How did an Outdoor Educator course and two scraps of paper lead to a business with a mission to alleviate loneliness? This is Audrey’s story.
How It All Started
Audrey was a recent college graduate when she signed up for the Oregon Outdoor Educator expedition in 2017. “I took the Outdoor Educator course and it changed my life but not in the way that I’d expected.” At the time, she had just spent her summer working at the Conserve School, an environmentally focused school in Wisconsin, where her love for cultivating community and outdoor education grew. This led her to enroll on an Outdoor Educator course so she could focus on her passions and skills for the industry.
The day before her course started, Audrey packed up the last of her items and made a split-second decision to throw a stack of notecards with hand-written quotes into her bag. She figured it would be a fun source of personal encouragement. At the time, she had no clue that decision would greatly impact both her time on her expedition and the rest of her life.
Meaningful Conversation Creates Compassion, Connection & Healing
During her course, the cards became topics of conversation for her and her crew. Audrey shared her quotes around the dinner table each night and instead of reading one and moving on to other topics, the quotes began to spark conversations that lasted far into the night and continued into the following day. Subjects covered things like “conversations of grief, self-love, body image and other topics largely ignored in society,” Audrey said. A piece of paper with a simple quote became the open door to spaces of compassion, connection and healing—something we aspire to create on every one of our courses.
With a handful of days left on her course, Audrey set out on her Solo for three days. She took a tarp, her backpack, the quote cards and two scraps of paper. Away from the noise and alone in nature, Audrey wrote a business plan for 365 Meaningful Conversations, with a mission to “create spaces for people to connect through meaningful conversations.”
She realized the power that a simple quote had in building and bonding friendships between her and her crew in the last 50 days. With each quote card she had, she wrote down correlating questions on the back. Where do you want your feet to carry you? How has race affected your life? What’s one of the best conversations you’ve had and why?
With a business plan tucked into her backpack, a new sense of purpose and 365 dirt-covered, rain-spattered quote cards, Audrey ended her time on her course with both a vision for her community and a tangible step to make that vision a reality. She began inviting people; friends, friends of friends, co-workers and complete strangers to coffee shops and breweries to come and engage in a simple form of connection: conversation.
Parallel to these gatherings, Audrey also began using her cards on the Open Sky Wilderness Therapy trips she guided at the time. What she began to see, in both settings, was parallel to what Outward Bound crews experience in the wilderness; people from all walks of life coming together, listening and sharing stories—experiencing a sense of connection rooted in compassion.
“I realized that people craved a space to connect in a way that’s meaningful without superficial small talk. I was bringing the magic of campfire conversations to the world of clocks, cars and calendars.” After one gathering, a participant said “you can’t end this, this is so important.” After that day, Audrey knew she had to keep pursuing the road that the cards were leading her down.
Alleviating Loneliness Through Conversation
Only six months after returning home from her course, the 365 Meaningful Conversations cards grew into something much larger than a set of conversation cards. Heart-to-Heart is now the organization with a mission to alleviate loneliness through meaningful conversations. The organization currently hosts local events in coffee shops, breweries and gathering places with a simple invitation: experience connection in its purest form. It’s not a networking event or a single’s social, it’s a space created for community. 365 Meaningful Conversation notecards are scattered across tables and people are invited to sit down, read the quotes and relevant questions, and engage in meaningful conversation with a complete stranger. It’s simple. It’s intentional. It’s leadership, service and compassion in action.
Audrey credits her Outward Bound Instructors and fellow crew members for “holding mirrors up for me to show me my strengths.” At the beginning of her course, she expected to walk away with tangible hard skills, like mountaineering and climbing techniques she could apply in a field position. What she didn’t expect was to walk away with a deeper knowledge of who she was and her strengths.
At the end of an Outward Bound expedition, a student and their Instructors discuss their experience; what they learned, where they grew, the challenges and what was exhilarating. They process the expedition together. Students get a chance to share the areas they’ve seen personal growth and Instructors share how they’ve seen the student grow. Audrey’s Instructors called out two strengths they saw in her during her 50-day course: listening and compassion. These were strengths she had never explicitly been told she had, but hearing this made all the difference in shaping Heart-to-Heart and creating 365 Meaningful Conversation events.
Find out more about Audrey’s story on 365meaningfulconversations.com.
About the Author
Charis Nichols is the Content Coordinator for the Outward Bound Services Group. She thrives on three key elements: community, adventure and strategic design. During the warm months she can be found floating down rivers and when it’s cold, hiking in the mountains.
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