For those who see people in black and white, in mutually exclusive attributes, saying something like “She’s a great person and she’s a horrible boss” just doesn’t work.
Horrible bosses are not great people. Period.
But when we turn that same judgmental eye inward, and closely examine ourselves, we can see clearly how we are all walking contradictions. We are all opposing “ands.”
You can be smart and still do stupid things.
You can be both empathetic and selfish.
And yes, you can be a great person and a horrible boss.
And yet when we judge others, we often use one point of reference – one experience or attribute – to holistically determine their whole character.
There is unfairness in that judgment: imagine if someone were watching a film reel of every second of your life and stopped randomly on one frame – a frame where you were being selfish, or uncaring, or angry – would you want that frame to define the totality of your character? Should it?
We use behavior as a shortcut to help us judge deeper character, and while that is sometimes an effective method of keeping us safe, it can also short change us and distance us from our own innate goodness.
When we think about an upcoming weekend, we often think about what we want to do.
We want to go out to brunch. We want to go for a hike. We want to sleep in. We want to get a work project done.
But sometimes even when we do the things we think we wanted to do, we feel unsatisfied.
Instead, what if we spent more time thinking first about what we want to feel, both during and at the end of the weekend?
Do we want to feel rejuvenated? Reconnected? Caught up?
If you start with the feeling that you hope to achieve and work backwards to figure out what you need to do to get there, you’re more likely to get where you really wanted to go in the first place.
Winning most often requires that you beat someone else at something.
And therefore not everyone can win all the time.
There is only one person who gets the Gold.
One person who crosses the finish line first.
But everyone has opportunities to experience triumph. And I would argue that moments of triumph are even more important than moments of winning.
Moments of triumph are personal, and they are moments that we can accomplish largely through effort.
We experience a moment of triumph when we’ve never been able to run more than a few feet and we run our first mile.
We experience a moment of triumph when we get back up after we’ve fallen down and we cross the finish line, even if we come in last.
We experience a moment of triumph when we have given something our all and still aren’t sure whether it is going to work, and then it does.
Triumph, in many ways, is the healthier form of winning.
I had been thinking about this idea over the past few months, even incorporating it into a talk or two – the realization that while we spend an awful lot of time building our resumes, it isn’t what is on our resumes that is what people are going to remember us most for.
And then Arianna Huffington brought it up at Wisdom 2.0, pointing out that our eulogies rarely contain statements like “George was absolutely amazing. He increased market share by 1/3,” or “Mary made SVP at 35 and she never ate lunch away from her desk. Her PowerPoints were incredible.”
Our eulogies are about how we made people feel.
Yes, of course there can be a connection between hard work, access to opportunity, access to meaningful life experiences, and the experience of joy.
But there are many people in the world who experience all of those things without ever increasing marketshare. Or building a beautiful PowerPoint.
More often than not, we wait for social cues as to how we are supposed to behave.
We hesitate to clap until it seems clear that others are going to.
We often don’t stand instantaneously for a standing ovation. We wait until it feels safe.
And it works for less positive things as well.
When someone is being grumpy with us (unless we are really in tune with how we react), we tend to get a little grumpy back.
When someone else around us is scowling, we tend to feel like we’ve been given permission to scowl back.
Our challenge is in stopping the automated behavior matching and in getting past the fear long enough to risk that we’ll be the only person clapping or the only person smiling back at a scowl.
If you’re looking for a new “getting to know you” exercise at the beginning of an event or conference, you might want to try this simple question-based partner activity author Mike Robbins had the audience do at Wisdom 2.0:
Pair up with someone you don’t know (or don’t know very well).
Then take turns answering the following question out loud to your partner for one minute (and then switch):
What do you appreciate about yourself?
Saying “I appreciate that I…” over and over again for a minute can be a challenge, but it’s a good exercise in authentically recognizing that you do actually have things you appreciate about yourself…and it has the added bonus of inspiring the person you are completing the exercise with to get curious and ask you more questions to get to know you better.
There are times when every minute can feel urgent – urgent because you know you’re never going to get it back, it only happens once, and you want to do as much as you can.
But that sense of urgency can lead to sense that you always have to hurry, that to get the most of your limited time you have to do things quickly, efficiently, fit in as much in as possible.
We often hear the sentiment “live every day to its fullest” and think about quantity, not quality, equating “fullest” to how much, not how well.
But the minutes you took to eat a meal you barely noticed while hurrying on to the next thing weren’t minutes fully lived. It won’t matter that you ticked 20 things off your list if you weren’t present for any of them.
The most of every minute is about truly being there – being present – for as many of those minutes as you can.