Olly olly oxen free
A reminder for us all to come out of hiding
Maybe you know the saying, “Olly olly oxen free?”
It’s used in games like Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, and Capture the Flag to call to the other players who are hiding to come out in the open without risk of losing the game.
Based on some rough calculations, I’d say I said this phrase over two hundred times growing up playing various games with neighbors on muggy summer evenings at dusk — with boxwood rows for cover and lightning bugs for company.
Recently, though, this phrase has resurfaced for me with new meaning.
This is a story about hiding from ourselves and not hearing our calling.
Four years ago, I said to myself, “I’m moving on from organizing events.”
This was after I co-founded Charlottesville’s branch of The Trade School. After I helped organize the Tom Tom Founders Festival, after I had managed over 250 events at the University of Virginia’s Morven Project. It was after my friend and I started “Nuf Said” which planned playful events like “Bike Prom” and “Adult Spelling Bees” for adults. And after I had helped organize Public Interest Design Institutes with DesignCorps.
I was convinced it was time to focus on writing.
I thought, “Okay, I’m going to focus on sharpening my communication skills. That’s the smart thing to do.”
Your focus will bring you back to your calling if you choose to see it.
I started to focus on writing. I joined New Kind in 2014 as a writer and then four months into being here, Matt and Jonathan asked me to take the lead on organizing Hopscotch Design Festival. It was one of those, “Oh, no I’m not doing that right now, but of course you’ve piqued my interest, so I’ll hear you out.” My advice: Pay attention to moments like this.
Here’s the truth, and I wasn’t willing to admit it to myself at the time, writing was my hiding place. Writing is amazing and I love writing, but I was hiding there because I was burned out. Organizing is as tiring as it is energizing. And anyone who organizes events can attest to this fact.
However, exhaustion aside, in that moment, Matt and Jonathan were calling me out of hiding. I didn’t see it then, but I see it now.
When this happens, you have a choice what you do with that information. You can ignore it. You can pretend you don’t see it. You can tell yourself a different story. But over time, you will be called by your calling.
In my experience, when you’re called by your calling, it’s usually a cloudy, uncertain, quite uncomfortable response your body and mind will give you. If you inspect inside of that feeling, you’ll find a small tugging of interest. It’s faint, but a clear sign and can be easily overlooked. On the other side of that, when you’re not living your calling, it feels like a weight is holding you down.
Needless to say, it can be confusing to navigate.
When Matt and Jonathan asked me, I hesitated. I still hesitate. That’s the cloudy feeling. “Is this really the most impactful use of my time?” “Aren’t there better things for me to do with my time?” “Wait, I thought I was focused on writing.” I hesitate because organizing is really difficult work and when I’m doing it I’m exposed. I’m on the hook. Open to criticism. Open to failure. Open to disappointment. And open to the unknown. I call this feeling: ‘waving at predators.’ It’s the moment when you trigger your amygdala (that part of your brain that’s really old) and fear for your life sets in, as if you were waving at the lion who wants to eat you. In today’s world, this feeling has the potential to show up even when you’re sending a seemingly simple e-mail.
What I’ve learned is that feeling of hesitation is exactly the point. It’s the clearest indicator that I’m where I need to be. Through practice, I’ve gotten more comfortable with being on the hook, with being exposed and that’s a result of showing up and trying, of not hiding. I’ve learned how to lean into the cloudy, uncertain feeling rather than shy away. I focus on the faint tug instead of the exhaustion or fear. (I also imagine my fall back plan so I know even if it all fails, I will land safely somewhere.)
The truth is organizing is where I’m able to use my gift of connecting people through intentional collisions and by designing environments where they can explore their curiosity, find joy in life, and make an impact doing work that matters to them.
There are sixty days until Hopscotch Design Festival 2017.
It’s going to be a sprint to the finish. And it’s going to require showing up, managing exhaustion, and most of all, doing the work.
I can do it. I’m writing this as a series of reminders to keep myself out of hiding. It’s a way for me to see the faint tug of my calling when fear and doubt start to show up.
Reminder #1 — I love design.
I love it so much. If I hadn’t found it when I was in college, I think I would still feel lost in my life. Design makes me strategic, generous, creative, playful, intentional, and optimistic. It gives me a way to take an idea and turn it into an experience. It gives me a process to make the change I see in the world. And I want to share this with others.
Reminder #2 — Events matter.
Bringing people together matters. Giving people a stage to share their voice matters. Highlighting the work of people changing the status quo matters. Asking big questions matters. Creating a memorable, atypical experience matters. Events give life meaning.
Events are how we step outside of our normal comfort zones and seek new perspectives. It’s gives us a safe place to take risk, try out failure, imagine new pathways, make connections, and wonder about different views of our future and how we’ll get there. Events help us discover ourselves.
Events are where we get to be human. They are the places where we suspend reality for a moment and exist wholly in a place of possibility, presence, and potential. Events move us forward.
Reminder #3: I’m learning from the hard parts.
I owe Hopscotch Design a lot. It’s pushed me to be my best self. It’s forced me to confront my hiding places, my calling, my fears about being a leader, and my weaknesses (one in particular is managing my time and energy so I don’t burn out).
I wonder where I would be if I hadn’t said yes to organizing Hopscotch Design Festival. If I hadn’t entertained the faint tug of my calling when all I wanted to do was hide.
While every day challenges me and I’m not always certain, I know by showing up — it’s forcing me to reach my full potential.
I’m here, having been called out of hiding — standing in the open, without fear of losing.
Olly olly oxen free.