by Achim Nowak

Today, PAUSE. Happy Memorial Day!!!

May 25, 2020

Sometimes inclement weather does the trick. I jot down these words on a rain-drenched Sunday morning in South Florida.

It feels like a bad cosmic joke. Last week, after 2 months of a shutdown, life has finally begun to re-open in Hollywood, my hometown. And then rain and more rain.

No desire to run about. No temptation to rush to the boardwalk. I settle in. Exhale. Pause. It is Memorial Day week-end in the US. An extra day to not work. To reflect perhaps and celebrate what truly matters in our lives. Yes, even in the midst of what has been such a challenging time for all of us. To pause.

I pause for all the men and women who have fought to protect us in war. I pause in gratitude for all who have been fighting to save the lives of the sick during the pandemic. I pause in praise of those who have kept everyone alive and protected in my mother’s Senior Residence. I pause to remember some of my personal heroes who have died due to Covid-19.

Here’s a conversation I had with Angela, a CFO I had the pleasure of coaching for a half-year stretch. I cherished my conversations with Angela. She is immensely likable, smart, results-oriented, driven. At times, Angela’s impatience and external pressures get the best of her. In this, our final conversation that ends our formal coaching engagement, I asked Angela to tell me what she took away from our coaching conversations.

To pause, she said.

Perfect answer, I thought to myself.

If you are a modern-age professional, we expect you to be self-aware and reflect. At its best, this self-awareness is present in every moment. You engage with another person, and you are at the same time aware of the quality of your engagement and the choices you make. I call this ability double-tracking. In the moment, and watchful of the moment, all at once.

Reflection, however, tends to happen in a pause. The pause is the moment in-between active engagement. Often only milliseconds long. But whoa – what glorious things happen in a pause.

  • In the pause I catch myself

My obsessive thinking, my obliviousness to my surroundings, my inattention to the cues I receive from the other person, my urge to retort with a habitual response. Yes, all of that. That’s the catch.

  • In the pause I clear myself

Release the mind chatter, the rising emotion, the urge to disagree, the desire to be right. Yes, I let it go, all of that. That’s the clearing.

  • In the pause I consider the “other”

Switch my attention from my thoughts to a genuine desire to understand the other. His request. Her demand. Their underlying motivation. Yes, I switch from me-thinking to you-thinking. A transformative consideration.

  • In the pause I recalibrate

My response to the other. I choose language that demonstrates understanding. A tone that invites. An energy that fosters connection. Yes, I advance the conversation and don’t allow it to get stuck. That’s the gift of recalibration.

All of this can happen in a pause. The moment when we stop. Mere milliseconds, most of the time.

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