BEING THERE


be presentI was walking through my little downtown village yesterday on my way back to my car after a lovely respite of coffee and a stroll with a friend when I passed by a woman walking alongside her young son riding on a little scooter. I couldn’t help but notice the two as the boy had stopped abruptly and was blocking the narrow sidewalk, forcing me to move around him.  As I was walking past them, I noticed his mother lean down and take a photo of the scooter with her phone.  I only took a quick glance at this as I was quickly walking by but I couldn’t help but wonder why the mother was snapping a shot of her son’s scooter.  Was she about to chronicle her afternoon in town with her son on Facebook?  Was she creating some type of artsy image for her Instagram followers?  Was there some critical component of her son’s scooter that needed to be repaired and she needed to take a photo of it to be sure she recalled it correctly?  Whatever the case, it made me think about the amount of time we spend caught up with our devices, capturing and chronicling our life experiences rather than, perhaps, actually experiencing them.

Last weekend, when we were in Boston, we attended a Major League Lacrosse game at Harvard University.  Because both my husband and kids are big lax fans, this was the cornerstone of our trip and we did it in style.  We got seats on the sidelines which allowed us to be just feet away from the action.  Almost like sitting court side at a basketball game, aside from the aluminum fence protecting us from wayward lacrosse balls, we were practically in the game.  Even I, the least obsessed fan in the family, was caught up in the excitement of being so close to the action.  When players ran out-of-bounds and bumped into the wall just inches in front of us, I gasped with both awe and just a little bit of fear, expecting that I was going to get pummeled by some of these big boys.  Despite our proximity to the game, I found myself spending a good portion of my time taking photos on my phone to try to capture the experience.  What I recognized, even at the time, was that my iPhone camera did not have the capability of showcasing how close we were to the game and that I simply could not zoom in enough to replicate what I was able to see with my eyes.  Unlike many other events where you can close in on something that would otherwise be difficult to see, in this case, my photos were actually distorting my perfect view. Nonetheless, I felt the need to log all of this for my social media followers.  It seemed like the event would become a non-existent memory if I did not have a phone full of photos to prove it.

I thought about how I might use these photos or if, like many others, they would sit on my phone until such time that I deemed it appropriate to delete them.  Right before we left for our trip, I upgraded to a new phone with less memory and had to go through the task of deleting many of the more than 1,500 photos I had stored.  As I went through picture after picture, I was puzzled as to why they were even taken (surely some random Facebook post) or why I had not deleted them sooner.  When I left the game, I figured I would download my new collection into iphoto on my computer so we could look back at them years from now,  Most likely, though, in a year or so I will wonder why the hell I took so many damned photos of the game when I could not even make out the number or names of the players.  I’d be puzzled by the 20 shots I took of the very same guy just to see if I could get him catching the ball on the run.  Would my memory not be able to store this information?  Could I possibly share this story with others with words, rather than pictures or did the photos make the moment?  Would the memories evoked from the photos actually be reflective of the real experience or would they create some type of contorted image losing so much of the richness and reality of the actual experience?

Living in the present – in the real here and now – is often quite challenging for me because my life has so many different compartments.  I travel often for work, have lots of different groups of friends and feel like my life exists in so many different places.  While my heart is always firmly placed with my family, I often find myself thinking about wherever I am not or whomever I am not with.  I miss my family like crazy when I am out-of-town and I pine for my friends and colleagues when I am at home.  More than just the typical working mother complications, my experience goes far beyond the guilt of not being able to devote myself completely to one thing or another.  I experience a bizarre “grass is always greener” existence that usually leaves me floating on a plane above my life and several degrees away from actually living it.  I always think about how I can capture various moments to go back and visit with them when longing strikes but wonder what exactly it is I am storing away for safe keeping.  I do appreciate the value of having recorded memories and have a rich display of beautiful photographs of treasured times throughout my house.  I will often linger beside the sofa table in my living room, recapturing moments of special occasions as I stare at the photos, tucked into hand-selected frames.  My mind will wander back, trying to find the thoughts or feelings in the eyes of those photographed, allowing me to experience, once again, the wonder of those moments.  But, of course, those memories are fleeting and they only capture a split second in time.  They are not true reflections.  They are filtered through the lens.

