My husband and I recently took a two night trip to Lake Tahoe, leaving our toddler home with my parents. I was doubtful that two nights would really feel like a getaway, but it was the best we could organize and in the end, we both felt closer and refreshed – some kind of Lake Tahoe miracle.
Or was it?
We try to go out to dinner every few weeks, so it’s not like we hadn’t seen each other alone in a while. But there was something distinctly different about the experience at Tahoe… and I’m pretty sure it was because we went camping.
My husband has camped with friends every summer, but I hadn’t been camping since 4th grade Girl Scouts. We’ve been married for 3 years, together for 5, and though we can predict the other’s reaction to nearly every parenting or household-related problem, it was a revelation to do such a new activity together. We pieced together knowledge about how to build a fire (I brought dryer lint! He added kindling!) and high-fived when it was sustainable enough for S’mores. It was a bizarro collaboration with the person I know better than anyone and it resulted in a brand new experience and a big-time mental refresh.
This, I’d like to suggest, is the formula for reconnecting with your closest humans:
people you know + brand new experience = immediate facelift in group dynamics
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we humans get used to interacting with the same people in the same ways. You cook dinner; I clean up. You pay the cable bill; I ignore the cable bill. We get used to the way we talk to each other in these contexts and start to assume things about the way we work together. We short-cut conversations (I know what she’ll say, so I won’t even ask…) and the moments we spend together become templates.
We become personas of the people we really are.
Is there overlap with our work lives here? You bet. You hand me designs; I build them. You organize a meeting; I attend. You ask me for a raise; I respond.
Sometimes I ask my coaching clients what the best moment of their week was. Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about vacations and company picnics. I think that the reason these stick out for us is that we’re bringing new contexts to the same people. Remember the thrill of seeing your teachers in shorts and tee-shirts on field day? That’s how we feel when we grill a burger with our boss or play volleyball against the team that’s been a pain in the ass all year. We find a new way to reconnect, a new activity to do together – and we stop assuming things about each other, even just for a day.
Everyone gets smiley after company events; I think the shift in context is the reason behind it.
So how can you change the context with your team, your company, your boss? I think you’ve got to stretch, plan something you’ve never done before. Build a fire. Surf. Karaoke. Run a 5k. Volunteer with puppies. You can still include comfort activities (grabbing a beer, kickball game, etc.) but the key is to include something during the time together that is so brand new that it reroutes synapses and establishes new contexts for the same faces.
I remembered one of the things I like best about my husband while building a fire: his patience. He took lead on the fire but at a certain point he took a bathroom break and delegated fire duty to me. I knew, even if I let the fire go out while he was away, he’d be happy to help get it restarted again. I see that patience every day at home but sometimes I forget about it. Camping helped me remember.
I wonder what you’re forgetting about the people you see every day. What can you do together to jog the memory?