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Personal Development with Gray Miller

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Defining Moment: Final Evaluations

The Consequence Hero

Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.
– Robert Louis Stevenson

It’s one of the key principles of personal development, set down everyone from Aristotle to Covey: you are free to take action, but you are not free of consequences of those actions. Many a parent has shaken their head as they watch their children figure this out (sometimes repeatedly). Then again, many a rebellious child has looked up from their banquet of consequences with a defiant gleam in their eye and said “Yeah? Well it was worth it!” as they take up another bitter mouthful.

That’s what we’re hoping for with the Defining Moment. We’re hoping, when it’s said and done, that you’ll look at the results of your experience and see a whole banquet of consequences. We’re coming up, next week, to a Very Important Question, and so it’s worthwhile to pull out all the notes we made before we did the Defining Moment and checked out just how good our predictions were.

Equality of Expectations

A wise friend of mine believes that the key to successful relationships is equality of expectations. That is, if both parties know what to expect from each other and that’s what they actually get in reality, it will go well. The same relationship applies to your Defining Moment. Was it what you expected?

Don’t feel bad if it wasn’t. We (humans) are really bad at predicting what makes us happy. Dan Gilbert, in his book Stumbling on Happiness, blah blah, blahblah.

OK, look, the reality is: everyone I know who’s done this – myself included – has actually ended up enjoying their Defining Moment more than they expected. I always say that bit about “we’re bad predictors” just in case it doesn’t go that way sometime. But honestly? Way back in the beginning we made sure that the Defining Moment was rooted in passion. That’s in our gut, and your gut usually knows what you like, even if it can’t quite make your brain express it.

It’s likely that when you went through your Defining Moment you totally effed that ineffable something. It’s likely that you’ll actually discover that no, you didn’t expect to like it that much – nor did you expect the ways that you liked it.

But please, if you try this out and your Defining Moment turns out to be less than you expected, let me know. I’m interested in someday finding out what that might be like.


The implications fall into two categories: Expected and Surprises. We’ve already had a list of possible implications, and you can go down the list saying “Hmm…yep, that one, that one…no, that didn’t happen, but that did…” That process won’t take long, because you’ve already got the notes.

Back in my Big Hair days...

Back in my Big Hair days…

But then there’s the Surprises. Those are the implications that you didn’t predict. For example:  I agreed, almost twenty years ago, to perform with some other medieval musicians for a University play. Medieval music was my hobby, nothing more; I was busy being a single Dad and working in childcare. It will be fun, I thought, just a lark.

What I didn’t expect was that the minute I walked backstage the entire ambience of The Theatre would fill my senses, and lead me to eventually change my major (twice!) and end up with a degree in Dance.

That’s what I mean: an implication that isn’t expected, that means that something in your life is going to change because of what you’ve done in your Defining Moment. It’s actually a pretty scary moment; it’s like that time a certain someone walked into a room and your eyes met and something deep inside said My life just got a bit more complicated. That’s what happened to me when I walked backstage; I knew, deep down, that this was something I needed to have in my life. I spent months fighting it, telling myself it wasn’t reasonable or practical or realistic.

All of those things were true. But it was also necessary. That’s something about the Defining Moment – it’s a great way to learn more about what is necessary for you to be fulfilled in your life.

Unfortunately, what is necessary is often unrealistic, impractical, and unreasonable. That’s why blogs like this one exist. I promise, we’ll come back to this later.

Work It

The final part of this evaluation is a simple checklist. It should have two headings:

What worked?                 What didn’t?

Then just let your brain flow. “The performance came off well. Getting a babysitter was hard. My tenor recorder doesn’t want to stay in tune. Our rehearsals were fun!” Just go through your brain, adding things to the list, and for each one, it either worked, or it didn’t.

If you find yourself writing things that you’ve already put in Expectations or Implications, then you’re getting a little off the beaten path. Expectations were about how you felt about things. Implications were the results of things. The Effectiveness Evaluation is simply taking it action-by-action and asking yourself: did this work?

