It was an astonishing event for the senses, a startling spectacle; like seeing that meek, kind comrade go mad.
My mind was battered from the mental fistfight at every turn. The patrons moved as if a bailiff was trailing their every step. It seemed as though everyone was working on a deadline. Even the children are rushed. One young lad strapped in his football gear, cleats and all, shouts across the produce section, "Dad, hurry up. We gotta make it to practice."
The people push their carts with authority, their heads buried in their mobile phone while they chuck food stuff into their red carts. The whole place is in an arms race with speed. We are a hurried breed.
I'm at Trader Joe's (a grocery store).
There is a time and place for fast, but perhaps we've lost that discernment. Maybe we've let the savage strength of speed drip into every corner of life.
When everything is fast, the progression can only get worse. The bar of speed has been set so high that even instant gratification isn't fast enough these days.
The result is that we are expected to move faster, think faster, read faster, work faster, play faster, love faster, live faster. And consequentially, anything that is slow is perceived as an inconvenience at best or a threat at worse.
However, the things we deem important - love, contribution, and community - are all things that demand a certain cadence; one that is grounded in slowness.
Consider this story about Karl, who was a client of the Human Performance Institute:
"I'm a conformer, the good soldier who always did what he was told, who became whatever was necessary to be successful. In a sense, I've learned to become a world-class chameleon learned how to morph myself into being whatever was needed to jump past every obstacle placed before me . . . I'm addicted to achievement. I'm never satisfied with my accomplishments. I always push for more. No matter what I do, it never seems like enough . . . Even though I know have achieved a lot, I have a persistent feeling of emptiness inside. I keep hoping that the next achievement will bring the inner peace and sense of personal value that I'm longing for."
He then went on to give himself a grade card on certain aspects of his life. Here are his marks:
Fame (how well known you are) = A-
Money (how much you have) = A
Power (how many people you control) = A
Materialism (how much stuff you have) = A+
Beauty (how much effort and money you invest into being handsome) = B
Status (prestige of title) = A
Then, he was asked to grade himself on a different set of aspects of his life. Here are his marks:
Positivity = C
Kindness = D
Humility = C
Compassion = C-
Gratefulness = D
Patience = D
Selfless love of others = C-
Engagement with family = C-
To Karl, this was a painful disconnect. He realized that speed had heaved him into a pursuit too fast for his soul. He had accomplished much quickly, but along the way crowded out everything else.
Karl was the human form of the quote from Milan Kundera:
"When things happen too fast, nobody can be certain about anything, about anything at all, not even about himself."
The automatic sliding doors glide open, and the August heat greets me. I'm eager to get to my car. But before I load up and head home, I notice a man not more than a few steps from the frenzy inside the grocery store.
I was approaching him from behind. The back of his black t-shirt said, "I wasn't born yesterday," in white cursive lettering. He's got a shiny top-head with silver hair that wraps around his dome. I get closer, and now I can sneak a profile look. He's uncomfortably tan. His legs are crossed. He's wearing green chinos with white tube socks and white sneakers. And this is the craziest part: He's not doing anything.
No phone. No newspaper. No laptop. No fidgeting. He was just sitting there quietly feeding the world with his slowness.
Today, this is labeled as boredom. Sometimes, it's even considered lunatic.
I will never know that man on the bench. But yet, I do know that he was practicing a skill that we are all thirsty to master in the current pace of life.
Of course, our whole existence mustn't take on a tensionless state. I'm not rooting for a Luddite approach to life fantasizing about a pre-industrial utopia. I love my MacBook too much to even consider that. Ambitious direction gives our lives meaning.
Instead, we can aim to do great things at a tempo that doesn't bury us into the ground. We can choose slowness over mindless speed.
This is the challenge before us today: Slowing down to access quality velocity.
(This essay was previously published at The Good Men Project)
Loehr, Jim. The Only Way to Win: How Building Character Drives Higher Achievement and Greater Fulfillment in Business and Life. Hyperion 2012.