Habits of an American Gentleman

During my time in Chicago, I had one of those very memorable office neighbors. He was short and stout, but quite spry for being nearly 70 years old. He went by Buster. He was sometimes a bit curt, but always a true American Gentleman -- from Boston, I think.

As we spent more time together, it became clear that he was also a MASTER of habit.

I’ve thought about Buster many times over the course of this year, but our friendship was sparked on a very specific day. It was the start of a snowy week in Chicago, I think the date was February 2nd. We had just finished our 2nd meetup with the crew from Experience Institute and we were busy planning for our next terms. In addition to the mayhem of these quarterly transitions we were also hit with one of the worst snowstorms in Chicago’s history.

Many of you might remember it -- I know I do. Snow piled up as high as your waist, cars deserted in the middle of the streets. It brought back memories of snow days as a child, where the normal practices and habits were completely abandoned. The days that were yours to waste however you chose. Ahhh snowdays.

I was on the brink of wrapping up work with my team in Chicago and finalizing details with a product design company in San Francisco, so while those memories beckoned me to shirk the day away, to the office I went.

As I unpacked my bag and tended to the duties of living life like an MBA student competing on the Amazing Race, I was warmly greeted by Buster. He gestured hello with a slight tilt of his head and continued on with his daily duties.

As I dug into my to-do list for the day, I was distracted by the emptiness of the office. I squirmed in my seat and wondered if the work could wait.
    Just one more email and I can leave.
    That blog post can wait, I think.
    My camera stared at me from across the table, lens cap still in place.   
    My journal sat open to a blank page, a capped pen as a bookmark.

And then Buster nudged my leg.

It was 11:30 a.m. and time for his rounds. Each day Buster took the exact same path around the office in search of snacks or friendly conversation. It was methodical and consistent. If there was food to be had, he obliged, if not, he tipped his hat and trotted to the next desk.

Every. Single. Day. This was his ritual, his habit, his way to connect.

This practice made him really happy. (And it made us happy too.) He had other routines as well. Afternoon walks around the block, sprints to the treat stash, lots of naps....and of course, quality time with his chew toy.

How simple. Connect…. move…. celebrate…….and rest.

These types of practices bring a sense of stability in the uncertain and this year reminded me that intentional habits are critical. Strong and consistent rituals strengthen relationships and connect us to the present, they root us in place and most importantly, they reinforce our values. And while these acts seem simple they are easily lost in times of change or transition.

So as you leave tonight and head back into the flow of your lives, I would ask you -- What habits do you have? What rhythms do you keep sacred? What routines bring you joy?  

Our answers will be different, but their power is universal. 

Zak (and Buster)