By Elias Orrego
“What the eye focuses on, the eye sees.” The speaker had too boring of a face and too annoying of a voice for his enthusiasm to be contagious. But, there had been some good promises, thus far. Mark looked down at his notes, wondering if this blabber-mouth could really deliver on them. Mark could certainly use some of this stuff:
Maximal efficiency and relaxation.
Confidence that what you’re doing is right, and you are doing it at the right time.
It’s not about time management but time and resource allocation.
Mark was actually kind of excited about that last one. He stopped thinking about the Beach Boys’ song in his head, and he stopped comparing the speaker to Austin Powers and listened in.
“Close your eyes,” said the speaker. “Think of the color red.”
Mark pulled over the car and looked over at Becky, her head hung down. Through her distressed hair, he noticed her face had changed color.
“You look flushed…Are you feeling OK?” He turned off the Beach Boys song, it was a little too late and dark for the Beach Boys. Besides, Mark knew she wasn’t OK.
“I’m fine,” she said, quietly and quite sadly. It seemed that, to Becky, “Are you feeling OK?” meant “Do you want to talk about how you’re feeling?” And it seemed that “I’m fine,” to Becky, meant “No.” It seemed she had been “fine,” for quite some time now.
“Open your eyes!” The speaker blurted, with giddiness, “Glance around the room and notice every thing red.”
Mark looked around. A handbag…that dude’s shoes…a first aid kit in the corner of the room. The exit sign. “Wow,” Mark almost said aloud, and smiled, “that lady’s lipstick.” He didn’t seem to be the only one looking a little too long. Whoop, she was blushing now, too — more red.
“OK. Did you notice?” Asked the speaker. “Our minds have this incredible mechanism we’re just beginning to understand. It’s an automatic system! We will see what we look for, clearly, and we will see little else. It will seemingly jump out at us from under our noses! And I’m not just talking about you with the red lipstick.” There were chuckles. Mark didn’t look to see if the lady was more or less red, but he thought he heard her laugh, too. “We will see it, even when we are not looking. Because we have decided to see it, we will see it.”
“Honey, the dishes are still not washed. Have you done anything today?” Becky exhaled, bursting through the door with shopping bags in hand, killing the silence. Mark had done a few things that day, but thought more, and the dishes certainly had not been on his mind. Not anytime before that moment, anyway. He had actually been enjoying a day off, for once. It was enjoyable while it lasted. Mark walked over to the sink and turned it on full blast, drowning out any response he might think to mumble under his breath. Becky disappeared into the bedroom. Mark turned off the sink and put away the groceries. Then, he washed the dishes.
Mark thought about dishes, as the speaker continued talking about something that was probably interesting, because the chatter seemed to have died down.
Was it just him? Or was Becky extra snappy, lately? How long is it, before you can’t say “lately” anymore? Mark mumbled almost silently to himself, thinking about the answer, “Five minutes? One day? Three months? I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t like this?”
Mark could remember a time. Or two, but he couldn’t remember when all this became the new norm. It was getting old. It had been getting old for a while. A long while. How long? What was the speaker saying now?
“Time is a phenomenon that keeps things—everything—from happening all at once…but lately it doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job.” There were some good laughs at that. “That’s an anonymous quote and a universal feeling,” said the speaker. It felt good for Mark to feel normal again, for a moment.
“Now the purpose of this workshop is to teach you how to make your plans practical and effective enough so that you can accomplish your goals.”
“What do you want to do?” Mark asked Becky when they got to the hotel on their wedding night.
“I don’t know, whatever.” And she meant it. They did end up having sex, but only because that was what Mark wanted to do. That is what Mark had always wanted to do on his wedding night.
I don’t know—whatever? That soon became a regular earworm for Mark in any discussion about anything, where the answer really mattered to Mark.
“What is your ‘why’?” He yelled, passionately, and gazed into the eyes of the audience. The speaker was going Tony Robbins on them now! People were leaning forward, pens were held tightly to paper, and all eyes were on him. “Now, this isn’t one of my sales seminars,” he said, pulling back, “but if it was, this would be the part you would all think deeply about the real reason that you want to have success in sales. My ‘why’ for this meeting, however, is to give you a general guide to productivity that you can apply to any task or project.” And he was back to boring but useful. “If you want to be productive, it’s important to ask the ‘why’ question about everything.” Back to being the friendly neighborhood productivity guru, but Mark was drinking the Kool-Aid, and it was waking him up. “Why am I meeting this client for coffee? Or why are you launching this product? What is the purpose? What is your ‘why’?”
When Mark and Becky got married, they both wanted the same things. A family, kids. A father who provided, and a mother in the home. Church.
“Am I missing anything?” She would ask that before she would step out the door, most days.
Becky was organized. She knew what she wanted. She had lists and she had dreams.
But lists get misplaced. And dreams get quickly awakened to the reality of a crying baby or a husband getting up to go to work or school, leaving you alone. All alone, in an empty house, with no car, no money, and no intentions of cleaning up the mess he left behind.
“I want to go to work,” Becky said, five months married, four months pregnant.
“Am I missing anything?” Mark thought.
“Now what bugs you? What thoughts plague or distract you?” The speaker fired off, pacing the stage, “Why is that still on your mind? What consumes a lot of your attention? What are those ‘shoulds’ that shame you to sleep?” Mark leaned forward.
