Mentoring Letter 249 – Watch Out!
“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.” – Jose Ortega Gasset
Have you ever done something stupid and embarrassed yourself in front of total strangers? Well this week was my turn. I had just finished a good business meeting at a potential client in Cape Town and had made my way to my car on the parking lot before realizing I needed to find a bathroom before leaving. I had just switched my phone back on to find a range of calls to be answered and SMS’s to be replied to. Being multi skilled, I started responding to my SMS’s while walking back towards the company reception area in search of a bathroom. I hadn’t walked more than ten paces, my eyes focused on the communication on my blackberry, when I went down like a ton of bricks. I fell onto the paving with both wrists and my left elbow breaking my fall. My blackberry went flying and landed in pieces in front of me. A concerned security guard came running to see what the commotion was about and a fellow visitor to the company, who saw my swallow dive, enquired as to my well-being. ‘I am fine.’ I said bravely but prematurely, while slowly and gingerly picking myself up from the ground. My right wrist was in agony and my left elbow was burning where I now carry a nice little paving burn. My first thoughts, even before the worrying about the humiliation of my unflattering meeting with the paving was, ‘My wrist! What about my golf tomorrow! What if it’s broken?’ The good news is that although sore and bruised and battle-scarred, both physically and emotionally, nothing was broken and with a bit of ointment and a few anti-inflammatories, I played golf the next day, none the worse for wear. So what actually happened? I thought you might be wondering. In my quest to practice my multi-tasking skills, I had failed to notice that a brick high edging separated the normal parking spaces from the disabled parking space and as I confidently strode across the parking area, that brick high edging became the perfect means to trip me up – and that it did! In fact I am convinced I heard it laugh as I hit the deck. “That will teach you to ignore me” it seemed to shout out. Its revenge for my preoccupation with my blackberry was complete.
So why am I writing about this and risking compounding my humiliation? Driving away I thought about what had happened and realized that what I had just been through actually happens a lot more than we like to think. In this case I was preoccupied with something else and not watching where I was going. Before I knew it I was on the deck. Yet think about this. Many of the calamities we face are rooted in us taking our eyes off what’s important. For example, getting into financial trouble doesn’t normally happen overnight. It’s a combination of buying things you don’t need or can’t afford, spending money you don’t have and not keeping your eye on you bank balance. You don’t wake up one morning, get on the scale and ask with alarm, “where did those extra ten kilograms come from?” It’s a combination of taking your eyes off a healthy balanced diet, keeping your eyes on fast foods and cream cakes and ‘just this time’ thinking. A relationship also doesn’t turn sour overnight. A job doesn’t become a dead-end overnight. Stress doesn’t creep up on you overnight. “Where did it all go wrong?” is seldom the right question. It’s more a case of “when did I stop watching out for what is important?” “When did I take my eyes off the right things?” Just like when I hit the deck in the parking area, if I had been watching where I was walking I would have noticed the raised brick edging. I had plenty of time to see it. It wasn’t as if it was hiding from me. It was right in the open. Others who had walked that way before had seen it. I could have too – but I didn’t!
History is full of examples of lives unfulfilled because they didn’t pay attention to or watch out for right things and the regrets that followed. Soren Kierkegaard gives us some real food for thought when he says that, “Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.” In other words whatever gets our attention is what shapes our lives. I can tell you endless stories of people I know who would love to turn back the clock because of a regret that it’s now too late to do something about. Dr. Richard Kinnier of Arizona State University says, “The most common regret is about not being a better student or not studying more. Other common regrets include not being more assertive, not having more self-discipline, not taking more risks, not spending quality time with families.”
Clearly the point is that we need to be paying attention to the right things. Each of us has to decide what is important to us and then to live focusing on those things. Anthony Robbins says, “It’s not what’s happening to you now or what has happened in your past that determines who you become. Rather, it’s your decisions about what to focus on, what things mean to you, and what you’re going to do about them that will determine your ultimate destiny.”
Being this time of the year it’s always good to review whether we are paying attention to the right things. Firstly we need to remind ourselves what those important things are, be it our families, our health, our careers, our friends, our roles in our communities or whatever else is most important to us. Then we need to make sure we focus on the major not minor issues within these important areas. In other words, like me, are you focusing on the small things (the SMS’s) or the major things (where I am walking?) If it becomes clear to you that a refocus is required, then simply DO IT! Refocus! Watch out! Pay attention! Don’t put it off! Sometimes it takes courageous decisions to bring your focus back to the right things, but never lose sight of the implications if you don’t. Life is too short and our success too fragile to tolerate not watching where you are going! (Like I did!) Let’s learn from the ‘hit the deck experiences’ and move forward. Very often the bad things in life open our eyes to the good things we weren’t paying attention to before.
Margaret Storm Jameson, the English author, once expressed the view that we all spend too much time living in the past, feeling regret for lost joys or shame for things badly done. Even when our minds turn to the future, she said, we spend an inordinate amount of time longing for it or dreading it. “The only way to live,” she said, “is to accept each minute as an unrepeatable miracle . . . Work at your work. Play at your play. Shed your tears. Enjoy your laughter. Now is the time of your life.”
Have a great week
If you have any questions or feedback for me about “Watch Out” please email me on email@example.com, I would love to hear from you.
Antony Jennings is an international trainer, consultant and motivational speaker based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Antony writes this free weekly mentoring letter to support and encourage those who are serious about taking charge of their lives. You will find an archive of his letters at www.antonyjennings.com or www.zifundise.com.
I just had to share,
The Baby Mama