New Year’s Resolution: Look beyond the light

Look in the light?

I’m sure you all know the story about the man who was looking for something under a street-light.  A passer-by stopped to help and asked what he was looking for.  “A sixpence,” the first man said.  “I dropped a sixpence.”  “Where did you drop it?” asked the second man.  “Over there”, the first man said, pointing outwards into the dark.  “Why are you looking for it here, then?”, said the newcomer.  “Because here is where the light is”, answered the first.

So many of us run our lives on that principle.  We know we need light.  So we head towards the light.  But so has everyone else.  And in business-terms, that patch is “over-traded”. In social terms, the “in-crowd” is there.

Look beyond the light

It is good to be there too.  But who is being excluded?  And why?

In many countries, we are approaching the Christmas festival and many of us will be packing up preparing to criss-cross the globe to rejoin family.  We are heading towards the light and warmth of the family hearth.

In the Christian tradition, it is also a time to think about those who are not included around a family hearth.  It is a gesture of kindness and compassion to reach out.

It is also in our self-interest.  Poets remind us that it is in the dark, the place where we generally do not look or listen, where the value of our lives might be.  Paying attention to the dark might bring value to the hearth.

Poetry about looking beyond the light

Here is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke on making friends with the dark.  Maybe that should be the New Year’s Resolution for 2010.  To spend a moment each day looking beyond the circle of light into the dark beyond?

You, darkness

You, darkness, that I come from

I love you more than all the fires

that fence in the world,

for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone

and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything-

shapes and fires, animals and myself,

how easily it gathers them!

– powers and people-

and it is possible a great presence is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Priorities and goals

Middle management sucks

I’ve always thought that one of the best kept secrets of management theory is that middle management sucks.  Have you every noticed that there are very few movies about middle management? And whenever there is a story about middle management, it is about a submarine or boat where the “business unit manager” is far enough away from the “strategic leaders” to do some leadership? Or we see the middle manager bailing out and rediscovering life as in Jerry Maguire.

Middle management sucks because it is all urgent and important

Middle management sucks because it is all management.  It is all about “to do” lists.  Being a housewife is similar.  “To do lists” take up too much of our attention.  It is a percentage thing.  While everything on the the list is important, we should never allow our lives to be overtaken by what is urgent and important.  Urgent and important should be allowed, how much do you think?  1%?  If you have a day of urgent and important tasks, don’t you think you really have another 99 days of tasks that you are not doing?

Can you live without a day of urgent and important tasks?

If we could live without urgent and important tasks, I wonder whether we would?

Isn’t it true, as David Whyte says, that we make another “to do list” because we are scared that we are nothing and nobody without one.

It becomes very interesting when our “to do” lists vanish.  If we are suddenly ill,  or when we change jobs and nobody knows who we are.  When we don’t get email and our phone doesn’t ring.  It is quite disconcerting.  We much prefer to be dominated by urgent and important tasks even if they are dreary. Don’t we prefer to have “to do” lists that are larger than ourselves and our dreams?

To do lists make us miserable

For the last 10 years, as a displaced person/migrant, I’ve oscillated between frenetic completion of lists of commercial tasks like residence permits, bank accounts, etc. etc. – things I hate to do at the best of times – and silence.  I think this is why migration is so miserable.  Not dealing with bankers and government officials – they are people too.  Not taking boring jobs.  The jobs are important in their own right.  Migration is miserable because we make the mistake of allowing the “to do list” and the silences that surround them be all that it is.

We have to allow the “to do” work and accompanying silences fit into space around our dreams, not be our only space.

We really have to resolve to re-engineer our lives around a dream, to live around what we love to do and to relax into doing what others love us to do because we do it so well.  We have to allow the “to do” work and silences fit in to that space, not be our only space. We are letting priorities become goals and constrict our spaces until we cannot breathe anymore – rather literally for some.

A hack to start the dreaming

Take a a piece of paper (or junk mail envelope).  Draw a little circle for our little life as a migrant, or as a housewife, or as a middle manager (those scare me more than being a migrant).  Around that little circle, draw a giant circle representing our horizons and dreams.  And stare at the empty space between the two.  Pretty scary.

I feel my chest constrict.  I want to walk away.  I mustn’t.   I must start defining the points on the horizon.  The points I love and I am drawn to.  And then start filling in any points between me and there, any point at all, useful or not.   I need to take the first step and to put down the first point.

Can we leave the tight center of tedium?

It is hard when immediate pressures are upon us.  We won’t start dreaming instantly.  We keep looking nervously at that tight center of tedium. How can we take our eye off all these pressures?

Crisscross over.  Promise yourself you will be back to watch that tight center like you watch a pot on the stove or a sick child.  But branch out in each direction to see how far you can see.  It is only a piece of paper after all. Just add a point.  See if you can.

See if you dare to live a full life even on the back of an envelope

See if you dare lie a life when priorities take up 1% of your existence and are priorities, not limits and constraints.