Ugh, right? Icebreakers. They’re often awkward parts of professional development or mandatory staff gatherings. We mutter under our breath about them, but we keep doing them. And, usually by the end, we’ve all had a laugh about something. Or, found a way to get into heated political discourse.

Today was one of those days: icebreakers at a quarterly staff meeting. These are people I see infrequently. People have been hired or fired in between some of these meetings. At a large institution, it can take months to figure that out. I am scheduled to run the icebreaker for the next meeting, so I sized up the room today while my coworker charged bravely forward leading the exercise.

It involved asking and answering questions, shuffling of prompt cards, and negotiating question options. The structure isn’t really the point. One of my prompts asked, “What would you do differently/more of if you weren’t afraid of being judged?”

Bam. I feel judged all the time.

Plus, this question came after my partner told me a beautiful story about her father. Whenever she finds herself really missing him or “talking” to him about a problem, sometimes a red cardinal will appear. Cardinals hold great significance in her family history. She takes comfort in their timely appearance in her life. Her prompt asked, “What is something/someone you really miss?”

Bam, bam. I miss NYC, I miss my friends, I miss feeling healthy, I miss having a tan, I miss so many things all the time. It is exhausting to actively miss something or someone.

I told my partner I would ask more questions if I didn’t feel concerned about being judged. Where do we keep office supplies? Why do you like me? Why don’t you like me? What do you want from me? Do you think I’m smart enough to do this? Do you think I’ll ever figure my life out? Will people stop asking me why I’m not married yet? Would you help me understand this problem? Would you listen to me? What brings you joy? What is making you a better person?

So, later today, I realized I needed to ask my boss for help. I hate asking for help because, a) I like the challenge of figuring things out, and b) I don’t want people to think I’m dumb or incapable. Guess what? Never asking for help can mean that you never figure out some of the “things” and some people think you’re arrogant.

So, I asked for help. But, I couched it with all these reasons about why I needed help. I felt the need to justify how I could need a little help. Never mind that I hosted two artist residencies within a week, five performances took place in multiple venues last week, and I traveled for a professional obligation in the middle of all of it. I needed a little help; or maybe an assistant for the day.

A little help made life so much better in about five minutes. Of course, my boss helped me out with a minimal issue.

We hate icebreakers because it is work that is sometimes painful. But we have to keep chipping away to find who we are deep down inside.

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