A few years ago, BC (Before Covid) and BS (Before Siri) and quite possibly before the acronym #EQ was ever used in the workplace, I stood outside the entrance of the Chicago Red Line at the corner of Chicago and State with a handmade poster-size sign with the words, “Free Directions” written in red sharpie.
I had just completed a performance of “I can’t take this anymore!” and the award goes to “You’re Fired”. I was lonely, jobless, and depressed and trying to recover from a really traumatic work experience. (I almost deleted the word traumatic because it sounds so dramatic but chose to leave it in because it was)
I decided to make that sign and stand at the subway entrance in Downtown Chicago where the majority of travelers arrive to visit the city.
Several people looked at me with a perplexed look on their face, some smiled, many people stopped to ask for directions as if I was just supposed to be there and one couple even asked to take a photo with me.
Everyone expressed so much gratitude. Only once did someone stop and ask me, “Why are you doing this?” My response was, “because I love people, and kindness is free.” That seemed to satisfy their curiosity and they walked off.
The next day, I went back and did it again. The brief connection to help strangers was mutually beneficial. They were grateful and it brought me joy.
If we think about this in the context of belonging at work,
- People need to believe they are safe
- People need to believe they matter
- People need to believe they belongPeople need to believe their leaders are standing there with a sign that says, “Free Directions”
We don’t belong to a place; we belong to each other.