We’ve all been to those events where you are asked to engage in clever icebreakers intended to warm up a group and break down some outer fortifications. You can learn a lot about people in these moments. More than their hometown or their pet’s name, if you’re paying attention you catch glimpses of how they carry themselves in the world and who they know themselves to be. Sometimes we telegraph things we never mean to say. There have been times for me when those introductions grew into deep friendships, and years later we have talked about what we saw in the other in those initial moments. Those conversations tend to include gentle laughter and head nods and lead to some interesting self-reflection later.
I meet new people all the time. And when I look at my schedule for the next few months, I can see quite a few of these introductory conversations on the horizon. The calendar says I have no fewer than five conference/workshop/professional gatherings coming in the first five months of the new year. (Hello, new roll-aboard suitcase, and it’s time to memorize my Skymiles number.) New years and major life changes give us a minute to think about how we introduce ourselves. In the past 12 months, some of us have become parents, or our babies have flown the nest. Some of us have lost spouses or begun a new relationship. We’ve changed jobs or addresses, become grandparents or buried a mom or dad. Whether we choose to share those changes in our introductions or not, they are such significant events that they reshape who we understand ourselves to be and how we relate to the world around us in some very important ways.
All of this comes to the forefront for me because my life change includes a change in my name. Though I still forget half the time and many of my accounts are still in the old one, it’s a significant shift to return to the name my parents gave me, to recover the identity of a young woman at the beginning of life with new independence, responsibilities, and freedoms. Only this time, I’m doing it with deeper wisdom and grayer hair. I’ve been investing in a lot of monogramming lately as I try to figure out what this change says about me. (Don’t tell me I’m just looking for an excuse to monogram things. I’m a Southern Woman. I don’t need a reason to put my initials on something.)
But there is a deeper question I was recently asked in a get-to-know-you conversation. The question is about much more than the words on the surface. So much so that I woke up thinking about it this morning. “How will 2018 be different for you than this current year?” I could list off the obvious changes, but that doesn’t get to the heart of the matter any more than a newly monogrammed hand towel next to my bathroom sink. Some of last year’s curve balls won’t come my way in 2018, but the new year promises to hold its own set of opportunities to either grow or stay the same. If the past year is to be a teacher at all, if 2018 is to be qualitatively different from 2017, then we have to approach and receive whatever life and the Universe send us in new ways, with new self-understanding, with new intentions and practices. This is not about making New Year’s Resolutions but adopting a new set of questions for a new way of being in a new day.
What am I clinging to that I need to release?
What has brought me joy and peace in the past?
How do I make room for that now?
What is this moment teaching me? What is it asking of me? How is it offering me grace?
What is the loving thing to do in this situation, for this person?
These are some serious get-to-know-you questions, ones I hope I don’t encounter in the first moments of a conference or small group session. They are not the sort of things you ask people to turn to their neighbor to explore while trying to shield coffee breath. But they are ideas well worth digging around in during moments of prayer and meditation, with a therapist or pastor, or even in a late-night phone call with a trusted friend. The answers say much about how we will define ourselves – and how the future will be different from the past.
May the turning of the calendar be a turning of our souls…
A turning to new truth
To new habits
To deeper grounding
To our neighbors