Trading the Sublime for the Mundane

Today at work I had big plans to take time and strategize for 2016. I like to use the end of the year to reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and how I can best set up my team for success in the new year. Plus, the week between Christmas and New Year is almost always quiet. Almost.

Because life is funny in a way that makes for a great rom-com conceit, the universe had different plans. Not surprisingly, I spent most of my brain cells dealing with two issues that needed my undivided attention for pretty much the whole day. With sadness, I deleted the four-hour block of time on my calendar that I had foolishly set aside in advance for strategery.

Life is life, and stuff happens. And any good improviser will tell you to take the unexpected turn of events you’re given and embrace the hell out of it. That’s the only way you ensure that the resulting end product is enhanced rather than diminished by your input.

But it got me thinking about how often we acquiesce — consciously or subconsciously — to trading the sublime for the mundane. Admittedly, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to articulate a cogent and inspiring vision for my team at the end of the workday. And frankly, I wouldn’t have had a clear perspective given my heightened blood pressure.

And although the mundane is important (and imperative in many cases), I’ve decided to challenge myself to find intentional time everyday to consider the big picture. I’m eschewing the idea that we always need four hours with flip charts and lots of smelly colored markers, although those “retreats” are sometimes necessary, especially for facilitating group dynamics.

I got a glimpse of the power of intentionality on my five-minute Starbucks run this afternoon. There, dodging the traffic of downtown Miami, my brain was away from my computer screen and given freedom to think. That change of scenery allowed me to disengage from the crises I was handling and gave me brain space to ask myself bold questions, brainstorm and shoot down ideas, and imagine the possibilities for the new year. (And yes, I talk to myself in public.)

I achieved a distinct moment of clarity and immediately jotted a few quick thoughts on my notes app. I’m sure nothing I typed was Nobel Prize-worthy; they were just a few words and ideas to mull over. But even if I didn’t get a chance to get back to them today, I’d like to think that I planted seeds that would eventually take root and blossom. At the very least, my moment of zen re-energized me and allowed me to handle my work crises with a more balanced perspective.

A while back I asked Twitter founder Jack Dorsey about one thing he does everyday to keep ideas brewing. Here’s how he responded:

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Lesson learned: While we may never truly escape the mundane, a few intentional minutes on the sublime — even on a coffee break — can be transformative.

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Seven Things I Learned from Being Furloughed

1. I don’t have the tolerance of a 21-year old. Sure, alcohol can entertain for a while. But at some point, it morphs into that obnoxious college buddy who crashes on your couch, beats you up for money, and refuses to shower.

2. My internal alarm clock is always on. Apparently, my body doesn’t like to sleep in — even when given the opportunity. I woke up earlier while furloughed than I did when I was working. I look forward to when getting up early becomes useful: To watch the sunrise, to buy the freshest donuts, and to escape the zombie apocalypse, which I’m pretty sure will happen at dawn.

3. Netflix has a lot of crap movies and TV shows. And I watched them.

4. I didn’t realize how much of my personal identity is tied to my work identity as a SME in higher ed. Good to figure this out now than a decade later when I have my mid-life crisis:

TJ: But all you do is work!
Archie: But this is all I know to do! (sobbing hysterically while drowning my identity crisis in a pint of frozen yogurt)

5. That said, it was refreshing to remind myself of my other skill sets — those I would need to exploit for pleasure or livelihood when the sequel to the shutdown happens in January. So, lesson learned: I’m not completely useless.

6. I can’t grow a beard. 😦 When is puberty supposed to hit? I’m in my mid-thirties, damn it.

7. I’m officially over it. I’m a big fan of civic engagement, but my eight years in DC have eroded my patience for political theater. I’m trying to figure out whether the maddening vitriol/rhetoric/grandstanding stems from ignorance or just good old-fashioned megalomania. If, as Mulder said, all the nuts roll down to Florida, they sure seem to have an extended layover here.

Pressing Your Mind Grapes: Dan Pink’s Drive

A little late to the game, but Dan Pink’s Drive was brought up at a staff meeting at work today.

I hadn’t heard of his work before, but his assertion that what motivates us isn’t necessarily money but rather autonomy, mastery, and purpose is pretty interesting.

Here’s his spiel in a nutshell, courtesy of a talk adapted by RSA Animate: