Hoodies and Happiness

Imagine you went for a hike with your dogs in a local Conservation Area. As you wander

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Part of the trail.

along the wood-chipped trail in the sunny weather, you hear voices up ahead. You can’t see anyone, but the voices you hear are deep, and there seems to be three separate voices, so you conclude perhaps there are 3 men ahead of you. As you wind your way through the bends of the trail, you can just make out the men up ahead, standing together near a small viewing bench.

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The Bench, from a distance.

There are actually 4 of them, and they are all large men, with one distinguishing characteristic: they are each wearing dark hoodies with the hoods up, hiding their faces. They are clustered together, lowering their voices and quietly laughing.

What is your first reaction?

Do you feel a bit of anxiety? Do you slow down? Do you want to turn in the other direction before they see you, or before your dogs see them and start to bark? What is the first thing you think about?

PAUSE for a moment…and consider what your own reaction might have been. 

That happened to me last week. It was one of those exquisitely lovely, sunny spring days and I was hiking along the Gorge Loop Trail at the Belfountain Conservation Area. That when I heard the voices. Roxy and Lucy were too busy sniffing to notice the men, and had I wanted to, I could have turned around and headed in another direction to avoid them. But I was not going to be intimidated by a few guys with hoodies on a sunny day! So on I forged, anxiety at bay, to firmly walk past the Bench and the hoodies.

And as I rounded the bend and the men could see me, the largest of them quickly pulled off his hoodie…and grinned at me! The other others did the same, and they all smiled and yelled out hello. I thought of all the things that had gone around in my head, and the first words out of my mouth were “You know, you 4 look like a bunch of thugs out here with your hoodies on!”

They all roared with laughter and the first young man said “I know! I didn’t want to scare you with my hood, but it is so windy that I waited till you came close”. His face was full of concern and humour, and before we knew it, we were all laughing so hard two of them had to sit down on the bench!

As I wiped my eyes, said my goodbyes and headed back on the trail, I realized I had actually made myself feel anxious about what might have happened. And yet, what actually happened – unplanned shared laughter – was wonderful. How often do I think something is going to happen, and then pre-empt my own activities to prevent something that MIGHT happen from happening?

I literally stopped walking to consider whether I do that in my personal life, and what the implications are. I know I sometimes imagine all sorts of crazy outcomes, but like the day on the trail, I tend to forge on and take the “risk” of the unknown. But when I consider my work life, I  am not certain that I am the same kind of risk taker with my business. I have been known to not look at the horizon for growth opportunities and instead, focus on the potential negative things that might happen. I envision the challenges rather than the benefits.

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Me, clearly envisioning the challenges.

Erika Anderson, writing in Harvard Business Review, talks about changing your inner narrative.  So rather than first being negative, be curious, and motivated to find the positive.This requires a willingness to experiment, to be confident and to trust…your business, yourself and others. I know I need to do more of this in my work life.

If I had turned around and walked the other way on the trail, I would have been fine. The dogs would have had a good walk, and I would have made it home safe and sound. But I was willing to be curious, and to risk just a little. The rewards of the risk – the laughter and the smiles, and the incredibly delightful change in my mood, was well worth it. I think about my business and I am determined to risk a bit more, and to not just be safe and sound.

I challenge you to do the same, in business and in personal life. You may find hoodies, but you’re also sure to find happiness!

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My girls, at the Bench, wondering why I even think about this kind of thing!

Estimates of Expectations

I am a scientist. Let me qualify that…the letters behind my name herald the fact that I studied science in university. Biology. As my pal Kathy MacDonald is quick to point out, biologists are different from other scientists…we estimate.

Kath, estimating how much single malt is in the glass...another skill set of biologists!

Kath, estimating how much single malt is in the glass…another skill set of biologists!

I’ve been a runner for almost 40 years, and though I don’t keep detailed records of my runs[1], I have a general idea of how many miles I’ve covered in my lifetime…TONS!!! I run next to cars, trucks, tractors, combines and all sorts of vehicles as they pass me coming and going. I have learned to run on the edge of the shoulder so that I’m not a) splashed b)veered at or c)pushed off the road. Last year, in a personal running “research project”, I estimated (because that’s what biologists do) that:

  • approximately 70% of drivers do not slow down near runners (Imagine!)
  • the remaining 30%, drivers slow down and often wave or smile (especially if I make eye contact and smile at them).

(Needless to say, I made it my goal to get as many people driving near me to smile…and consequently slow down. Happier people, and definitely happier and safer Susan.)SusanCheerMarathon-1

I’ve recently moved to bustling community of Belfountain, home of the Salamander Festival, Lobsterfest and a lot of traffic! Upon moving here, I based my expectations about safety and running on my previous scholarly estimations – so I had to be über careful because more traffic meant no one was going to slow down or move over in this fast-paced community.

WRONGO!!!!

The first time I noticed something different was shortly after I moved in. I was running on a busy road, and there were 2 cars coming towards me. Lucy, my constant running buddy, and I moved close to the ditch, just in case. But to my surprise, the first car pulled over into the next lane, away from me. The second car slowed and then did the same thing.

Well now.

How unusual.

The next day, I was out on another road. An old BMW comes rumbling up behind me, slows down and then waves as it passes me by.[2]

This morning, I was on Main Street during rush hour (or Belfountain’s version of rush hour…more like rush moment). Not one, not two, but four separate vehicles pulled into the other lane to give me lots of room. By the time the last car passed by, I was grinning like a fool. And the passenger in that last car grinned right back and waved.

As a runner, I am delighted that I’ve found a place where people are considerate. As a simple human, I am once more struck with the knowledge that what I expected was not what happened. My assumptions, no matter how strongly grounded in science they were (or weren’t!), were not at all accurate.

Traffic struggles in Belfountain!

Traffic struggles in Belfountain!

I’m sure there are countless reasons why these drivers seem nicer than others. Perhaps they are used to runners. Perhaps the town just has nicer, kinder drivers! Then again, when I head out again, someone might aim at me while I’m running and blow my theories all to smithereens.

Despite assumptions and expectations, I have found, yet again, to expect the unexpected. In this world where we are deluged by stories about the horrors of Ebola, the tragedies in the Gaza, about the alarming unrest in the Ukraine…there are simple joys that manifest themselves all around us, if we are willing to take look for them; indeed, expect them. A driver pulling over for a runner isn’t really momentous occasion. But the frequency of its occurrence has made me happy. Which makes me smile. And if I smile when I run, people smile back and are happy. Which, in the bigger scheme of the world, Ebola and everything else not withstanding, is something we should all strive for and expect.

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[1] Unlike my friend Eleanor’s brother George Aitkin, who was recently featured in the July/August Canadian Running Magazine with all his journals of accurately measured distances!

[2] No, it wasn’t a LOLWBH (little old lady with blue hair); it was a young guy wearing a Jays cap and “wife beater” t shirt!