You Are Here
Sometimes we need to not go to war, even though we are gifted at battle
At the Stanford Design school the red sign with white letters proclaiming “You Are Here” is plastered all over campus. It’s a reminder of one’s physical place, but it’s so much more.
It’s a call to pause, to reflect, and accept reality in front of you. To slow down and say it to yourself: I am here.
You’re not “there.” There is the place you want to be, or should be – a place with more money, or more freedom, or more time. There is a place you read about, or daydream about, or the person you compare yourself to.
Instead, you’re standing here.
Look around you right now. Look up, and take it all in.
I’m here, in a sunroom at dusk listening to “The Arts and the Hours” with the pianist Vikingur Olafsson inspiring me to keep going as he gently makes magic on the keys. Outside the roar of a cricket choir sings in harmony.
It’s all too easy to forget where we are as we strive to get where we want to go. In this digital age, everything calls for us to reject accepting those words the way finding signs keep repeating to us.
The culture of hustling tells us to put in the work, add on the hours, and grind and grit your way to greatness. There is no time for rest, and certainly no time to put the car in neutral. Stomp on the gas and take off.
Last week there was an interruption I was not anticipating.
“Why don’t you take a day off?”
A day off? I thought to myself. I’d been embracing the power of “deep work,” fully connected with the chaotic craft of opening tabs, spinning sentences, typing out texts. I was sipping Traditional Medicinals “Throat Coat” tea, preparing for my next conversation.
“This is a temptation to walk away and accept mediocrity! Reject it,” my hustle-influencer inspired subconscious screamed at me.
I looked up from my computer with a bit of exasperation to see my wife standing there. I sat, clawed hands resting on the keyboard.
“This doesn’t feel like work to me. It gives me energy,” I said.
I didn’t share that I thought she was pushing me “off course” in my pursuit of my life’s work. I wasn’t really sure if that was true, but it sounded good to me. I loved the pursuit and the work I was doing.
She responded with painful poetry.
“Even though it's not work to you,
Sometimes it’s work for your family.
We can’t always tell the difference.”
My clawed hands dropped to my lap.
This was not a criticism of working hard or a passive-aggressive jab to get me to stand up, rest, and spend some quality time with the family. It was an opportunity to sit from a new position, and to see the entirety of the landscape.
It wasn’t a call to choose either work or my family. As the poet Rumi has said, “There’s a field beyond right and wrong. I will meet you there.”
This was an opportunity to realize that just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should always do it. Just because I love to hustle and grind doesn’t mean it should consume me. Life in tension is a good thing.
Every day doesn’t have to be a mad march towards fading greatness or passing glory. Sometimes we need to not go to war, even though we are gifted at battle.
Recently I found myself huffing around the San Diego Zoo. I could feel the drumming in my temples, and the cotton shirt stuck to my back. A bit of sweat burned my eye and I squinted ahead.
I had laughed when offered a shiny map earlier, before we were lost going up mountain and down into every valley.
But The Wayfinding Sign had finally found us.
I glanced at the map.
Where were we? How do we get out of here?!
The familiar white painted words caressed in a red dot sent relief to us all.
There it was.
You Are Here.
We were found once again, clear on where we were at that moment. We could finally rest, breathe, and smile again.
It’s the same in our own personal lives. These words I saw at the Zoo reverberated again when I found myself lost between the joy of work and the responsibility of life. Far too often I find myself hustling once again, clicking away at the keyboard – and absolutely loving it.
Like my wife that fateful evening, we need people and moments in our lives that help us realize that even when our work feels like play, it can still be negatively impacting those who we love and care for the most. And more importantly, we need them to help us realize we might be enjoying our adventures, but it’s leading us nowhere.
We need people and moments to act as signage to snap us out of our lostness and endless exploring to see where we are and to remember who we are.
You Are Here
The way you find your place starts with knowing that you are here. It’s also acknowledging that for some of us, we find a tension in loving both the life we have created and the life we are still creating.
As I live in that tension, I have often wished for more time.
Incredibly, practicing presence — which can be done when you pause and actually see the way-finding markers of people and moments — can give you exactly what you want.
“When you are present, you don’t experience even the slightest pressure of time,” says Jon Schreiber. “Whatever you do feels like the only thing that needs to be done, and you are doing it. You have no sense of time, because you’re living in the present. The pressure of time comes when you’re in the past or future.”
The next time you’re tempted to resume your work and you see your child quietly sitting in front of you playing with her plastic babies, or a dear friend sends you a quick text, or you glance outside and momentarily see the red dawn of a magical sunrise — see those things for what they are.
These are Wayfinding signs telling you:
“You are here.”
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Special Thanks: So thankful forfor helping me re-orient and re-write, for key insights and feedback (and encouragement!), and his continued clear and concise thoughts and comments, for his wisdom on how to end this piece, and for for inspiring this entire piece with a profound question. And of course, my ultimate editor, Emily. Hopefully she reads this far.