When Life Throws You a Curveball, Do This.
“I am ready to come out of the woods and to shine a light on what’s already happening around kitchen tables.”
That’s what Hillary Clinton said last Friday night at a St. Patrick’s Day gathering in Pennsylvania. Mrs. Clinton said she was ready to come out of the woods after some time away from the spotlight. (A young woman famously posted a photograph of Mrs. Clinton literally walking in the woods days after the election.)
Mrs. Clinton’s words got me thinking — not just about her time away from the public spotlight — but about anyone’s time away from the busyness and the business of modern life.
Why are so many of us uncomfortable with people who step off the treadmill of daily life? Is it because we are uncomfortable ourselves with taking a break? Is it because we can’t handle loss? Is it because we don’t know how to grieve? Is it because we are too scared to stop ourselves?
What would we think about Mrs. Clinton if she took an extended leave from public life? What would that say about her? What would that say about us?
Going into the woods — metaphorically or literally — after a loss is a brave thing to do. Be it the loss of an election, a job, a spouse, or some other life-altering event.
Life throws us all curveballs and it takes time and reflection to figure out how to move forward. In fact, some of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had around my kitchen table have been with people who have, for one reason or another, stepped off the predictable path of life to look inward before moving outward. Some were forced off the path they were on. Others responded to a feeling that their lives just weren’t working the way they felt they should (see best-selling author Tony Schwartz’s new business below).
In fact, pretty much everyone I’ve ever spoken to after they came “out of the woods” came out stronger on the inside and more open on the outside.
That made me think about a powerful conversation I had with my father when he was deep in the woods of battling Alzheimer’s. He didn’t know my name or his own. He wasn’t even talking much anymore. I was visiting with him at the table, talking to him about something that was clearly uninteresting, when he looked me dead in the eye and said, “You know, you have to go internal if you want to go eternal.”
We both stared at one another and I knew that I had just been given some profound advice. In fact, my father said some of the most remarkable things to me while deep in his battle with Alzheimer’s. I will be thinking about him and all the other people I’ve met who have struggled with this disease, or who have cared for those with it (like our Architect of Change of the Week Jim Nantz), as I head to Washington D.C. this week and testify before the Senate Committee on Aging.
Going inward — pausing, reflecting, walking, or meditating — allows one to bring sanity to one’s daily life.
It makes us better people, better professionals, and better leaders. It’s better for our brains and our bodies, as Dr. Joseph Annibali explains below. It’s better for our self-respect, as Gwyneth Paltrow told me this week. It’s better for the creative spirit that lives inside all of us, as artist Meera Lee Patel will show you. And it’s better for helping us find the path that’s best for us, as Angie Johnsey will share with you.
I would argue that taking time “in the woods” makes for better political leaders as well. That brings me to Camp David. Camp David is a presidential retreat house deep in the woods of Maryland. It was designed to give presidents a place to go to rest, reflect, recharge and think about governing. It has hosted peace accords and nonpartisan gatherings. It’s not as fancy as Mar-a-Lago, but it is a lot closer to Washington D.C., and it has a history of bringing people together. Just a thought.
I, for one, look forward to hearing what Mrs. Clinton learned about life and loss from her walks in the woods. Losing an election is never easy for anyone.
I watched my own father struggle after he lost an election, as did others in my family. It takes a long time to make sense of such a personal loss, but history is rich with stories of leaders — from Thoreau to Mandela to Jesus to Ghandi to Pope Francis to Dorothy Day — who went away and came back with a story to share.
Walk into the woods.
In fact, if any of you have done this already, I’d love to hear what you learned from taking a beat. I bet it’s a great kitchen table conversation.