One of the things that impressed me about this group was the ability of these very busy leaders to be fully present in this experience. I know they left desks filled with unfinished jobs, lists of things to do, line ups of team members waiting to see them, and yet, they arrived prepared to be present.
Between the Edmonton trip and another huge coaching opportunity that has come my way, my days have been full and I surprised myself when I looked at my calendar a couple of days ago and realized that we will turn the mythical page of our outdated paper calendars over this coming week and welcome May. Yikes! I mean this in the best way possible, of course.
In our family, May is filled with opportunities to celebrate. In my family of origin, there are three birthdays. In our little Critchley family, we celebrate not only our daughter’s birthday, but also that of our son-in-law. Add in three or four mothers celebrating Mother’s Day and that’s a lot of presents.
This idea of present, and presents and presence has been occupying some space in my mind.
The easiest part of this is the presents part; presents that we wrap up and give. Once I have my idea for a gift, I’m off to the races in terms of buying, wrapping and giving. I try to only give presents I am happy with; ones I think will be meaningful to the recipient. This is kind of like the ‘doing’ part of presents. Doing is easy; the presence part is more challenging.
We’ve all been in situations where someone is present in body but is far away in their mind. This may because they really never wanted to be there in the first place. They could have something else on their mind. They could simply be distracted by their phone or some other external device. No matter the reason, it doesn’t feel good to try to have a conversation with someone who is only half-interested. The best multitasker cannot fake being fully present. Even during phone conversations, we can tell when someone is sharing their attention between us and something far more (or less) intriguing.
While this half-invested behaviour is frustrating, and can feel insulting when we are on the receiving end of it, it somehow doesn’t feel as bad as when we do not allow ourselves to be fully present; when we do not fully show up ourselves. As ourselves.
By this I don’t mean the times when we choose to be half-interested. I mean the times when we sit down to the table and choose to send our representative instead of ourselves. We send the version of ourselves we think others want to see. We choose to answer questions with ideas that may be pleasing but that do not reflect our true beliefs. We choose to go along with things said, that allow us to fit in, but that may not demonstrate what we know to be true. We tow the party line at the expense of daring to put forth original thought.
Even worse than this is when we not only offer thoughts that do not reflect ourselves, but when we present a picture of ourselves that is not reflective of our truest self. Sadly, for hundreds of years, women learned to present images of themselves that often minimized their intelligence, their free thought and their unique way of seeing the world. Their presence was orchestrated by societal norms rather than by their individuality.
This is the worst use of our presence; when we make the choice to have our presence not be a present at all. This is when our presence, our individuality, though wrapped in a pleasing package, when opened is found to be lacking the shine we had hoped for.
This week, each of us will be asked to be present somewhere in our lives. Each of us will be asked to ‘show up’; to sit down at the table as ourselves, and not send our representative in our stead. It may be as simple as having a genuine conversation. Perhaps we will be given the chance to hear a new perspective and asked to offer one of our own. Perhaps a friend will tell us about something they are dealing with and we will answer with true empathy – rather than offering well-rehearsed platitudes. Perhaps it’s time your workplace sees you for the intelligent contributor you are, rather than as the cooperative yes-person you have been.
Many years ago, when our daughter was about seven, her cat was run over by a car. She was devastated. At school the following morning, long before classes started, one of the teachers, the beloved Mrs. Goerlitz, heard about it and asked if she could take Kaitlyn to her classroom for a chat. Mrs. Goerlitz was also a cat lover and she understood some things about loss. Later, Mrs. Goerlitz told me they had a good talk about Kaitlyn's cat, and they had a little cry together.
This is the priceless gift of presence.
The group in the workshop at the Alberta Cancer Foundation chose to be present this past week. They did not pretend to be something they were not. They had honest conversations. They acknowledged each others strengths and bravely revealed what things needed their attention. They agreed from the start that they would not send a representative; they would show up fully themselves. They honoured their own presence and the presence of the others in the group.
Life feels too short and too important to play silly games. When the ‘honour of your presence’ is next requested, really go for it. Show up. Do not send your representative. Have presence. Be present. Be a present.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘How am I honouring my presence?’.
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is also the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. Contact Elizabeth and allow her to help you to honour your presence.