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An Unexpected Friendship: Serendipitous Encounter Leads to Joy-filled Adventures

By Michelle Burke and Lilamani de Silva 

Coauthors of 15 Minute Pause, A Radical Reboot for Busy People and the Joy Cards

“To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world”. 

–Dr. Seuss

Have you ever had an instant connection with someone who you knew would be a lifelong friend? That’s us. From the minute we met, we were laughing out loud with tears rolling down our cheeks. Who would have thought two women from drastically different countries would ever meet in the first place much less become instant friends. You’re probably wondering by now; how did we meet? Well, serendipity played a big part – we were both in Seattle, Washington and met while working on very different projects, Michelle was delivering a keynote for Microsoft’s worldwide conference and Lilamani was filming a documentary for Discovery Channel. 

In a short amount of time, we covered a lot of ground because Lilamani was flying home to London. Over the next few days, we met for coffee, wine and non-stop conversations that took us on quite a journey. We chatted about being single, traveling abroad, projects we worked on to our upbringing and were surprised to find out we had much in common. Even though Lilamani grew up in Sri Lanka and New Zealand and Michelle in Northern California, we found we came from small towns and moved around. The various moves instilled a sense of curiosity and resilience that helped us to adapt and assimilate to new environments. We found that we got through the downs by looking at the upside. We also learned to be proactive to make new friends even though it was uncomfortable at times. Most interestingly, we learned that both of our fathers inspired us to pursue what we loved, which has kept us on our path even to this day.

Unexpected Friendship

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Imagine spending countless hours, bordering on the 1000’s talking with your best friend…well that’s what we did. We wanted to keep our friendship alive despite the long distance, so we made an investment in calling cards back in the day to stay in touch. As the years passed new technology gave us the opportunity to see each other while chatting. We thought we’d entered a Jetson’s tv episode – it was so futuristic. We loved it because we could share more, take tours around our homes, ask for advice on outfits or have meals together. During our many conversations, we found we had a similar joyful outlook on life and a passion to make a difference in the world, changing the trajectory of our friendship into a creative partnership as well. We love bouncing ideas off one another and much like popcorn, there is always a kernel worth pursuing further. In fact, we stumbled into one during the pandemic – our Joy Cards. Life was chaotic, uncertain and very stressful like it was for most people. Michelle was recovering from a bad case of Covid while Lilamani was a caregiver to her ill father. We wanted to do something initially to help ease our anxiety because our stress levels were increasing. So, we agreed to do one thing that brought us joy every day for a week. To encourage each other, we sent one another text reminders as a way to keep going. When the joy activity worked, we noticed that our mood lifted, we were laughing more and felt energized. This kickstarted our inspiration for designing the activity cards. As we continued, we needed to know if it made us feel joyful and if it would lessen our worries. We found many helped us to get through the difficult days with more ease. Of course, some ideas didn’t work and yet, we kept on with it. At this critical time when stress was high and energy low, we realized how important it was to keep our joy tank full. Our intent was to focus on something positive and find a way to help others. Who would have thought that our search to find joy is now motivating so many to get their joy back too? Because of this, we are on a mission to spread joy. 

Looking back, we’d say we were brought together to do something we couldn’t have done on our own. Even though it wasn’t always smooth sailing, we learned throughout the years that life is messy and we are not perfect. We still have our share of disagreements, yet, now we are better at resolving them quicker and with compassion and patience. We’ve learned that being right isn’t worth the friendship and have realized that saying sorry is a strength not a weakness. Finding our voices through our conversations have also helped us to compromise and be forgiving not days later but within minutes. 

It’s easy to be there for a friend when life is easy, fun or calm. However, when the worst comes, that’s when the friendship is tested. After all, it takes time, effort and love to listen and show up. Over the twenty-plus years, we’ve been there, through the good, bad and downright painful, like when Michelle was devastated after losing her Dad unexpectedly or when she was terrified at the thought of losing her vocal chords from a complicated thyroidectomy. After a serious breakup, Lilamani made the life decision to divide her time between London and New Zealand to spend more time with family or the need for her to take whatever side job was available to pay the bills to pursue her true passion. In these moments, we listened and recognized that although these times were dark they were the building blocks that deepened our friendship. 

Like most relationships, there are many twists and turns and yet it is the ups that have sustained our relationship. We’ve shared lots of laughs and adventures. In fact, we both love water so no matter where we are or how cold, we will jump into the sea, ocean, lake or pool; who knows, maybe we were mermaids in a former life? We’ve traveled and tested our games across the globe with lots of funny moments. One was this yummy Crepe place where the whole restaurant joined in, and before we knew it everyone was laughing. Or, when we stayed in the space-saving Parisian Hotel and we laughed ourselves silly when we got stuck in their tiny lift that could barely fit us, much less our luggage. It took some serious maneuvering to get out of it, and unfortunately, losing weight was out of the question. These are the times that we cherish and often recount and every time we do, we laugh as if it were happening all over again. These memories are treasured. Ultimately, we continue to learn that friends are a witness to who we really are, warts and all, and we can accept one another without judgment. We don’t take our friendship for granted, rather we know the value one person can bring to our lives….

  • One person who listens.
  • One person who empathizes.
  • One person who asks questions.
  • One person who genuinely cares about our well-being.
  • One person who makes us feel safe to be who we are flaws and all and gives us the courage to be authentic. 

This type of friendship is priceless. And, what we call a true friend. 

At the end of the day, both of us inspire each other to become better humans. We push each other to do our best and we are always there when the other is in need. A friend is indeed a precious gem. Who could have predicted all those years ago while working in Seattle Washington, a chance encounter would turn into a joy-filled life-long friendship?

Unexpected Friendship

Michelle Burke is a sought-after leadership and burnout coach, facilitator, founder and CEO of Energy Catalyst Group, a consulting and training company for well-being. Over her twenty-year career, she gained a deep appreciation and perspective working with people and cultures from all walks of life. Michelle has trained thousands of participants to make positive change—bridging communication gaps getting in the way of a thriving workplace and a joy-filled life. Her mindfulness coaching helps women to be empowered, take time out and to lower stress. Garnering rave reviews, clients include Stanford University, Microsoft, Sony PlayStation, Snap Inc.. She’s been featured in Business Week Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wall Street Journal. Michelle is coauthor of 15 Minute Pause: A Radical Reboot for Busy People. She partnered with coauthor Lilamani de Silva to create Joy Cards, and ReENERGIZE Your Life, an online self-care program. Michelle enjoys time with loved ones, cooking, fun adventures, reading, sports, and walking her dog Jadie.

Lilamani de Silva, MSc, has had an eclectic career across multiple industries including media relations, TV production, and the creation of innovative products for home, work and play with coauthor, Michelle Burke. She also worked for London Zoo, BBC World, and has helped produce documentaries for Discovery, Animal Planet, and ITV. An avid self-taught painter, Lilamani has sold her artwork worldwide. Her paintings illustrate Joy Cards. Her many experiences have opened her mind to different cultures and perspectives, which are reflected in her artwork and other projects. In her spare time, Lilamani enjoys being active, traveling, reading, painting, and spending time with loved ones.

If you are interested in learning more or about their products and workshops please visit Energy Catalyst Group  or connect with them on Facebook.

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