With many offices still closed, the sidelining of casual work friendships have been an unfortunate side effect of the pandemic. Virtual happy hours really can’t replace the spontaneous connections formed with colleagues that happen when you’re walking together to meetings or grabbing a quick lunch. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking about how much you’ve missed that quirky guy from accounting or the buff spin instructor at your company gym, my friend Dean Petrulakis has found an inspired way to reignite connections.
Dean, a business development executive living in the Chicago suburbs, has always elevated fitness and friends to priority status in his life. I first met Dean nearly a decade ago when we were introduced by a professional connection. I was launching my own consulting practice, and Dean had clients in need of market research and brand strategy. Before long, Dean felt more like a friend than a colleague as we shared stories of balancing work with raising young children.
Last winter, Dean recognized that the pandemic was taking its toll on both his physical and emotional health. The lines between work and home were increasingly blurred, and Dean realized he needed to make some changes. So, in January 2020, he applied his inquisitive mind to learning more about nutrition, heart health and the power and beauty of moving. In addition to adjusting his diet, Dean made a commitment to get outside and walk an hour each day.
If you’ve ever spent a winter in the Midwest, you’ll know that the freezing temperatures, icy pavement, and short days do not make it easy to commit to outdoor walks in winter. But Dean lives a short distance from the Illinois Prairie Path, and his commitment quickly became a habit. A few months in, Dean began sharing his health and wellness journey on social media and his connections began reaching out to share how it inspired them to make healthy lifestyle changes. In late spring, Dean’s friend Tracy suggested she join him on his walk. Dean posted about their walk on LinkedIn and Instagram, sharing how good it was to reconnect with someone he could talk to about professional and personal life. Likes and comments poured in, and Dean quickly realized he was onto something.
Dean recognized that with vaccines still rolling out at the time, walking was something he could do with others that people could feel comfortable about. Dean also knew how much these walks with friends could help his own wellness journey, telling me, “Connecting with people is my oxygen. I’m a relationship driven person. This is a great way I can connect with someone I care about and share a story of how they came into my life and are special to me.” Former colleagues, business associates and even a trainer from his gym have all opted to join him on walks in recent months.
Dean shared, “Despite a windchill advisory, I am committed to being outside an hour and I fully envision that I have friends who will regularly join me on these walks.” He’s personally realized the benefits of getting outside in nature each day and has reinforced his wardrobe to allow him to walk in just about any weather condition. Through his fitness readings, Dean’s learned, “Our bodies adapt and evolve. It can be easy to hibernate all winter, but once I started walking outside regularly, the weather conditions didn’t bother me.”
He also realized that all friendships require nurturing. While many work friendships happen organically, the recipe for lasting relationships are similar regardless of where the friendship formed: “The walls come down when we are vulnerable and share aspects of our personal lives. Everyone has struggles.” And while Dean misses the pre-pandemic spontaneity of connecting with colleagues in different settings, he appreciates the authentic nature of his connection through walks, and jokes that he does not miss corporate retreats meant to accelerate connections in a superficial way. “Just because I’m doing a trust fall doesn’t mean I trust you!”