the pace of 21st century life
It’s raining again outside and I’ve come to value the sound of its regular patter on my tin roof. The reason I can enjoy its sound now is because lately I’ve slowed down enough to hear it. Previously I might have known it was there, seen it, been aware of it, but its presence may have been noted more with annoyance… it would have slowed my travel, delayed my flight or possibly kept people away from meetings I was running or events I staged. It would have been something to overcome and conquer instead of just being what it is…. rain.
Much of life, particularly in a high pressure career, is geared towards the negotiation of problems and the meeting of deadlines. The more pressured our lives become, the more adept we become at trying to control our environment to minimise disruption to whatever it is we deem to be of high importance. Whether those things we value so highly really are that meaningful is yet to be seen and whether the push through at all costs mentality many of us end up carrying is a healthy way to live is up for question.
Until very recently I placed a high value on such things. My particular position carried with it a very grueling travel schedule. I was on a plane going somewhere on average every 2.6 days clocking up hundreds of thousands of flight miles every year as I lived between two major cities in separate countries each week. My work spanned four continents with thousands of contacts globally. I loved my job… it was a calling, not a position, and I count myself fortunate to have been able to do what I did for the past 20 years or so.
I became an expert in handling tight schedules and deadlines. I had travel down to the finest of arts, calculating to the second how to negotiate an airport so as to minimise time in queues and lines. I could spot the slow line at check-in from a distance and prided myself for living in the hand luggage only world of time saving. I became so good at timing my airport runs that in my old home town airport, Amsterdam Schiphol, I could catch the 2:10 train if my flight from London arrived at the gate by no later than 2:04. I could then be at my desk a quarter of an hour later for my weekly Tuesday afternoon meeting. I was the ultimate time manager relying on my own skill and the systems of transport I frequented to ferry me around as many as three countries in a single day to speak at meetings, deliver a message or meet and greet those needing my attention.
Yet the sad thing is that the more I got done and the more time I saved the more time poor I felt. Beware those who would get in my way! A world where ever second counts becomes a world of short tempers. My intolerance for those who couldn’t match my speed became increasingly overwhelming. The guy who didn’t have his laptop out before he arrived at the x-ray security machine, or the person whose passport was still in the bag at border control… these were the enemy, to be hated for their tardy actions that slowed my relentless passage through life. As little as a five second delay could mean missing the train, leaving me waiting an extra 20 minutes on the platform, quietly fuming at the unnecessary delay. And all for what? Did my efforts actually change that much? Was I saving lives or influencing the face of history? Probably not, however, my own sense of self-importance drove me on… another country, another opportunity, all the while my own sense of who I was becoming lost in the blur of what life had become.
So I value the sound of the rain now. It reminds me of what is, and of what should be. My pace has slowed and my expectations adjusted to a more sustainable realistic pace of life. Just this week I had an experience that shows me how far I’ve come in anchoring myself again. I had a business meeting with Joe to discuss a client I wanted him to meet. Joe and I had probably 5 minutes of real business to discuss, but as I met him late on Wednesday afternoon we struck up a conversation. He made a cup of tea, offered a biscuit and we got to chatting. We talked about ourselves, our children, jobs we’d had and the places we’d seen. We’d agreed the deal within a few minutes and yet lingered in dialogue discovering things about each other. I stayed with Joe for almost 45 minutes, a thing my previous time poor self may have never done. I came away feeling like I’d done some real work, a connection was made and a pace set that I’d be able to keep up with this time.
I never again want to feel that pressure of the clock. I’ve settled into a pace of life I enjoy with time to think and see and feel. The pauses make the time I spend more valuable emphasising the difference between work and play, rest and action. And what does it matter if it takes 30 seconds more, or even an extra day or two? The things that are really important will still be there tomorrow.