Narrative approaches to the self suggest that forced career transitions disrupt individuals’ self-narratives and motivate their efforts to re-establish narrative coherence. To craft and rework their self-narratives, people draw on a range of relational resources, including relationships with family, friends, and other important people in their lives. In this paper, I explore the link, within individuals’ self-narratives, between people’s working lives following a forced career transition and their early parental relationships. I investigate this through a longitudinal narrative study of 21 professional dancers forced to change career after an injury, drawing on three waves of interviews over an eight-year period. I identify three types of self-narrative – Immersed-Striving, Oppositional-Seeking, and Supportive-Settling – that link a kind of early parental relationship to a kind of post-injury relationship to work. In each of these narratives, dance acts as a transitional object with a specific relational meaning – connection, agency, or direction – that was enacted in participants’ early relationships, and that they sought to re-establish through their post-injury working live
Celebrations are underrated and underutilized in our virtual worlds. This blog is a celebration of celebrations on Zoom or on any of your favorite virtual platforms. It is a call to celebrate more and to use our imaginations in how we come together to mark important milestones and accomplishments, to honor others and engage in play.
We don’t have to tell you things are very serious right now. We know that objectively this is an incredibly challenging and distressing time, one that brings grief, isolation and anxiety to many. Our stress and alienation is being compounded by the amount of time we spend connecting virtually. We believe it is time to remember the power of celebrations to uplift us and to connect us, providing booster shots to our moods but also to remind us of our shared humanity and the possibilities for a hopeful future. Celebrating uplifts us by bringing our attention to the good, sparking gratitude for what we have (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). It helps us to savor positive events and experiences – a powerful path to well-being (Smith & Bryant, 2017) and mastery (Amabile & Kramer, 2011). Celebrating is also a ritual that connects us to others by recognizing and appreciating their efforts and achievements (Fagley, 2016). By making celebrations a ritual and institutionalizing this form of interpersonal recognition, people and organizations can make active constructive responding to good news a repeatable and valuable form of uplift (Lambert et al., 2013).
We offer three examples of recent Zoom celebrations we have participated in as a means of illustrating their power but also inspiring us to take up the spirit and challenge of more celebrating at a time when we think most of us could use it.
Celebrating a friend’s milestone achievement
All of us march through life. It a simple fact. Along the way, there are markers of progress that we can choose to notice and celebrate or we can let pass by. Recently a friend passed an important marker along the way of composing a book. The milestone event was the submission of a full draft of a book that she had been working on for several years. She told one of us and noted that it felt like a milestone but in this all-of-us-with-our heads-down-time there was no real acknowledgement of this accomplishment. This admission created a challenge to do SOMETHING to celebrate this milestone achievement. On short notice, three of us gathered to surprise our celebrant with a not-normal Zoom call to mark the occasion. When our celebrant joined the Zoom, there were festive wigs, balloon display backgrounds and Cool & the Gang singing one of the all-time favorite celebrations songs. We danced for 2 minutes, and laughed a lot at the surprise. We shared a crazy exercise routine together. One of us played the role of book reporter and interviewed our new book author friend about her experience of writing the book. We shared a sparkly water toast and went on our ways. The celebration took just 20 minutes but was a booster shot for all us that lasted for more than two days. It was such a delight to break set and engage in a jointly joyful expression of appreciation for our friend’s achievement. It was jubilant jolt to see our friend’s surprise and to sense and hear her gratitude. It was such fun to play together even in this brief interlude in a full-bodied way. Each of us left the celebration bolstered physiologically and psychologically and bound by the co-creation of an exhilarating shared memory.
Celebrating the small wins
In pre-Covid times, one of us periodically had dinner with three colleagues, each from a different business school. We met up once or twice a year at a location between our cities, and shared our news, research, and challenges. It was fun, but hard to organize four busy schedules, and the evenings were always short, rushed and infrequent. When the pandemic hit we began to meet by Zoom for an end-of-the-week “drink”. Although we missed the embodied experience of being together, we soon felt the benefits of a regular gathering that allowed us to stay in touch as we traversed the strange new times. We often shared struggles, but now we could also collectively track the small and sometimes bigger wins in each other’s lives: mastering the technological challenges of a virtual keynote, managing a summer vacation without ending up in quarantine, making headway on a piece of writing that was taking too long, finding a new yoga or exercise routine that felt a great fit. This led to frequent celebrations among us, no longer restricted to the sharing of one grand piece of news drawn from the previous many months. Any week, someone had triumphed over a concern of a previous week, and we all raised a glass to acknowledge and celebrate that person and their forward movement. The power in this celebratory practice lay not in its ebullience or creative expression, but in the simple act of staying connected to people through the contours of everyday living. It was this that allowed us to see and celebrate events that could otherwise so easily have slipped from our memories of challenging times.
