Icebreakers: What’s the Most Important Thing?

By: Jen Shoop

One of my favorite daily prompts for journaling or reflection while taking Tilly on her morning walk: “What’s the most important thing today?” This provocation acts like a homing device for my intentions and values, directing me to shed the trivial and focus on what really matters. I like to segment my response in a couple of ways: what’s the most important thing on my plate for work today? what’s the most important thing with my children today? what’s the most important thing in my marriage today? etc. I find that the answers are nearly always obvious, on the tip of my tongue, and yet they change from day to day. For example, in parenting, today’s was letting my son know how much he is loved. He had an incident with an unkind boy at camp and told us earnestly, at the dinner table, between sips of milk: “Some people don’t like me.” We talked at length about how many people love him. How people will say and do unkind things, and how we can respond, and how we can not let those things change how we think about ourselves. But, of course, I laid in bed and worried, and so this morning’s “most important thing” was divining new ways to reinforce how cherished he is, to model how to let unpleasantness slick off our back like water, to cultivate self-love. But tomorrow’s might be different. So, too, with work, and with relationships, and household admin. But isolating the top matter helps me avoid that spiraling feeling of “there is too much to stay on top of!”

I thought I’d take this prompt in a different direction today, by funneling it into a new set of icebreakers for you all to weigh in on. (If you’re new-ish here, I encourage you to read earlier icebreakers here and here, where Magpies invariably answer my prompts with charm, idiosyncrasy, and wit). Aim to answer each with a few words!

What’s the most important thing —

…on the first day of a new job?

…when getting dressed?

…when setting the table for a good day?

…when apologizing?

…when creating a fabulous meal?

…in a happy relationship?

…when enjoying a great conversation?

…when speaking in public?

I’ll go first!

…on the first day of a new job? An open mind. And don’t pack lunch! This forces you to find someone who can take you under his/her wing so you get to know the ropes and find early allies/work-friends.

…when getting dressed? Wear what sparks joy. This sounds woo woo but can be a huge mood elevator.

…when setting the table for a good day? A good night of sleep!

…when apologizing? Understanding that a true apology asks for nothing in return — not even forgiveness. It is a confession of wrongdoing!

…when creating a fabulous meal? Great ingredients and good music.

…in a happy relationship? Grace. After that, laughter.

…when enjoying a great conversation? Listening and occasionally suppressing the urge to share what you want to share. A good conversation goes both ways, of course, but I have learned in my late 30s that sometimes we don’t need to share our take, our experience, our story. Sometimes it is more meaningful to let the other person shine, have the floor, etc.

…when speaking in public? Control the first sentence. If you can deliver the first line slowly and clearly, it sets the precedent for the remainder. Speak much more deliberately than you think feels natural, and take a three second pause after the first period. I promise this strategic pacing will set you up for success.

Please share your thoughts on any or all of these prompts in the comments!


+More on apologies. (I’ve thought a lot about this!)

+When was the last time you had a book hangover?

+On pessimism.

Shopping Break.

+This cute under-$50 cardi is a great way to get the BA&SH look for less.

+Recently bought this reasonably-priced set of stainless steel mixing bowls and they are in CONSTANT USE. They aren’t quite as lightweight as the Vollrath enormous one (8 QT size) I’ve raved about in the past, but they are super inexpensive and the sizes are perfect for all your kitchen / mise en place utility work. Use as scrap bowls, to soak veg, to prep ingredients, to marinate, etc. Can’t rec enough.

+Ordered a bunch of jeans to try on for fall and will share snaps next week. I’m really intrigued by the brand SLVRLAKE, which seems to be having a moment! Especially excited to try these Grace jeans!

+Love this army green striped sweater.

+This scalloped side table is under $400 right now! So chic!

+Ordered myself this weekly pad specifically to keep things organized for the children — will list play dates, after school activities, lunch, etc. You can get 10% off sitewide with code MAGPIE10. Lots of goodies for back to school and home organization!

