Am I Turned Outward Today?

Originally published as a TinyLetter



As I dropped off my daughter at day care, a poster on the wall caught my eye. “AM I TURNED OUTWARD TODAY?” it said in white capital letters against a red background.

If you ask me that question at any given moment during the day, the answer is probably no. One of the hallmarks of being an introvert is a “rich inner life,” as I’ve heard it described; I’m often so lost in thought that I don’t register what’s happening around me. I’m turning an idea over in my mind, running through To Do lists, or ruminating on something that’s bothering me. I take up residence in my own head without even realizing it.

Last night I was reading a bedtime story to my four-year-old, one called “Lion Lessons” that he’s chosen for the past few nights. When I got to the middle of the story, I noticed a scene that I’d read out loud several times before without even registering what it said, because my mind had been a thousand miles away. This happens we’re playing action figures, too. I’ll have Spider-Man run away from Venom, and my son will say, “No, Mommy! They’re friends!” He’s told me, but I didn’t hear him. I was just going through the motions.

The problem with turning inward is that you miss out. You’re staring at your phone instead of being aware of your surroundings (it kills me when I look up and see my baby girl smiling at me, and I wonder how long she’s been trying to get my attention). You don’t take in useful information (my mind has wandered off during more webinars than I can count). You’re so focused on your own little corner of the universe that you don’t observe what’s going on elsewhere.

When this happens en masse, neighbors don’t know each other, and we’re blindsided by the things that happen in our communities. Here in Mississippi, the State Board of Education voted yesterday to take over the public school district where my son is enrolled. A community group came together to try to maintain local control, but it was too late. On a national level, forward-thinking Americans were shocked by the election last November and only then realized that we’d been asleep at the wheel, not attuned to the way that millions of people were thinking. We were not turned outward.

The poster on the wall at my daughter’s day care came from Harwood: The Institute for Public Innovation. I looked it up and learned that it’s “a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit that teaches, coaches and inspires people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together.” I found a HuffPost piece by its founder, Richard Harwood, who wrote:

Being intentional means becoming more deliberate in your actions. It is to make choices about whether to take one course over another. It is to be more attentive to your surroundings – that you hold a greater awareness about who we are, who we want to become, and the kind of change you seek to generate. In these ways, being intentional is about being more directed.

But I am moved most by the following definition of intentionality – which comes in two parts. The first involves what I think of as “wakefulness.” I love this word. I encourage you to consider its meaning and potential for your own engagement. Wakefulness suggests that we are alert. That we come to the world awake! Our eyes are wide open, our hearts are open, and we are willing to see and hear that which is around us. In being wakeful, we are ready to engage, to be with others.

We can start now by asking ourselves, “Am I turned outward today?” We can get out of our own heads, look up from our phones, talk to our neighbors, and go to school board meetings. If we see something gets us fired up, we can share it with our friends instead of just consuming it. We can pay attention to what’s happening in other parts of the country and the world; we can call our representatives and vote at the ballot box and with our dollars.

If each of us can turn outward a little more, we can take those rich inner lives and leverage them into rich lives in general, for us all.

what’s fueling me


Nathan Fielder: How The Cult Comedian Rules the Outer Limits of Awkward (Rolling Stone) – Nathan for You is one of the most uncomfortably hilarious shows on TV, and I laughed out loud at some of the scenarios he’s cooked up to help small business owners.

Inspired Man Bolts Out Of Bed At 3 A.M. To Jot Down Great New Worry (The Onion) – Me, pretty much.

By the Book podcast – A believer in personal development and her no-nonsense friend follow the rules of a different self-help book to the letter for two weeks at a time. It’s fun to hear about what worked for them and what didn’t, and they share takeaways from books like The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

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