Last week was our very first, top secret, members-only HUSH event.
It was an exhilarating exercise in trust.
And their trust was in my hands.
3:43 PM It was a very rare, warm and muggy afternoon. I had parallel parked my car in a metered spot just outside the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. I’d found a spot with a 3-hour allowance so that I would be close to the starting point for the evening, but wouldn’t accrue any additional parking costs after 6pm (like the parking decks would require). Nice.
Patting myself on the back, I remember how I’ve been meaning to put all my parking preferences down on paper so I can share them with newcomers to Ann Arbor or the folks that just loathe parking downtown.
As I started walking towards the secret rendezvous location, I felt my heart quicken. This was the most excited anticipation I’ve felt in a long while. I was only one of 4 people who knew what we were doing. If I was this excited, knowing what were doing, were my attendees more excited, nervous, scared by not knowing what we were doing? Would they make it to the right spot in time?
3:45 PM I was perfectly early. The way a facilitator should be. Check.
“Don’t be late. We’ll leave promptly at 4pm,” I had told them.
I took my place “Under the red hut, near The Green Door.”
Should I stand where I was easily visible? Or would that ruin the fun? Perhaps it would be better to let them gather and share the password that gained them entrance to the first-ever Engage HUSH.
I knew this was an exercise in trust. Trust that it didn’t matter where we were going. Or what we’d be doing. It was all about who would be there. Not specifically who. Rather there was safety in knowing that “the who” that were also going on this little adventure were going for the same reason. To Engage. On purpose.
3:59 PM Everyone was assembled. They’d come prepared. Just as instructed. Walking shoes, umbrella (just in case), and hungry.
There had been clues along the way as each of them had followed the proverbial breadcrumbs to get here. But none of them had caught on. None of them knew, and they all claimed they didn’t have any idea. And they were smiling.
4:00 PM Go time. “This way, please!” I said, mirroring their own smiles back at them. And mine went ear to ear.
“Are you ready?” I asked as we crossed Division Street at the intersection with Liberty Street. Already, I was fighting for their attention as half of them were engaged in the conversations they’d started before our trek had even begun.
“Allow me to introduce you to …”
Only 2 months younger than Engage, By the Sidewalk Food Tours is the only company dedicated exclusively to food tours in Ann Arbor.
Selfishly, I’d picked some of my favorite spots in town. Old, and brand new. Places I wanted to share with others. But we also tasted things that were new to me thanks to By The Sidewalk Founder, Ani Gala.
It was like my own group date night with old and new friends. We had folks who have been intimately involved with Engage since the beginning, for many months, and others who just joined Engage 6 and 3 weeks ago but were clearly jumping in - with both walking feet.
Many of you have already asked, “How did the first HUSH go?!?!” and “I was super bummed I couldn’t come. Tell me all about it.”
Asad Gourani from AG Wealth Management told me after his first Engage Over Coffee in April:
I've been looking for a group where I could connect with people from different backgrounds, and for the first time, I finally feel I found what I was looking for. I love the setup and the format. I’ve already signed up for membership and can’t wait for the next event.
He wasn’t kidding and was one of the first people to sign up for HUSH.
This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. This was perfect.
Another woman had to assure her husband that she wasn’t hiding anything from him. She really didn’t know what she was doing that night. It was for Engage! It was for fun! She was the first to text me that night, before I could even get into the car.
Delicious. And just a perfect HUSH moment.
“That was fun to get out of my comfort zone. Never would have tried that many places in one day on my own…. or if i’d known what I was getting into before hand.”
What made it a success (to me)
It wasn’t (just) that I got to eat a lot of my favorite foods at my favorite places. It was what I was able to experience and observe in the small moments.
The way people so easily moved from one deep conversation to another.
The way they naturally chose to sit next to someone new at each of the 7 stops over the 3 hours, or get in step with someone different. Sometimes in conversation. Sometimes just listening.
They new how to engage the way Engage engages. It wasn’t forced. It wasn’t hard. It was guided and loose. It was on purpose. And they gave each other space to be heard.
My favorite take away
On one of our walks between stops, I overheard Engage Advocate, Natalie Bruno from Jottful, ask a fellow Advocate, Corey Fernandez from Humanergy, if he was familiar with something she was referring to. Perhaps it was just the way he delivered it, but his answer struck me as a true gift to her - an acknowledgment that he was listening and an invitation to keep sharing.
He said, “No, I don’t. But it sounds interesting.”
That moment has stuck with me all week and was inspiration for me at Engage Over Coffee yesterday morning as I pointed back to Natalie’s recent interview for the Lost Art of Conversation. It isn’t your job to be interesting. It’s your job to be interested. And Corey did that for Natalie so artfully.
You can also listen to Corey talk about the importance of generosity in conversations from earlier this month.
I am so grateful to be connected to such incredible people in Ann Arbor. Thank you for trusting me, and Engage.
I look forward to staying connected.
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