

I didn’t always believe in it, but when I landed wide-eyed at Burning Man nine years ago, someone challenged me to be open to what the universe provides. And on the playa, I watched it happen time and time again. I ran into the people I was looking for in the middle of the night. I happened to set my tent up next to two amazing women who had food to cook while I had the camp stove. I met the right people at the right time doing the right things that set me down the professional path I’m now on.

Without getting all woo woo over here, being open to serendipity literally changed my life.

Since Burning Man, I’ve encountered this concept framed in a few different ways, but the message is always the same: Listen to the universe because it has really powerful things to say.

Sometimes I lose focus and turn away from this voice. For most my adult life, I’ve struggled with a few characteristics that frequently get me into personal and professional tangles:

  • Believing people are, at their core, good people. And then, giving trust out freely.
  • Wanting to offer more than I’ve been invited to offer — in conversations, in projects, in relationships.
  • Coming off as being too serious when inside I’m throwing a mental dance party and laughing.
  • Feeling confident in my capabilities but being read as too assertive, then apologizing even if I don’t believe that’s the right thing to do.
  • Being unable to express what I want to say in the moment so I bumble through a conversation that leaves things worse than they were before.

When these characteristics land me in difficult situations, I know it’s time to take a step back. It’s time to remove myself from the box into which I’ve closed myself. It’s time to slow down and be open to what the universe is giving me.

Over the last six months, I’ve humbly accepted that I’ve reached that point again.

And, strangely enough, the universe actually pointed to the fact I needed to listen:

  • I learned about a social enterprise called Street Wisdom. This experience teaches people how to “read” their urban surroundings. Without having an organized activity in my city, I downloaded the podcast and began looking at my environment differently.
  • I read The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative for book club. It seriously got me thinking about how and why I need manage my chaotic mental gymnastics.
  • Completely by chance, I pulled The Wander Society off the bookshelf one morning when I couldn’t sleep. There were the words of wisdom within the first few pages: “Your mind is powerful only if you give it the space to ponder” and “The wanderer is open to the unknown, to the unexpected, to randomness.”
  • I’d been seeing an interactive experience taking place on Kyiv’s streets but couldn’t figure out what it was. Over happy hour, a friend mentioned some of our colleagues were participating in it the very next day in English and would we like to join? The interactive experience, called “Time,” was a physical manifestation of living in the moment. Regardless of whether we slow down or speed up, time ticks on at the same pace.

The thing is, it’s not always clear what I’m looking for or what I need to see. Here’s the thing about serendipity though: If I’m open and available to receiving what’s out there, it — whatever it is — presents itself.

This is where I’m at right now. 

I don’t know what I need. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to figure out. But someday, somewhere — possibly when I least expect it — whatever it is I’m looking for will present itself.

And when it does, I’ll be ready.

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