I was starving. Okay, that was a total understatement. I was famished. As my sassy southern grandma would say, “I could eat a cow, and hog, and a calf and a half.” Don’t judge me— everyone’s grandparents have some weird saying.
It was getting late and I was worried that I wouldn’t find anything open that wasn’t a greasy fast-food burger.
You can imagine my delight as I pulled into the shopping center around the corner from my home, to see the open sign flashing at me for China Crown.
Looking at the posted hours, I slid in by the skin of my teeth to get served. My mouth watered as I imagined biting into the shrimp fried rice and sweet and sour chicken that awaited me on the other side.
Smiling at the woman, who I would later learn was the owner, I gleefully placed my takeout order. Knowing that it would be about a 15-minute wait, I came prepared with the latest Amazon bestseller book in hand—hoping I could catch up on some much-needed reading. But Alex had other plans.
Out of the corner of my eye, popped out a little boy who looked to be about nine-years-old. I hadn’t noticed him at first because he was quietly eating his dinner, headphones pulled over his ears, with his face tucked into a tablet consuming whatever media was holding his attention.
He hopped out of his chair with a jovially spring, flashed a smile that showed that the tooth fairy had recently come to visit and said to me, “Hi, I am Alex. Do you know how to beatbox?” I looked at him with a sort of perplexed gaze—I was surprised at how friendly he was and how random his question seemed to be.
I replied back, “ I dabbled a little–I’ve been a DJ for a long time so I know a few things about beatboxing,” I snapped back with my attempt at sounding cool.
“Well let me hear what you got,” he said. I was taken aback. I wasn’t expecting him to challenge me right then and there.
And with the most pitiful attempt — I proceeded to spit, dribble and mouthed something that resembled what I thought was beatboxing. My painful attempt sounded more like Daffy Duck trying to sing a show tune.
“You call that beatboxing?” Alex laughed, trying to politely hold his giggle back.
Let me show you how it’s done. And with the ease of a rhythmic jazz artist, Alex began to assemble a beautifully crafted series of movements with his mouth, lips, and tongue. If you had closed your eyes for a moment, you would have sworn that you were transformed into an electronica concert, sitting dead center of a beat blasting drum. It was euphoric.
He mixed his sounds so well, famed MC and master beatboxer, Dougy Fresh would have been proud.
Astonished, I said, “Whoa, Alex. You are a master.”
“Oh, it’s not that big of a deal. I can teach you too,” he replied.
Over the course of the next 12 minutes, Alex took the time to break down what it really meant to beatbox. He pulled up a video, demonstrated a rhythm pattern on his iPad, and over and over again reiterated how to create those cool sounds and then had me practice in turn.
I would love to say that I nailed it. And there is a happily ever after and now I’ve gone on to become a world-class MC and beatboxer. Not even close. Even after 12 minutes I still sucked. Alex was still laughing at me. But as I drove home that evening with my Chinese food warming up my passenger seat, I reflected on a few important lessons I learned after that chance encounter with Alex.
There are meaningful lessons and messages in everything you do. The question is are you pausing long enough to realize and take heed on what they might be?
Here are three life and leadership lessons I’ve taken from this:
1.Get out of your own way- I was getting ready to totally dismiss Alex. I thought to myself, what can this nine-year-old kid teach me about anything? OMG, he had so much to teach me and I had so much to learn. I had to be open to the experience. Open to his lesson. I had to move out of my own way and make space to learn from him. It was really about stepping outside of my ego. Initially, I thought, I am an adult and I could teach this kid a few things. But it was like a reverse mentoring program. He was schooling me in the best way.
Now You Try: Who can you learn from? Are you open to learning from others who are junior or less experienced than you? Maybe they have expertise in a space that you don’t. Who could you set-up a reverse mentoring relationship with? What areas could you use some mentoring in?
2. Be Curious-– Kids have this natural curiosity that I think we lose as we become adults and replace it with cynicism, skepticism, realism, and mistrust. At certain points, life has just beaten us down and we’ve lost the curious nature of our personalities. Alex wasn’t afraid to strike up a conversation with me. He wasn’t afraid of putting himself out there. He wasn’t afraid of showcasing something that he was really good at, and he wanted to share it with others.
Now You Try: How can you step outside of your comfort zone? Be more curious. I challenge you to show childlike curiosity the next time you encounter a situation that makes you uncomfortable. How are you showcasing your expertise and achievements?
3. Slow Down– My close friends and colleagues will tell you– I am the queen of speed. As my Dad has said to me, “I’ve never met someone who gets more out of life than you.” At first glance, it sounds like a nice compliment, right? In reflecting, it’s really a warning about slowing down enough to actually enjoy life. If you’re anything like me, You’re always a couple of steps ahead. Always moving on to the next shiny thing. Always focused on multi-tasking and being the most efficient with your time. You are exhausted. Suffering from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). There is this unintentionally but ever-present competition that we place ourselves on. Who can be the bustiest, get the most done, and still look Instagram and Facebook ready? It’s like running on a hamster wheel with the illusion that there is a finish line. And the finish line doesn’t exist.
Now You Try: How are you slowing down? When was the last time you’ve taken a detox from social media? How will you incorporate “white space” in your day? White space is the time that you do nothing. I mean that. Absolutely. Positively. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Allow yourself to “BE” in the moment. Play. Let your mind wander. Be with yourself. Let the light in. Be more like Oprah, Oprah has replaced FOMO with JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) Don’t cram in “things”. Move beyond the “To Do” List. And you do you!
Shout this out… What will you commit to in the coming weeks?