Celebrating the end of a season
The end of educational programs in the spring can sometimes be events that cry for something beyond the usual summaries, feedback, exam preps and last encouragements. For students they may represent transitions into new jobs and lives, for educators a transition into research time, for all the end of a season and the start of a new. The end of the spring season when Covid-19 hit came with a celebration that stirred raw emotions. For one of us, as teacher, it had been the most rewarding class of its kind to teach, the one with the most lively discussions, spontaneous contributions, a thousand laughs and deeply uplifting stories of how students had learned from action experiments in their work environments. It felt like we had, together, opened doors into the vast potential of human resources that such a program can represent. The last gathering, all conducted on Zoom, had been unexpectedly meaningful, a coming together in bewilderment, resilience and newfound hope. So, when one student asked for 15 minutes of the last session after lunch for a little surprise, we hurriedly made space. What followed was a videotaped celebration with fleeting images from the classroom and clips of personal thanks from students, all carefully put together to the tunes of Dylan’s Times they Are A-Changin’. This was then topped by a live zoom performance by one of the participant’s talented daughter who sang Tina Turner’s Simply the Best:
I call you when I need you, my heart’s on fire
You come to me, come to me wild and wired
Oh, you come to me, give me everything I need
Give me a lifetime of promises and a world of dreams
It all ended with all 48 of us standing and dancing – most unmuted – singing our hearts out to each other. It was a last synchronized dance, conquering the separation of technology with technology, lost amidst tears and laughter, a howling celebrating and hopeful longing. It was a season’s ending we will surely remember.
Let’s commit to try to celebrate more in our virtual worlds, our milestones, endings and new beginnings, our lifetimes of promises and new dreams. Celebrations, like the examples we have offered here, are resourcing events that unlock our capacities and capabilities and build psychological and social health in so many ways. And as Bakhtin (1984) might have said, the laughing rites of celebrating do not deny seriousness but tear it away from fear and intimidation, from single meaning – the laughing celebrating completes and restores its ambivalent wholeness. In this sense we might need celebrating more than ever.
Amabile, T. & Kramer, S. (2011). The progress principle. Boston: HBR Press.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1984). Rabelais and his world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Emmons, R. & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.
Figley, N. S. (2016). The construct of appreciation. In D. Carr (Ed.) Perspectives on gratitude: An interdisciplinary approach.
Lambert, N. M., Gwinn, A. M., Baumeister, R. F., Strachman, A., Washburn, I. J., Gable, S. L., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). A boost of positive affect: The perks of sharing positive experiences. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(1), 24-43.
Smith J.L., & Bryant F.B. (2017). Savoring and well-being: Mapping the cognitive-emotional terrain of the happy mind. In: Robinson M., Eid M. (Eds) The happy mind: Cognitive contributions to well-being. Springer, Cham.
Finally it is spring! Spring reminds us that we need to ready the soil for new plants to grow. Tilling breaks up the dirt, aerates the soil and can remove elements that could damage the new life in plants. Tilling the soil prepares the way for heartier and healthier plants.
Tilling the soil is an apt metaphor for preparing to connect. We believe this form of preparation can be equally important for fostering healthy human connections, especially in this time of social distancing during COVID-19 when we need to be more deliberate and mindful about connecting with others. Now is a fitting time to consider how to “ready” for connection. Our bet is that if we are skillful about preparing for connection, we are more likely to build higher quality connections with others, despite the constraints of physical distance. We offer three areas to focus on when preparing for connection, each providing a different leverage point for making connections of higher quality.
Before we enter a connection with another there are all kinds of ways we can ready our minds and hearts in ways that foster high quality connecting.
Be present. Remove distractions. Be mindful. Gauge our emotional state and capacity to determine if we can make ourselves available to others and focus on how they are feeling. Try to bring our full selves into the moment in order to be ready for what is likely to unfold in the connection. Beware of multi-tasking or engaging in other activities simultaneously that might pull us away from fully experiencing the person we are connecting with. Signal attention – “I am here for you now.”
Know ourselves. Reflect on our own relational strengths and play to them. Feel confident about what we have to offer others. Whether outgoing and quick to reach out to others, or more reserved with a preference for listening and letting the other take the lead, there are so many ways to engage and be there for others. Also, recognize our less developed relational skills. Not naturally patient, adaptable, supportive, or appreciative? We can intentionally practice or seek other ways to develop these qualities.
