It’s The Simple Things – Presence or Absence, Not Both

by helen on January 31, 2012

“Be absent, or be present, but don’t be both.”

In early December I was honored to take facilitator training for i2a Strategic Thinking and the Energy Rich Leadership Course.  This was the ground rule delivered by one of the fabulous course leaders, Gretchen Pisano (who writes beautifully about it here).

Be absent, or be present, but don’t be both. (Yes, it’s so good it’s worth repeating.)

Simple, elegant and brilliant.  Not always easy.

Within the context of training, I see how disruptive it can be when people are reading email, texting, tweeting, or facebooking on their smartphone during a training session.  It’s understandable that at times during a training event you may need to step out and take a call or respond to an urgent request.

It’s when we think we can do both concurrently that we get into trouble.

And so it is with life.

Over the holidays I found myself thinking about this in different areas of my life.  It was a quick grounding reminder when multiple and layered distractions abounded.

I practiced being present with my children, only to realize how many times I reach for my phone, or the ingredients to cook dinner, or even noticing that my mind has raced ahead and I’m elsewhere, physically in place but otherwise engaged.  Blind multitasking while being ‘present’ with those I love.

What an eye opener.

At a party, I was talking with a couple of smart, engaged women who are also mothers of elementary-school-age children, and we were talking about this concept.  One of them mentioned a mobile phone company tag line of “be here now” and how she had used that as a reminder to being present in her everyday life.

We all agreed about the importance of presence, and also how very challenging it can be in this world we live in.

It’s a choice and a practice.

What I am also now seeing is the value in absence.  Taking time to step away and either tend to a new priority, clearly and with focus, whether it’s for business or pleasure.

In loving and caring for my children, I realized that I, perhaps like many mothers, was tending to their every need, available 24/7, fueled by love, and yet this high-contact parenting was somehow resulting in me being less truly present when I was actually with them.

By giving myself the permission for absences, short periods of time where they were safely cared for and I could step away and take that time, even if the choice for that time was a nap, that my true presence with them when I returned was enriched.

It was more fun and playful – instead of me juggling multiple balls, hair on fire, burnt on busyness, and trying to meaningfully connect with my loved ones, I was able to simply do one thing at a time.  And do it well.

In order to do this, some choices were to be made.  Some items were dropped from my to-do list.  I asked for help with other items.  Expectations were set, modified and managed.

What I chose not to do was as important as what I chose to do.  

Result = meaningful presence or (and not +) guilt-free absence = love, peace, fun and freedom.

Are there areas of your life where you could do with more presence?

Are there areas of your life where a little absence would help?

Where are you doing the detrimental concurrent absence / presence dance and what could you choose to do to simplify?

So here’s my goal for 2012 – to be absent, or be present, but not be both. To exercise choice management.

Want to join me?  What values and principles have you chosen to honor this year?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Hunter February 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

Beautiful awareness, thank you for sharing!

helen February 1, 2012 at 11:00 am

Thanks Diane. It’s an ongoing process and practice acting on the awareness. Hxo

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