5 Things I Learned About My Career From My 11 Days in Total Silence
Some of the things I really like about myself are that 1) I don't get paralyzed by overthinking; 2) I am OK with taking a good amount of risk (on anything that doesn't involve being around animals or large bodies of water) and 3) I'm willing to try something that may seem "out of the box" just so I can have a life story to tell. Sometimes these characteristics work in my favor and sometimes they don't. Such is life. I'm pretty sure that people who do overthink, take no risks and don't go out of their box every once in a while, experience the same ups and downs in life that I do. At least I'm having fun along the way.
One of the most life changing experiences I've encountered so far was when I spent 11 days at a silent meditation retreat in a rural area in the middle of some town I've never heard of in Massachusetts. Basically, I was one out of about 100 other strangers, who for almost 2 weeks, weren't allowed to speak, read, write, watch TV, or eat meat (by far the hardest part of the whole ordeal).
Each day consisted of breakfast, morning meditation, lunch, more mediation, quiet time, more meditation, a snack, more meditation and then lights out (that's right, no dinner).
I know this may seem like torture to some (it did to me before I actually experienced it) and I remember my family asking me if I as joining a cult, but like I said it was one of the most exhilarating and life changing things I've ever done in my life. There's something about being one with nature, removing yourself from the daily grind and being silent that puts things in perspective and gives you total clarity.
Although this experience happened over 5 years ago and I've since gone back to talking, eating meat, watching TV, etc., there are 5 key things I've been able to take away and apply to my career in the years that followed.
Your Career is a Marathon, Not a Sprint. I mentioned the things I like about myself earlier, but one of the things that I really need to work on is my tendency to always be in a rush. In my world, everything is urgent and needs to have been completed yesterday. I wouldn't say patience is one of my top strengths.
Thw truth is that you'll likely be working for most of your adult life. You have time to accomplish everything your heart desires. I'm in no way saying you shouldn't always be striving to do and be better, but what I am saying is to not work yourself up in a tizzy when things don't happen as quickly as you would have hoped. The pace at the meditation retreat was extremely slow. At first this really annoyed me, but then I got over it. And you know what? I survived. Turns out everything doesn't have to happen instantly and sometimes it's OK to relax.
People May Have Different Motivations, But We All Have the Same Goals. I didn't know a lot about the backgrounds and motivations of the other people who were at the retreat with me, but what I did know was that we were all there for the same exact purpose - to disconnect from everything around us and to reconnect with ourselves.
So often we look at our coworkers and our boss and think they don't get us. Yes, it's true that they may be coming from a different background and have different reasons for being at work, but what unites us all is our goal to provide for ourselves and our families and get through the day with our emotions and sanity intact. Once we focus on what we have in common (being human), instead of what separates us (pay grades and titles), the work day might be just a bit more enjoyable.
You'll Be So Much Happier Once You Get Out of Your Own Way. On day 4 of the retreat, I marched into the front office and told one of the coordinators I was ready to go home. I wanted to collect my phone and my kindle and be on my way. I was hysterically crying and told her the experience wasn't right for me (really, I was homesick and lonely). She told me she would give me my things, but wanted to have a talk with me before I left. We uncovered why I wanted to leave (fear) and I was reminded of why I decided to attend the retreat in the first place (to center myself). I ended up staying and it was a totally positive experience after that.
How many times have you set a goal for your career and as soon as things got a little tough or veered off in a different direction you gave up? If you're like 99% of everyone else, this happens more times than it should. This is counterproductive. Anything in career (and life) that's worth having will most likely include some points of discomfort. You have to push through it. Surrounding yourself with an amazing support system that has your best interests at heart really helps with this as well.
Sometimes We All Need to Sit Down and Shut Up. Think about it, from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you put your head back on the pillow at night, you are surrounded by noise. Whether you're talking, singing, humming, yelling, or listening to others do the same, there's a lot of external stimulation happening every day. It's definitely no surprise then how overwhelmed we are most of the time and why we can never seem to find the time to get clear about what we want out of our professional and personal lives.
Eleven days of absolute silence is a huge deal. It's not 'normal' in terms of what goes on in real life. But with this silence I was able to connect with myself and experience a different level of clarity that I never experienced before the retreat and haven't experienced since. When's the last time you took 60, 20, or even 5 minutes to sit still and think about your career? Where would you like to be in the next 3 years? The next 10? What should you be doing now in order to make sure you get there? These are all critical questions that everyone should ask themselves frequently, but with all the noise in our daily lives, these are the questions that often go unanswered.
Zero Distractions Mean Increased Action. When you turn your attention away from Facebook, Instagram, Real Housewives of Atlanta and everything else that steals your focus on any given day, you'd be surprised with much work you can get done. During the retreat I silently made plans, set dozens of goals, came up with business ideas and made decisions that I wasn't able to make before then. The absence of my daily distractions gave me increased clarity and focus.
Social interaction and technology is amazing, but it's critical that you take time to unplug daily to get things done. No matter how awesome your career goals are, if you aren't doing anything to move toward them, then you may as well have not set goals at all.
I realize that going on an 11 day silent meditation retreat is unrealistic, uninteresting and unnecessary for most people. It was something that worked for me and that I learned a lot from. I was able to walk away with valuable lessons I'll use forever, challenge myself in a new way and have a new experience to add to my life story. My hope is that you can apply what I learned during my time there to your own professional life.