Recently, I was walking along a very crowded city street in a large European city. People were walking in both directions with great purpose and direction -- families, business professionals, tourists, and individuals alike. One pedestrian, however, stood out from the rest. She was walking a bit slower, with an uneven, irregular pace, and she had her head down.
She wasn't looking to the left or to the right. She wasn't looking around. She wasn't even looking at the sidewalk, or her feet. She was looking at her mobile phone. She was actually texting while walking on the crowded sidewalk, and she was on a direct trajectory to collide with me.
"Look up. Look up. Look up," I was softly repeating under my breath as she approached headlong towards me. She was about to run smack into me, and the sidewalk was so full that it was impossible to step out of her way without colliding with another person. I was on the verge of making my mantra, "Look up," audible.
At the very last moment before crashing into me, she looked up with a completely startled reaction. It was as if she were in one world one moment and then back in the real world the next.
Oh, wait: That was exactly what was happening.
She was mentally not present, even though she was physically walking on that sidewalk with all of us. She was so distracted by her mobile phone that she was just going through the motions of walking somewhere.
Sometimes I am asked by young business professionals to share my advice for reaching a certain level of success. I think my primary message surprises them somehow. Here's what I tell them:
Learn how to 'be here now.' When you are working, work. Don't spend time stressing over the things you are or are not doing in your personal time. When you are not working, don't work! Don't let the distractions of your professional pursuits keep you from being fully present in your personal life.
As a new year is beginning, it is very easy to allow ourselves to be so wrapped up and so caught up in something, that we cannot set it aside to change gears and focus on what is right in front of us. That is what the young lady pedestrian was doing before she pulled herself out of her virtual world to rejoin the events going on around her.
I have written 20 books. When I first started writing books, I was a father with very young children. I knew I wanted to be very present in the evenings when we were having family time together, so I set my writing times for after they were tucked in for the night. Instead of watching television or reading, for a few months, I wrote between 11 PM and 2 or 3 AM several nights a week. When my first book was published, my then-8-year-old daughter exclaimed, "When did you write a book? I didn't know you were writing a book!"
I also travel an enormous amount. I am on the road an average of every other week each year. This made it even more important to me as my kids grew up to really be present when I was not traveling and to make time to connect with the family while I was on the road. Once I asked my son while he was in high school if he felt I was an absentee dad. His answer validated my sense of having been able to "be here now" as he was growing up. He said, "What? Are you kidding, Dad? You were always around." I'm glad that was his sense of things.
It's the same concept in the reverse, as well. When you are working hard on a project or accomplishing something demanding in your business, it is necessary to keep yourself focused on the task at hand. There are many things which can be a distraction. I have seen people become completely inept at the job at hand because they cannot be fully present due to some other pull on them from another area of their life.
My mother had an approach to this dynamic that works well for me when I want to "be here now" and there are some distractions encroaching on my ability to do so. She used to say, "Put that in a jar and set it up on a shelf. When you are done, it will still be there, and you can take it down and get it out then." Moms give the best advice, don't they?
So my mantra of "Look up. Look up. Look up," can also be a way to keep yourself in the present and really begin to "be here now." I think you'll find that you navigate the paths of life, work, networks and family more profoundly and with greater success in all areas.