For the past month, I’ve been helping my mother as she recovers from a fall.

Which means I’ve been wearing a lot of hats that I don’t ordinarily wear – delivery person, chef, chauffeur, valet, and handyman.

Sometimes I’ve done it with joy, other times not so much.

Which got me thinking about moments – those short, snippets of time that once gone can never be recovered.

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A beautiful sunset; helping a customer find a gift for her partner; supporting a peer who’s facing a looming deadline; or, consoling your teenage daughter after her first breakup.

All of these are moments. Some are pivotal, some are not, but all are important.

For so many years I missed moments. Perhaps you have too.      

In my pursuit of success, I often ignored or was unaware of what was directly in front of me.

As a result, at times, I missed out on the richness of life.

But more importantly, I missed out on opportunities to make a difference.

Viktor Frankl, the famed psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor describes, in his lovely little book, Yes to Life in Spite of Everything, our responsibility for moments this way:

“…everything depends upon each person, through action and not mere words, creatively making the meaning of life a reality in his or her own being.” (emphasis mine)

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Reading this the first time was an epiphany.

Moments demand action, not explanation.

When I was a professor, I was good at analyzing “moments” but not so good at living in the moment.

By their very nature, moments demand present awareness and a willingness to do something.

“Doing” could be simply noticing and sitting with an experience without judgment.

Or it could require more active engagement.

It’s in these moments, in Frankl’s words, that we can “make meaning” through our actions.

For Frankl, a physician, making meaning in the most difficult circumstances meant that each day he sought to reduce the suffering of fellow prisoners. This was his purpose.

While none of us will experience what Frankl did, each day presents opportunities to create meaning.

For instance, as I have written about before, if compassion is one of your values, each time you interact with a person (regardless of relationship, status, or circumstance) is an opportunity to extend empathy and kindness. In this instance, you are creating meaning around your core value of compassion.

So, try this. Each day, when moments arise (and they will), ask yourself the following two questions:

1.    What can I learn?

Start here.

Specific questions might include: “What can I learn about myself and/or others during this moment? What new knowledge or skills can I learn? What insights can I gather from this experience?”

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These questions are geared towards personal development – they broaden our view, enrich our lives, and build our capacity.

Here’s an example.

For many of us, working from home during the pandemic is hard. It’s easy to feel isolated and also frustrated at being asked to work in new, and sometimes uncomfortable ways.

I love technology, but for me, connecting through a monitor can’t replace face-to-face interactions.

But the reality is, the way we work has changed.

Now, the ability to lead virtual teams and influence remotely are essential skill sets. Many of my forward-thinking colleagues are using this time to learn more about communication technology and hone their remote leadership skills.

2.    What can I do?

This is the second question to ask yourself – “What does this moment require of me?”

Some specific questions might include: “At this moment, what can I do to make a positive difference? How can I use my values and skills to benefit others?”

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It might be as simple as sitting with a friend as he shares about the challenges he’s facing at work or something more involved such as volunteering for a project or mentoring a new employee.

Making meaning requires an awareness of the need and a willingness to act.

I’ve learned a lot about myself during this past month (personal development), and also about my mother, including things I never knew about her upbringing and stories from her 50-year marriage to my late-father. It’s also been an opportunity to help and support her while she heals (contribution). A testament to her tenacity, my mother is already driving again.

Slowing down and opening up to moments isn’t easy. I’m still learning. But when we do, something remarkable happens. We grow as individuals, live our purpose, and help make our corner of the world a better place.

All images courtesy of Unsplash.