Yesterday, when I got into my car after seeing the young boy and his mother, I thought less about my own bad habits of looking at the world through my camera lens and thought more about how much I am separated from my life even when my phone is safely tucked away.  I have made it a habit recently to keep my phone at a distance so as to not spend all my time looking at social media, in search of who might have texted me or checking up on the pesky emails that find their way to me all day and night.  I have tried to untether myself from the 21st century equivalent of checking my answering machine to see if anyone has called.  They can wait.  My children cannot.  My life cannot.

The other night we were dining with friends and, as we sat outside on their deck, catching up after not seeing each other for quite some time, I found my mind wandering to other people in my life, wondering what they were up to, thinking about how long it had been since I had spoken to them.  I caught myself and immediately refocused.  I felt guilty about letting myself stray and not offering my undivided attention to these very important friends who I so looked forward to spending time with.  Just days before I had been daydreaming while I sat with my kids at the pool, wishing I could see these friends and now, here I was, allowing my mind to wander off once again.

I’m trying to honor my life and see every experience as a gift.  Being able to be present in every moment is a challenge but the payoff is so rich and rewarding.  Letting go of everything except what is happening right here, right in front of me, is a truly blissful state and one that eludes me most of the time.  But I keep trying. It is hard to discipline myself to experience my life rather than capturing it digitally and I acknowledge that the reality that I experience through my iPhone is somewhat a distorted version of the truth.  I will continue to balance my desire to be able to look back and reflect on those special moments and be able to peruse through files of images to relive some wonderful times with the need to actively engage in my life.  I recognize that the best possible way to actually experience my life is to be present and living it, looking at it through my own two eyes, rather than through the somewhat misleading looking-glass.

LOVE NOTES


I am definitely someone who embraces technology. While I am not a tech wiz, I have a healthy appreciation for every advance that allows me to do something more quickly and easily. It should come as no surprise that I quickly embraced technical approaches to communication and was an early adopter to email and texting. The faster and more easily I could communicate without actually having to even speak to someone, the happier I was. I long ago stopped buying stamps and gave up the illusions that I would ever send correspondence through the postal service. In fact, once I became capable of paying bills electronically, I really had little use for the mail system except, perhaps, for having packages shipped to me when I shopped online.

As part of my volunteer activities, I serve as Chair of the Board of Managers for the YMCA in my community. About six months ago, our Y hired a new Executive Director who I would have to work very closely with. She and I spent a good deal of time last fall getting to know each other’s styles and developing an understanding of the best ways to work in alignment. She likes to pick up the phone, I typically send emails. She does not receive emails on her phone but will happily send texts. We fell into a rhythm that works for us. Admittedly, given the volume of emails I get everyday between my personal and work accounts (since that is my preferred source of communication), it can be difficult for me to get back to people in a timely manner. She and I were discussing this challenge in order to look for alternate strategies to ensure that we would be able to take care of important matters as they arose. Jokingly, she suggested that I might try a new approach to correspondence – sending things through snail mail. This actually led to a very interesting discussion about the merits of a handwritten note.

We have moved so far away from the personal touch of sending someone a note in your own handwriting – an exercise that requires you to make the effort to get a stamp and deliver it to a mailbox. We evolved from sending birthday cards in the mail, to e-cards via email to a witty and quick message on Facebook to acknowledge those we care about. While Facebook offers an opportunity to reach many people who you would otherwise never be able to send a greeting to, for those nearest and dearest to us, it becomes a bit impersonal to simply send an electronic greeting. And, I say this being the worst offender. I realized several years ago that I had abandoned the effort of mailing out birthday cards with heartfelt notes. In fact, my husband and I had even gotten to the point that we didn’t bother giving each other cards on Valentine’s Day, birthdays or our anniversary so as not to waste the money and gather more trash. It began to disappoint me because I really believed that I was much more sentimental than that and, in truth, once upon a time I saved every letter and card he or anyone else important ever gave me. What had happened to that romantic? How had I completely moved away from a practice I actually enjoyed?

When I was talking to our Executive Director about this last fall, she told me of her commitment to continue to send out handwritten notes and it inspired me. I balked at the time but it began to really resonate with me as I recognized that there is something so valuable about that personal touch. There is nothing that can replace the words that stream from you when you hold a pen in your hand after you have purchased a meaningful card with a sentiment that captures how you are feeling at that very moment. No email, text, Facebook message, emoticon, tweet or any other electronic form of communication could accurately replace that gesture. I decided that, going forward, I would be more conscious, more deliberate, more intentional, more sentimental, more romantic, more connected to those around me and make an effort to produce those notes to ensure that the passion in my words were not lost through a drab electronic greeting.

