I chose the word BOLD as my one-word theme for 2016 (read more HERE) In December, I came across the book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy and decided it was just the book I needed to read to end my BOLD year. “By accessing our personal power, we can achieve “presence,” the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others and instead adjust the impression we’ve been making on ourselves.” It reminded me of the times when I witnessed someone being in full presence.
In 2016, one of our local theaters featured a new musical called Anastasia. I decided to take my oldest daughter to the performance. As the opening song filled the air, I found my throat tighten and tears begin to flow. My teenager glanced over with pleading eyes, begging me to stop being so embarrassing. Soon, though, my daughter was equally interested in the performance. The woman who played the lead character of Anastasia had an extraordinary voice, but how she fully embodied the character was captivating. The actors treated this performance as if they were in front of a sold-out crowd in New York. Several weeks later, the show was picked up by Broadway and the main cast would be making their Broadway debut together.
“Being fully present is easier when you are passionate about what you do.”
One of the most impactful moments of presence I witnessed was in a championship baseball game among eleven and twelve year olds last Spring. Parents, families, and children from many other baseball teams all had their eyes glued on this game. The stakes were high and the tension was even higher. One of the key players was up at bat. Two strikes, three balls—full count. A pitch zoomed by and the umpire called strike three. Much of the crowd erupted in anger, shouting about the unfair call. This mega hitter was stunned- and upset. With two teammates on base, he knew his hit could have won them the game. Holding back tears, he suited up to play catcher. He had to focus on this new job at hand. He took off his face mask a few times to wipe his eyes. The inning was over quickly, with no runs scored. His team was up at bat again. It was in this moment that there was a choice. His father, one of the coaches, bent down on one knee, meeting his son’s eyes. I am not sure what was said, but the tone was serious but light-hearted. It was like watching a scene from a movie unfold in front of me while chaos ensued all around. This twelve year old could have argued about the unfair call. He could have thrown his gear and shown the anger he felt at missing his team’s chance to take the lead. Instead, he nodded at his father and began to rally his teammates, giving every indication that there was still a chance that his team could win. And, they did. It was the best all around effort of each child on the team that contributed to the win but it was his presence that allowed his teammates to feel they could win.
“Being fully present during difficult times is often the greatest challenge.”
I saw this same presence in Melissa Etheridge, a singer from the early 90’s, during her first solo concert this summer. The audience laughed with her when she couldn’t get the “beat machine” working during her one-man show. Her presence again filled the building when she used her humor and her global concern for others. Etheridge sang her new song called “Pulse” that she wrote as a reaction to the mass shootings that took place in Orlando on June 12, 2016. As she told Rolling Stone, “We want to try to make sense. We want to try to heal. We want to bring some meaning, some purpose. We also want to put it down forever in history. That’s how I’m coping.” She united us all by creating a deeper intimacy. It felt like she was speaking directly to each one of us.
“Being fully present allows others to do the same.”
As Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s book reveals, though, “we don’t need to embark on a grand spiritual quest or complete an inner transformation to harness the power of presence. Instead, we need to nudge ourselves, moment by moment, by tweaking our body language, behavior, and mind-set in our day-to-day lives.”
Where could I be more fully present in my every day life? I started to wonder what I wanted to choose to focus on in 2017. I look forward to sharing my one-word theme next week and to hear what you decided to select for your 2017 word.