I heard from a friend recently that she was heading into an eight-day silent meditation retreat. In her note she sent this quote:
“In the age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In the age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” —Pico Iyer
The quote resonated deeply with me. In the past year and a half since my wife Bridget passed away, I have found a new rhythm, deeper and slower. Certainly, as an entrepreneur and executive, I’ve always had way more things to get done than I ever could manage. There was a kind of mania to work, especially in my field, which was advertising. I felt like I was running but getting nowhere. It didn’t feel out-of-the-ordinary, because everyone around me was doing the same thing. Somehow, in this hyper-connected self-promotional world, I felt less invested and more distant from everything that was important to me. I was a rock skipping across a pond.
Bridget’s horrific journey through bipolar disorder and her subsequent suicide not only filled me with a deep sadness and helplessness that will take years to recover from but was also a wake-up call. While Bridget’s episodes of mania were driven by an illness, in retrospect her manic phases looked similar to the work environment I had created. Always on. Always connected. Always with ten more things to do before shutting down. Running fast to get it done and looking good while doing it.
What I’ve realized is that for any of us to make a difference in the world, we need to slow down. Do less. Create deeper, more meaningful relationships. Connect with fewer people. And turn things off. Just sit. As I’ve dedicated myself to following the journey of co-creation and the future of work that I began 20 years ago, it’s become obvious that I need to slow down. Take time to dig in deeper. Have fewer distractions. More space. Connect with fewer people and deepen those relationships.
Today, it’s so hard to create meaning in any field when things speed by. I used to use the analogy of the traveler sitting by the side of the river not knowing what the water was like, hesitating to jump in. I’ve always jumped in head first. After living a life deep in the power of the river it has molded me to be in constant motion. To take action. Yet, I’ve realized that there is beauty in sitting beside the river, observing. Considering the larger context. Understanding its path.
I’m not sure I would have found the opportunity to sit still had I not been forced to confront the incredibly painful reality of Bridget’s mental illness. My roots now are growing deep on the banks of the river. I’m more connected to the things that matter to me. Connected to my work in a different way than before.
The future of work focuses on the gig economy, an economy that is about the gig mindset. There’s a lot to get done in our lives and in our work. It can be overwhelming. But we don’t have to do all of it alone. There’s now a digitally connected world out there full of people willing to help do the work. We can break things down into smaller tasks. We can ask for help. We can find solutions to problems, get things done, and create the space we need in our lives.
The gig economy allows us all to emerge from the river long enough to figure out what the important work is for all of us. Giving us the tools to slow down and dig in.