Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Telling my life

Based on recent feedback, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am no good at telling about myself. My dad’s sister chided me gently the other day, “If it weren’t for your husband letting us know about your life, we’d have no idea what was happening with you guys.” That was in the context of various life changes, mostly related to our careers.

A few days earlier, I had said to my older brother Dan, “I don’t like talking about myself.” I remember that moment, because he seemed genuinely surprised and commented in a bemused sort of way, “Well, I think you’re interesting.” Thanks, Danny.

Maybe my reserve comes from being misunderstood when I have tried telling what I think is the important stuff. A friend recently told me, after I attempted to tell about current life changes, that, “It sounds like you’re making the best of a crappy situation.” Oh, dear. Failure to communicate.

Let me try again. See, it’s more like this: I want to make sure I don’t blow a golden opportunity, which is this moment, right now. I don’t want to miss it by wanting more or looking too far ahead. It’s not a crappy situation that I’m making the best of. It is this gift of life, and I get to live it. Isn’t that amazing enough?

But people seem to want the elevator pitch about how we’re making money. Why? That seems so boring to me. When I am with someone I haven’t seen in a while, I want to listen deeply to that moment and create a memory with them, not rehearse a summary of my resume.

If I have to talk about a job, what I really want to tell about my work is stuff like this:

• Today my five-year-old son watched a video about innovation with me as I thought through potential creative elements of an upcoming event. He seemed genuinely interested. I felt the pieces of my life beginning to come together in a strange, unexpected way. He wanted to watch it a second time.
• There’s this wiry older gentleman I work with. He has piercing gray eyes and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when he talks about how love can change the world.
• I sat in a meeting the other day as the president of the organization wondered aloud about the ripple effect of service instilled in the hearts of young people. Her candor took my breath away.
• I made my first call to a Congressional representative because of her. I cannot tell you why, except that I would not have been able to look her in the eye if I hadn’t.
• In the third toilet stall on the second floor of an office building I visit frequently, there is a magnet with a quote from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This part grabs me by the throat:
"…dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."
• I always use that stall.

Is that what folks want to know? I can only imagine a blank stare if I tried to say all that in casual conversation.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Just show up, Part 2

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15 (NASB)

Since I was a teenager, I have heard people give inspirational speeches and testimonials about giving 110%, going the extra mile, doing more, pushing harder than anyone ever thought imaginable. These talks are always admirable and frequently moving. And yet, the logician in me often has been left with this embarrassing thought: I don’t get it.

How do you divide up a whole and end up with more than you started with (well, ok, unless you're performing a miracle like Jesus with the loaves and fishes)? There really is no more than 100%, is there? And isn’t 100%, well, er… enough? Or, maybe even – if all of us really tried – more than enough?

Recently, though, I have found that there is something much harder (and more important) than all this doing. In fact, I believe so much of the doing is a self-imposed distraction from the difficult work of just showing up.

When a writer or speaker repeats a point, it is generally worth paying special attention. In the short couplet in Romans 12:15, Paul repeats the almost invisible words “with those who.” I say almost invisible, because I often skip that bit to get to the meaty stuff: Rejoice! Weep! That’s where the action is, right?

No. I humbly admit that I have missed the point, until recently. And by missing the point, I have missed so much action by not showing up to be “with those who” do/feel/are whatever “those who” are. Oh, I have been physically present, for sure, but a million miles away on next week’s to do list. I have achieved a lot by most measures, and I can multi-task with the best of them. But I am awakening to a painful reality: I could have been more useful by doing less.

I am allowing myself this season to rethink what life might look and feel like if I just show up. Maybe when I play with my son, I don’t stop mid-giggle to check on the laundry. In conversation with my husband, perhaps I let him finish his sentence instead of hurrying him on by finishing it for him. As a friend weeps on my shoulder, just weep. When I write, allow the words to tumble onto the page before editing myself.

This “just showing up” business could change everything.

Imagine with me for a moment… a meeting at work in which everyone is fully present, not checking email or texting, listening to each other, not worried about the next meeting or deadline. In over twenty years of meetings, I can count on one hand those in which everyone “showed up” in that way. And they were amazingly productive and creative meetings. Game changers, if you will.

You can keep your 110%. Just show up to that one meeting – really BE there – and see what happens.