Last weekend I had an unexpected emergency operation to remove my appendix that had become dangerously inflamed. I consider myself lucky that, aged almost 40, it was my first ever ‘proper’ trip to hospital and the exceptional care I got from the British NHS meant that a week later I am recovering very well. The very nature of the operation and the recovery has meant that I have been living my life in slow-motion for the last week. Movement is slow and considered – like an astronaut on the moon. The pace of my life has slowed right down and everything takes much longer. The ‘chunks’ of stuff in my day have reduced from many to a few, mainly involving sleeping, eating and either daydreaming, reading or watching TV. This slow-motion pace started off as being imposed by my body but as I’ve recovered I have started to enjoy it. Now that I am choosing to move in slow motion it is lovely. Rather than rushing past things I am dwelling with them longer. I have time to think. Time to just be still. I am able to notice more about myself and an opportunity to savor my surroundings more deeply.
I decided on Tuesday to dip back into my work, looking at e-mails, taking a phone call or two, checking on my diary and not only was I shocked at the pace of things, as I tentatively peeked from behind a metaphorical curtain, but I began to feel my limited energy drain away and became physically worse again. I couldn’t believe how ‘normal me’ managed to fit so much into a day. I couldn’t believe how quickly people spoke, how rapidly they moved about, how urgent everything seemed to be and how many questions were thrown my way. I felt battered by the world I’d happily been living in a few days before. I switched my phone off and hid it under a pillow! It seemed that everywhere I looked in the outside world there was an invitation to speed up, a very tempting offer to go just a little bit faster again. Even walking down the street for the first time I became very self-conscious that I was walking at the pace of a 79 year old and not a 39 year old and a little voice in my head told me ‘come on – speed up, what will people think – you can go a little bit quicker!’ I concluded that becoming more choiceful about pace would be good but I also realised that trying to maintain my slow-motion life would be very difficult.
Yesterday I visited Costa Coffee to get out the house and to start writing again and I noticed an older chap with a big white beard and, what those who grew up in the 80s might call a ‘Crocodile Dundee’ style hat. He was talking to everyone who passed him by however, in that very London way, people were being polite but secretly hoping the conversation with a stranger would go no further and they could get on with their busy lives. He spotted me. “How are you doing today mate?” he said in a broad Australian accent. In that moment I decided that I would say YES to his offer of a conversation and told him I was doing well and recovering from an operation. The conversation evolved and we spoke about our work, our interests and our passions. I discovered that he is a 77 year old elder of the Yorta Yorta tribe and spends his life bringing people from all walks of life together through storytelling and aboriginal creativity. We spoke of our joint passion for unleashing imagination and creativity in others, thoughts on a different approach to education and business and exchanged details to hopefully have a coffee sometime and work out where we could maybe join each other’s adventures.
Had I not still been recovering, I would likely have been living my life at twice the speed and would have used my well honed Londoner abilities to avoid a conversation that might distract me from the urgent stuff I needed to get done. I wouldn’t have been aware of the potential offer that was right in front of me. I smiled on the way home as I realised that, even in slow-motion, a simple YES can lead to new adventures and possibilities.
On occasions I get groups of leaders I am working with to do what I call a ‘slow walk’. This involves me setting them the task of taking as long as possible to walk a very short distance. This might be from one end of their head office to another, around the perimeter of a hotel or between London landmarks. It is the alternate reality of the 100m where slowness is what wins the gold medal and the whole intent is to help people notice more and nurture their inbuilt curiosity. Anyone who has completed a slow walk reports how difficult it is, especially the rules I put in place that they can only interact with what is directly, physically present. Whilst they can sit and observe the world they can’t sit and make phone calls or do e-mails for an hour! However, most people report that after an initial panic they find it very pleasant. They notice more about their surroundings. They spot and spend time with things they have walked past every day but never noticed. They notice more about themselves, their feelings, their imagination. They have conversations with people that have no other agenda than simply being an opportunity to interact with somebody else. In other words, by slowing down they widen their peripheral awareness and spot a plethora of new offers they could potentially say yes to. I tell them afterwards, the tactics to getting really good at slow walking is to simply be deeply curious about literally everything!
It seems to me that the pace of corporate life is multi dimensional. On one axis are the amount of blocks of ‘stuff’ we strive to cram into a day – meeting after meeting, workshops, e-mails, writing reports, commuting (etc). On the other axis is the density we pack into each living moment (what we might normally call ‘multi-tasking’) – checking our messages whilst we walk to a meeting, taking a phone call whilst we commute home, re-arranging our diaries for tomorrow whilst paying attention to today whilst listening to others whilst we interact with social media (etc). It was this multi-dimensional stretch of breadth and depth that I experienced when I first peeked my head from behind the parapet of recovery for the first time and it made me realise how good we all are at doing this non-stop AND how much energy, wellbeing and awareness it consumes.
As I step back into the flow of the torrent next week I do so with a heightened awareness of the following that I hope will allow me to remain choiceful…
I realise how invitations to speed up exist in almost every interaction with others and how tempting they are to accept.
I realised how difficult I personally find it to slow down but how lovely, spacious and creative it feels when I choose to do so.
I realise the impact that pace, breadth and density of corporate life has on the health and awareness of the body and the mind but we have simply learnt to endure this.
And most of all, I realise how much more one can notice and how many millions of offers for adventure are out there if we were to just agree to take it all a little more s l o w l y!