A few years ago, I realized with some alarm that it had been far too long since I had stopped to look into my husband’s eyes and really see him. With the myriad logistical details of family life that we needed to negotiate in the harried moments between sending the kids off to school and rushing to get to work on time, we ran the risk of falling into a purely administrative relationship. Where’s the joy in that? When we allow ourselves to get so caught up in getting everything done that we forget why we’re doing it in the first place, we miss out on opportunities to connect deeply and meaningfully with those we love and care about. As Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” But how many of us stop long enough to even notice how we are spending our days, let alone our lives?
Don’t Miss the Small Stuff
In my workshops and writing, I often talk about how important it is to be present and fully experience the moments in our lives. This needs to be repeated frequently. With all the demands on us to do more and do it faster, it is all too easy to miss what’s happening all around us. More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve breathlessly delivered my kid at 2:59 p.m. for his 3:00 p.m. orthodontist appointment after spending the whole trip so worried about making it on time that I forgot to ask him what happened at school and what was on his mind that day. Has that happened to you? Have you focused on the stress of the moment rather than what’s truly important? Do that enough times and before you know it, the young man in braces will be packing for college as you wonder what happened to the little boy with the goofy, crooked-toothed grin.
There Are No Do-Overs
After my mother was diagnosed with advanced cancer several weeks ago, I scrambled to rearrange my schedule so I could take her to her many appointments. My dear friend and associate Lee Ann knew all too well what I was dealing with having lost her own mother and aunt to cancer. She offered her support, noting that being there in the moments that matter is what life is all about. Then she said something so powerful that it has stayed with me ever since: “You don’t get a ‘do-over’.” Immediately, everything was crystal clear. I will never look back at this time as the year I missed an important meeting or had to pass on a lucrative consulting contract. No matter how the cancer responds to the treatment, I will look back at this time knowing that I was there – offering love, support, entertainment and countless pots of chicken soup to someone who means so much to me.
True joy isn’t always about rainbows and butterflies. No doubt, there are tough times that most of us have to endure. But when we can bring the best of who we are and use our gifts to lighten someone’s load, there is joy. Just last week, hearing the uncontrolled belly laughs coming from the chemotherapy chair as I read from a funny book, I felt deeply connected and joyful. In that moment, there was no place I would rather be. The circumstances were sad indeed. There’s nothing fun about a chemo clinic. But the place was filled with courageous patients, compassionate caregivers, and generous cancer survivors who volunteer their time to offer snacks, encouragement and hope. And everyone was fully present – connected to his or her purpose and each other.
Joy Strategy: How Can You Connect?
Contemplate your life’s mission. Why are you here? What do you hope to accomplish in this lifetime? How do you want to connect to your purpose, family, friends, community and your own mind, body and spirit? As you make decisions about where to put your efforts, consider how each endeavor contributes to your overall mission. What is the right choice? The decision that advances your personal plan and connects you to your purpose is right for you. You are the best judge of what that is, so long as your plan is well conceived.
Make room for what matters. Then commit yourself to being fully present and savoring the experience. What brings you joy? I’d love to hear from you. How will you connect?