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Do This One Thing Right Now to Change Your Life Forever

Written by on 15 Apr 2014

We’ve all seen it.

 

It’s a pretty ubiquitous scenario these days.

 

The characters may change, but the problem persists.

 

It looks innocent at first. It appears fairly normal. It even seems to mean well.

 

But then, oh then, on closer inspection, you see it for what it really is.

 

Possibly the saddest scene of our modern, technological world.

 

Picture this with me.

 

Families out eating dinner. Friends hanging out at a bar. Neighbors riding the elevator. Strangers waiting at a bus stop. Travelers passing through the airport.

 

All accompanied by…

 

Complete.

And.

Utter.

 

Silence.

 

Yes, silence.

 

But Tracy, you say, it should be so loud what with all those people in one place talking and singing and laughing and interacting.

 

But you already know you’re wrong.

 

You already know why it’s so quiet.

 

It’s because everyone, and I mean everyone, is face-first, nose-down, fingers-flying-obsessed with what is going on in their hands instead of what is going on around them.

 

Everyone is on their cell phone.

 

All the damn time!

 

Even walking down the sidewalk in the middle of the day, I’ve almost been run into by a forehead and a pair of thumbs whose only concern in life is finding out what Debbie said to Bobby at the bar last night.

 

Seriously lady, look up!

 

Even in situations where our very intention is to meet and interact with other people—cafes, bars, dinners, conferences, meetings—that little phone sits there like a 3x5 inch reminder of all the other activities we could be doing, all of the fun we could be missing, all of the life going on outside of the present moment.

 

It’s no wonder we can’t concentrate on anything.

 

Or anyone for that matter.

 

We know these scenes all too well.

 

And, to some extent, we know what they are doing to us.

 

There’s a lot going on here that we could talk about.

 

The loss of the ability to be present in the moment. The devolution of the art of conversation and face-to-face interaction. The lack of focus on and connection to reality. The destruction of our relationships.

 

But I see something even scarier than that.

 

Because I believe that every person and interaction is profoundly influential to our lives, I see us losing so much more when we choose phones over friends, tweeting over talking, or snapchats over strangers.

 

We are losing opportunities to learn.

 

We are passing by moments that will teach us invaluable lessons.

 

About ourselves.

About others.

About the world.

 

And as a reigning nerd and life-long-learning enthusiast, I just can’t support turning off the learning machine in favor of a ‘like.’

 

I can’t.

 

I won’t.

 

And I don’t want you to either.

 

Now that I’ve found myself in mountain pose on my soapbox (that’s two feet, firmly planted, just FYI), I’ll just go ahead and say that, no, I’m not always impervious to the temptation to whip out my iPhone and check up on the interwebs.

 

I’m human.

 

I’m easily distracted by shiny things.

 

I’m awkward.

 

The internet was basically made for me.

 

I also run a blog, so I know and appreciate the power of social media and connectivity.

 

But I know that without detaching from my devices and having real, human, honest, vulnerable, scary, wonderful, meaningful conversations with other people…

 

I wouldn’t have anything to write about!

 

No one wants to read a story about the afternoon I spent adjusting filters on Instagram in order to achieve that perfect tan skin to white smile ratio. Or that night I spent the better part of a first date checking my text messages and emails. Or the day I chose an afternoon of stalking on Facebook over walking in the sunshine.

 

If you do, this blog is definitely not for you.

 

Mostly because I’ve never done any of those things—and I only write what I know.

 

So you’ll be supremely disappointed.

 

But also because those stories would be so incredibly boring!

 

That's because they are stories about feeling like you’re living life as opposed to actually living life.

 

Which I did.

 

For far too long.

 

I was guilty of embracing an e-life for years until Semester at Sea put thousands of miles between me and the nearest cell phone tower. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, three days after leaving Hawaii and seven days before arriving in Japan, that I opened my eyes to the present moment. I had to be completely isolated from the internet to really appreciate the life going on around me.

 

And that’s when the magic happened.

 

I had a conversation in a hallway that helped me deal with visiting Vietnam, where my dad had fought for two years. I made a new friend who taught me to embrace the journey and be patient with myself. I studied with the man who taught me how to define my own success. I met the woman, who introduced me to the man, who knew the guy, who helped me start this website.

 

I felt more loved, understood, and alive than I had felt in years.

 

All because I had no phone in my hand to distract me from the awesomeness that was life.

 

And still is life.

 

I had so many amazing experiences abroad that I decided to try experimenting with unplugging back here at home. This series of experiments was so successful that I decided to name it. So, World, I present to you:

 

The Power of Pulling the Plug.

 

Ahhhh alliterations!

 

I highly encourage you to try this if you haven’t already.

 

Pulling the plug... not alliterations.

 

Here is just one of my favorite moments where I embraced the awkwardness of being idle in public (God forbid!) and reaped the awesomeness that ensued.

 

I hope it inspires you to do the same.

 

Last summer, I was in Chicago visiting my old roommate, Mary.

 

Semester at Sea had come to a close, and the job hunt was in full swing. I spent months traveling the country following up on leads from my time abroad. I went from Dallas to Southern California to San Francisco to Chicago and was on my way to New York to wrap up the trip.

 

As you can imagine, after a trip around the world and another across the country, I was starting to scrape the bottom of the savings barrel.

 

Thankfully, Chicago has a pretty awesome public transportation system (compared to some places I had been recently, cough::BURMA::cough), so I decided to skip on the taxis and take buses and trains whenever possible.

 

On one such occasion, I was traveling from Mary’s apartment to meet her for lunch downtown.

 

I walked the block and a half to the bus stop with my face buried in my phone, finalizing plans, checking Facebook, holding desperately onto the proverbial plug. Just as I reached the corner, I looked up to find that my bus was already pulling away from the stop.

 

Classic.

 

With my plans solidified and a full fifteen minute wait ahead, I decided to put my phone away and see what being present with Chicago had to offer.

 

People came and went on buses that weren’t mine. I overheard conversations both good and bad. Some people walked with great intention while others strolled carelessly.

 

Some were present and others remained plugged.

 

But among the ever-changing buzz of life, one thing remained the same—the little old lady sitting next to me never budged.

 

It had been a full ten minutes of awkward, active ignoring before either of us acknowledged the other.

 

But when we finally did…

 

You guessed it…

 

Magic!

 

She was, in her words, a ‘newly-minted 80-years-old.’ She grew up in Chicago and was no stranger to bus stop waiting and people watching. She told me stories about her life-- finding her husband, raising her family, living and working in the city, and still loving what had become a very old, very ingrained routine and tradition of taking the bus downtown.

 

Now, I don’t know quite how this conversation happened. Either I listen to way to much country music (fact) or old people just get a kick out of imparting wisdom to later generations (fact) or both, because all of a sudden, we got deep.

 

She decided to give me her three secrets to life.

 

And no, they were not ‘God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.’

 

She said no matter what else is going on, you can find happiness if you just eat healthy, have fun, and do something you like.

 

Simple.

 

Sweet.

 

Awesome.

 

We ended up taking the same bus and parting ways down the road. While I’ll never know her name and almost certainly never see her again, I’ll definitely never forget that conversation.

 

All because I had no phone in my hand to distract me from the awesomeness that was life.

 

And still is life.

 

So put down the phone and invite awesomeness into your life.

 

You won’t be disappointed.

 

And if you're lucky, it just might change your life.

 

**********

 

Where in your life can you reap the benefits of pulling the plug and engaging with the real world? Can you remember a time when you embraced reality and awesomeness occurred?

 

I believe that every greatness we enjoy right now can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.

 

Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own? Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.

 

Because sharing stories is an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.


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