Fulfilled Does Not Mean Filled Full

When I was in my early 20s, I saw the movie Dead Poets’ Society. It changed my life. ‘Seize the day’ became my mantra. From that point on, I determined that my life would be full of worthwhile, meaningful pursuits. I’d say yes to pretty much everything just to see what I could learn.

As a result, I’ve lived a pretty awesome life. It’s been filled full of amazing experiences and I’ve grown a huge amount. Yet there’s a cost to a ‘seize the day’ mentality. I’ve found it hard to not do. A day doing nothing feels like a guilt trip. It’s so tempting to find something to do. I just want to keep doing stuff.

I’m now learning to value empty space and uncommitted time way more than I used to. I’m learning use the time not doing to listen. I listen to my thoughts and how I’m feeling. I Iisten for what wants to emerge – that idea, that spark that’s been waiting there patiently, sometimes for years. I play with it in my mind. And then I might do something with it. Or not.

‘Not doing’ allows me to be more discerning with how I spend my time. Rather than seeking fulfilment by filling my days to the brim, I find fulfilment in taking stuff out of my life for a while, and choosing what goes back in.

So what?

By far, the most effective leaders, and organisational cultures, that I know of deliberately make time for ‘not doing’. Their meetings have only 1-2 key agenda items and ample time to explore them, rather than 10 items and 60 minutes to nail them. Calendars have plenty of ‘white space’ for thinking time. Organisational strategy centres on a long-term view underpinned by just a couple of key priorities that are ruthlessly adhered to.

‘Seize the day’ becomes ‘design the day’.

Think about when you last got given the ‘gift of time’. You know, the meeting that got cancelled, or a project you didn’t end up needing to be on. How did that feel? My guess is that you had a sense of relief. You could breathe out just that little bit more.

More than ever, your people are looking for fulfilment rather than having their days filled full. As leaders, it’s up to us to set the conditions for how we, and the people under our care, can experience more fulfilling days.

Make days fulfilling, not filled-full.

Some questions for you:

  • When’s your next ‘not doing’ time in your calendar?
  • What are you trying to cram in that can wait, or just be dropped?
  • How can you help your people get the ‘gift of time’?

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