One day, I was practically sprinting down the West Colonnade when I plowed into one of the long-time, multiple-presidency gardeners. He steadied me and straightened my tie then told me I needed to slow down if I wanted to appreciate his roses properly. The Rose Garden borders the West Colonnade and is full of truly beautiful roses but that was the first day, of hundreds, I had spent sprinting down the path that I had actually stopped long enough to notice. And to make it worse, I was annoyed he had gotten in my way because now I was going to be late for a very urgent meeting that I cannot even remember. I was fortunate enough to be invited back as a civilian leader and given a second chance to appreciate the paths I had previously ignored but had I not I would have missed the monumental meaning in the steps I was privileged to take that so many great people had taken before me. Do not make the same mistake!
This is a story that a boss I had during my time at the White House Military Office told to all of the new hires. It is a less extreme story than the one Valorie Burton begins her book, It's About Time, with but the message is the same. Our lives are so busy these days with constant connectivity to every remote corner of the globe and so dominated by promotion driven work that it is almost habitual to lose site of the moments, people, events, and beauty in our everyday. "Too often...we equate busyness with significance. Busyness has become a status symbol" pg. 26. Valorie discusses that in the not-so-distant past the big time CEOs spent less time in the office than they did on the golf course, on vacation with family, taking long lunches, or any number of other leisurely pursuits. Leisure time was what people worked for then but now the trend is that the higher on the ladder you climb the longer you are expected work either in the office or on your multiple devices from wherever you happen to be at that time.
"Life is not about how much you can pack into your days but about the impact you can make with your days" pg. 9. We have all probably heard something similar to that from elders, mentors, or our couch-crashing-surfer-bum friend whose life we secretly envy but so many of us struggle to live it out. We have exponentially more opportunities on how to spend our time then our ancestors. All of these options also tend to come with perceived pressures that make it difficult to decide on any of them and much more difficult to choose the meaningful thing over the seemingly urgent, pressure filled one.
What does meaningful mean? Great question! Valorie says: "To be meaningful is to be significant, relevant, important, consequential, or worthwhile. Worth your while - worthy of your time...to have an appreciation for the meaningful is to first have an appreciation for the value of your own time. If you don't value it, you will be more likely to spend it doing things not worthy of it" pg. 6. Later in the book, she describes a day when her son caught her by the hand in the middle of her post dinner clean up routine and lead her outside to watch the sunset. This caused her to choose to slow down, honor a beautiful timeless event, spend some time with her family, and create.
"To choose is to create - a memory, a situation, a relationship, a path forward, or a path backward. Whether you choose well or choose poorly, your choices largely create your future" pg. 99. My boss had been choosing to create a routine that was unsustainable and laser focused on work despite working in the most historically significant building in our country! He was not choosing to experience the meaningful around him because he was conditioned to the pressures of the seemingly urgent world driven by his ever demanding work cell phone. "Technology, particularly the internet and mobile apps, is deliberately designed to create a feeling of urgency that compels us to move from one activity to the next successively" pg. 44. That day in the garden stood out to him as an Ah-Ha moment that shifted his perspective on how he valued, and spent, his time. When I began working for him, he rode his bike to work everyday on the shores of the Potomac river after having breakfast with his family.
How do you value your time? How are you spending it? Are you choosing the meaningful over the urgent?
A frequent lament from some of my clients is that they feel like all they do with their day is hop from one thing to another to another then go to bed exhausted and get up to do it all again the next day but that none of those things brought them any joy or was just for them. These people range from professionals to homemakers. In each of these cases, my follow up question to these clients is "how do you plan to spend your time every day?" The answer is almost always the same once they look at their planner: they do not preplan for the time it takes to get to and from events or plan any time for flexibility for unexpected events that may pop up. One client even joked that she apparently plans to teleport to things because her schedule is so tight. Since reading It's About Time, I have challenged a few clients to complete Valorie's time inventory exercise. The realizations they have reported since completing the exercise are celebration worthy and many are implementing life changing habits!
I challenge you to pick up a copy of It's About Time on Amazon and complete the time exercise in it in an honest, open, and heartfelt way. See where your time is truly going. Where can you choose give more time back to meaningful moments? I would love to hear from you! Please comment below, look me up on social media, or send me an email telling me your Ah-Ha. Come on back on June 21 to dive even deeper into this impactful book.