My end of year reflection started early, on December 13 when I went in for long overdue foot surgery. My doctor had advised that I plan it when I could find at least two full weeks to keep it iced and elevated. That’s not an easy thing to find when one keeps the pace that I do, but with the semester over at NYU and the majority of my clients winding things down this seemed the only logical time to fit it in.
I had all sorts of grandiose ideas about what I would accomplish in this forced down time. Projects to tackle, blogs to write, books to read, movies to watch. While I’ve grazed a bit on each, mostly what I’ve been doing with this gift of slow time is just being. I’ve made a conscious effort not to get too caught up in the daily chaos coming out of Washington or on social media. As much as I’d like to, I know I can’t cure all the ills of the world with one profound Tweet, but in this time I’ve pulled back from the routines of daily life I’ve taken note of the little things I can do to live my life in a way that can help to make 2018 a safer, saner and kinder year than 2017.
When you suddenly find yourself in a walking boot, your normal fast pace slowed down to that of a crawl you notice the kindness – or absence of it in other people. You notice who calls to check in, who brings flowers and who asks if you need anything. The few times I have been out of the house, I was more aware than ever of the strangers who stopped to open a door for me and let me go first and those who were too busy wrapped in themselves and their smartphones to even notice that the person they almost knocked into was someone struggling with a cane.
Kindness is easy. It doesn’t have to cost a penny. It’s as simple as a smile or a gesture and it makes a world of difference in a person’s day.
Telling the truth
I’m a truth teller. I tell my clients going in that I won’t tell them what they want to hear, I’ll tell them what I think they need to hear. And if the truth is that I don’t know the answer, I will tell them that too. This might seem unfashionable at the moment, as we listen to supposed leaders trying to reinvent history and science, but I think the truth is poised for a comeback.
When you’re not sure what the truth is, it’s not that hard to find. It means not treating Wikipedia, a crowdsourced platform as a credible source just because it might be the first result in a Google search. Google provides search results based on algorithms, not necessarily on the truth. It means reading more than one viewpoint, determining the difference between journalists telling a story and commentators telling you their opinions and not thinking just because it was shared on Facebook it’s the truth. It means keeping an open mind just in case what you wanted to be the truth turns out not to be.
My mom is 95 years old. While she is in remarkable health, she is not as mobile as she once was. Things that were once simple, like taking a shower or taking out the trash now require a great deal of effort on her part. I have been aware of that for some time but my foot surgery and my own inability to stand with both feet solidly on the ground have clued me into a whole new level of empathy and consequently understanding for where she is in her life.
Empathy is not an easy skill to learn. It requires us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and look at the world through their eyes, not our own. Parents can instill empathy at an early age. Literature can help us to see things from another person’s perspective as can travel to places different than our own. I tell my students it’s a skill they must master to be good marketers, but really it’s a skill we all need as citizens of the world, something that seems very lacking at the moment.
Sharing positivity on a 2:1 ratio
I am generally an optimist, but I admit that I found 2017 to be a great challenge in that department. With each tweet from the White House, even on my best days I found a positive attitude difficult to maintain. Some days I looked back at my Twitter feed and didn’t recognize myself.
This doesn’t mean I will stay silent and let the craziness go unnoticed but I will balance it with what comes more naturally – positivity, hope, inspiration and always looking for the lessons we can learn in these challenging times.
Taking time to look at the stars
One of my great pet peeves living in New York is people walking with their heads in their smartphones and forgetting to look up, particularly when they’re climbing the subway stairs and stopping traffic. I often wonder what opportunity they might be missing in their preoccupation with self. Being forced to slow down these past weeks and notice every crack in the sidewalk and every slight incline made me realize that maybe I am as guilty as them.
Maybe this slower pace is not something I should toss to the curb when I toss this walking boot. Maybe I should make it a point to look up more and as my Uncle Tom who passed at 97 in the midst of my recuperation would tell me, notice the moon and the stars. He was a man who believed in taking things slow and always taking notice of what and who was around you. One of his great passions was astronomy. He loved to have conversations about the mysteries of the skies and point to all the great constellations. Those moments made his life richer. I believe they’ll make my life richer too.
Also published on Medium.