+This $30 dress for girls! TOO CUTE. Looks like SEA or Doen.

+If the wedding registry has dwindled down to nothing by the time you go to buy a gift, towels from Boll and Branch or Matouk are always a good pick. These are also my go-to housewarming gifts, and make great Christmas gifts for families/couples. Who doesn’t love fluffy new towels?!

+This tweedy top is SO good. I would style with dark wash denim and Chanel ballet flats, and maybe a big black headband? Ladylike!

+Gorgeous fall blouse.

+Julia Berolzheimer designed the cutest “Anywhere Chair” cover for PBK.

+Ordered my son this sweater.

+If you’re looking to style loafers/sneaks with socks this fall (advanced styling move!), consider these for the job.

+Another fab fall dress.

+Ophelia and Indigo is running an end-of-summer sale — lots of cute finds, including this adorable blue dress and this charming top.

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6 thoughts on “Icebreakers: What’s the Most Important Thing?

  1. …on the first day of a new job?
    Remember, if it’s hard, or awkward, or not what you expected… it will not be like this tomorrow, next week or next year. Power through!

    …when getting dressed?
    Forget trends, and dress for yourself.

    …when setting the table for a good day?
    Give yourself something to look forward to, even if it’s just a fancy coffee, or popping into your favorite store!

    …when apologizing?
    Exactly what you said, Jen.

    …when creating a fabulous meal?
    Great music and a sense of humor… it’s just dinner! If disaster strikes, open more wine and order a pizza 🙂

    …in a happy relationship?
    Make the most generous assumption possible.

    …when enjoying a great conversation?
    Remove all other distractions, be an active listener and find common ground.

    …when speaking in public?
    As a pre-k teacher, I don’t have many occasions for public speaking, but my fiancé does. He was always extremely nervous prior to these events, and just DREADED them. Finally, I suggested, what if you just opened with, “I’m so happy to speaking to you all, but I’m NERVOUS!” My first creative writing teacher told me, nervousness is good, it means you care, and it’s where the energy is. I’m happy to report that this tactic worked for my fiancé, and I just love “That’s where the energy is”:) XO

    1. Hi! These are all so lovely and wise. I love this: “Make the most generous assumption possible.” Imagine if we all did that…I could do better with this one!

      I so agree that being nervous means you care! A speech coach gave me a similar kind of pep talk: “If you’re nervous, shaking, feel physically sick, it’s just your body’s way of letting you know it’s getting ready.” That helped me accept the nerves as part of the process, not be incapacitated by them!


  2. I’ll bite!

    on the first day of a new job? Expect to do a lot of paperwork and meet a ton of people. Re:your lunch comment – my husband started a new job a few years ago, and no one took him to lunch on his first day. I thought, hmm this isn’t a great sign…and he did end up leaving that job after only a few months. For a multitude of reasons of course! But I agree that the first day lunch is key.

    …when getting dressed? Make sure your outfit makes you feel like yourself.

    …when setting the table for a good day? I thought you meant literally setting a table, oops! Lol

    …when apologizing? No qualifiers

    …when creating a fabulous meal? Read the recipes through all the way before starting, and get all the ingredients out first! And if you’re baking – follow the recipe exactly (at least the first time).

    …in a happy relationship? Respect

    …when enjoying a great conversation? Like you – listen without formulating your next point/reply in your head.

    …when speaking in public? Practice!

    1. LOVE there — so good. “No qualifiers” on apologies is SUCH a smart and true one, and I love the way you phrased this: “Listen without formulating your next point.” So hard to do — how to be REALLY present and open to what people are saying? Thank you —


  3. On the first day of a job: be ready to listen
    when getting dressed: weather, comfort, occasion and mood
    when setting the table for a good day: outside first thing in the morning
    when apologizing: acknowledging the error, apologize and correct the action in the future
    when creating a fabulous meal: good ingredients with a tried and true recipe
    In a happy relationship: the little things
    when enjoying a good conversation: listen
    when speaking in public: be prepared

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