Spending the summers working on my grandparents' ranch in hot and humid southeast Texas meant lots and lots of sweating. But never have I sweated so much, not even at SoulCycle when I clipped in for a 90-minute, post-Thanksgiving “Turkey Burn” last year.

What recent activity just generated an entirely new level of body perspiration? Last month I traveled nearly 24 hours to Thailand from San Francisco, spending a week building a home via Habitat for Humanity, a new volunteer experience for me. “How was it?” clients and friends are asking. “How did it compare to what you expected?”

It was soul-nourishing, as expected, trowel in hand and learning key Thai phrases (a number of which sounded like the “F word” when I said them too quickly). The excitement of visiting Thailand for the first time, experiencing deep gratitude while helping a family in need, and having time to reflect at the end of the build -- all of that filled my heart.

What did I learn from day 1? To wear shorts on day 2!

What did I learn from day 1? To wear shorts on day 2!

But I experienced two unexpected things in the village of Chiang Mai that had an even bigger impact.

Diving below the surface

First were the little moments of 1:1 connection with my teammates, in between the OMG moments of building an entire house (and without the benefit of HGTV contractors or the Property Brothers).

Those grace notes of time went deep, fast. As we worked the line, mixing and passing buckets of cement to build physical walls, we broke down other walls -- by talking about obstacles we’ve overcome, fears we’re facing, and little things that bring us joy. There was a refreshing level of vulnerability expressed via “me, too” throughout the conversations.

Many of my teammates also support Glide, an organization I'm passionate about, but we knew little of each other before the trip. How much we learned about each other by diving below the surface -- and the connections we made -- was unexpected. And incredibly powerful.

Sharing Joy with Others

And then the other unexpected thing: Each day, far from the comforts and complexities of my usual routine, I did a Facebook post and tweet noting progress and photos. I was struck by the number of clients and friends who commented or DM’d to say some version of, “Thanks for bringing a moment of joy into my day” or “You look so happy!” (Note to self: Get dirty more often.)

"A home built with love." Proudly posing with the autographs of my teammates.

"A home built with love." Proudly posing with the autographs of my teammates.

As I’ve reflected on the two unexpected experiences of my trip, I’ve wondered:

  • Was it luck, the unique dynamics of our team of volunteers?

  • Was it being halfway around the world, in a new and challenging setting?

  • Was it disconnecting from the three things one of our team leaders asked us to leave behind? (I loved this exercise, both because it incorporated the important Get Shit Done concept of “three things” and for the intention it asked us to set. Ping me and I’ll share my three things with you.) 

The answer is a bit of all three. And, I suspect, more that will be revealed as I continue to reflect on the trip.

Moving forward

When we contemplate a new experience with the intention of finding something that helps us grow, we’re likely to discover it. One of the intentions I set during my morning practice is to be present and engaged throughout the day. Now that I’m back home, surrounded by the familiar, I’m challenging myself to use the unexpected aspects of my trip to fuel that intention.

How? With two key questions: "Have I gone below the surface, diving deep to create a more meaningful connection?" "Have I brought someone joy?" My goal is to make sure I’m doing both with at least three people every day.

Discovering an awesome nugget of wisdom behind one of Chiang Mai's many temples.

Discovering an awesome nugget of wisdom behind one of Chiang Mai's many temples.

One afternoon our team visited one of the nearly 300 temples surrounding Chiang Mai. Tucked away in a garden behind the temple were trees with nuggets of wisdom in Thai and English. I was most drawn to the one saying, “The most valuable service is one rendered to our fellow humans.”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have contributed shelter to a family in need -- and to be reminded that “diving below the surface” and “sharing joy” are two ways we can render service to one another every day.

As always, thanks for checking out my blog. I hope you found this helpful, and I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at ben@thebenkikergroup.com, or connect with me via Twitter or LinkedIn.