Author Archives: Andrea Curtis
Telephones ringing. Printer clacking. Voices murmuring. PDA buzzing. Copy machine pulsating. Online calendar beeping. Traffic throbbing. Sirens wailing. Keyboards clicking. Doors opening. Footsteps rushing. HVAC droning. Pens scratching. File drawer slamming. Elevator whirring. Light fixture humming. Clock ticking.
Within this relentless barrage, analysis is conducted, proposals are made, and decisions are finalized. Often the work is critical, always it is necessary. But how well can we — any of us — effectively manage all that oh-so-vital work without the consideration enabled us by even a single peaceful, uninterrupted moment? Without the opportunity to reflect in stillness, how can we hope to catch the elusive whisper of innovative solutions or noteworthy inquiries?
The great emperor Marcus Aurelius taught an important lesson in his journal, best known now as Meditations: life must be considered from within “a space of quiet” if we have any hope of living it well. Joseph Badaracco explains Aurelius’ philosophy as the belief “that serenity could protect him from the hazard of overimmersion, of losing himself and his bearings in the unending stream of life’s tasks” (Defining Moments, 1997, p.124).
If this long-ago emperor found life hectic, demanding, and full to bursting with demands and concerns and problems needing resolution, how much more so are our lives?
We all instinctively recognize the need for reflection, for consideration, for meditation. Yet we decry that need, insisting we do not have time to devote to such unproductive activities. We’re too busy, too important, too understaffed or overwhelmed or underpaid or inundated to waste our precious minutes in such pursuits. Certainly the concept has merit, but realistically there’s no way we can find the time for such petty endeavors.
And so on we go, bumbling along our daily path, secure in our own self-consequence, certain we’re doing “the best that we can.” Even when we’re not.
So, this is my challenge to each of us today: take three precious minutes to enjoy a space of quiet. Close the door. Step outside. Sit in the car. Dawdle in the restroom. Hide in an unoccupied cubicle. Gift your brain, for a mere 180 seconds, with a space of quiet. You might just find that it saves your soul.
In his essay “The Study of Administration,” Woodrow Wilson states that “In government, as in virtue, the hardest of hard things is to make progress.” Such a declaration initially may appear so obvious as to be rather pointless. But as I consider its veracity, I find myself pondering the reasons why making progress is so hard. Why, when we all want improvement, when we all want to provide the best services and options for our constituents, is making progress so difficult?
Easy answers flow quickly: budget restrictions, shifting political priorities, insufficient staff, competing interests. These are indeed components that must be considered when addressing progress, but I believe the heart of progress lies in the desire for and – perhaps more importantly — the willingness to not just accept but actively seek change.
Change, as we all know, is a difficult pill to swallow as it implies that the status quo is not good enough. Acknowledging that fact, however, does not equate to judging previous efforts as inadequate. And therein, I believe, lies the real resistance to change, and thus progress.
We change clothes because the focus of our activities changes: the office attire appropriate for public meetings is not conducive to weeding the corn. We change vehicles because the sporty sedan we enjoyed as newlyweds no longer fits our growing family. We change careers because growth of our interests, skills, and knowledge challenge us to seek new opportunities. We all change because such change meets our needs. We do so willingly and regularly, without considering our previous choices to be wrong or poorly made; they simply reflect the needs of a different moment in time. Today’s minivan recognizes adaptation to growth. A promotion celebrates our increased understanding and abilities.
So, too, must we learn to consider change in the workplace if we are to ever achieve progress. The hardest of hard things becomes much easier when we recognize that changes demanded for progress highlight growth and improvement rather than correction of error.