It’s the start of 2018! Are you resolving to eat clean, learn Japanese, or quit a bad habit? As a coach, I know a lot of my clients are laser-focused on self-improvement this time of year. While I firmly believe in the power of goal setting, I wonder what would happen if I take a break from so much “doing.” What if, in 2018 I commit to slowing down, being more present, and noticing what’s around me? What if my resolution is to “just be?”
I recently read a moving book, Ghost Boy, that drove home the importance of observation and connection. The author, Martin Pistorius, shares his true life story of being trapped inside his own body. At the age of twelve, Martin unexpectedly becomes very ill to the point where he cannot talk, eat, or move at his own will, and is bound to a wheel chair. Doctors conclude that he has a degenerative neurological disorder, and his mind has reverted back to that of an infant.
He has no recollection of the few years that immediately follow; however, late into his teens, his brain does something miraculous—it wakes up. He becomes fully conscious, fully aware, and yet is trapped inside his own body – a “Ghost Boy,” if you will. Although he is treated with love from many, tragically, he is met with abuse as well. In the book, he recalls one instance of driving in the car to an institution where he is repeatedly abused. He writes,
“The one thing I wished for more than anything as I sat strapped in a seat, powerless to tell anyone about what I soon knew would happen to me, was for someone to look at me. Surely then they would see what was written on my face? Fear…. I had feelings. I wasn’t just a ghost boy.
But no one looked.”
It wasn’t until his mid-twenties that the second miraculous event occurs – someone noticed him.
While his family and caregivers are convinced his IQ is well below average, one caretaker was so present when interacting with him that she notices a glimmer in his eyes. This one small act of connection and keen observation literally changes Martin’s life. With specialized testing, support, encouragement, and advancements in technology, Martin regains physical strength, is able to communicate through specialized devices, and currently lives a life rich with loving relationships and meaningful work. All because one person took the time to notice.
This book hit a chord with me and is a story that I will carry with me for a long time. For me, Martin’s story reveals the essence of humanity. In the leadership courses I teach, we talk about the three core psychological needs of human beings – to feel connected, valued, and empowered – none of which Martin was able to fulfill. It wasn’t until that special caregiver connected with him that he was able to regain purpose, strength, and hope for the future.
In the workplace, one of the most powerful tools a manager has at his/her fingertips is the power to be fully present, yet so few managers are truly present. When others feel that their manager is genuinely listening (even if they don’t receive the outcome they want), they feel connected. And connection leads to engagement, which then leads to tangible results. And of course we all know this carries into the home as well. The more present we are with our family members, the deeper the connections, and the greater the satisfaction.
Logically, this all makes sense, and I would love to say that my commitment for 2018 is to be as fully present and connected as I can be. And then I remember that I live on planet Earth, have two kids, a business to manage, and bills to pay. What’s more—by nature I have a lot of energy—and I enjoy “doing.” My default mode is programmed to take action, be entrepreneurial, and innovate. And these qualities are not qualities that I want to give up. Just the opposite—they are the qualities that shape who I am. (Although I admit, I may over-do it at times.) And in those moments of overwhelm that’s when I will tap into Ghost Boy’s story. To recall the appreciation I have for slowing down, being present, and just taking it all in.
That is my personal work that I am committed to focusing on in 2018. I understand that this tension between “doing” and “being” will always be there, but how I choose to leverage the best of both is up to me. I guess it’s not so much a New Year’s resolution, but rather a way to live in greater awareness on a day-to-day (sometimes moment-to-moment) basis.
I’m curious to hear what you have found helpful in managing the tensions between “doing” and “being.” Would love to hear some ideas and practices that have worked for you. Please share.
Wishing you an inspiring and calm New Year!