Does today seem like a special day to you? Did you wake up this morning with the clear intention to make today, October 17, 2012, a truly memorable day? A day that will count in your memory as one FULLY lived and appreciated? Or is it just Wednesday… hump day…. the day you don’t have a break until 4:00 pm, or the day you’ve dreaded for two weeks because you’re facing a difficult conversation. Maybe it’s worse than that: a day to simply endure and get past.
I’ve lived my share of days as if they were something to get past. Still do sometimes. Life can feel something like an endurance test … meetings, conference calls, emails, project plans, face-offs, budget meetings, staff challenges, competing commitments, difficult conversations, exercise regimens, grocery shopping, homework struggles with the kids… the list of things to get past is virtually endless. Even though you may not describe yourself as the kind of person who spends lots of time dwelling in the negative, you too, may nonetheless have spent many hours, weeks or years slogging through the quagmires of your days… as if the good stuff was just on the other side of this particular bed of quicksand!
Are you being held hostage by your obligations? Life can easily become compartmentalized. On the one hand are our obligations; the things we need to do to keep the wheels on our lives: paying the bills, picking up the dry cleaning, changing the oil. On the other hand are our desires; the things we say we are actually living for: freedom, family, fun, adventure, connection, meaning, significance. The problem for many leaders is that we make the latter conditional on the former: we only get the goodies if we keep up with the obligations. I’m not suggesting we should stop paying attention to our livelihoods and the structures of life that help us to function effectively. But is life really only to be lived in a few peak moments when the in box is empty? This arbitrary way of separating parts of life is one of the ways we stay disconnected from ourselves and others. Means and ends are seen as mutually exclusive, rather than as parts of a seamless, integrated wholeness, a wave of life that includes both.
We’re conditioned to dream of Maxwell House moments. Western culture encourages us to think our lives are supposed to be punctuated with Maxwell House moments and Miller Time, while the intervals in between are the obstacles that must be overcome first. If we believe what we see on TV, unless we’re winning some major contest after having dined for three weeks on nothing but worms, gnats and dreams of victory, are beating the guy next to us, or standing before an adoring audience, we aren’t really living at all.
The consequences for leaders: people as problems. As a leader, you may be particularly susceptible to this habit of living from one peak moment to the next. You may find yourself “saving” difficult conversations for a time when things calm down, or when you’ve just scored a victory. You might notice yourself putting important projects, or even people, into the category of “obstacles to be overcome or endured.” What are its consequences to you? To the people around you? To your business?
This next week of your life includes a total of 168 hours; over ten thousand minutes. Today alone includes 1,440 minutes. How many of them will you consider peaks? What becomes of the rest of them?
Pay attention. The truth is, we can turn almost any ordinary moment into a memorable, even a peak experience, by paying attention. Make a decision to look for those moments that might normally slip away unnoticed. Take a second look. Because every moment is part of the wave of your experience. It’s by actively claiming the moments of our lives that we find ourselves surfing the peaks and valleys of experience with mastery and delight.
- As you’re walking to your next meeting, take a chance and look into another person’s eyes and smile. Let yourself feel that human connection.
- As you run your next errand, pay attention to the flow of traffic and see if you become a part of this flow. You may decide to slow down a bit, or let another car in front of you.
- Before the next challenging conversation, claim the moment by acknowledging the difficulty to yourself and the other. How is this person something other than an obstacle?
- Carry an extra $20 bill in your pocket, and give it to away.
- Look yourself in the mirror and make a promise to be kinder to yourself today. Then do it.
- Tonight, journal about what this experience was like for you.
- Recall the most difficult part of your day, and explore its gift.
- Take a picture of something that would habitually escape your notice. Shoot it from a different angle or closer in. What comes alive?
Will today be a day you claim as a precious part of the ride of your life? Or is it just another Wednesday… hump day… a day to be endured? You have less than 1,440 minutes to decide.