Lessons from a Power-Grid Apocalypse
It happened two weeks ago in the late afternoon. An unprecedented power outage led to a historic blackout that left almost 7 million people without electricity. From Mexico to southern Orange County, people were stranded in office buildings and trapped in elevators. Retail shoppers plunged into darkness. Loss of computer and security systems grounded planes at the airport. It was controlled chaos.
Born and raised in Connecticut, I was very familiar with blackouts, be it hurricanes or snow and ice storms. But I’ve been in California for over 30 years and no longer dealing with this as a carefree kid. When the power went out I was in the midst of a coaching call with a Doctor. The phone went silent. My computer was dead. I thought, “Who’s going to fix this problem? After all, I have work to do!”
When I learned the extensiveness of the power outage, my worries shifted. How was I going to print the remaining materials I needed for my leadership training the next day? What would I do with the food in my refrigerator? How will the traffic be without stop lights? As a child I would have relished the news that schools were cancelled for the next day. But as an adult, I was frustrated and annoyed…and very unsettled by the loss of ties to the outside world just days before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the absence of media, fears were rampant about whether this might be a terrorist attack.
But jitters gave way to a calm and even festive mood. People in my community lingered outside on a balmy evening. We caught up on one another’s lives. After concocting a make-shift oven in our BBQ, we warmed up a casserole that one neighbor had made earlier in the day. We enjoyed dinner and wine by candlelight on an outdoor patio table. The night passed too quickly before we used flashlights to find our way home. As we listened to the battery-powered radio for updates, I realized that there was nothing competing for our attention and we were truly ‘in the present’...and how rare that is in this age of technology. How easy and common it is to get distracted from the people and things that mean the most to us. This inconvenience was truly a reality check. An evening without power had some sweet advantages. We sat around and talked instead of zoning out in front of the TV. Soulful bonding, quiet walks down the streets, reconnecting with family and friends. In the positivity of spirit, differences melted away.
Linda Stone, a writer and consultant, coined the phrase “continuous partial attention.” This is the kind of attention that we’ve developed in the last 20 years with different devices and possibilities that allow us to be “on” 24/7, responding to everything. Continuous partial attention is motivated by a desire not to miss opportunities. We want to ensure our place on the network because we feel alive when we’re connected.
For 20 years we've been working to maximize opportunities and contacts in our life. So much social networking, so little time. Speed, agility, and connectivity are at the top of our minds - marketers have been humming that tune for two decades now. We've taken it to an extreme and it has made us overwhelmed, unfulfilled, exhausted. We may feel connected, but there is a lack of meaning. This high-tech way of life has made us feel empty. What would be better?
Engaged attention. We’re yearning for it. People want and need quality of life which is tied to the perception of “meaning.” The quest for meaning is central to the human condition. We are brought in touch with a sense of meaning when we reflect on that which we have created, loved, believed in or left as a legacy. We long for a quality of life that comes in meaningful connections to friends, colleagues, and family that we experience with full-focus attention on relationships.
Rather than “killing” time - we need to nurture it. Instead of “wasting” time we need to conserve it. Despite the seductive lures to live at the speed of time, we can live more in the moment. The challenge is to become more aware of time not as something we spend but as something we invest in.
If you really want to get to the heart of an issue and figure out some of the subtleties of running a practice, there's no substitute for personal contact. Implement meaningful acts into your practice. Maintain personal contact with your patients and your employees. Walk around and casually keep in touch with the people on your team. Talk with them informally several times a week. Give them a sense of what's on your mind, what leadership is all about, how you're thinking about the future. Get people together without modern technology and enable meaningful connections that build relationships. This is what gets employees moving in the same direction. This is what brings patients back to your office. It will get your power back too!
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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