Prime caring. Activate our prosocial motivation (Batson, 1987) by fostering positive interpersonal emotions or engaging in positive mental time traveling (Quoidbach et al., 2010). For example, we could activate feelings of gratitude by remembering what another person (even a stranger) has contributed to us, or to the greater good. Or we could dwell on a past interaction with the person in which we enjoyed their company. In the current pandemic, we could intentionally call up the forethought that the person loading groceries into our car is an essential worker putting themselves at risk in order to keep us safe. Our guess is that this form of interpersonal priming paves the way for a higher quality connection than we would create without these thoughts.
Do our homework. Find out about the other person. Try to learn about their interests, needs and wants, their strengths. Prime ourselves to appreciate and be genuinely curious about the other person. For example, knowing whether the other person is lonely or is grieving prompts a different starting point and conversational content.
Be curious, especially if we already know the other. Choose to hold a position of curiosity about what the other person is experiencing, wants and needs. If we are meeting after a difficult prior exchange or relationship rupture, we can reflect on what happened previously and remind ourselves that the other person will likely have seen the situation differently from us. Notice the emotions evoked in ourselves and try to remember when we have felt this way before. Bring curiosity to try to understand why the incident or experience has impacted us, including what it raises or challenges about our identity.
If possible, convey intentions prior to the interaction. Just as it is helpful to know another’s needs before we interact, it can also be helpful if we have conveyed to the other person what our intentions or needs are. Signaling our intentions or desires gives the other person a chance to ready themselves, reducing their possible anxieties or concerns about meeting or interaction.
Set boundaries. When planning to meet with another, it is helpful to indicate how much time we want to allocate for the conversation. In some cases, it may also be valuable to clarify the intended focus of discussion. Although setting temporal and other boundaries can seem constraining, boundaries contain and create a sense of safety by setting limits. They also signal our intentions to be fully present and dedicated to the interaction. If more time or a different conversation is needed, it is easy to suggest meeting again.
Invite mutuality. Although a meeting may be set up at our suggestion, we still seek the mutuality of engagement that is a signature feature of a high quality connection. This means we should invite the other fully into the interaction, signaling our openness to their intentions, views and concerns. This allows them, in turn, to ready themselves to take a lead in shaping and directing the interaction.
Preparing the Situation
Create an inviting space. Ideally meet in person to maximize richness of cues and reduce barriers – enabling an embodied togetherness that may encourage higher quality connecting. Move away from a desk or any physical barriers. Perhaps even meet in a neutral space to create a more egalitarian footing. If appropriate, meet somewhere informal, or even walk and talk – allowing the conversation to unfold in a warmer, more open context. We may find that meeting in a place of calm or beauty enables us to connect and be together in moments of silence. In some cases, it is particularly important to create conditions for psychological safety, ensuring the conversation can be confidential and unfold without interruption.
Have materials on hand. Connecting can sometimes require material enhancements to make the interaction go smoothly and feel enlivening. This might include colored markers and blank paper, inviting co-sketching, pictures or other symbolic objects that transcend words and evoke insight. Material help could also include overviews or agendas that provide transparency about the likely or preferred flow of the conversation. Tissues can also be valuable in readiness for expressions of distress.
Settle technology issues. Ensure we are using a technology familiar to all interacting parties, so that all are on a technologically equal footing and have an ease of connection. As far as possible, ensure there is good audio quality – enabling each participant to be heard without extra effort.
The Dangers of Over-tilling
Just as farmers can over-till and damage their crops, there are downsides to over-preparing for connection. Quality human connecting depends on interpersonal sensitivity (Shotter and Katz, 1999) and responsive attunement (Beebe and Lachmann, 1988) to the changing conditions of another person. Over-preparing that makes us rigid as opposed to flexible and adaptable can harm connection. If preparing puts us on “high alert” and “in our heads” as opposed to in a more fully embodied place of being, we are likely to become more closed and less vulnerable which could limit possibilities for connecting. Finally, if we over-prepare for connection in a way that distances us from our more authentic or genuine ways of interacting with another person, this too, could be an impediment to connection.
Human interactions are, by definition, co-created, and so it is impossible to fully plan our way to a high-quality connection. In addition, and regardless of our efforts to prepare, there will inevitably be barriers and asymmetries that prevent the enlivening mutuality we seek. By tilling the soil, however, we greatly increase the chance that the seeds that we plant for connection will flourish in our interactions.