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Present and Presence

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Schneider Column

There is a difference between being somewhere and actually being there. I’ve known that for quite some time—known it theoretically. But, it isn’t something I’d experienced personally. At least, not at the level or to the extent I’ve had to deal with it lately. 

All of us have had our “staring out the window, lost in space” moments, usually reserved for some serious daydreaming, and for the most part, taking that kind of a mental break can be a productive use of our time. But, that isn’t the lack of presence I’m referring to.

Daydreaming is generally considered an infrequent and momentary loss of connection to the present, to reality and the here-and-now. It’s a way for our conscious minds to stand aside and allow the subconscious a chance to peek out and go a little wild. 

The lack of presence I’m talking about is the conscious mind’s resistance to being present, to being in a specific place at a specific time with the responsibility of doing that which you know must be done when you are no longer passionately committed to doing it. When that happens, it can take every ounce of discipline and determination you are capable of just to accomplish the most simple and mundane tasks. The problem is those simple and mundane tasks are often no less important or pressing than anything else you may be involved in.

When that happens, everything is a distraction and even some of your favorite pursuits can seem nothing more than an attractive nuisance. 

However, just as all of us have had our “staring out the window” moments, all of us have had moments of incredible clarity as well, when we are all there, all in. Moments when we are more than just present, when we are in “the flow.” Moments when time stands still and we work harder, go faster, accomplish more, feel more alive and more connected to whatever it is we are doing at that particular moment in time. And the results are generally spectacular.

"The sense of loss is profound, real and tangible."

—Mitch Schneider, owner, Schneider's Auto Repair

I was fortunate enough to experience “flow moments” long before they were bullet points in personal development workshops. For me, it was the rapture of being totally absorbed by one of the never-ending challenges our industry constantly provides. It was difficult, almost impossible drivability challenges, insanely complicated repair projects and/or the unending flow of information, skills and abilities to be mastered.

It was starting a job only to realize four or five or six hours later that you were done, without being able to piece together anything that may have happened in between.

It may be more difficult to experience flow moments as you get older. It is even more difficult when you move from physical work to the kinds of leadership/management-related tasks demanded of us as at our respective businesses.

The very nature of “managing” almost precludes the opportunity to experience flow moments. Or, at least, it has for me.  All of this—the absence of flow and the difficulty you are likely to experience in being present, are amplified the moment you consciously choose to alter your current reality by exiting the business you’ve worked a lifetime to build.

It’s hard, if not impossible, to explain, but it’s almost like stepping from one reality into another, or one dimension into another. In one, you see, hear and feel everything that is going on around you—everything that has anything at all to do with the business. You are immersed in it and are an integral part of that entire universe. If there is a ripple in the force, you can sense it almost before it manifests itself.

Then, suddenly, it’s time to inhabit a different reality, one you have chosen or one that has been chosen for you. The shop and all that it encompasses are no longer a part of it. You’re there, physically present, but the connections are no longer attached. Where there was infinite awareness there is suddenly a void. You can reach out and touch, you just can’t feel. At least, not in the way you could the moment before your life changed and the decision to exit the business was made. The sensation of intimacy you have known quite literally, for a lifetime, is suddenly gone.

The sense of loss is profound, real and tangible.

And yet, the mantle of responsibilities you have chosen for yourself and your life is real. It is relentless and it is uncompromising. The individuals, teammates, who have cast their lot with yours don’t care or want to know how much more difficult it is to lead today than it was yesterday. They depend upon you to be there, to make the hard decisions, to lead and to manage.

Your clients want more than just your presence. They want more than just to see you. They want you to be present. They want to know they can depend upon you so they can depend on your organization, regardless of how difficult it is for you to be there.

This is the reality of presence versus present I have found myself struggling with each day lately. But, I have come to realize there may be a lesson here almost everyone else can benefit from. 

If what you are doing is important enough to demand your presence, it’s more than important enough to demand that you are present, whether in business, family or in life.

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