In January, 2017, we launched Working Out Loud circles for staff at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). A Working Out Loud circle is a group of 4-6 people that meets one hour a week for 12 weeks. Every person in the group sets a personal or professional goal for themselves, and by following a specific curriculum each week, we learn new skills and develop new habits in pursuit of each of our goals.
During the last year, we have launched 15 Working Out Loud circles at our organization, but there was something special about that first group.
That first group was made of people who were experimenters. They had never heard of Working Out Loud before. They had never seen colleagues experience a Working Out Loud circle. They had never read the Working Out Loud book by John Stepper. They were not sure what the outcome of their Working Out Loud experience might be.
Though the members of our first Working Out Loud circle were not necessarily all close friends before the circle began, we were all close friends by the time the circle ended. The support we gave to each other in support of our goals brought us together. Whether our goal was to find a better work/life balance, to expand our professional network, to lose 12 pounds in 12 weeks, or to become a better long-distance grandparent, we learned together. We grew together. We succeeded together.
Recently, a member of that first Working Out Loud circle suggested a reunion, a short 30 minute meeting over a Zoom video call. Though our circle experience had completed almost a year ago, everyone was eager to re-connect and hear about our ongoing progress in pursuit of our goals. It was not hard to find a commonly available time to meet as we were all so eager to do so.
The Zoom call began, and one by one friendly, familiar faces appeared on the screen. We greeted each other. Compared notes about the weather in our respective home towns. We looked at each other and smiled.
We all agreed how very special our Working Out Loud experience was. We were all happy to learn that in one way or another, each person in the circle is still pursuing their goals at their own pace, however we missed the consistency of being accountable to a group of our peers on a weekly basis. We agreed that that feeling of accountability resulted in more success, more momentum and more velocity as we worked towards our goal.
In reflecting on how it felt to begin a new practice like Working Out Loud at the URJ, one circle member reflected how Working Out Loud felt, to her, to be so counter cultural to the way our organization had traditionally worked in the past, and its a wonder not only that our circle had the success that it did, but also that other Working Out Loud circles came after us!
Jewish tradition teaches us that Moses led the slaves out of Egypt. They came upon the shores of the Red Sea, and miraculously, God parted the waters so they could safely escape the Egyptians. The Jews stood at the shore, and looked across at the now dry seabed. Nobody moved. Would the waters stay parted? Would they survive the crossing?
Nachshon, a lone Jewish slave from within the crowd of thousands of people escaping to their freedom, moves to the front of the crowd and decides to cross. Nachshon was the first. Nachshon experimented. Nachshon took a chance. He safely walked across the Red Sea, and all the others safely crossed, survived and flourished because of his action.
As our Working Out Loud circle reunion call came to an end, we all felt a little bit like Nachshon. We had tried something new and unknown, and others followed. Our call came to an end, and we recognized how much had changed for all of us since our circle began to meet, and though we continue to miss the momentum and velocity of our weekly calls, we will continue to keep in touch and keep Working Out Loud working for us.