How Do You Keep Life From Passing You By?

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It’s a common refrain; one that even ended up as a question for the digerati at Quora.

Just how do you keep life, like a river, from passing you by?

There are signals everywhere that you must do more to keep your head above water; even more if you want to “pull ahead.”

A recent Fortune magazine article chronicled the life of a young exec who had her “home” in San Francisco, lived mostly in an apartment near her work in Menlo Park when she wasn’t spending her considerable time on the road. She usually worked on 4-5 hours of sleep so she could plug into calls and meetings around the world’s time zones. Friends, partner, kids, family – even a dog – weren’t mentioned. Hunch is that they barely exist.

The essence of the question of “life passing you by” is what life?

If it’s the type of “life” the young female exec from the Fortune articled lived, then you sort of end up living it like her.

Fortune’s 2007 article on business guru Ram Charan – The Strange Existence of Ram Charan – chronicles a similar life, one that’s guaranteed not to pass you by. Business work is his whole life; he sleeps in hotels, has no “home” per se, and travels endlessly.

Here’s one of the ways, as noted from the Fortune article, on how Charan lives:

“Three days a week – on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – Burr [Charan’s EA/PA] and a colleague pack a cardboard box with shirts, underwear, and socks, perhaps a clean suit (there is a tailor at Neiman Marcus who has Charan’s measurements on file), and maybe a V-neck sweater or a pair of khaki pants. They toss in toothpaste, razors, shampoo, a shined pair of 91/2 EEEE shoes, whatever he needs (“He doesn’t buy anything himself,” says Burr), and send it by FedEx to Charan’s hotel, wherever that may be. The box comes back two days later filled with dirty laundry.”

Charan is a brilliant, tireless, hard working guy. But here’s the catch; he has no life – at least what most people would call a life.

But the way Charan or the young female exec operate is the way to “keep life from passing you by.

There is another way, of course. There is seldom just one choice, but often two or three.

That other choice is to live life – be a part of life’s very fiber. Stay in the moment. Experience the life you have right now – not in the past, not in the future, but now. Another guy name Ram with an amazing life, Ram Dass, promoted the phrase “Be here now” to encourage and focus people in the moment.

If you stay in the moment life doesn’t pass you by because you living that life. Right now.

This week my 9 year-old son Traylor and I are taking time off (President’s week vacation for the San Francisco Bay area grade school set) on a road trip to Portland and back. On the drive up, as I fretted about the things I needed to do, or should do, I caught myself just in time to hear Traylor’s laughter as he enjoyed a DVD of Tom & Jerry cartoons. As a kid I had laughed to those same cartoons, though probably with not as much pure enjoyment and joy. He is a great kid, and somebody who lives a full life in the moment.

It was a treat to catch the laughter, and to revel in the appreciation – mine – of being able to take time to be with him. Traylor’s half-way to adulthood, and if the rumors are true he’ll be wanting to spend time with friends, and not with his pop, in a year or two. Catching part of his life before be broadens the path to his own is a treat, a treasure, and something I’d never catch if I hadn’t taken the time, and stayed in the moment.

Life passing you by? Only if you don’t live it in the moment.

Ram Dass would be proud. Maybe Ram Charan, too.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


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