Leader.co.za - Management, Training and Career Advice for Business Leaders

29 MAY 2020
Stay unproductive - at least for a little while

by Peter Bregman: Peter Bregman is a strategic advisor to CEOs and the leadership teams. His most recent book is 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. To receive an email when he posts, click here.

On April 23rd, my father died of lymphoma he could no longer fight.

“There are few people in this world who leave an indelible mark,” a friend wrote to me, “such that when you reflect upon their essence you can actually see their smile, hear their voice and feel their presence as though they are there with you in the moment. Your father is among those few.” Every single encounter with him always left you feeling better about yourself.

The world feels like a lesser place without him. I miss him.

And still, I can feel him more now than ever. Maybe because I miss him? It seems like, when he died, his energy didn’t disappear or dissipate, it dispersed.

If you eat a cookie, it’s gone. His energy though – like love or a candle flame – only grows and expands when it spreads. I’m deeply grateful that I have some. So are most people who knew him. I can feel his energy now, as I write this. A growing part of me.

All that said, even with the sweetness of his presence, I find myself a little lost. I’m scattered. Unfocused. Struggling to be productive. To move forward on anything in a meaningful way.

I don’t like that feeling.

And so I can feel my instinctive drive to push through it. To plan and to-do list and schedule my way to productivity and achievement and forward progress. I want my momentum back.

I also have an opposing instinct, one that feels deeper, more profound, scarier: Stay unproductive. At least for a little while. Feel the sadness, the loss. Sink into the discomfort of not moving forward, not getting things done, not progressing.

I’m talking about a very personal loss and the deep sadness I feel with it. But I’m hearing other people describe similar feelings, living in this global experience of change and loss – loss of the normal, the habitual, the everyday routine. Maybe you feel some of the same as well?

Somehow, in this moment, I think unproductive is important. I think it’s what I must feel – maybe what we must feel – to allow for growth. To allow ourselves to pass through the liminal space, to linger with a question that this moment begs me to ask:

How will I let myself be changed?

Not how should I change. Or how will the world change (and consequently how must I change to keep up). And certainly not, how can I not change and preserve the way things have always been.

I’ve heard a lot of us asking those questions over the past few months. I’ve asked them all myself. But those are questions of survival and stagnation disguised as questions of change.

While I am instinctively drawn to ask those questions, they miss what can be magical and truly transformational about this moment. They miss our real opportunity.

Given everything I am experiencing and all of who I am, can I let myself be moved and touched and changed by this moment? Will I allow this change in my world – deeply personal and vastly global – to wash over me, shift my worldview, change me? Not from a place of discipline or drive, not from a self-directed, strategic, goal-oriented place, but from a place of openness and vulnerability. Not from willfulness but from willingness.

And in that pause, can I listen without defense – inside and outside – to the voices I hear and the nudges I feel? And, finally, can I find the courage – emotional and physical – to follow my impulses, step by step, toward what I think may be true. At first, I wrote “what I know to be true.” But I don’t know what the future holds. There are risks. Which is why I feel scared.

But I long to be willing – I’m seeking – to be moulded by the loss I feel from my father’s death and the grace with which he lived his life. I feel sadness that I will never see his smile again or feel his strong, tender hands on my back. And I also feel excited that I can begin – in small ways – to feel my own smile, my own hands, showing up in new ways, more generously, more tenderly, more strongly.

My very personal loss is accompanied by a tectonic shift in the world. By sheltering in place and slowing down, by living closer to some and much farther from others, by sickness and death and also intimacy and caring.

Living in this moment is new for me. I imagine it’s new for you. It’s new for each of us in unique ways. Can we allow ourselves to be changed?

I have so much to learn, so many ways to be changed. I feel myself cling to what I have known and what has kept me safe. I can also feel myself gingerly loosen my grip on the security of what has been and, then, with my newly freed hands, reach for what’s to come.

I hope you can be here, with me, in this space for a little time, as we allow ourselves the time and grace to figure out who we are becoming.
Useful resources:

Peter Bregman
Peter Bregman is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and advises CEOs and their leadership teams. He is the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change and 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done to be published in September 2011. Peter can be reached at www.peterbregman.com and followed on twitter @PeterBregman. He regularly delivers speeches and keynote presentations at conferences and corporate meetings around the world. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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