A little while back, I experienced just how important ‘being in the moment’ was. My son, a soccer player, was asked to demonstrate a skill move in front of his team. He was very proud. I was there, as I (almost) always am.
I missed it.
I was on my phone, looking at an endless stream of people sounding off on Twitter about a subject so important I can’t remember it now to punctuate this story.
I was there. I was not present.
A client of mine once suggested that work/life balance was nothing more than a myth. She argued it was impossible to be in balance with all of the expectations that come from your job, your family and (if you’re lucky) your personal time.
When she first said it, I wasn’t sure if she was right; but she was. Work/life balance is a myth. It isn’t realistic to have equal parts life and work. Not anymore.
But presence, now that’s different.
For most of us, our workday begins the moment our eyes open. The first thing we look at in the morning is the screen of a handheld device. Put simply, work and life are attached to a smartphone capable of managing our days and facilitating communication with the office (at all hours). But let’s face it, work matters, work pays the bills and work is what makes it possible for us to do the things in life we love to do. So not being responsive to work issues could be career limiting. I get that. But once we get to those “things we love”, then what?
The rub (of course) is that many of us are challenged with making those things we claim to love into priorities that we are truly ‘present’ for. It seems we have collectively removed priority management from our repertoires and in its place inserted ‘multi-tasking’. This term implies we are now capable of dedicating 100% of our attention to more than one thing at a time. We can’t. We couldn’t 50 years ago and we can’t today. We haven’t gotten any smarter, so maybe we are all just afraid of missing something.
Email spam, an emoticon-riddled text message, an ‘FYI’ work email, or maybe a status update from an elementary school ‘friend’ asking what they should have for dinner.
When you are always plugged in, you cannot be fully present in the moments that matter; without ‘unplugging’ you can never recharge and without recharging, you run out of (battery) life.
Do I believe we can reclaim work/life balance in a literal sense? No. Not if you are intent on getting 8 hours of sleep, coupled with 8 hours of ‘life’, together with 8 hours of work. Kids need shuttling; aged parents need assistance, ‘work’ (which never loses) always wants more…
So now what?
Through our own efforts or omissions, we have made everything important. Which means nothing is. We claim there isn’t enough time in the day, but then we reach for our phones and repeatedly refresh our email in the hopes of getting more. We religiously update our personal statuses on social media and scroll through our ‘friends’ news feeds, in a never-ending desire to showcase, or observe even the most benign moments in our lives. Being ‘social’ used to mean getting out and having fun. Now it means typing like you’re employed in a 1960’s secretary pool. We turned fun into work.
The creation of a false sense of urgency to everyone and everything, like Pavlovian dogs salivating, the moment our phones make a noise, we respond. While it’s easy to blame technology, the reality is most of us no longer understand (or care to understand) what a priority is.
That’s where it starts. We all know the things that really matter.
I do not wish to go back to a time of busy signals on telephones, snail mail and pink message notes left on desktops; but I do encourage more presence in the moment. Those moments that matter, not defined with selfies or videos, but with a few ‘old school’ stills captured in our memories.
A lesson I would be well served to remember.