Live in the Present
I was always worried about what people thought of me, especially if I had made a mistake in the past. This may have held me back because I was worried about old perceptions people may have had of me. My concerns about whether someone liked me or not, respected me or not, or trusted me or not, impacted my confidence level and my ability to enjoy the job I was doing in the present. For the most part, I was impacting my own ability to do the work I loved to do.
I have had some bad days, like everyone else. I also had a few undesirable jobs that I needed to grind through. Unfortunately, these negative feelings and bad days had a tendency to linger with me, because I was worried about repeating a mistake or trying to over-impress someone with whom I wanted to make an impact. I am hard-pressed to come up with immediate memories of truly enjoying what I had going on around me until the latter part of my career. The potential of repeating past mistakes worried me while my obsessive concern over potential roadblocks or traps kept me from enjoying what was happening then and there.
I think I was constantly trying to stay a couple of steps ahead of my next action, in an attempt to avoid past mistakes. I was living too far into the future at times based on my feelings from the past. I was too preoccupied to stop and live in the present. People around me were promoted and I congratulated them on their success. I would dig in, internally frustrated, and immediately went on to the next thing that needed to be checked off my list. I had presentations that went well but I never appreciated those successes because I was already thinking about the next big project that was due.
In the spring of 2010, I advanced through the first three levels of competition to reach my first Toastmasters District Finals. The winner of this Toastmaster’s contest would represent District 45 (New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and all of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) as the Toastmasters International Speech Champion, and would then move on to the World Semi-finals. Only eighty-one people in the world would advance. On the morning before the biggest speech of my life, I ran into Joey Grondin. I recognized him from the 2009 fall conference, in which he’d given a presentation on “Developing Your Signature.” His message was clear: be yourself and enjoy what you are doing right now. I told him how memorable that presentation was and how I’d incorporated some of it in my speeches, including the one I planned to do in the competition that night.
Joe was gracious and relaxed. He was conversational and engaged in our conversation. He saw my excitement and nervousness as a competitor, yet he did not even mention that he was also participating in the contest. He simply wished me luck and tried to provide me encouragement. Since he was a trainer in the previous fall conference, it never dawned on me that he would be competing.
He chose to avoid ruining my excitement until I actually asked him the question. He was allowing me to enjoy the moment and he was along for the ride. The smile on his face never wavered. Later in the day, I was nervously trying to calm myself down when I asked him what he did to calm his nerves. He said, “Enjoy the moment and live in the present.” He also mentioned this in his book, Living in Harmony with Our Children. That day, he said to me (paraphrased), “You have done everything you can to prepare for this. Watch the audience and feed off their laughter and reactions. You will never be at that moment on stage to give this speech again, so enjoy it because it will be gone.” Joe went on to win that competition, and subsequently the semi-finals, which put him in the top nine in the world. I found out later that he had been at the district level many times before and had never won. I was proud to watch his winning performance.
I was happy with my speech, after a small hiccup. I stumbled when I almost repeated a line, but that moment isn’t what I remember most about my performance. I don’t recall being nervous when I was actually doing the speech, but I do remember how excited and animated I felt up on stage. I also clearly remember the looks on the faces of much of the audience. It was the best time I ever had giving a speech.
The key is to learn from your mistakes of the past, but don’t dwell on them or let them weigh you down. The past is over, so move on. You can also spend too much time worrying about what lies ahead as you try to predict the future. Will I fail? What will happen next? You only have so much control over any of it, and besides, there is a good chance it will change or not be exactly as you predicted anyway. Move your present forward by learning from the past, but see the joy in what you have at the moment.
Unfortunately, I also want to add that it can be over in a flash. While I was writing this passage today, I was on vacation but thought I would check my work email. I found out that there was a horrific auto accident near one of our East Coast offices. Two managers were returning from lunch when they were involved in a crash that killed one of them and put the other on life support. In cases like this, we can only love our family more than ever and give our thoughts and prayers to their families. The timing of the news was purely coincidental, but it is a stark reminder to hold on to the precious present moments while we can.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
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