All of this is leading up to what we’re going to talk about next week: the Big Question. And when I say big, I mean it. It’s a doozy!

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how to make sense of a chaotic world

Framing Ferguson


It’s a troubling time in America. More than usual.

The events in Ferguson Missouri have affected not just the national dialogue on racism, on police, on the use of force, the right to protest, and what the term “civil rights” really means.

Yet I am hesitant to comment on it directly, for a variety of reasons. The biggest being *I am not there*. Instead I try to listen to the news sources, to the live feeds of protestors, to my friends who are affected to varying degrees. I certainly have my own opinions, but I’m aware that they are at best half-formed, affected by the ways news outlets portray the events as well as the ways people on the ground report what is happening to them.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not every opinion is equally valuable. Similarly, everyone frames the story in their own way – but some frames are more useful than others.

Rough Edges

For example, one of the biggest head-shaking moments was when the police released a video that they alleged was Michael Brown aggressively robbing a store moments before he was shot. At the same time they acknowledged that the officer who did the shooting had not been aware of the robbery. The obvious question to follow was: then why bring it up? It was not only an attempt at a distraction, it was a clumsily obvious one.

Later investigative reporting revealed that even the irrelevant tape was an edited version. The portion that was cut out showed Michael Brown paying for the cigars he had allegedly stolen. Not only an attempt at a cover-up, a clumsy attempt at one.

And that’s just one tiny facet of the whole situation. It’s easy to want to just turn it off and tune it out. I know that following the #Ferguson hashtag on twitter is like trying to drive past a gruesome accident scene – you don’t want to look, but you can’t help it, whether it’s reading the atrocities happening at night or reading the atrocities uttered by hateful people during the day.


A Bigger Container

About the only useful thing I can think of at a time like this is the cultivation of perspective. Understanding that this is not just about a scared cop and a young man. It is not just about law enforcement, it is not just about race, it is not just about anything. It is not new, it is simply current, and if we have any hope of reducing things from happening like this again it is through finding a place of understanding.

The most harmful thing I can think of would be to ignore it. To refuse to engage in dialogue, to pretend that it doesn’t affect you, wherever you are in the world. If the citizens of the West Bank and Gaza can pay attention, then you can, too. And the people involved – all of whom are human beings, scared, trying their best to make sense of chaos – deserve to be witnessed.

It’s also important to recognize that the world is full of dangers that we haven’t even thought of and also full of joy. It’s hard, but we can find room in our heart for both.

It’s good exercise. Try it out.

Part 9: The Defining Moment Arrives

Do it.

That’s all there is to this step. Oh, there’s more stuff to do, but that comes after. In the meantime, you really have run out of excuses. You’ve marshaled your resources, you’ve come up with a plan of action, you’ve not only calculated the risks of failure you’ve also considered the risks of success.

There’s nothing left. There’s nothing else keeping you from it. So it’s time: let your Defining Moment happen.

Don’t Miss Your Moment

One thing you do need to work on, probably, is the ability to be present in the Moment.

  • Don’t tweet about it.
  • Don’t instagram it.
  • Don’t take any pics at all of it.
  • Don’t start blogging/journaling about it in your head as it’s happening (you know who you are)

Just pay attention. Pay attention to everything – the feeling of your body, your emotions, your reactions. Don’t try to predict what’s going to happen – just experience it happening.

Some Defining Moments are easier to do that with than others. If you’re skydiving, for example, then you pretty much don’t have a choice. Gravity works, and this is happening!

On the other hand, using the example of the person picking up my book in a bookstore without even knowing me that is my Defining Moment, well, I have a ways to go, right? And how can I manage to have it happen “spontaneously”? There’s only one way for that to work, and it’s exactly the same as fishing.

The First Step to Catch a Fish

…is to find a lake.

