“You don’t decide when you are present. You’re present when someone else says you are…”
I’m sorry, what?
My hand paused mid-air above my notebook and my eyes scanned the semi-dark theatre. Surely I wasn’t the only one with raised eyebrows?
What do you mean I don’t decide when I am present?
I was at the Archangel Summit in Toronto with about 2000 other entrepreneurs and leaders enjoying a day of inspiring talks. I was thrilled that Simon Sinek was on stage and I was scribbling furiously to capture his pearls of wisdom. I had been devouring everything he said until he dropped that thought bomb. All of a sudden, I was super skeptical and feeling a little self-righteous.
Simon went on to assert that you know you are present when someone says, “Thanks for listening to me”, or “I feel seen”. He shared a story and I realized he was talking about the impact our presence (or lack of it) can have on others.
Since the conference, the concept of Presence has been percolating in me. What I want to share today are the questions I asked myself and my reflections…so far.
1. What does it mean to be present with others?
I thought I was great at this and I have been quick to judge others for sucking at it (in my opinion).
When I’m at a restaurant with others, I’m not simultaneously posting on social media. When a friend is sharing something with me, I’m not checking my phone. When I’m coaching a client, I don’t have any screens open on my laptop.
And then I realized that I’m selectively present.
I have answered non-urgent calls while in a conversation with my taxi driver. I have worked on my laptop while I was in a meeting (note to self, they can see me). I have texted while on a video conference (note to self, they can still see me!).
It’s like I have a list of situations where I’ve decided it’s ok not to be present. And maybe it is ok. I just never really thought about it before. So now I’m thinking about it.
When do you allow yourself to not be present?
2. What does it mean to be present to myself?
There is the notion of being in this moment. Not obsessing about the future or the past. Just being conscious of what is here now.
Easier said than done! My mind is used to being in charge and it’s fickle.
Without any warning, I can get seduced by thoughts of the future or angered by thoughts of the past. My judgment of situations, other people, and even myself, can easily distract me. Even when I meditate, I’m not always 100% present.
Oh, and I’m addicted to multi-tasking.
It probably started when I was in school and had back-to-back exams and final assignments all due at the same time. It continued in the corporate world when there were competing deadlines and priorities. I even remember being in interviews and listing multi-tasking as a “strength”!
But now I work for myself and I decide my schedule, my priorities, and my deadlines. So, how do I explain practicing guitar while watching television? Reading a really good book and checking what’s on my calendar tomorrow? Watching a webinar I want to watch and simultaneously writing copy for my website?
When there was an external force involved, I could (almost) excuse it. And now I know that it’s just a habit that I haven’t broken…yet.
What stops you from being present?
3. Why should I be present anyway?
When I’m truly present, I feel content.
I have more meaningful conversations. I truly connect instead of “doing connection” as if it were a task. Relationships are better.
I breathe more deeply. I have less anxiety and worry. I have more energy.
I focus on the things that really matter.
Time. Slows. Down.
I’m starting to notice the difference between moments when I’m fully present and when I’m not. I’m experimenting with what makes it easier to be present and what makes it harder. One question that is helping is “What do I need to let go of to be fully present?”
I realize that being present is a practice for me. It starts with just being aware of what I’m feeling or thinking.
I fail all the time. And I get to keep practicing.
What’s important to you about being present?