Aaron Burr Jr. had some free advice for Alexander Hamilton in the now all-too-famous musical “Hamilton” created by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  In Scene One, Burr states immediately upon meeting Hamilton, “Talk less, smile more,” encouraging Alexander to become more of an observer and less of an over-communicator. Great advice in this day and age when everyone seems to be spewing opinions left and right, and not many of us seem to be listening to anything else but the fake shutter-clicking sound of our smart phone cameras.

Last week I had the incredible good fortune of traveling to South Africa with seven extraordinary women. All of them successful on both sides of their work and family lives. Exquisitely talented leaders who are pioneers in their professional fields, many in the way they have both mastered parenting their children and finding balance during their time as intermittent single women.

The eight of us at Table Mountain National Park in Capetown, South Africa.

Daily the conversations ebbed and flowed from comments about the amazing scenery that we were witnessing outside of our bus window to what strategies worked best in their complicated worlds of bygone divorces. I made a conscious decision to absorb the discourse happening around me and to resist being a vigorous participant. It wasn’t my time to shine, I didn’t need or want the stage.  Instead, I wanted to sop up the stories, and create a folklore tapestry that I could wrap myself in, during, and for many years to come. When would I ever get the chance again to collect such vivid genius?

Solo zebra in South Africa, Photo by Grace Alfiero

Becoming an over-achieving listener reminded me of a role I find myself in when competing in 5K runs…that is to say that I am often the sweeper, the person who finishes last. I may be the slowest, but I get to see the entire race from the widest lens. Some of my travel companions noticed my slight shift in personality and asked me often if I was ok. “I’m just sweeping”, I would think to myself, and then I’d smile from ear to ear.

 

-Grace Alfiero

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