In the “author” Defining Moment scenario, I have to do a lot of things, including writing a book. But even when the book is out I still need to remember to spend the time at the bookstore. Not watching my book! That would be creepy. And a little sad, I think.

No, the point is that I need to hang out in the places that make my Defining Moment more likely to happen. If that’s wanting to see people pick up my book, then that’s the bookstore, right?

No. Not at all. The place I need to hang out is my desk. My computer. The places where I write. I’m going to end up at bookstores anyway – but in order for the Defining Moment to happen, I need to create an environment where it can happen.

That environment is not a bookstore. It’s a bookstore that has books by me. And while technology is a wonderful thing, the books still do not write themselves.

Is your Defining Moment going to happen on it’s own? And if not…then what are you doing to make it happen?



Defining Moment Pt. 7: the consequences of success

What If It Works?

“You could go with this. Or you could go with that. Or you could go with us!” – Fatboy Slim

Risks are one thing. They are mishaps that can happen along the way to your defining moment. If you want to skydive, the obvious risk is that your chute might not open. But then there are also the risks of the airplane malfunctioning, the pilot making an error, you tripping as you climb the ladder into the plane, having a car accident on the way to the airport – all risks.

But the thing is that our inability to accurately foresee the future makes us forget that even when things do go according to plan, the result is rarely what we expect. The next step in your Defining Moment process is to try and figure out what the results of success might be.

Succeeding is not Success

The purpose of this step is to try and prepare yourself for at least some of the possibilities. For example, let’s suppose that you have a dream (as I have) of going to Paris. I would like to be eating beignets and sipping espresso as I watch the pretty French people walk by with their noses in the air at the scruffy Americain in their midst.

Let’s ignore all the steps necessary to get there and say that I was there. What are some of the possible outcomes?

  • I will discover I don’t like Paris as much as I’d hoped, and lose that dream of a city that never was.
  • I will discover that I love Paris far more than I expected and leave everything behind to live there, probably over the Moulin Rouge.
  • I will miss so much work during my trip that I lose my clients and my living.
  • I will get enough material on my trip to write the definitive memoir of this millenium’s American in Paris.
  • I will contract food poisoning from undercooked beignets.
I won't look anything like this. But I'll FEEL like this.

I won’t look anything like this. But I’ll FEEL like this.

This is a simplistic list, but as much as it varies, it all is a possible outcome of my making it to Paris. Stranger things have happened from milder events. For example, in spite of having many friends who skydive, I have never had the urge – until I recently, on a whim, watched an episode of a spy show where the heroine jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, gleefully, and cavorted around in the sky.

I suddenly realized: I want to cavort in the sky. And so begins the saving of money, the lessons, the tandem jump, and eventually, the cavorting. I’ll let you know how it goes (or, I suppose, someone else will). It wasn’t the military, or a lifelong love of thrillers, or dating the daughter of a U.S. Ranger Parachuting Instructor, or anything else that made me want to take up that risky goal. It was simply the fact that I set, a long time ago, a goal of being a “Location Independent Professional” – that is, able to work and relax anywhere I was.

So when I found myself in an airport, having just finished an article for a client, I treated myself to an episode of Covert Affairs on my iPad. And boom, I now have a new, completely unexpected goal as a result of succeeding at a past one.

Success is a myth, anyway - success as a result of succeeding, that is. Anytime you work towards a goal, you automatically move the goalposts. The moment you arrive, you see somewhere else you want to get to, and the journey continues. Strangely, the only way to reach “success” (the noun) is to stop “succeeding” (the verb). It’s that moment when you say “Ok, this is enough. I can make my place here.”

I think that’s also called “being happy.” Sure feels like it, anyway.

The Defining Moment Part 5: Action Plan!

