Have you ever done the thing where you’re reading a book, but you constantly find yourself jumping ahead down the page, skipping whole sentences, maybe even paragraphs?
I have. Usually it’s because I happen to choose the best books ever and I can hardly contain myself to find out what happens next. I get so wrapped up in the story, the characters, the love stories or suspense, that I gobble up the pages as fast as I can, not caring about the descriptive fillers.
Sometimes, it’s because I assume I already know what’s going to happen, and I want to see if I’m right. Or occasionally, I have no idea and I’m aching for the reveal.
Nearly always, though, I end up going back and re-reading what I passed over. Turns out, it’s too good to miss after all.
Now, if you really think about it, have you ever done this in life? Found yourself jumping ahead? Skipping minutes, sometimes hours or days? Always trying to get to what happens next? Maybe to “the good part?”
Yeah, me too. It’s easy to do. It’s a weird feeling that most of us can identify with at least some of the time, to find yourself at the end of the day thinking back and realizing you don’t really know how you got there or what even happened. It’s all a blur of one thing to the next, A to B to C, checking boxes and completing tasks. Sure, that might involve some things you enjoy doing, some people you love being with, but still, it can still sometimes feel like we missed something, possibly the best parts.
It’s kind of like that thing where all of a sudden you’re ten years into a totally mediocre job with no idea how you got there, or your kids are in college and you don’t know how that happened and you yearn for all the childhood moments you were only half there for, or you’re losing someone you love and you’re realizing you could have been a lot more there.
There’s a lot of stuff out there about being more present these days. That conversation is certainly something I believe in, and it’s also something I struggle to achieve. My day-to-day isn’t exactly where I want it to be, and as I think about the vision of what I do want it to be, it’s hard not to skip to that part and gloss over all the experiences I’m having right now, today, this moment.
We’re a goal-driven society, and because of that, it makes us very future-driven.
Most of us, anyway. There are certainly a very inspiring group of folks who can see that for what it is, step outside of it, and live their lives today, not just filling the time to get to the next thing. More and the future are ever-present, though, and it can be difficult not to fall into the pattern of chasing those things.
I think that’s a lot of the reason why we’re so focused on goal setting and dreaming and reaching and hustling. It’s the best way to escape what might not be your ideal present situation. But I also think it can be a very damaging thing to constantly go from one finite target to the next, never really immersing yourself in the process of living your life or the efforts you’re making or experiences you’re creating along the way. I mean, what about what you already have right now? Is it worthwhile or important to you? Even in the worst of times, the most taxing, stressful, emotional times, there’s something to be said for being in it. And besides, what happens when you achieve (or don’t achieve) a goal? Do you ever take that in in real-time? Or do you just move on to the next again? What does that feel like?
Lately, as I’ve taken the summer to do a whole lot of self-reflection, I’ve come to see the benefits of enough and the present. Puttering around my house feels like me. Calling friends to catch up feels like the very best use of an hour out of my day. Focusing on a small number of high-quality, perfect-match clients and aligned meetings feels exactly right. And savoring every word of every book I read, even the wordy descriptive parts, feels like a richer experience. It makes me feel like I’m in my life now, not skimming through it toward someone else’s in the future. Or worse, losing our on meaningful experiences on my way to death.
Maybe that sounds morbid to you, but it’s the truth:
If we’re always focused on being or having something or someone else in the future, it’s all just a fast-forward to the end.
That’s not what I want my life to look like. And it’s a bit of a sticky feeling to look back at the times you may have lived that way, always for the next, and understand you can’t get that time back. Whenever I do, I always swear that I’ll change, swear that I’ll pause and breathe and experience my life with all of my senses. Sometimes, I’m successful at that. Sometimes, not as much as I’d like to be.
But as I sit here writing and staring out an airplane window at the mountains and deserts and canyons and valleys I love so much and swooning, knowing at the exact same moment that they’re not mine just yet, it doesn’t fill me with as much sadness or regret or frustration or envy as it used to. Because at this present moment, I’m enjoying the very act of creativity, I’m sitting next to the foxy love of my life taking a nap, I’m satisfied from an unorthodox-yet-delicious breakfast, and I’m generally filled with gratitude for a pretty average, if not slightly-above-average life.
Honestly, the same goes for returning emails. Or making phone calls. Or running errands. For working out, for buying groceries, for doing laundry. Not savoring, or at the very least, acknowledging, those things as they are happening, no matter how frequent or mundane, would be a mistake.
We can float through life, a means to an end, or we can engage with it, no matter how challenging that may be on a daily basis.
God, this sounds trite. Even in my head, I’m thinking I’m the last person to get up on a soapbox about this. But the difference I have felt in my own life, consciously refocusing to my self and my physical body, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, in the present even half the time, has been staggering. Perspective changes immediately. Priorities take a much clearer shape. Pleasure forms too.
Listen, I’m not a Zen master or anything of the like. I’m not even all that good at being mindful. I mean, I’m getting there little by little, and I’m certainly better than I was, but I skip ahead plenty. I still want my vision to become my reality. So, I’m not trying to be all righteous or guru-y about it.
All I’m trying to do is point out that maybe staying in your life today can be an item on your list. Maybe on those days where you get to the end and say to yourself, “OMG, what did I even do today?!? Where did it go?? What happened??” you can actually answer that question, maybe make a few notes, and put more intention into being in your life the next day. Look at your calendar and decide, if you have to, where and how and with whom you’ll be more present in experiencing your moments. (In the end, I bet that’s probably going to be more aligned with your future vision anyway.)
Because unlike with a book, you can’t go back and re-read the parts you missed. You cannot re-live your life.
The future is coming, no matter what we do, or don’t do. The past has happened, and we can’t ever change it. But the now, we can shape, we can live, we can experience as the best part.
Notes on presence, every week, in your inbox, right here. And if you need someone to remind you along the way to stay in it? I’m a pretty good partner at that. Let’s figure out how we can team up with a quick call, scheduled below.