Early in my career, I worked at GE. (I could write a book about all the lessons I learned there but I leave that to Jack and Suzie) One of the biggest skills I learned to drive success was FOCUS:
FOCUS: To prioritize something to the level that you have the ability to ignore other things. If something’s not aligned with your priorities, you simply do not allow yourself to be drawn away, your time piecemealed such that it impacts your priorities. You learn how to listen extremely well and to filter what you’re hearing. You learn to speak so that you are always telling people the “so what” of what you’re saying. To do these things, you are focused! And as a result, you achieve your goals because without those distractions, you go straight to the finish line.
Like someone who’s “head is in a book” – unaware of the world around them, the “focused” individual has their head in their priorities. Like a book, we bring them with us. On a deadline, or in a deal, we might make every moment about our focused priority. At home we say “I can’t do that now, I’m focused on my priority.”
Anyone who has the capability to focus on their priorities also has the capability to use that skill to give one of the greatest gifts this season: the gift of being present.
Yesterday I made a roundtrip from Wilmington Delaware to Rockville Maryland. I took the train, the metro, and a bus in order to get to/from my destination. Instead of working during this trip, I decided to stay in the moment. This meant I was focused on each step as I was in it. I ignored all the work I had to do. Any family issues. Any list of to-do’s. All of them were banished from my thoughts. I have to tell you that I had one of the most wonderful and amazing days of my life!
- At the bus stop, I asked a women how to ride the bus. I had never ridden a bus in MD before. She kindly explained the process. It was an opening. A small moment. While waiting, then I learned that she was working full time and also pursuing her bachelor’s degree in human relations. We, total strangers, had a conversation about her aspirations.
- At the busy train station, a man hesitantly took a seat between me and another woman (who had filled the seat with her things). To make him comfortable, I made a quick, off hand comment in welcome. One small comment in return from him. One small comment from me and before you knew it, I learned that this was his first time taking the train, he was quite nervous about it and I was able to help him –explaining how it worked. (Pay it forward works!) We then had a funny conversation about Curb Your Enthusiasm and how the line train station at that moment had many parallels to the show. We were laughing in the moment, enjoying being there.
- On the Amtrak train, which was fully booked, a man sat next to me looking at the sandwich I was eating for dinner. I quipped that I wasn’t sharing my dinner. Through the 1.5 hour trip I learned about his family (wife and 3 children). And I also learned that he, like me, was from a family of 10 children. 5 boys and 5 girls. We spoke about what its like to be from a family of that size, the families within the family, and the sorrow and concern over aging parents. (His, still alive, mine have passed).
I met more people, learned more about what other people are struggling with, felt more connection to humanity, laughed a lot, and felt overwhelming joy and the big heart of people. It was all shared. We felt connected in a moment when we typically feel isolated and anonymous.
Some say how things like getting stuck in an elevator together makes fast friends. Getting stuck in an elevator makes you hyper-present. You are thinking of nothing but that elevator and those people in it. We can choose to be focused, present, available to other people.
If you watch little children, this is their natural gift. Being in the moment. As they mature, gain responsibility, they grow out of it. But those of us who have the skill of focus know how to block out other things. We can use our skill to be present. And sharing being present is a true gift.
Imagine what a terrific gift this is especially during the holiday season. To be at home with your family. To leave your work behind. To focus on nothing but your family. Don’t think about Christmas past. Don’t think about all the things you have to do tomorrow. All the work. Sit down with your family, your children. Be present in the moment: open, aware, approachable. Allow that moment to expand. You’ll feel like the Grinch when his heart grows 5x!
Take what you learn from being a successful business person and give the best gift this season: the gift of yourself, fully present.
Note: This article was originally published on Future Forward 1.0 on December 9, 2009