“Living in the present and finding what’s good about it, is how I want to live.”
– Ali McGraw
The movie Click was released in 2006. Adam Sandler plays the lead role of Michael Newman, an architect, married to Donna. The pair have two children, Samantha and Ben. Michael has a bullying and overbearing boss named John Ammer, who is the main reason why Michael often chooses work over his family.
One day Michael visits a retail store called Bed, Bath and Beyond to buy a universal remote control. He stumbles around the various departments before deciding to lie down on one of the beds, where he falls asleep. When he awakes, a man named Morty gives him a free remote control. Morty warns Michael that the remote can never be returned.
While trying to learn how to use the remote, Michael realises that it can control reality – very much like a television. He then starts to use it to fast-forward past uncomfortable and bad moments, like illness. Morty told Michael that during these times, his body would be on autopilot and go through the motions of everyday life while his mind skipped ahead. Things then get worse when Michael realises that the remote control has learned his preferences. It starts time-skipping in response to casual wishes that Michael expresses about not wanting to experience certain moments in his life.
Michael attempts in vain to destroy the remote control, and Morty refuses to take it back. His life quickly spins out of control, but he makes the biggest discovery ever: It was a massive mistake to skip certain moments of his life.
Are you a Pilgrim or a Tourist?
About a decade after I watched Click, I heard a sermon that challenged me with the question: “Are you a pilgrim or a tourist?” That sermon made a massive impact on my life and gave me a significant perspective. The reverend used the imagery to explain to us how to live our lives: A tourist only wants to experience the highlights package, while moving from the one high point to the next – similar to what Michael Newman did. A tourist typically travels by plane, bus or taxi to their destination. They are seldom content in the present moment and always plan ahead to be at another point in the future.
“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”
– Mother Teresa
On the contrary, a pilgrim is someone who experiences all parts of life, including the highs and lows. They live a more complete life, realising that it is important to experience, cherish and appreciate every single moment – the good and the bad. A pilgrim typically travels by foot, so they see and experience the here and the now – the fresh air, the rain on their skin, the light breeze against their cheeks, the song of the birds, and the insects in the grass next to the path. A pilgrim learns from difficult times, which equips them to better face the same challenge the next time it arises.
So, again I ask the question: “Are you a pilgrim or a tourist?” Michael Newman was undoubtedly a tourist, but you and I, who want to be successful self-leaders, cannot afford to choose the route of tourism as an overriding principle in life.
I grew up in an era in which lead-based paint, asbestos panel heaters and car backseats without seatbelts were the norms. So was riding my off-road motorcycle every afternoon after school on farm roads wearing flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt – but no helmet. Things have changed since then, and I suppose my bones have become more brittle. For this reason, I now believe in ATGATT, which is an acronym for the motorcycling term: “All the gear, all the time”. This basically means that I don’t ride anywhere without wearing my full motorcycle safety kit. This is a pain, though, because it takes time, so it often stops me from taking shorter trips.
Then one day, I shifted my mind, after realising that gearing up and down before and after a trip is part of the riding experience. My riding experience does not only begin when I turn the throttle of my motorbike. It is much longer, and it incorporates all aspects on either side of the ride.
This is an important principle, and if we don’t make this mind shift in all of our experiences, we won’t appreciate every moment of life. Then, like Michael Newman in Click, or the tourist in the sermon, we will only live for life’s highlights. The sad net result will then be that when we are 80 years old one day, we will have only lived for 60 years. We will not have experienced 25% of our lives, because we wished to bypass certain parts of it as quickly as possible…
Live in the present moment
My dad used to tell me that if I work, I need to work hard and if I play, then I need to play hard. He warned me against trying to combine or confuse the two. By implication, he was saying that if we work, then we shouldn’t pollute our minds with thoughts of play, and if we play, then we must enjoy it and not deprive ourselves of those happy moments. We need to be focused in the moment on what is required of us. All we have is now, not the next minute, hour, day, or week – only now. As self-leaders, we certainly have a vision, and we have to plan for the future, but we can only live in the now.
“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” – Bil Keane
Only the now is guaranteed, and that is where our focus should be. If we daydream about tomorrow or focus our attention on something else, as opposed to paying attention to what someone tells us at that point in time, then we are not living in the present moment.
Lao Tzu said that if we are depressed, then we are living in the past. If we are anxious, then we are living in the future. If we are at peace, though, then we are living in the present moment. We cannot afford to rob the only certain moment that we have by focusing on a future that is not guaranteed.
Don’t let your future be the thief of your present…
Hekkie van der Westhuizen, PhD
“If you are interested in the topic of Self-Leadership, please look out for my exciting new Self-Leadership book, launching in September 2021”