Wellness Pearls

11 January 2017

Can’t Fail by Experimenting

Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.                     Thomas Edison

When a designer attempts to solve a problem, they first offer up several options and experiment. They know that the solution to any problem can be solved in many ways.  Approaching problem-solving with a few experiments makes “failure” more difficult. Design thinking says that by doing experiments, the right path will reveal itself and the learning will be steep.  Three months ago, I deployed this technique on my own life and the results have stunned me (in a good way).
My work requires me to go out of town frequently, and when I am in town, I’m often on the phone or writing. Even though most of my job does involve working with people, very little of it fosters face to face connections. This cycle was leaving me more and more hungry for connection and activity in my own community. To combat this, I designed 3 experiments that I have executed simultaneously to combat professional isolation and build more robust and meaningful connections in my DC area.
1.  Pull-in Loose Acquaintances. 
I’ve  worked out nearly every day for years and years with the same people  and I don’t know  the first thing about many of them. So, with a friend, I co-hosted a simple potluck with our gym acquaintances.  There is now a palpable warmth and deeper connection to those folks since that evening.
2. Build on What I Already Do.  Hiking in local woods has always been a part of my routine.  In this experiment, I invited people to come along with me. I set up a private Facebook event with a time and location, eliminating schedule wrangling, and people showed up. I’ve reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in years, and people from different parts of my life have had a chance to meet. The simplicity of this experiment was striking –  an easy, elegant, and all-around nourishing experience for myself and everyone else, as far as I can tell.
3. Make Better Use of the Kitchen Table.  For this trial, I held monthly dinners with 5-7 friends/neighbors/acquaintances. Over a simple, clean meal, we’d go around the table and explore ideas about building more robust careers, relationships, and lives. The conversations turned out to be fascinating, even though almost no one went into the evenings knowing each other.  One of these discussions even stretched past midnight on a weekday; the quality of the discourse made everyone lose track of time.
3 months into my experimentation, here’s what I’ve learned:
  • I don’t need to ask permission.
  • They all worked. (Some in ways I absolutely did not expect.)
  • Tiny shifts can yield big results
  • When people get together and have space to reflect on their lives, alchemy is possible.
  • I feel nourished bringing people I like closer into my life
  • I have experienced a big uptick in gratitude

Be wary of any enterprise that requires new clothes.                      Henry David Thoreau

5 Responses

  1. Nancy Sharp

    Eileen — I’ve been doing a similar thing. Even though I have enjoyed my “afternoon coffee” time alone, I decided to reach out to others in my quilting world, and in my neighborhood. Lo and behold, it seems like people were just out there waiting to be invited — so now I have company, and we enjoy each other in a face-to-face neighborly way.

    1. Eileen O'Grady

      sounds great Nancy. I probably should have wrote about some of the things that failed, like trying to get a group of people to agree on a time. etc. Keep on making beautiful art and grow that tribe. Smiles, Eileen

  2. Hi Eileen, Bravo to your efforts and yes, Nancy, people probably are just waiting for invitations. I miss seeing you Nancy, and I’d love to hike with you Eileen, if only I weren’t 2000 miles away. I’ve been thinking along the same lines. So far, my efforts have been one-on-one. I looked up and met with the nurse practitioner who initially inspired me to become a nurse practitioner, years ago. I invited a faculty member who I didn’t know but had e-mailed me about something or other to dinner. Stuff like that. But your hike idea and the idea of inviting people from the gym home are brilliant.

    1. Eileen O'Grady

      Thank you Carolyn- great to hear from you. I will be in Keystone CO this July and expect to hike with you- will be in touch as the date comes closer. Smiles, Eileen

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