My feedback to one of my clients lately was, "You're working too hard to be positive. It's tiring to be around." She was confused, and said that, in her past, she had slipped into negativity and was trying hard to find a different way. "What should I do instead, then?" she asked me.
"Live in reality," I told her. "Be present to whatever is, whether it's painful, joyful, boring, infuriating, imperfect, incomplete, sub-par. If you can learn to do that, you'll be unstoppable in your leadership."
I'm not an expert on mindfulness, and there's research to say it does and doesn't work. And recently, this fascinating opinion piece about how one of the best things about being human is our ability to reminisce about the past or look forward to the future. The author jokes about how pontificating about mindfulness must sound to someone who spends 11 hours a day in front of a deep-fat fryer.
But I still maintain that living in reality is the antidote to these crazy times. We don't sugarcoat things, but we also don't despair. We make meaning from our past, plan for our future, but also furiously pay attention to whoever and whatever is right in front of us. My 8 year old nephew Ezra was begging my sister for allowance recently. She told him, "You can start by clearing your breakfast dishes. Maybe then I'll consider it."
Which got me thinking, of course, what dishes are waiting to be cleared in my own heart and mind? What reality, however messy, needs my gaze? There's not much power in positive thinking, but there's great resolve, clarity, and yes, even joy, when we live in reality.