I’m still very much a work in progress here because I have to always try to remember to make that effort. It does not come naturally to me. However, now I think about it much more and imagine the reaction of the person who finds that envelope in their mailbox and all the emotions that go along with the words written inside. I suppose that I disconnected emotionally from the process and, as my journey continues, this becomes another part of my evolution.

So go out and send someone you love a note to tell them how much you love them. They will appreciate it. I know I would.

EXPOSE YOURSELF


I am about to launch my very first company website. I boldly made the announcement on Facebook several days ago that I was going to get it done by the end of the day and I was then accountable to my virtual network who was (no doubt) waiting with anticipation for the finished product. After months of researching design tools, hosts and all the other assorted options associated with building a website, I settled on a platform that I felt was sufficient to communicate the message of my new company. I worked tirelessly, with the help of my village of colleagues, family members and friends, to develop content that would effectively communicate our mission and provide a good marketing tool for our services to our clients. And, finally, the site is done.

Holy cow!

When I thought about the website, it felt like a necessity that I had to deal with and I knew I wanted it to look good. I’ll admit it – aesthetics are important to me. And, while I am a staunch advocate of and believer in the power of social media, I was surprisingly reluctant to finish this project because I did not believe that it would make a hill of beans of difference to my business. After all, I do my best work face-to-face with the client and who is really going to look at that website anyway? So, despite my resistance, I just went with it. Well, mostly because my husband kept nagging me, relentlessly asking me at the end of every day that I complained about clients not returning my calls or expressed fears about not generating enough new business, “Did you finish your website today?”

I decided not to hire an outside firm to design the site because I knew I had the capability to handle this myself the same way I designed my beautiful logo and business cards. Besides, that is an enormous expense for a new business and I would rather spend the money on attending a conference where I can network with clients. I could do it but would I?

Finally, when push came to shove, I forged ahead and ripped the bandaid off really fast and just did it. I locked myself in my purple office (which was simply the perfect spot for me to do this work) and I worked and worked until I was done. I suffered through highs and lows, both loving and hating the site at various intervals. I ignored all the tips about not comparing your site to others and scoured the web for friends’ and competitors’ sites to set the bar and measure my site against theirs. Not surprisingly, in my state of feeling very anxious and vulnerable about my work, my site always fell short. But I persevered, called in my mafia to edit and review and was done!

I had my big big girl pants on and finally had a company website!!! I felt excited and accomplished and ready to take on the world…until it was time for me to share the site with the world. The minute I turned the site live (if a website goes live in the woods and no one knows about it, is it really live?), I felt anxious. Now anyone could see my work and I was exposed to the world. I was now available to anyone who might want to google me or type in my company name. Now, one might presume, after having this blog out there in cyberspace, I would not really worry about a company website that is professional and well-written but, in fact, I actually felt more vulnerable and more exposed by that website than I do with this blog. Intriguing.

I spent most of yesterday trying to understand my feelings while mustering up the courage to send out the email blast to my many contacts who I have known for many years to let them know that my site is live. It was time to put my company and myself on the market and, hopefully, generate some interest in the work that we do. And, I realized that it was a watershed moment for me. For the very first time in my life I was standing on my own two feet, not hiding behind anyone else, and putting myself out there. I was ready to be accepted, rejected, measured and critiqued. And while this all excited me a lot, just a small part of me was scared and wanted to run and hide behind someone who could serve as my armor and defense. But, as with many other aspects of my life, I no longer need to cover up or hide because I can step forward and take on whatever is being thrown my way. So, today we go live for real and anyone and everyone can take a look at my new website.

Even better, now this blog also lives on my corporate website so everyone can learn who I really am and understand the authenticity I bring to the work that I do. Now, I will just stand naked before the world and hope that nobody laughs too hard.

UNPLUGGED


Yesterday I was reading the blog of a friend who committed herself to going one full year without buying any new clothes or cosmetics. She had proudly lost a significant amount of weight after baby #2 and reclaimed many of her old favorites that had long gone out of rotation and decided now was a moment that she could revisit her closet and shop there rather than going out and wasting money on discounted designer items that she really didn’t love all that much.

