Until Then, Smile!

Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning wrote,

“Everyone has their own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment.  Therein, he cannot be replaced nor can his life be repeated.  Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

I was thinking about this as I reflected on a conversation I had with a young man whom I had noticed  coming into the Starbucks store that I frequent. He was always super engaged with everyone, especially the great baristas, and he was forever positive and smiling.  After witnessing this over a period of weeks, I decided to join him at the counter, introduce myself and acknowledge his very special spirit.  His name is Andre and In the course of the conversation, he told me that he’s like this every day, all day and then, this:

“Why not smile? There will always be bills to pay and not enough money but why not smile?  There will come a time when we sleep–until then, smile.”

It occurs to me that Frankl and Andre are both describing what it is to go All-In, in life.  Life that is uniquely and gloriously generous.  Your life.  My life.  OUR lives, invested in our work, families and friends; playing, resting and attending all the while.

At any given moment, there are a thousand things bombarding this life we live and I confess to sometimes losing sight of the thing that is right in front of me, gently asking for my attention.  There are methods that I can employ to see–Notice–more fully but instead of getting all prescriptive about that here, let’s opt, in this moment, for forgiveness of our inevitable lapses.  Of course, we will strive, stumble and struggle to get it right and “until then, smile!”

All God’s

Sometimes, noticing takes the form of giving one’s subconscious a little breathing room.  It happened for me last night, seconds after turning out the light by my bed.  The “light” came on, I reached for a pen and journal and wrote words that flowed as naturally as sap from a Vermont Sugar Maple.

I love you

Hopeless,

Helpless,

Healthless.

 

I love you

Wealthful,

Healthful,

Generous.

 

I love you

Peacemaker,

Heart filler,

Love spiller.

 

I love you

Believer,

Doubter,

Sure-seeker.

 

I love you.

Come.

I Shouldn’t Be Surprised

This morning, I was reflecting on a couple of recent encounters with my Starbucks community.  Of the three ‘regulars’ I visited with, PJ (not his real name) was the first to arrive.  He doesn’t usually come so early and that made me curious.  After completing my writing for the morning, I went over to check in.  We exchanged the usual niceties about the holiday but it was what followed, as I allowed time for listening, that was memorable.  PJ, it turns out was early because he and the rest of his family had been sick all weekend.  And even more meaningful information followed as we discussed the state of mental health care in the community.  TJ disclosed some of the most intimate facts about a close family member who had been hospitalized and required constant care for a serious mental illness. He went further: the family member died only a few months ago at much too early an age.

How does this type of sharing occur between two men who only know each other from brief exchanges at Starbucks?  I’m sure that there are a lot of factors at play here but I’m equally sure—certain, in fact—that if I hadn’t stopped and waited for a full conversation to take place, I would have missed the opportunity to enter this sacred space. 

God speaks to me in so many ways and I am thankful for His voice.  I am also humbled that He has chosen me to be a vessel for sharing stories like this one.  I wrote not long ago that, for me, Jesus is the ‘real deal.’  Jesus had the most important mission ever and it was fulfilled not by hurriedly going to places his advisors and handlers (read: disciples!) urged but rather, by stopping and listening to the least influential and those who suffered silently, regardless of time  or location.  His was an itinerary informed by His Father’s love. Emulating Jesus’ love and following His path is what I seek in my own imperfect journey.

Are You Awake?

Are you awake?  After Stopping and Noticing, a third behavior that I emphasize for leaders is going All-In.  For me that means being fully present in the moment.  The Sisters of Mercy had as a charism, Presence which we can all aspire to.  It involves much more than doing what the text books on communication describe like maintaining eye contact, acknowledging with ‘uh huh’ and the like.  There’s nothing wrong with those things but being All-In begins with a decision to dedicate every ounce of yourself to every interaction you have.  Tuning out distractions is important and anticipating what those distractions may be in order to consciously enter the moment should happen in advance of going All-In.

Maybe it helps to use more familiar language, like paying attention to what is before us at the moment.  This is the heart and soul of the gift of Stopping.  It is, says David Kundtz, “the trait that defines the Stopped person as aware of what is going on right now.”

Apply this idea to something that happens to most of us who work a Monday through Friday job.  I’ll call it the Monday morning mantra and it goes something like this:

Worker 1: “Good morning!”

Worker 2:“Good morning.”

Worker 1:“How was your weekend?”

Worker 2:“Nice.  We went to the lake and it was beautiful.”

Worker 1:“Great.  We are going to Singapore next month.  It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime.  Here, let me show you our itinerary…”

This simple example highlights a type of distraction; we’ll call it ‘one-upsmanship,’ that any of us might fall prey to.  Being all in—paying attention—involves respecting another enough to stay with them in the conversation.  It means not being busy trying to figure out how I can steer the exchange in a direction that makes it about me.  Effective listening is the result of developing openness to really hearing the other person.  Instead of thinking of what you are going to say in response as someone speaks to me, I listen and am receptive to the other person.  I take in consciously what they say and how they say it.  In this way, I am much more likely to respond in a manner that affirms and encourages.