Make it so!” - Odysseus

In the past few entries we’ve talked about refining that thing that you want – that experience, that achievement, that moment when you feel you will get what it is that’s been driving you. This refining process is a fun one – it’s imagining a fantastic time that you want, then taking it apart to see how it works, and refining it. It’s a distilling process, boiling it down until there’s just the essential parts of This Is What I Want.

So then what? Simple: it’s time to make a plan of action. It’s time to take that thing and say “I’m going to make it happen.” Except that as we all know, just saying it doesn’t do that. I mean, I said, over a year ago, “I want to make the Defining Moment into a book.” But it didn’t get done – even when a table of contents was written, even when I gave the workshop dozens of times, the book did not happen.

“Why can’t the laundry do itself?” – my partner, Natasha Bounds

The problem was, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a particular method for getting it done. And like laundry, marathons, and gardening, it’s not going do itself. Then I hit on the right method , and here we are, several thousand words into the book. I hit on the plan that finally worked, that is finally making the book get written.

Let’s be real: I’m the one writing the book. But it’s necessary to create the plan that lets me feel as though it’s less a chore and more an inevitability. The fact that you’re reading this right now – whether on my blog, over my shoulder, or on the pages you’re browsing in a bookstore – means that it’s working.

But that’s my dream. My defining moment. We’re talking about yours, right? That shining diamond of experience that you have finally polished up. It’s time to give it a setting and show that puppy off.

What’s Your Plan?

Here’s the thing: I can’t tell you how to make the plan. There are so many ways to do it, because everybody has their own. That Table of Contents? That was a plan, and it seemed like a good one – but it didn’t work.

One of my favorite planning methods comes from Barbara Sher, who wrote many inspirational books such as I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was. She recommends a big blank wall and a lot of sticky notes and working backwards from your finished goal. That is, put your Defining Moment on the wall at one end, and then write another sticky note with the thing that had to happen just before that. If your D.M. is “Sipping MaiTais in Tahiti on the Beach” then the thing before was probably “Order mai tais.” What happened before that? “Walk down to the beach.” What was before that? “Check into the bungalow.” Before that was get off the plane, before that get on the plane, you get the idea.

Her technique has you break it down like this, backwards, step by step until at a certain point you get that That Special Sticky Note. You know it’s special, because you look at it and say to yourself “oh, hey. I can do that now!” And then you do it. Then you look at the wall, and you know exactly what your next step needs to be.

I’m not saying that’s your way to make the plan. I’m saying that’s one way to make a plan from a pretty neat lady who’s been helping people achieve their dreams for longer than most of us reading this has been alive. So it’s a good bet she’s got some good ideas. Try it out, and if it doesn’t work, you can always try a zillion others.

Don’t Worry About Resources

This is very important: 

When you’re making your plan, pretend you have infinite resources.

It’s really easy to second guess yourself. To get to “Get off the plane” and think “I’ll never be able to afford a plane ticket or get the time off; this is silly.” THIS IS NOT SILLY. THIS IS YOUR DREAM.

I promise you: we will take a very serious look at resources, both those you have and those you need, later on. This is not that time. This is the time where you simply lay out the steps that you need to do to get to your plan. What concrete things need to happen to reach that Defining Moment?

I’ll tell you what one concrete thing is: you need to get out some paper and write at the top: My Defining Moment Action Plan. Here, I’ll make it easy for you: Print this out. Or scrawl it on the paper closest to you and put it in your purse or wallet or whatever.

Step one. Done. What’s Step two?

you get the life you make

69018_163241227031119_3690938_nBe careful what you wish for…

It’s not irony, exactly, but it’s that thing that people often call irony.

A couple of weeks ago I decided I wanted to get involved in the Ignite Madison that happens on May 21. I have to run a similar event in July, and I thought it would be good to get my feet wet. I emailed the organizers, offering to volunteer, and also put in a proposal to speak.