“All that,” the speaker said, throwing his arms into a measuring gesture, “all of that stuff.” He threw his arms down as if they had collapsed under weight. “It doesn’t need to be stuffed!” He motioned as if shoving things into his torso and head, and his face winced, acting in pain. Then, a big, cheesy grin, with hands placed neatly at his sides and a back as straight as a soldier. “It can be organized,” Mark was listening, “into a system that you can trust yourself to act on.”
“A system” he went on, “in which you can use to be able to trust that what you are doing is the right thing, at the right time. And you can forget about the other ‘shoulds’ for the time being. Because you know that they are taken care of in your system, you can relax and have confidence.”
Two hours at 10,000 feet in the air caused Becky’s ankles to swell. It was the beginning of the last straw for the camel on what was already a physically uncomfortable experience for Becky. Mark had learned, from early on in their marriage, to recognize when Becky started to get like that, during flying. She didn’t have to ask. He offered his outstretched legs to elevate hers. When they arrived at their new destination, however, Mark had no idea what to do.
“You don’t have the address of the hotel?” Becky asked, as they stand in the customs line.
“It’s a Best Western. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“There’s like four Best Western’s in Seattle — that I know of.” Becky pulled out her phone. “Ahg. The Wi-fi is slow…I’ll have to use data.”
“No, Becky, that would cost a lot. We are out of our…” That sentence would get shorter and shorter as the trip went on, and less frequent on trips in the future.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Mark remembered saying less frequently on that trip and with less and less assurance each time. The sentence stopped working for Becky a long time ago. At least when it would come out of Mark’s mouth. It only affirmed his own desperation, and it meant nothing to her.
“When you focus on your ‘why,’ what you are doing is you are activating that mechanism in your mind, to ‘see the red.’ When you focus on your ‘why,’ you are deciding what you will see, when you engage in this project — and when you see it through.”
Mark heard the man next to him remark an “Mmm,” and he heard a couple of other people make similar sounds. There were nodding heads.
“It’s easy, however — we all know — to lose sight of our purpose,” the speaker continued, “because when we create something new, we get so caught up in the thing, and we lose sight of our original intentions.”
Mark shifted his pen in his mouth, listening carefully. “When we define — or redefine, in the case of an off-track project — our ‘why,’ it awakens motivation and provides clarity. The reality is we are incapable of being confident in our decisions if we are unclear of the purpose we are trying to achieve. You can’t have the clear ‘what,’ without a ‘why.’ But you also need a ‘what not.’”
Mark squinted through his scratched, grease-smudged glasses to read the slide on the projector behind the speaker. It read,
Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior. —Dee Hock
“Did you drink last night?” Mark tried to keep himself from running into the next room and pounding his face and fists into a pillow and screaming, because he heard her slurred mumbling to herself the night before, when she stumbled in late. He held his breath, trying to unsmell hers. He turned around on the bed when she lay down and he pretended to be asleep, until he fell asleep.
A familiar discussion ensued about the church and “the rules.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Becky said. It was always a big deal. “You’re overreacting.” Mark was trying to keep calm. “You’re so controlling.” Mark felt that everything was anything but under any sort of control.
“You get in this whirlwind,” said the speaker, “called life — or whatever project you’re in. And it’s all around you, and you want to just sit or stand in silence in the middle, find the eye of the storm and stay there…”
Mark held Becky in painful silence, and they both cried.
“…but you can’t stay there. It doesn’t last. You’ll get hit in the face by a flying object.”
“I can never be who you want me to be,” she said. Mark would go to church without Becky that Sunday. Becky would sleep off her night.
The screen now had that famous picture of Albert Einstein on it. There was that un-groomed, mad-scientist of scientists hairdo. The caption underneath read: Imagination is more important than knowledge. Mark recognized that poster from his grade 5 class coatroom. Maybe Mrs. McCutchin was right all along.
“It has been proven in Olympic trainers, and it can be seen in our own lives: when we focus on the outcomes we desire, better performance follows. You have your ‘why,’ and you have your ‘what.’ But you also need a clearly defined ‘what not.’ To discover this, ask yourself one basic question: ‘what am I not willing to compromise on?’”
“Were you alone?” Mark never asked questions for which he didn’t already have a good idea as to the answer.
No married woman goes and stays in a hotel for two days, by herself, at least not without a good reason.
“Why did you do that?”
“I just did.”
“Now about this slide,” said the speaker, gesturing up behind him. Albert Einstein was still up there, looking as mad and happy as ever. “Imagine,” the speaker remarked, “is very close to the word ‘imaging.’” Now he was going Big Fat Greek Wedding on them. Mark loved words and hearing their meaning; he perked up. The speaker explained, “When you imagine, what you are really doing is imaging—creating a clear picture of what you want to see in reality. You are defining a clear outcome—a perfect picture.”
“Most people,” he went on, “have a lack of imagination because they are dependent on others showing the way. That is backwards. Close your eyes. See what you want to see. Open your eyes, and for certain, you will see what you want to see, clearer than anyone would have the power to show you. That is just the way our mind works, folks.”
Mark closed his eyes. Mark opened his eyes. Mark stepped out of the room, and then he phoned Becky.
This story was originally published on Medium.com.