Considering the fact that many of the conversations we have at work and home have far more import than the Monday morning mantra, the ante is upped considerably and the degree of presence that we demonstrate will make a huge difference in the outcome.

Try going All-In, today.  See if it doesn’t make a positive difference in the lives of those you care about.

Get Positive!

In Hamlet’s Blackberry, William Powers writes, “In order for a ritual to succeed, people have to believe in it…but belief can’t be imposed by the world at large or higher-ups in management.  It has to come from within. To change a given habit, people must believe that by changing they’ll gain more than they would by sticking to their old ways.”  He goes on to write about Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Virtues’ which were Franklin’s attempt to develop a sort of rigor around improving his life behaviors (which weren’t always terribly salutatory). And then Powers notes something exceptionally important:  “The virtues on [Franklin’s] list are positive goals…In effect, when he looked the list over, he would think: ‘Yes, I want to do all these things; they serve my interests.'”

In my teaching and writing about Discovery Stopping, I emphasize the importance of being fully present to those with whom we live and work.  In Hamlet’s Blackberry, which I recommend to those interested in a thoughtful treatise on the many sources of and possible solutions for interruptions in our lives, Powers isn’t unrealistic about the important role that technology plays in our lives.  What I enjoyed about the book is that he puts technology-based interruptions into a context of history going back all the way to Socrates, Plato and Seneca!  However, he takes a long time to get close to offering thoughts that helped me consider possible solutions and this section on Franklin inspired many notes about applying my Stop/Notice/All-In/Play (S.N.A.P.) principles to daily life.  In short, I was reminded to keep it positive!  Make behavior changes that not only positively impact others but also ME!
When I am “all in” or fully present with my wife, children and colleagues, they feel valued and I am more likely to enjoy the experience with them.  Think about being all-in with (fill in the blank).  You’re not only hearing the words they speak but also seeing the twinkle (or vacancy) in their eyes and most importantly, ‘hearing’ the message in the space between the spoken words.  When I get it right, I walk away from an all-in experience like that feeling really good!  I am better prepared to take action, plan, think and improve.  Having been fully present in the moment has given me an emotional and practical boost!
So, don’t beat yourself up or let others do so when you realize that you’ve spent more time tapping on your device’s screen than listening or being there for someone else.  Rather, turn your intentions into goals that will change your behaviors into ones that will be constructive and positive for others and for YOU!  I have ideas for incorporating this concept into practical steps and will share them in future posts.

None Other Than…

…the venerable Harvard Business Review has lent credibility to my thesis of ‘stopping’. Here’s an excerpt from their blog post on Listening:

Slow Down. There is a reason that, over the years, you have lost your ability to listen. It feels too passive, like the opposite of action. It’s much faster to move to a decision based on the information you already have. But in doing so, you miss important considerations and sacrifice the opportunity to connect. Understand that as you begin to change your listening style to a more empathetic one, you may often feel inefficient. It takes time to truly hear someone and to replay the essence of their thoughts back them so that both parties are clear on what was said. The payback is dramatic, but it comes over the long run.

Here’s how the article concludes:

Truly empathetic listening requires courage—the willingness to let go of the old habits and embrace new ones that may, at first, feel time-consuming and inefficient. But once acquired, these listening habits are the very skills that turn would-be leaders into true ones.

 

The article references the fact that one of GE’s four key leadership traits is that of being a “humble listener!” I love that!

The link to the entire HBR blog article written by Ram Charan is under my “Blogroll” on the right-hand side of this page ===>

Listening for the Silence

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about listening these days. With all the sounds competing for my attention, listening is more difficult than ever today.  You know what these sounds are—constant “breaking” news on cable, Facebook, Tweet and ‘new’ news alerts and a cacophony of just plain noise!

In the midst of this maelstrom of audio interruption are the voices that are important—those of our children, spouses, colleagues and friends’ who merely want us to hear their hearts.     Stopping to really listen is vital not only to them but also to our own sense of wellbeing and peace.  I speak to leaders about being fully present for those with whom they work.  It resonates for them but, like me, they find it hard to prioritize this essential practice.  My friends and former employers, the Sisters of Mercy explained to me that ‘presence’ was, for them, a charism—literally, GRACE.

I remember this lesson from years ago in all that I do and on good days practice it reasonably well.  When I sit with someone in my office or visit with them in the hall, I work hard to tune out distractions like the ringing phone(s), the clock and e-mail in order to really be with—be present for—this most important person at this moment.

I am reading Anam Cara (“Soul friend”) by the late poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue right now and the following words about listening surprised and inspired me:

“With the sense of hearing, we listen to creation…Sometimes we listen to things, but we never hear them.  True listening brings us in touch even with that which is unsaid and unsayable.  Sometimes the most important thresholds of mystery are places of silence.”

That’s setting the bar even higher, isn’t it?  To listen not only to the spoken but to the unspoken:  The joy, hope, fear, or anticipation that is so often contained in the ‘between the lines’ stuff.  This week, as a husband, Dad, leader and friend, I am going to be intentional about listening for the silence.