On a late August day in 1987, I found myself on the second floor of the Arts building at McGill University with a crumpled yellow sticky note clenched in my sweaty palm. As I searched the dark hallway for my new academic advisor's office, the sound of a bad frosh week cover band drifted through the old stone walls. Down the hall, I could hear a raspy belly laugh coming from the last door on the left. A portly middle aged man with smudged eye glasses and a loose necktie sat behind a tall stack of books. His thick nicotine-stained fingers were gripping a pencil jotting down notes, and with my knock, he looked up and directly into my eyes. "What can I do for you Ma'am?"
In that moment, I knew Professor Harry Anderson would always have my back.
Before that day, looking into someone's eyes was more of a romantic gesture. Like the final scene of Sixteen Candles when Molly Ringwald sits tabletop looking into Jake's dreamy eyes. Ah the 80's. I thought eye contact was a cheesy "how to win friends and influence people" tactic desperate people learned in Airport Holiday Inn seminars. Eye contact was something I'd never really thought of and I was certainly never taught. But on that fateful day, I learned the impact of authentic eye contact.
Years ago at Second City we had a pre-show ritual before going on stage each night. We'd look directly into each of the other ensemble members eyes and say "I've got your back". It was a simple exercise that held so much weight. Magical things can happen when you leap knowing someone else is there holding your saftey net.
Taking risks on stage, in business and in life takes on a whole new meaning when you are able to look into each others' eyes, connect and support.
Eye contact seems like a simple concept but the older I get the more I realise eye contact is in short supply. And while eye contact comes naturally for some, for others it's a learned behaviour that simply takes practice.
When my daughter was born three months prematurely, I was fascinated by the fact that I could actually witness her development outside the womb. I learned that sight is the last of the five senses to develop. And it seemed like forever to get to the moment when she finally was able to make real eye contact with me. But when it happened everything clicked. She knew I'd always have her back. I remind her now at four years old to make eye contact with teachers and friends when she speaks or shakes hands. It helps her connect and feel safe.
So the next time the lady at the ATM holds the door open for you or a young barista hands you your non fat chai tea latte, make eye contact and see where it leads you.
As I see it, life is a series of first days of school, so wouldn't it be delightful if there was always a Professor Harry Anderson waiting for you at the end of the hallway?