For years I had a thought: that people who find themselves sitting next to each other on trains, park benches or pavement cafés, might share something of themselves, find a connection and discover the gift each has for the other. I attended an event on Saturday whose goal was the same: to bring people together in order that they may share, connect and discover. All day people did exactly that in pockets of conversation fostered easily by the workshops and the organisers who, once again, did an excellent job.
As a previous speaker, I had been invited to celebrate their fifth anniversary, and the level of organisation was as high as it had been two years ago. Furthermore, this time I had more opportunity to appreciate the level of quality too. I got involved to a greater degree than I had previously, attending workshops and talking much more with the members. The quality of the event permeated all levels; from the venue and the calibre of the participants, to the carefully considered and well-executed name badges.
HUTAC (Huygens Talent Circle) brings together international students and alumni; every one a recipient of the esteemed Huygens Scholarship. It was inspiring to be in their company and to participate in the workshops with them. On a gloriously sunny day in Amsterdam, this group of highly intelligent, ambitious and successful students and professionals alike, had gathered together to connect with each other and share of themselves.
From the questions they asked, it was clear that they are thirsty for knowledge relating to their journey: Is it better to swim with the current or against it? How do I deal with an unfair boss? How do I deal with disappointment? (As was pointed out, high-achievers don’t experience disappointment as often as others.) But what struck me most of all was that they were sharing their vulnerability. People felt safe enough to open up about their fears and concerns. I recognised what they were saying and, from where I stand today, I wanted to tell them they’ll be fine.
At the start of the day, the keynote speaker had concluded her speech with an appeal to give. Give to yourself, and then give to others. And that’s what we did. Many gave unknowingly. One person I spoke to, for example, happened to mention he was looking forward to the closing session. At that point I had still not made a decision on whether or not to stay until the end. Taking my cue from his incidental remark, I decided to stay. And I’m glad I did.
That closing session was the highlight of the day for me. It was conducted by a man, Salem Samhoud, who was at ease with himself and his environment, choosing to stay at floor level and remain among the people, when there was a lectern and a stage to utilise. He spoke freely and effortlessly about his story, easing his audience along with gentle humour and conviction, and contributing to the safety of the space with a steady and nurturing presence. He gave nothing but good advice and guidance to a room full of talented people, searching for their way forward.
His session was beautifully inclusive – it was more of a dialogue with his audience – and he reassured and empowered people with the lessons he has learnt. Here are a few examples of what he told us:
- Go your way.
- Surround yourself with the people you need.
- Seek those who can give you critical feedback but can also love you.
- Set high standards and accept nothing less.
- Every minute counts, so don’t tolerate people who rob you of your time.
Over dinner the day’s pattern of inspiring conversations with the next generation continued. And as the evening sun streamed across busy balconies and in through open doors and full-length windows, there was one more gift to be given. It came at the end of a short conversation with the closing speaker. I approached him to say thank you and we chatted briefly before he was called away. As he left, he seemed almost to whisper his parting advice for me. It was delivered with the same sincerity and friendship he had shown during his talk. Relaxed and purposeful, his words blended fleetingly with the room and then both he and they were gone. I uttered an unheard response, smiled contentedly to myself and left, knowing I had received more than I came for.
Just a few words, extended in a shared space. That’s all it was. That same simplicity had been facilitated ingeniously all day by the organisers, via those thoughtfully designed name badges. On the registration form, they had included a question which asked for everyone’s life motto in no more than 30 words. A line or two encapsulating our sense of self and purpose. They printed those words on the reverse side of each corresponding badge and encouraged us to introduce ourselves with our personal message first. There was empowerment, encouragement and reflection in people’s words. Strangers exchanged sentences throughout the day and, in doing so, they offered something of themselves. To each other.