They had all the volunteers they needed, and also all the speakers, but they were gracious and offered to give me a guest pass to observe. I played around with the idea of creating my proposed presentation anyway, but elected not to on the grounds that I’m busy enough. I looked forward to going to the event, though, especially after seeing some incredible presentations on the main Ignite Website.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Ignite presentations are 5 minutes – no more, no less – with 20 slides each advancing after 15 seconds, whether you’re ready or not. Enlighten us, but make it quick! is the basic mantra, and it makes for some pretty energizing talks.

Fast forward to Tuesday, May 20th. I get an email: We’ve had a speaker back out. Are you still interested and able to present? Without hesitation, of course, I said “Yes!

When in Danger or in Doubt…

I then panicked. It turned out, I discovered over the next few hours, that it’s hard to create an Ignite talk. Especially since I first ignored their advice of Start from Scratch! and attempted to modify an old presentation to fit in the 5-minute format.

That didn’t go so well. Nor did it go so well when I tried to start from scratch. In fact, I felt a bit like Don Music trying to create a songI’ll never get this! Why did I say Yes? 

And of course in the back of my head was this chuckling, wry voice: Be ready for anything, you said. Improvise, you said. How you like it now, boyo?

In about an hour I go to my one and only “rehearsal”, and I can tell you that it’s come together. I have a story, I have slides, and I will be ready to go on the stage to talk about how pancakes saved my children and my sanity. Here’s a sample slide:

Pancake Lessons

Pancake Lessons

Not much of a lesson here, except to say that your life is as exciting or boring as you decide to make it. Me, I decided to make today pretty exciting.

How’s your day going?

navigating your life through values

Digital Craft Time…

On my schedule, it says “Writing”, and has for the last hour and a half. However, I’ve been doing something else, something that was inspired yet again from Chris Brogan’s The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.

In this case, it’s in the section called “Make Your Own Compass“. “Write down maybe five to seven reminders you need to focus on daily.” Then he gets bossy:

And I don’t mean that you should think, “Hey, I’ll do this later.” I mean stop what you’re doing and make a compass right now.

As you might guess, I think you should do that as well. So don’t click until you’ve done it. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Read more…

what are you not doing?

Writing…is a sordid beast that feeds on your pride and vomits only exhaustion and self-loathing.  - Alex Vance, found via the most excellent Brain Pickings

It’s kind of amusing when you choose to procrastinate by reading twitter, which leads you to an essay by a writer on the two basic species of that particular craft. Specifically:

The difference between a Not Writer and a Writer is the difference between someone who could write and someone who does. A Not Writer is someone who experiences blocks and obstacles and timing issues and lets them prevent him or her from actually writing. A Not Writer may certainly be creative, insightful and capable of writing lyrical prose, but most of the time they’re too busy Not Writing to get any Writing done. That’s such a shame, such a waste, and that’s the reason I so often deploy Tough Love upon those who ask for advice.

It’s like all of Steven Pressfield’s advice pressed into a nutshell, and if you have any aspirations towards being a writer, I do not suggest you read the multi-part essay that Mr. Vance has written. If you have any aspirations towards being a writer, in fact, what I suggest you do is STOP SURFING THE INTERNET AND WRITE.

On the other hand, if you just want to read about writing, they’re very entertaining, insightful, and even funny. But the question is: why limit it to writing?

Overworked and Underdone

To misquote a fun game from Comedy Sportz, what are you Not Doing right now? What is that thing that you keep saying you’re going to do, that you think about doing, but that you keep being busy Not Doing? It’s another way of saying: What’s your excuse? It’s not a pleasant thought, either, because you basically have to face a cold equation:

If I’m Not Doing that thing I want to Do, than is what I am Doing more important?

No idea if this is true. But it's comforting.

No idea if this is true. But it’s comforting.

It’s entirely possible that it is! Raising children, feeding the dog, caring for your family, watching the next Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., these are things that definitely can be a priority over that thing you’re Not Doing. And it’s also quite true that just because you’re Not Doing it now, you won’t Do it later. Procrastination is not a sin, it is a productivity strategy.