I was intrigued. I love the idea of giving myself a challenge. Right now, of course, I am working on this great weight loss challenge but I have been at it for a while and it is becoming sort of a way of life (yay for me!) so it no longer takes up that much of my mental bandwidth. Without a doubt, changing behaviors takes a significant amount of dedication. I have always subscribed to the thinking, based on conventional wisdom, that it takes 6 weeks to make or break a habit. So, my friend’s commitment of committing to a year means she will have broken it (and likely acquired some new bad habits along the way) and can move on. Given that I am on the weight loss journey, giving up shopping for a year is not really an option for me unless I am prepared to walk around with my pants falling off my butt. I keep telling my son he can’t wear his pants that way so I am not sure I would be setting a good example there. Plus, there are rewards that comes from working hard to lose this weight and one major one is the ability to buy smaller and more flattering clothes to show off my efforts. I am not prepared to give that up (although my wallet might be).

I was walking through Target today, armed with a shopping cart full of items that I did not need as I approached the bedding aisle and contemplated some nice soft, inexpensive jersey sheets. I thought twice about it, thinking about part of my friend’s rationale for her decision not to consume for the year. You wallet will become fatter if you stop unconsciously making purchases of items that you simply do not need. This made me edit my cart substantially. Did I need to buy yet another case for my son’s Nintendo DS cartridges? He has asked for a travel case for the device which holds cartridges but it is out of stock. It can wait. Did I need to buy a lighted make-up mirror? Mine did break recently but I have been functioning just fine without it. The light in the bathroom is adequate and, last time I checked, I am not planning on being on a red carpet or a magazine cover anytime soon so I think I can survive. I dumped out a few other unnecessary items like the umpteenth kitchen gadget that will sit in the drawer after the first time I use it because I really don’t need it but it looked so cool in the store. I wanted to lighten my load. Good for me.

On the drive home, as I was recklessly texting as I drove (using Siri but definitely taking my eyes off the road – no kids in the car so extra points for me!), I started thinking about what else I might be able to give up to improve the quality of my life. I looked down at my iPhone and my new friend Siri (who, by the way, uses no punctuation so it always seems like I am monotone or typing run-on sentences, which is a bit of an issue for me, developers at Apple – I hope you are paying attention), I realized that at this point in time, my biggest addiction lately is to my electronic devices. Last night, we had some friends over and one of them pulled out his antiquated phone which made me laugh because I did not think you could even still make a call from those things. I kept probing him to find out how he functions without the ability to check email, Facebook, or search google for some random, useless bit of information. He looked at me like I was crazy and responded by asking why anyone would need to do that. Good question buddy. Why would we? Not sure but I know that I do. The other day, I was in a client meeting for about 4 hours and I nearly started shaking and vomiting because I was not able to look at my phone or iPad during all that time. To add insult to injury, I had to travel via subway to meet with this client and was disconnected for nearly 20 minutes – each way! I thought the world was going to come to an end. Clearly, I have a problem. Then, I found yet another blog this afternoon by a woman who told about her period of disconnecting from the world over the holiday last week. Perhaps there was a message coming my way?

So, now I am pondering. Is it possible for me to exist in a world where I do not play Words with Friends throughout the day? Can I survive without posting links to my Facebook and Twitter accounts about some of the fascinating stories I come across during the day (and can I give up reading them too)? Would I be ok just listening to music on my radio or CD player rather than exploring my friends’ playlists on Spotify? It scares me. I feel like I am tethered to the world via my technology and I fear being trapped somewhere with nothing to do, nothing to read, no game to play, no updates to check, no mail to read or write. So, I am still pondering. I am not sure I am at a place where I can begin my rehabilitation from technology and I’m not even sure I want to but I want to consider it. Sometimes all this social media and electronic entertainment is a bit overwhelming. It takes me away from things I love doing like reading (on a kindle, of course) or playing a game with my kids or making jewelry or watching a good movie on TV (when was the last time I simply watched a movie without another device in my hand?) And, God knows, I’d be setting a far better example for my kids who seem to be genetically inclined to the same electronic proclivities.

I will continue to think about this and, perhaps search for support groups to help me with my challenge. Of course, how will we support each other without Facebook, email, twitter and texting? Maybe we will call each other on our home phones or simply meet and have coffee. Crazy, just crazy! In the meantime, I’ve got to go post this blog on Facebook!