I used to wake up each morning with a laundry list of thoughts and tasks swamping my mind. Once awake, my mind would pull me back and forth between feelings of worry and hope, like an internal tug-of-war. Some days I would find myself somewhat impaired by my fears, feeling stuck in a daily routine and unmotivated to move toward any new goals.
Something was missing.
Too Busy, Too Fast, Too Much
In a society filled with never-ending stress, working lunches, and constant accessibility to email, it is easy to get lost in the vortex of whatever is coming up next. You might sometimes feel trapped in feeling you have to keep up with the frantic pace of others around you. When Monday comes, you can’t wait for Friday. Then Friday arrives and soon it will be Monday again. It’s exhausting, and when you’re caught in the trap of busyness, you know that something important is missing.
What does it take to slow us down, maintaining a more manageable pace of life and participate in the present? In this article I will share a personal event that ignited my motivation to create genuine relationships, connect with others in my life, and experience the present more fully. I truly hope that relating this story will help you!
Several years ago, I was working from home one afternoon when I decided to reward myself with a break and phone call to a friend. As my mind reviewed the list of potential candidates, I realized that my good friend Stephen had not called me back recently. Upon remembering this injustice, I decided to follow up and have some “words” with him. My call went directly to his voice mail. Disappointed, I sat at my desk for a moment thinking back to our last conversations. It had been months, and the last time we spoke he had mentioned coming into town for a visit. Where was my friend? Naturally, I pulled up his Facebook page to gather further details.
As I started to read, I noticed an overwhelming amount of posts to his wall, “Stephen, thought about you a lot today,” or “Stephen, you would have loved this concert…” and my heart-rate started to quicken and I scrolled down further to read, “RIP”
…and the world around me suddenly stopped.
I discovered that my dear friend had lost his battle with cancer. And I sat there, alone in my apartment, reading his final timeline comments and friendly dialogue with friends as the toxic poison spread throughout his body and robbed him of his life. He was gone. The pain was agonizing; as feelings of regret and sadness overcame my mind and body, I started crying. I cried for days. Why wasn’t I there, why didn’t I know?
Regret & Accountability
Regret…no one likes to feel it and no one wants to have it. I went through so many emotions that day; I wanted to tell Stephen how much I cared for him, but now I would never have that chance. Slowly, after sitting in my feelings of regret and experiencing deep grief and sadness, I decided that I was not about to let Stephen’s death go by without any accountability on my end.
While my initial feeling was regret, I challenged myself to explore what was hiding underneath my raw emotion. Do you want to know what I discovered?
Stephen’s death made me realize that I had lost sight of what was really important to me: the relationships I valued, appreciating nature, feeling alive. I realized that slowly, even outside of my own awareness, I had started traveling down a path surrounded by “busyness” and deadlines. These things began replacing many of the relationships and activities that once filled me with such wonderful emotions and meaning.
I had become too busy to enjoy the things that truly matter in life, and it left me feeling empty. My emptiness had become a place for me to hide, to avoid interactions, and to avoid life. While it was unintentional on my part, emptiness had found a way to pervade my life—and now it was in control.
Motivation and Steps to Change
I wanted to use my feelings of regret, guilt, and ultimately emptiness to make a change in my life. I understood that these feelings were the result of my own insecurities and fears that had prevented me from telling Stephen how much I cared for him. I didn’t want to live behind my fears and emptiness. I knew that change takes time and patience…and even some planning.
First, the feeling of regret was exactly that, a feeling. I now understood that those feelings meant much more, so to start, I just needed to remember and hold onto that feeling.
What an odd thing to recommend… holding onto a regret, but the goal here is to fire up that motivation to fight against the demands and stress that can pile up when you’re not looking.
The second step in my quest to thwart feelings of emptiness was to become more involved in social situations and family functions. Suddenly being tired did not override my desire to reply “yes” to engagements and invitations. My world slowed down and I found myself recognizing and appreciating my life and people in a different way. I wanted to be present, to slow down my brain and listen, participate in the relationships in my life.
Befriending Our Imperfections
My friend Stephen once said to me that he learned to do the best he could, let go of what he could not control, and have faith. There is something so liberating about his wisdom: all we can do is our best—and then we can let go of the rest. We are imperfect; we will mess up and make mistakes; we will trip over our words and spill things on our white shirts. (Some of us—like myself—will do this more than others!)
When we are imperfect, we also give others around us permission to be imperfect and what unfolds is a genuine connection between two people. I learned that I did not want to live my life trapped in fear; I wanted to create honest and genuine relationships with the important people around me. In the past, I had allowed my fears and insecurities to prevent me from being myself and sharing what was inside. I had to start talking, opening up about my own ideas and opinions, and be vulnerable. Feeling a new motivation to be seen, I had to come out of my own shell.
Wake Up Calls
We all have moments that cause us to pause, that make an impact. These moments somehow give us a different set of eyes to view the world a little differently. It’s in these moments that we have the opportunity to fuel change within ourselves—and it’s up to us to then figure out how to keep that momentum. For me, keeping that momentum included understanding the emptiness inside, holding onto the feeling of regret, embracing my own imperfections, and participating in more social, genuine relationships.
As a result, I found a renewed sense of confidence and enjoyment in my life, which also started to give me a feeling of peace. Peace for me meant less worrying about the unimportant and more connection with the people and activities that I love!
The sudden death of a friend ignited my motivation to slow down and be present. In doing so, my world slowed down and while my feelings of worry may still exist, they exist in a much more manageable way. I found that by focusing on being present and connected, a new feeling of security emerged, filling me with motivation that permeated into other areas of my life. Confidence at work, going on a vacation, eating a sundae without suffocating from guilt and better workouts. While the daily pressures will always exist, they have become more manageable. In addition I also have an increase in feelings of comfort and worth.
Remembering to slow down and be present is easier on some days than others. Occasionally, life will throw reminders in your direction, nudging you to remember how fragile and sacred our lives really are. It’s been several years since my friend Stephen passed away, and I continue to pause when one of his favorite songs is playing. Now I just smile, remembering his life and knowing how impactful his death has been to me. Yet, even in death, Stephen is still teaching me.
How have you reconnected with what really matters in your life? Feel free to leave a comment below!
If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out this inspirational post by my colleague Paul Sigafus: Wonder, Mortality, & Small Awakenings