However, allow me to suggest that if you are Doing something that is so important that it makes you Not Do something else – make sure you Do it well. Make sure you Do it with your complete attention, so that you can get it Done as soon as possible.

Because you need to stop Not Doing that thing you want to Do before time gets Done with you.

You could also do worse than to check out some of the articles of Mr. Money Mustache, as long as your Not Doing anything else.

memorials are for the living

Life After Death

A few years ago, we thought my Dad was going to die. He had an unexplained malady, they were going to try and operate, but frankly it didn’t look good. However, he had time to get his affairs in order, to talk to all of us kids about various items he was leaving behind. He did a very good job of both preparing us for what seemed likely to happen, and also setting an example of a man brave enough to face “what dreams may come…”

I, on the other hand, did something fairly selfish. You see, while I don’t exactly make it a secret about being polyamorous, I also hadn’t been quite forthcoming about the true nature of relationships I had at the time. I got it into my head that he needed to know about them.

The truth was, I was the one who needed him to know. It was important to me, and so I told him, and I suspect that he would have preferred not knowing. Or, at least, not having it pointed out so thoroughly.

As it is, the surgery revealed that things were not nearly as serious as we feared, and so my father is still alive and well today. And there have been no real repercussions from my deathbed confession. I have, however, learned that part of being a responsible and loving person is knowing when to simply keep your mouth shut. At some point I will have to face death again – his, or someone else who I love. I hope that I will do better.

The Unbearable Inadequacy

Recently a very dear friend of mine lost his father in a tragic and unexpected accident. I can’t even pretend to know how he feels. Empathy, as I know it, involves telling someone you have some common understanding of what they are experiencing.

But I don’t. I tried to find some way to communicate something to comfort him, because I love him, and I know that this must be terrible. For all my writing, all my research into happiness and empathy and compassion and love and life and practice, I did not know what to say. My family has a tendency to mask our pain with humor, but I didn’t want to fall into that habit of avoiding the issue.

Really, what right do I have to intrude on his grief? It is a solitary and intimate place, and no one can feel what he is feeling. The best I was able to do was to witness it, as much as possible from hundreds of miles away. I never knew his father, but I have known this comrade through some of our worst times and some of our best.

I wrote what I knew: that his father had raised a son who I could love as a brother, as a friend, and who has been such a positive force in my life that I can’t imagine what it would look like without him.

It was hopelessly inadequate. It always will be; that is the nature of death, I believe, that we who still live simply have to do the best we can until time makes it somehow easier to bear.

Requiescat In Pace

“Rest in peace.” I have to tell you that this doesn’t mean what you think it does. There’s this idea that it’s somehow wishing those who have passed away a pleasant journey, or hoping that they have finally laid down the burden of life.

But it’s not that at all. If life were actually a burden, most of us wouldn’t cling to it so tightly, even when we’re miserable in it. I’m not saying it’s impossible for death to look more attractive to some – we all know that happens.

As far as we’re concerned, though, once someone is gone there is nothing but peace for them. We are the unquiet ones, trying desperately to reconcile the world that was with the world that is. We are the ones who want things to be different, and the rest we so desperately seek is the acceptance that somehow they are not all gone.

That’s why we have memorials. And they can come in many forms. About a month ago, my friend Bob in Hawaii went into the hospital for what we thought was a routine procedure. It turned out to be anything but, and he never came out.

I have been honored to receive some of the tools he took joy in, along with a few of his remaining cigars, and a shirt with a funny saying on it. I treasure these, and I honor his memory by thinking of his gruff laugh and his ready smile and his wicked humor. I try to be the person that he saw me as, worthy of a great deal of his valuable time and energy and friendship.

But it’s not for him. He’s gone. It’s for me, make no mistake. It’s still a selfish act, whether it was saying what wasn’t needed to my father or saying what doesn’t help to my friend or saying goodbye to Bob in my head as I smoke a cigar.

Memorials are for the living.

Troubled Times

too much or just right connection

The Augmented Self at Rest

Credit where credit is due: I first considered the idea of the “Augmented Self” during a conversation with my good friend J.P., a stage manager extraordinaire from Toronto (among other things). He and I were discussing how often we are carrying on simultaneous connections through various media – the instant gratification of a face-to-face conversation with various other kinds of gratification extending outwards via chat, text, or email (in order of delay). At the time (and forgive me, JP, if I misquote) he said something along the lines of:

It’s not that I need to be connected all the time. It’s just that sometimes, when I’m connected in the right way, I can feel more myself than when I’m not.

I’ve always loved that phrase: “I can feel more myself…” That’s what personal development is all about, right? The tools we use to connect over distance – from the pen and paper through Google Hangouts – aren’t evil in and of themselves, they are simply tools, and can be used (at least, in JP’s case) to enrich his life by keeping him connected with others.

Like me. Many’s the time he and I just suddenly pop into each other’s lives, like a virtual Kramer/Seinfeld, just to share some thought or question. He’s at the airport, I’m I my desk. I’m at the airport, he’s backstage. Quick connection, say what we want to say (or just hang out) and then disconnect.

But What About Being Present, Gray?

I hear you! Doesn’t this idea of having a virtual connection take away from the Good Buddhist practice of being present fully in the moment? Isn’t that what we strive for?

Yes, but – I am hazarding a guess that you don’t necessarily always need to be fully present with whatever’s right in front of you. For example, I don’t need to sit there and watch the task bar change color bit by bit as a video is rendering. My mind can be more usefully engaged – and before you say “use the time for some personal reflection” (which is something I would probably say, too) let me put forth the idea that if you shift to “personal reflection” that is no less a distraction than “outside connection.”

Further, let me make another suggestion: if you have significant connections with people, places, or events that are far away, and you have the tools to still be present in some manner with them – aren’t you actually being more present as your authentic self if you maintain that connection?

Let Me Give an Example (or two)

I was a horrible person a long time ago when I was engaged to a lovely young woman. I had actually proposed to her after dating for a year, and wisely, she had said no. She then proposed to me a year later, and wisely I said no. But after three years of dating, I wanted to make sure that my next proposal was going to work.

So I played a very dirty trick. At Thanksgiving Dinner – with my father, stepmother, sisters, and daughters all there – I planned to pull out the ring. Not only that, I put my biological mother on speakerphone in order to have her “present” when I popped the question.

Now, here’s the question: was the moment made better or worse by that virtual presence? Ignore the emotional manipulation involved in putting my poor fiancée on the spot; as I said, I was horrible. But with all the facetime, video conferencing, etc that goes on – are we really worse off?

In another instance, I was part of a performing troupe here in Madison and we got a great gig. Then we got another great gig in Chicago the same night. We realized that we could do both gigs if we split the troupe up – but it was the first time we’d done that, and one of the gigs was a bit of a step up for the whole group, and we were nervous.

I remember that night exchanging many text messages with my fellow performers both here in Madison and in Chicago as both gigs were triumphantly done with outstanding skill. I remember the sense of exhilaration and pride I felt as not only the people I was with but my friends hundreds of miles away all made our art. I felt more connected thanks to the immediacy of things than I would have if I’d heard about it later.

How Much is Enough?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t unplug – by no means. In fact, tune in next week for an essay on just how much I think we need to unplug at times. What I’m saying is that there is a power to choosing what to focus on – whether that’s choosing to watch TV, text your friends, skype your daughter, and surf YouTube all evening, or spend an evening in a sensory deprivation tank with everything but your ears turned off, listening to Peter Gabriel’s Passion.

It’s all a matter of degree, and the only person who can truly decide whether you are augmenting or distracting from what’s important is you.

So pay attention. As much as you can afford to, anyway.

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