Experiencing the Present

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The voice echoed around the large banquet room that was being set up for focus groups later that evening. He boomed like the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket.


I was embarrassed to be the auditory perpetrator.  Joe, the moderator, stuck his head around the blue curtain partition and looked at me.

“It’s bad luck to whistle,” he said proportionally quiet as he was loud earlier and smiled impishly.

Being 24 years old and knowing everything, I was experiencing a mix of irritation and embarrassment. After all, I was the client. Who the hell was this guy? Before I could muster any righteous indignation he asked….

“What time is it?”

“Ummm…let’s see… it’s 11am in Los Angeles….” I stammered looking at my watch doing the mental calculations for Atlanta.

“No! No! No! Dave, a piece of advice; be where you’re at. Change your watch.”

Joe winked and disappeared to mock-yell at other people before a word could leave my mouth. It turns out that was a great piece of advice I should have followed much earlier my life.

So often we are focused on our phones, our jobs, the traffic, the deadline, the plane trip, and other day-to-day distractions rather than the now. We are too focused analyzing the past or trying to plan the future to make room for the present.

For hyper-ambitious people, it’s hard for them to get their head around a present state mentality. For the highly motivated it’s always the “what’s next” and “what’s not good enough today” focus which is important.

I remember working in a highly competitive environment peppered with young recent A-list business school graduates. We conducted an employee survey and found that employees were not satisfied. The VP at the time said she wasn’t surprised. After all, the type of people who were attracted to this kind of job were inherently unsatisfied with the status quo…it’s what made them great. It made sense.

So how do we live in the present and not become unmotivated sloths?  How do we still retain that edge?  It’s a state of affairs that Dan Harris also struggles with in his excellent book 10% Happier.

I think you can be ambitious and also be present, but it’s not easy. I haven’t quite completely figured it out, but the hard part is defintely not turning off the ambitious restlessness, it is going back to mooring yourself to the now. It’s like a swift current that keeps pulling you away, but you must conscious grab on and say “hey, what’s up in my world RIGHT NOW”.

Try really listening to your friends, significant other, and children without distraction. Focus on their words and what they are trying to say.  Sometimes the meaning lurks under the surface and between the lines. It’s easy to miss, but can be right in front of you.

The same presentness can work with your co-workers; if you really try to find out what they are trying to say, then you will be more productive in your relationship in the long run.  Don’t answer emails during conference calls. A friend of mind recommended switching to video conferencing, which helps.

I write often about customer experience. The essence of experience exists in the present. It is the excitement of getting in that new car and turning the key for the first time or the anticipation of opening that new video game. It is about the smile of the receptionist at the hotel or the taste of that street taco. Experience is about being here and making memories.

If I actually listened to what Joe said versus how I felt about it twenty years ago, I might have benefited sooner from his advice.

I still don’t whistle before focus groups though.

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