Lessons in Waiting
Years ago, I remember taking a personality test as part of a leadership class. The instructor looked up at me and started to explain the results. She was laughing as she explained my patience level, which was exactly zero on the chart. Full of positive energy and spin, she showed how patience and a sense of urgency are flip sides of the same trait. I may not have any patience, but the good news is that I was driven and was full of urgency.
Waiting is not one of my best skills. If there is a long wait for a table at a restaurant, it is unlikely I will stay.
“We all want to live meaningful lives full of experiences we can be proud of. We all want a great story to tell our grandchildren. But many of us fail to recognize that the best moments are the ones happening right now.”
Ahem. I put the book down, picked up my highlighter, and then read on.
“Maybe the good stuff isn’t ahead of or behind us. Maybe it’s somewhere in between—right in the midst of this moment, here and now.”
Jeff’s powerful message hits me squarely in the midst of my busyness.
After a few weeks of contemplating the book, I reached out to Jeff to talk about his latest book.
Jeff, we are all so busy. Everyone seems to be rushing to get somewhere and do something. You look at that time differently. What made you pause and look at the “in-between”?
The birth of my son, Aiden. When he was born, everything seemed to slow down. But the irony was that whenever I spent some time away, due to a work trip or something, I ended up missing a lot. During the time that I was gone, my son had learned something new, some new expression or saying. And I realized that when I miss even a moment, I miss a lot–with Aiden, and with the rest of my life, and I don’t want to miss a thing.
So I wrote this book about the moments we tend to miss, about the times in between the milestones in our lives — and how those just might be the most important parts of life.
The subtitle of the book is Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing. Again, that’s counter to what we learn. Usually we want to let go of tension. You want us to embrace it. What do you mean and how do you do it?
Tension is inevitable. It’s part of our lives. Either, we learn to embrace it or deny its reality. But the fact that there are slower, less exciting times of life is a reality; what we do with those times is what makes our lives interesting… or not.
Now is Extraordinary
We are taught early-on to strive, to achieve, to hit goals. And on the way to those goals, we are waiting. What’s your advice for those on the way to the “next big thing”?
Two things: one, there’s always another “big thing”; and two, realize that right now is extraordinary in its own way.
It seems that emotions can swing widely during those periods. What techniques do you employ to slow down and enjoy these times?
Reading helps. I want to begin my day like most people do, by checking email. Instead, I try to gradually ease into the morning by making breakfast for my son and reading a few Proverbs from the Bible. It’s a simple exercise, but the pace at which I begin my day tends to determine my stress level.
What role does our culture play? It seems that we live in such a driven, Type A society. Our kids focus on getting into college, not enjoying high school. How many of us find ourselves at the end of life and wondering what happened?
I begin the book by quoting Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” It all comes down to habits. Just because our culture moves quickly, doesn’t mean that you have to. And remember: Whatever person you’re practicing being right now, that’s who you’re becoming. So if you don’t want to be wondering in ten years where all the time went, start practicing stillness today.
What do you do to create space in your day to slow yourself down? How do you gain some intentional time in your life?
I like practicing three habits daily, or as often as I can. First, I take a walk, even if just around the block, to slow down and recalibrate. Second, I like to fix at least one meal per day by hand; it makes me savor the slow things. Third, I hide my technology on the weekends and evenings, so that I can intentionally focus on those most important to me.
In addition to slowing down and enjoying life, you also talk about gratitude. How does thankfulness fit in the “in-between”?
When we take our time with life, we appreciate everyday blessings more. Slowing down opens our eyes and helps us see what’s always been there, and because we now have time to enjoy the in-between, our gratitude grows.
I enjoy your writing style. You have these wise lessons, but they become real through your personal stories. You are a master storyteller, and I imagine you always have been.
Well thanks, Skip. I don’t know about always, but I certainly had a great teacher in my dad, who told me stories during most of my childhood. It made me realize that the world was full of wonder and life is an adventure worth living…if we have eyes to see it that way.
Any moving or funny stories readers have shared with you about their “in between”?
I tell a story in the book about pancakes and preparing for the birth of our son. I get more emails, tweets, and Facebook messages about people cooking pancakes than anything else. Apparently, that’s become a trigger for folks to realize they need to slow down–which is fun for me, because I sure do love pancakes.