When you are transitioning from a job, it takes time to start seeing, especially if you were at an organization or role for many years. This is what happened to me. And I can only appreciate it now in retrospect.
As Albert Camus shared: “A [wo/man's] work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
The other day I was driving back home from a meeting and a car that almost slammed right into mine brought reality to my path. I don’t need any more sudden near death experiences to jolt me. But they do have a tendency to bring our lives to a complete halt. And once again I realized what I already knew: that I need to slow down and be present. I was grateful that we avoided a life altering disaster and no, I wasn’t at fault. I was awake enough to hit my breaks in time. [And I am grateful]. And guess what, the driver that almost crashed into me was in a rush to get somewhere so they didn’t miss something really important (it could have been the rest of their life). It’s amazing how we keep going and going. Humans are so driven and I am fascinated with what continually drives us. Much of it is stuff that our brains were fed as children:
- We must get the best grades at school [the real message: we have to be #1 because the best have the greatest lives]
- We must have friends and be socially “aceptable” [the real message: the people who are most active with the most friends are the most successful. The popular bully the outliers and "nerds" so you must be in the cool group]
- We must make the team – [the real message: whatever team applies and is important to your family whether it's sports, arts, the popular kids ... is the one that will help us win in life. You must not ever be labeled a "loser"]
- We must wear or have [insert brand] to be cool and popular [the real message: buy my shit so you too can be accepted by the cool kids. The external wrapping will determine your success)
- We must get ahead at school and at work [the real message: moving up the ladder shows that you are successful and worthy .. and yet, no one tells us how lonely it can be at the top].
So as I hit my breaks, my mouth started saying these words (after, of course, I found myself yelling “holy shit”): “Go s l o w! Slow it down!” I often see people weaving on the highways trying to go faster and I wonder why are they in such a rush. I know it’s irritating when you move to California from the east coast and realize that people on the west coast don’t understand our eastern rule that the left lane (the fast lane) is for driving and passing other cars. If you want to go slow on the east coast, you never ever drive in the left lane. But here, the rules are different and people drive in whatever lane they want — regardless of whether they are going fast or slow. Maybe instead of irritating me, I should just be present and enjoy the journey? Maybe this is part of my unlearning?
We are so wired to succeed that it is only years later when there is a life event that forces us to stop that we ask ourselves: “But, what does being successful really mean to me?” It is no longer about what someone else defines for us. Recently, a friend who is young and obsessed with the notion of success (external recognition) asked me if I saw myself as successful because of my career. My answer probably shocked him: “Success for me is the ability to learn. I don’t believe in the notion of failure. Failure to me is not trying.” The people who I see as successful are not the glorified celebrities but the people who create and do because it’s what they believe. What some of my friends and I like to call the “unsung.” The real heroes who simply do because they can.
If we are lucky enough to have our health, it’s about the choices we make. No one else can tell us what’s right or wrong for us. As I shared in a recent conference talk (slides 23 and 24): ” cookie cutters only really work when you are baking.” So, what are you doing to stand out in the crowd to pursue your creativity and art?