What we’re paying attention to today

I think of two paragraphs on Attention from Eric Weiner’s book – “The Geography of Bliss” – from time to time.

“Attention’ is an underrated word. It doesn’t get the… well, the attention it deserves. We pay homage to love, and happiness, and, God knows, productivity, but rarely do we have anything good to say about attention. We’re too busy, I suspect. Yet our lives are empty and meaningless without attention.

My two-year-old daughter fusses at my feet as I type these words. What does she want? My love? Yes, in a way, but what she really wants is my attention. Pure, undiluted attention. Children are expert at recognizing counterfeit attention. Perhaps love and attention are really the same thing. One can’t exist without the other.”

The quote “show me your schedule and I’ll show you your priorities” has the right idea. Our schedule is a reflection of what we pay attention to.

What are we paying attention to today?

Just believing is usually enough

“My wife made a crucial difference during those two years I spent teaching at Hampden (and washing sheets at New Franklin Laundry during the summer vacation). If she had suggested that the time I spent writing stories on the front porch of our rented house on Pond Street or in the laundry room of our rented trailer on Klatt Road in Hermon was wasted time, I think a lot of the heard would have gone out of me.

Tabby never voiced a single doubt, however. Her supposed was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.” | Stephen King in “On Writing”

Solo pursuits like writing are undoubtedly lonely. But, so are most journeys when we come to think of it. We’re in it, for the most part, alone. And, people who believe in us through these journeys – parents, spouses, siblings, friends – make more of a difference than they often realize.

As King rightly says, “they don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

We feel it when they believe in us.

Just as others feel it when we believe in them.

Here’s to celebrating both in our lives.

Transient

I was reflecting on the sudden death of a young friend yesterday and was reminded of just how transient this life is.

It is so easy to get caught up in the all consuming puzzle/issue/tiff/ego battle of the moment. It is easy to forget that these things can change in an instant.

Reminders of our mortality are powerful reminders to keep perspective. This was one of them. It also reminded me of a lovely quote I once read – “Be kind to each other. The world will roll on without you.”

Indeed.

Syrio Forel and Not Today

In the first season of Game of Thrones, we were introduced to a very likable swordsman and teacher called Syrio Forel. His trademark phrase echoed his belief that the warrior within him said only one thing to death – “Not today.”

I was reflecting on the power of that phrase recently – especially at the end of a long day. It is often tempting to try and cram in as much as possible into those ten minutes or that last meeting.

But, often, in this quest for efficiency, we lose our ability to be patient and engage constructively with problems – especially those that deserve dedicated bandwidth and time. I’ve certainly been guilty of that.

The wisest thing we can do in these times is to become aware enough to catch ourselves from packing too much in and, instead, say “Not today.”

That was really bad

Learning to replace “that was bad” with “it really needs work” isn’t just an exercise in politeness.

It is okay to be unfiltered. It isn’t okay to provoke shame – that is the refuge of the insecure.

Aside from extraneous situations in which we might attempt to stir emotion to inspire forward motion, framing feedback in a way that feels constructive is the effective choice – especially if we care about the long run.

It certainly is worth the effort.

Societal success and scale

It strikes me that one of the biggest challenges we face is reconciling our desire to be successful by societal definitions while not giving up on being successful by our definition.

The challenge lies in the fact that extrinsic measures tend to be breadth focused (e.g. number of customers/successful exits/employees) while the stuff that make us feel intrinsically successful tend to be depth focused (e.g. deep relationships, immersive experiences).

Anyone who has built products or services has faced this in their work. It is much easier to move vanity metrics than it to create meaningful impact.

The answer, in work and in life, isn’t to shun extrinsic measures and breadth. We need some of it to ensure it doesn’t get in the way of us getting to the intrinsic stuff.

The challenge, however, is not being so sucked in by the allure of breadth and scale that we forget that its main purpose is to enable the depth we really seek.

Put differently, the optimal strategy tends to be to do things that scale easily so we can then spend more of our time doing things that don’t scale.