To write anything – a letter, an email, a tweet, a thank you note – is to reveal a little bit of our story. The messages we share in writing, in conversation, in meetings and on our business calls are the breadcrumbs that can lead others to a place where they can glimpse our soul. One message alone may say very little, but over time the messages we leave in the consciousness of others shape the way we will be remembered. Like photographs of our thoughts.
We cannot slow the pace of the world around us and we cannot hide from the whirligig of time for long; sooner or later we must grab the coconut mat and ride the helter-skelter again. But that doesn’t mean we cannot sometimes slow our minds and take a little more time to curate with a little more care the photographs of our thoughts we want to share with family, friends and colleagues.
We cannot exclude strategic planning, or banish objectives, or ignore ambition (and neither should we), but we should also focus on moments that happen now. It seems to me that the only true moment of existence, which isn’t past and gone, or future and uncertain, is the one moment we give ourselves the least opportunity to be present in.
We need to practice this, not just regret it.
Are our career prospects harmed if we take a moment to thank someone, to offer help to someone, or to ask for help for ourselves? Are we a less competent colleague for enjoying a lunchtime walk on a crisp winter’s day instead of clearing another ten pointless emails? Are we less engaged in our work if we take time to truly listen to what is being said around us, rather than preparing our own clever lines to broadcast, again?
My generation of leaders and managers has left its mark on the workplace – efficiency drives, more-for-less, transformational change programmes, balanced scorecards, six-sigma, bell curves, high-performance cultures and all the rest. All of it admirable in its way, most of it well intended, but if the tools are in the hands of tools, we all lose.
I do not want to be disparaging, we live in extraordinarily creative times in so many ways, but I believe with all my heart that we cannot outsource our humanity to a process, or an acronym or (another) corporate initiative.
We must be gripped of the importance of the moment and realise our power to be influential. If we take a little time to reflect on how we can make a difference to every interaction, every relationship, every project, or meeting or call, there will be opportunity to influence, to encourage, to notice, to share, to care and to be kind.
We can sometimes become obsessed with the idea of our “career path”, but this deflates me little too. A career path is the existential highway to our retirement; it is not of itself fulfilling, joyful or important. Critically it isn’t a path at all, but a mirage of something bigger, cleverer, or more important than what we have today. The only time we can observe the path is when we look back and we can see the moments, now past, when decisions were taken.
Instead I believe we need to find the moments of time we live in right now, because it is in these moments that we give oxygen for our talent to breathe. Our potential is not realised in the future, but in what we do today. This is not to be complacent or unthinking – it is the very opposite. I believe we must pour our heart and soul into the moments we can be influential and then trust that our talent will take our hand and lead us on our best journey.
If that all sounds a bit too hippy-shit for our overdeveloped sense of competitive, over-achieving, out-performing, expectation-exceeding mindsets, I stress again that I want our brilliance to shine. I am now more certain than ever that we shine brighter when we influence more, share more, feel more and contribute more.
Our stories will always have the occasional unexpected crisis, as well as (I hope) those times that will overwhelm us with joy; however we are not defined by our job-title, or the brand name that employs us for now, or the expectations of our management team. Over the span of our working lives there will be tens of thousands of different elements that make the mosaic of our careers, but when we take responsibility for the authorship of moments to influence, to care, to be the difference, we set ourselves free to be better, kinder and more useful.
Young or old, our stories are not yet told in all their thoughtful, generous and reflective detail. The challenge of our time is that we cannot expect the future to be ours, if we are not influential in the moments we have today.