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Mind Your Focus and Focus Your Mind: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous and Back

It was a beautiful Friday afternoon, the kind that makes me itchy to close the computer, grab my puppy (Shanti), and hop into my vintage red BMW convertible for an adventure! It had been a really great week business-wise, and I was ready to celebrate.

After some galivanting around, Shanti and I ended up in downtown Asheville. I was able to grab a prime parking spot in front of Chai Pani Indian restaurant on Battery Park Avenue, and we headed over to the Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, a combination champagne bar, old bookstore and music venue where dogs are most welcome. They sat us at a community table outside, right in front of the jazz band tuning up for their first set. Within minutes, I was having great conversations with the other “strangers” around the table. By the end of the set, I had secured a potential new contract for Continuum, reignited my goal to embark on a bike touring adventure, and made some new friends. 

I was feeling pretty sure of myself. It was one of those rare moments we’ve all had when you feel like everything’s under control, and all is good in the world. 

Shanti and I headed back to the car, and once she was safely settled in the passenger seat, I turned the key in the ignition and looked over my shoulder, expecting to pull out into traffic. Click-click, click-click. The car wouldn’t start. “No problem,” I thought, “This happens a lot with the old Beemer.” 

I opened the trunk, pulled out the jumper cables and attached them to the battery, ready to make a quick and easy jump when I could catch the eye of a driver with a healthy battery. In the meantime, Shanti and I were providing good entertainment to the clusters of people waiting in the Kilwins ice cream line next door. 

Drip, drip. I looked up to see the sky darkening with thunder clouds. It was time to get that jump. You see, the convertible top was down, and I had no way to raise it without power.  My efforts to secure assistance immediately became more assertive. I knocked on the window of a nearby car to get the attention of a man waiting for someone. He pulled up and provided the jump. Click, click. Nothing. Drip, drip, kaboom. The storm was upon us.

That’s when it became ridiculous. 

I pulled out the car blanket I always carry in the trunk and tried to cover the car as best I could so that Shanti, the Beemer, and I could stay as dry as possible. The rain started coming down harder and the thunder crashed. Shanti and I were somewhat undercover in our blanket-made tent. One of the waiters from Chai Pani saw our predicament and brought a big table umbrella to cover the car, but the umbrella was damaged and wouldn’t fully open. So, there we were, riding out a thunderstorm in an open convertible with a blanket and big, orange, broken umbrella on top of us. 

As the storm worsened, the waiter brought over a second table umbrella and covered us with it. With Shanti and me somewhat more protected, I started calling Triple AAA, ending up on hold for more than twenty minutes. I was obviously not the only person impacted by the storm. Stuck in the car, I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation or my earlier thought that I had “everything under control.” Do we ever have things under control, really?

The storm did finally subside, the tow truck showed up, we were able to get enough power to put up the roof, and a friend arrived to drive the very wet Shanti and me home. 

The power of attention is one of any person’s and any organization’s most powerful and malleable tools for moving through life in health and resilience

As I sat on my porch the next morning, sipping coffee and reflecting on the previous evening, so many reminders emerged from that experience that I want to remember. So, what might this story have to do with the way we work with clients at Continuum?  

It’s not just about deciding to enjoy a wet weekend and being grateful for help received, although that would be enough. At Continuum, since our founding, we have emphasized the importance of noticing where we place our attention in any given situation: in any problem solving, planning, and solution searching.  The power of attention is one of any person’s and any organization’s most powerful and malleable tools for moving through life in health and resilience.  Our focus is our flashlight, where will we cast its beam?

Reminders

  • Sublime to Ridiculous: Stuff happens every day. We can slide from great to zero in a minute, depending on the situation we find ourselves in. The belief that we ever have things under control is an illusion; life is constantly changing. Cultivating resilience is key to navigating those changes successfully and having a sense of humor along the way is an essential ingredient, too.
  • Ridiculous to Sublime: We cannot control all the external things that happen to us, but we are in TOTAL control of our thoughts, attitudes and the stories we wrap around the experience. Instead of sitting in the storm under a sopping wet blanket, laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation, so grateful to the strangers who were placing umbrellas on top of us, I could have been afraid of the storm, angry that the roof would not work and that my car was getting wet inside.  I could have been fixated on how much it would cost to fix, cursing at the phone, and basically pitying myself. There are so many possible responses to our circumstances. We choose where to put our focus and that influences what happens next.
  • Focus Our Minds: I believe that how we talk about situations in our lives and the stories we tell about them, will actually shape our experiences, our successes, and ultimately, our happiness. 
  • Mind Our Focus: It is so important to notice and “mind our focus.” It takes practice to pull our thoughts out of the downward spirals our minds get sucked into and to continually shift our focus towards the good and the possible in any situation.
  • Let’s Choose Love: There is so much love in the world. There are strangers who care and are ready to extend their love and help at the drop of a hat, or in this case, at a drop of rain, if we are open to see and accept it. When we choose love as our focus, we’re choosing to both give and receive it. Continuum’s initiative to give back and to support choosing love in our communities in multiple ways is linked here. See the fun things happening in our mini-grants program.

For more, view our useful leadership tool on focusing our organizations or our leadership toolkit. Decades of research have proven that businesses, teams and organizations move in the direction of the discussions happening in and out of meetings, despite any well-formed strategy.

We’ll keep talking about this. Join us with your own insights and stories about what matters when faced with unexpected situations. What helps you move through it?

By Wendy B. White

Wendy B. White is co-founder and partner with Continuum Consulting Services. She recently launched Let’s Choose Love, a social movement that provides a forum for sharing ideas, resources, new philosophies and stories that she hopes will challenge, stretch and inspire us to expand our thinking and possibilities for the future.