While we’re in the throes of “first 100 days” talk with our current President, there also seems to be a spate of articles and posts about how to best distract ourselves or outright escape from the disturbing news he’s generating.
How caught up should we get in his expressed desire for a Purple Heart or his brag about giving Face the Nation its best ratings since 9/11 or his penchant for poking a stick at the man-child running North Korea?
We could let the daily anxiety overwhelm us or we could seek out better ways to live and contribute.
This, I hasten to add, is not easy. We are literally being led by a man who takes pride in not being intellectually curious. While so many of us aspire to be global citizens, he is happiest catering to the faction that goes the other way – wall us off, baby. Keep those suckers out.
Many of us are losing our minds. Meanwhile, every day there are those who scold the rest of us for letting politics interfere in our interactions when they have chosen to live with their heads immersed so far in the sand they seem to have lost hold on reality.
And then there’s Barack Obama. Class oozing out of his pores, he spoke for a bit but mostly facilitated a discussion at the University of Chicago today. The topic was civic engagement and young leadership. No red meat to be found here. The former President went with the Michelle credo and kept it “high.”
Maybe it was all that flying around with Richard Branson and hobnobbing in New York City that gave Obama a kind of calm so many of us wish we had right now. But make no mistake about it, he’s got a mission and he’s a patient man.
What struck me about this event was that it felt like the beginning of an exploration. It was Obama as engaged listener seeking input and insight about why young people as voters weren’t enthused. Did they feel discouraged, disempowered? Also, with the current divided media landscape, how can we create a common conversation?
As the six young people on the panel with him answered his questions and offered insights from their varied experiences, Obama took it all in. I saw him lean in closer a few times when he was hearing something that particularly impressed him and even brighten at one man’s mention of reading bell hooks. (See, this is the point where I want to insert a sarcastic comment about how it would go if you mentioned bell hooks to our current President. But I’m trying to go with that Michelle credo …).
So in that spirit, it is often the case in my daily life that I can feel the life coach part of me rise up and latch on to something that feels worth remembering and repeating to clients and, frankly, to myself. Wise bits that propel us forward.
Today that moment came when Obama spoke of the book he is writing about his political journey. He said that while going back to chronicle the one political race he lost (to Bobby Rush in the 2000 Democratic primary race for Ilinois’ 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives), he realized it was the one time he ran for office where he didn’t have a focused mission. He was simply doing it because it was the next thing. He extracted the lesson and imparted it.
“Worry less about what you want to be and worry more about what you want to do,” Obama said.
The line was followed by applause.
He gave some examples to demonstrate his point. One could aspire to hold a specific elected office or instead set out with goals like “I want to improve education in low-income neighborhoods” or “I want to deal with climate change and help save the planet.” See the difference? The former might be a nice accomplishment, but what do you do once you get into office? What do you want to do?
I really like mulling that question and potentially posing it to clients in this context. Why do you want to be a life coach, a dance instructor, a CEO? What do you want to do?
Maybe that is where we can take this fervent desire to distract ourselves from the current news cycle before the obsession consumes us. Zeroing in on that meaningful question will yield a far better result than festering in the madness.