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The Poetry Of This Key Skill For Success

“Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.”

– A poem by Mary Oliver

A friend shared this poem with me last week, and I was struck not only by its brevity but also by its power.

I think it’s easy to read these lines and think ’that’s cute’ and just move on with the busyness of life, but I believe they are worth reflecting on.

Over 20 years of working with leaders in different capacities, the best people I’ve worked with all have one thing in common.

In their chosen fields, they had all developed an incredible capacity to pay attention.

And so they would often see things that no-one else would. To me, the skill of paying attention 100% to what’s going on right now (and not thinking about it) is THE skill to a better business, career and life.

And the challenge in today’s world is that our attention is caught up more than ever in other things – email, social media, tv and of course the main blocker to clarity… our thinking.

But the majority of the best people I worked with never realised, until they were open to it, the value of paying attention in their personal lives.

There is beauty and great insight to be found in the mundane, in the struggle – but only if we pay attention. I guess this is where poets like Mary Oliver have seen something most haven’t.

Maybe you could take the mindset of the poet today or this week, and see everything with fresh eyes?

The challenge is to be more in the moment, paying attention to your experience and not to your thinking. To pay more attention to the stuff your mind perhaps takes for granted…

  • Your family
  • The drive to and from work
  • The people you work with
  • The work you’re doing
  • The walk you take during the day…

It’s a challenge I encounter with all top achievers. They are usually great at paying attention to their chosen field. But often not so great as paying attention to life. And so they gradually lose the capacity to enjoy the simple beauty of life.

What’s the point in that?



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