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Reflections and Decisions

December 6, 2013

The end of year always brings with it a slight sense of relief in the Southern Hemisphere. No matter what kind of year one has had, “Christmas holidays” and the promise of lazy summer days away from daily work pressures (if one is lucky enough to take a break), provides a promise of renewal. And with it, hopefully, some needed rejuvenation.

But with an endless array of electronic devices to keep you connected, informed, informing and plugged-in to what’s happening everywhere, even a retreat to some coastal hamlet guarantees little respite, unless your are prepared to “leave the grid”.

I am planning to do just that. It will be hard to ignore the magnetic pull of social media and I’m having withdrawal symptoms just thinking about it – but I am going to try. For some of us it’s become a bit of an addiction, and for someone like myself (in my mid-forties) I can only imagine how hard it must be for the younger, more connected generations to switch off.

One of my partners, Gordon Ray (ECD, M&C SAATCHI ABEL, Cape Town) coined it “anti-social media” a number of years ago, and when one looks around you see just how true that is. Everyone is foregoing the present audience to communicate with the digital one. In the airport lounge, groups of business people sitting together all choose their “phone friends” over their present colleagues, parents choose their phone friends over their kids, and their children reciprocate. There’s nothing new about this observation. It’s simply modern day life.

I’m not sure whose saying it was originally, that, “whilst this generation has never had more, it’s simultaneously never had less,”. I feel exactly that when it comes to rich and engaged conversations, as I often feel the pull of the “phone”.

Perhaps clinics will be set-up, maybe they already have been, to help quit this addiction. And like all addictions, it’s unhealthy – because it removes us from the richness of life. Another partner (Rick de Kock) and I were talking about “Second Life” the other day and how it was destined to become the next big thing – and indeed it has; because “Second Life” has now largely usurped First Life; the here and now. With Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Flipbook, Twitter, Linked-In and the like, our lives are becoming so packaged, curated, airbrushed, buffed and pimped that the common ‘rough and tumble’ of just getting on with it, amongst the present “audience”, is relegated to second prize.

I learnt so much this year about the essence and importance of rich, meaningful conversations and being present and engaged – for despite it being a very good one business-wise, 2013 has also been an incredibly tough one personally.

It started in the worst possible way with an oncologist telling my beautiful and relatively young mom (69 at the time), that she had two months to live. True to her indomitable spirit, she defied that estimate by more than double and managed to squeeze four months out of this year. She had been fighting breast cancer for twenty years and she planned to give it her all once again. Perhaps one learns the most about life when confronting death – and in my mom’s case she remained in-the-moment and fully engaged literally until the very end. Positive and even upbeat but entirely realistic about the situation. She had 3 goals. To make her 70th birthday in early March, which she did. To make her 50th wedding anniversary in late March, which she also achieved. And her third goal was to make my son’s Barmitzvah in November – but that was a bridge too far. And so November arrived, and we celebrated this incredible moment in our lives without her physical presence.

I’m not the type of person who generally thinks too much about the emotions surrounding a special occasion ahead of the event, so it was with sudden overwhelming pride that I watched our “young man” of a son take his first giant stride in adulthood. It’s not for the faint-hearted, at age 13, to sing in front of family, friends and community in an ancient language when you aren’t from a very religious home. But at that exact moment, you are.

I made a conscious decision, given the happiness surrounding this milestone, to cherish my mom’s memory over the period and to have her celebrate it through us, versus being saddened by her absence.

We allow too much of life to be defined by what we don’t have, as opposed to what we do. Yes, my mom was younger than she should have been when she died – but she led an extraordinary life packed full of love, opportunity, academia, travel and privilege. A path that less than 1% of the world’s population gets to travel, and I need to be hugely grateful for that. She also had 20 years more than she would have had originally.

And so the year draws to a close on a happy note. A coming of age, of sorts, for a lot of us. Hardened by the bruises but in many ways, richer for them too.

Next year promises to be exciting and also no doubt, tumultuous, with very important elections on the horizon.

So here’s to 2014, to leaving the grid for 3 weeks starting on 20 December, to being more in the moment, less distracted, having richer conversations, far less “phubbing” and defining our lives by what we have, versus that which we don’t. A year of more face-to-face, far less email and always keeping it real. Here’s to enjoying our “First Life” more than our Second.

Wishing you a safe, happy and blessed festive season.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2013 7:34 am

    Great article bud, I connect with everything you say. Life is so special and sometimes it takes something horrible to make us realise how fortunate we are. I will also “leave the grid” for a few weeks to make sure I live in the moment. Have a wonderful break with your special family my friend and see you in 2014!

  2. December 6, 2013 11:19 am

    Thanks for your thoughts and observations Mike.

    To your point about having more than ever before but not really seeming ‘richer’ for it, I highly recommend a book to you – and your interested blog followers – entitled: “How much is enough” by by Skidelsky (actually it’s by 2 of them, father and son).

    Robert and Edward Skidelsky argue that wealth is not an end in itself but a means to the achievement and maintenance of a ‘good life’, and that our economy should be organised to reflect this fact. The book includes a definition of the ‘good life’, discusses the relevance of ‘Happiness Studies’ and the environmental impact of our ever-growing need to consume.

    In doing so, the book offers an escape from the trap of excessive specialisation and a way to reinvigorate the idea of economics as a ‘moral science’. It concludes by offering a radical new model for income redistribution – and a consideration of what human beings might really want from their lives.

    I think the history and philosophy parts (as to ‘how we got to here’) are great – and well written. The solutions are debatable as to universality but I guess our challenge is to find our own responses to the conundrum – and then adjust our behaviours and interactions accordingly.

    Last thought: After reading this book, ask yourself to what extent your industry and your clients perpetuate the suggestion that we too readily succumb to the belief that our ‘wants’ are our needs’ – with all the concomitant ‘hollowness’ that often results? Further, what might your business or industry be prepared to do to lead a shift in this ‘consumer’ paradigm trap?

    Have a good break – and buy the paper version of this book not the Kindle one so your family don’t think you’re checking your emails when your reading it off your iPad! If you can’t find a copy just shout and I’ll drop one off for you.

    Best wishes
    Tim Cumming

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