- Pam's final line in “The Office”
How many of us half-jokingly feel that we are in the movie “Groundhog Day”, repeating the same day over and over? Do you sometimes just “go through the motions”? How often do you treat a person coming into your office, a phone conversation, or an email, as an interruption or just something to take care of? Have you ever been treated like an interruption?
I learned about awareness, being fully present and mindfulness from my dad - but not in the way most would think. Life changed when my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He knew that he had arthritis but we never told him about the Parkinson’s. I could see that his steps were getting slower and smaller, getting up from the couch was increasingly more difficult, his speech more slurred, yet he always had his smile and laugh. Each visit home was a chance to see and be with him one more time. Dad tended to repeat his stories about his past. He would regale about “the good old days”, being in the Merchant Marine, on British convoys being attacked by German subs, recalling the speed of the destroyers, working in Russia (“it was so cold that you can see your urine freeze as you pee'd”). I would always laugh and ask questions so that he could talk more. Someone suggested that I record the conversations for posterity but I just could not. A part of me felt that listening to them later in life would be too painful; I also felt that no recording would ever be able to capture how special those moments were to me. It was important for me to be fully present, to live the father-and-son moments. I made an extra effort to imprint those conversations and our connection into my brain and my heart. Perhaps that is why I can picture him on his couch right now looking at me, smiling and happily recounting his adventures.
Awareness, being present, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to what is happening to you from moment to moment. It’s the old phrase: “Stop and smell the roses”. A manager at a major internet company sadly told me about her international travels – she hated it because all she ever saw were airports, hotels, and offices.
It’s also about respect and honor – for others and one’s self. I learned the importance of seeing each person as worthy of my undivided time and attention. I refuse to gaze over to a ringing phone or flashing PC calendar – the individual talking to me is the most important person to me at that moment. It is a privilege not an interruption. Managers (especially technical people) tend to try to solve the problem in mid-conversation, to interrupt and be impatient. I learned not to be judgmental, to do what Stephen Covey calls “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. The same applies at home. No matter how tired I am, I try to live the moment with my family trying to imprint the time reading with my boys or just going to the playground.
It also means transparency and honesty, to only make those commitments that I can keep and to push back when I know that I cannot deliver.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
Being present and mindfulness means taking the time to acknowledge, connect with others, to thank them, to touch base, to genuinely care about someone's family or something of importance to them, to show them that you value and appreciate them. It's about thanking the cleaning lady and returning the shopping cart at the parking lot - all people at all levels. These personal connections and conversations have led to better understanding and more productive and fulfilling relationships. Colleagues and customers have become friends and people whom I truly care about.
Finally, awareness, being present, and mindfulness means to be grateful for all you have received and to repay those who helped you in your journey. Pay it forward by helping others through acts of kindness, good deeds and charity.
The character, Jim, in the final episode of "The Office" said: "I wish there was some way to know that you're in the good old days before you leave them." Try to be fully present, aware, and mindful. What you are looking for is often already around you - you were too busy looking to see it.