After we decided that we’d like to share a future, the boy I fell in love with and I used to imagine what our first child might be like. Not so long afterwards, we met her. She was tiny and feisty and beautiful. We blinked twice and she started school. Days later, it seems, she was trying on her secondary school uniform. And now she is 17 and university prospectuses are falling heavily through the letterbox.
My husband went to collect her from a friend’s house recently. It was a short, unremarkable journey. He has quite emphatically never been known to take his time driving anywhere.
But this time he slowed down.
To make time stand still and to savour the conversation.
Because she is full of life and getting older and her sights and thoughts are fixed firmly on the future. He knew he wanted to enjoy her company while it was still his.
I share his growing realisation that what we thought would always be - the five of us together at the end of every day - will change very soon. I am excited for my daughter, and my heart aches. Time is revealed for what it is - insubstantial and elusive.
We trade our time every day for something, but I think we're selling ourselves short.
Modern life is built on the premise that fast is good and faster is better. Place an order online and have it delivered in hours. Read and respond to your work email at any hour of day or night. On demand: the phrase is revealing.
Thanks to my phone I need never sit quietly with my thoughts. I can read other people’s, then comment on them, like them, share them, re-tweet them.
It’s easy to assume that busy-ness now will buy a calmer future.
But there is a problem.
Life gets blurred in the rush and we stop seeing what matters.
Things of true value often take time to unfurl. They need to be noticed. They deserve to be celebrated. You can’t do that if you are hurtling, distracted and preoccupied, through the life you have been given.
This is relevant to our lives both personally and professionally. Our working self cannot be separated from the person we are for the rest of the day. Living life too fast and shallow depletes us and we can’t give our best to anyone.
The benefits of slowing down and paying more attention can be widely felt -not just by us but by those who get to live with us, work with us, share their lives with us. Here are six ways you can do this:
1. Live outside your own bubble. Look up and see who’s around you, and how they are, really are. Bring your life - and the lives of the people you love - back into focus. See them, listen to them and look for active ways to contribute to and nurture them wherever you can so they flourish rather than diminish.
2. Be deliberate with your goals. Time is not infinite. It quite definitely runs out. What do you want to single out as important in the midst of the urgent? It’s hard to make valuable progress across a thousand little goals. But it’s more possible against one we’ve identified, set our sights on and pursued relentlessly. Do you know what yours is? For one of my friends it’s securing change in the treatment of imprisoned mothers, so their children aren’t part of the cycle of poverty and neglect. She’s eloquent, and people are listening.
3. Prioritise quality. Occasionally high quality is achievable immediately, but more often it is the result of considerable thought, preparation and skill. Take time to review and improve before releasing. The world is a noisy place. We can generate a lot of content or product, or take the time to hone and develop and produce something so good it stops people in their tracks.
4. Refuse to fall for the lie that only what is new has value, that novelty and the next big development are all that matters. That people have a sell-by date, that old means redundant. It takes years for wood to develop a patina. With repeated polishing, resting, absorbing, the true warmth of the wood's colour and grain slowly emerges. Real beauty grows; it’s not diminished by time.
5. Go deep. It’s hard to do more than skim the surface when you’re going fast. Don’t be satisfied with shallow. Take time to push down into the depths and explore them. Don’t be defined by what you give a Facebook ‘like’ to, or how many you get. But what you give your heart to. What you love, what you fight for. Have a grand passion, and be faithful to it.
6. Enjoy. Savour. Intensify your experience. Spend long enough in the present moment for it to leave an imprint in your memory, in your cells, in the grooves of your habits and behaviour. Identify what is good in your life - a table full of family, a laugh with a friend, an unexpected compliment, kindness from a stranger - and celebrate it.
Life can be hard and painful, but it’s also bursting with wonder.
Just make sure you don’t miss it.