Written by Sue Wasserman Tuesday, July 17 2012
Thriving in chaos can either be a bragging point or a simple survival technique depending on your perspective. As a former public relations manager for a large architectural and engineering firm with more than 20 offices around the country, I got a little adrenalin rush on days when I felt like I was elevating multi-tasking to an art form. I silently chuckled when my interruptions got interrupted, and I couldn’t remember the task I initially set out to accomplish in the morning.
Proving your corporate mettle can create its share of drawbacks, first and foremost of which is the sometimes unwitting and undesired invitation to work even harder. We are, after all, only as good as our most recent success.
Over time, between continually looking for new opportunities such as creating, managing, and promoting the company’s community outreach program; and being given away to the firm’s operating company, mental exhaustion grabbed me in a chokehold. The interruptions were no longer entertaining. The politics made me cranky. I’m not, by the way, the cranky sort. I was reminded of an interview I had with the director of the Center for Brain Health a few years back where she told me that multi-tasking was not only ineffectual, it was, over the long term, unhealthy as well. I knew exactly what she was talking about.
I sought solace in the woods, at first, because I could. I was spending a lot of time in Asheville, N.C., home of countless incredible trails and parks. It was pure escapism. My cell phone was turned off, my emails went unchecked, and I let myself be where I was. I breathed deeply of the quiet. I watched the sun as it played a shadow game of hide and seek across the peaks in the distance. I shut my eyes and swayed with the rhythm of the breeze as it filtered through the massive stands of trees. I gazed up in awe at trees that towered over me, offering shade and ease.
A great gift was being bestowed in those moments -- the gift of being with myself. No one was here to complain about office politics; no one was telling me who to “like” on Facebook or what social media presence I needed to create. No one was offering advice on what opportunities I should pursue.
Don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly fortunate to have dear friends that care about my wellbeing. That is a gift beyond words. But there are times that require turning inward to check in with myself. In the hubbub of daily life, it’s been easy to temporarily forget who I am, what I stand for and what I’m passionate about. It’s far too easy, too, to concern myself with addressing other people’s needs instead of my own. It was time to quit doing and start being.
Solitude gave way to inspiration. Here was the perfect place to turn off and turn inward, untethered from anyone else’s expectations or schedules. I began bringing my camera on these excursions to remind myself of the fabulous wildflowers I encountered. I had never seen such color other than in a PMS color swatch book. I wanted to share my discoveries with others and ensure I didn’t forget them either.
I was soon overwhelmed again, but this time by the creativity born of a space to “be” without interference. I suddenly remembered a refrigerator magnet I once had with a Buddha quote that said, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower, our whole life would change.”
For the first time, I understood what Buddha meant. I didn’t just look at the flowers in passing. I breathed them in and saw that miracle, not only in the single flower, but in all the flowers that surrounded me. I witnessed them tight in the bud, saw them slowly start to blossom and reach their peak, and then was back on the trail in time to watch them recede back into the soil from which they’d sprung. It was to me, the ultimate lesson in how everything really does have a season. While we humans so often struggle with who and what we are, forcing ourselves to change as the result of the judgments of others, flowers know no such struggle. They simply are.
My photography, initially a tourist’s lark, had become part of who I was. I wondered if I could transform my passion for the woods into a sustainable business endeavor. The quieter I became, the more I was able to focus on the possibilities. I kept a journal in my car so I could immediately write down the thoughts that popped into mind while walking.
Those possibilities are blossoming around me. I had my first gallery show, the opening of which was arguably one of the best evenings of my life. I felt like I had found my true voice. To be able to share it with family, friends and gallery visitors was meaningful to me in so many ways. It feels like I’m extending an invitation to stop, breathe and experience nature’s wonder, even if just for a few moments.
I can’t tell you exactly how this adventure will turn out. A card line, books, and creative workshops are some of the opportunities. Friends are helping me brainstorm and sending me links to various sites that might be helpful. It’s both scary and exciting. When doubt strikes, and believe me, it does, I head back into the woods to quiet that devil’s advocate that lurks within.
Solitude isn’t necessarily easy because no matter where you go, you’re going to bump into yourself. I’ve had many occasions over the years when I’ve avoided myself like the plague to keep from dealing with the issue du jour. These days, I’m trying to be a better friend to myself, heeding the inner wisdom I know exists when I take the time to listen. That inner wisdom recently led me to Asheville as a full-time resident. It’s helped me gain a measure of inner peace that wasn’t quite present before.
What works for me on a trail in the mountains surrounded by wildflowers and towering trees may not be right for a lot of people. My sister takes her hoe and heads to the garden to replenish her spirits. Some friends prefer a lounge chair on a sandy beach. Others find solitude on the backyard patio. It’s not so much about the place as it is the permission. We all need to recharge and get in touch with our personal wisdom. Think about it like this. My camera battery only works so long without being recharged. Don’t we owe ourselves the same consideration?
Success can either be found in a bustling workplace or in solitude; these more timid personalities have found the latter to be true for them:
Susan Cain has discovered the power of the introvert "in a world that just can't stop talking." Learn more about her best-selling book "Quiet" and the benefits of being yourself - be it timid or boisterous - in the workplace and everything you do.
Ari Weinzweig is an inspiration to introverts everywhere. He is intelligent, witty and shy and he owns Zingerman's - a $40 million enterprise with over 500 employees and hundreds of thousands of loyal customers.
“What makes you able to be an introvert and public is having a true passion to express something you think will make a difference,” says Wendy Davis, co-founder of Baby Blues Connection. She embraced introversion while overcoming postpartum depression to find happiness in her career.
Sue Wasserman is a freelance writer, publicist and nature photographer living near Asheville, N.C. Her passion is writing about people who are passionate about what they do. Most recently, she was the public relations manager for Heery International, a large architectural/engineering firm headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. Her freelance articles have appeared in Southern Living, The New York Times, American Style, Mountain Living, Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Atlanta Business Chronicle and more.