Friday night I experienced a foreign sensation. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first.
And then I realized – I was thoroughly bored. It was really uncomfortable for a few jittery minutes, and then I learned an important lesson that relates to how we practice PR.
More on that in a minute – first, I just found out the Inner Circle has been named one of Spin Sucks’ recommended professional development resources for PR pros. I think a lot of Gini and what she’s built, so this is a real honor. There are some other resources there I wasn’t familiar with, so check it out.
Now, here’s how it went down . . . My wife and I were out for a night on the town, looking forward to enjoying the shops and a restaurant decorated for the season. When we got out of the car, I saw my phone only had like 1 percent battery left. I wanted to be accessible to the kids in an emergency so I turned on the “ultra power saver” feature that means you can only use the phone for calls and texts. Didn’t think it would matter because I intended to focus on my wife – not my phone.
About 30 minutes into the shopping she was cheerfully trying on various workout outfits at Athleta. I promise I was cool with this – if she’s happy, I’m happy. But she kept apologizing and worrying that she was wasting my time, so I offered to wander around so she wouldn’t feel like I was looking at my watch.
Thing is, all the other shops on that street were similarly uninteresting to me. So I just sat on a bench out on the sidewalk.
Of course, this is the part where you and I would normally pull out our phones. Check email, scroll through social, check out the news, look at the weather for the third time that day, and so on.
Not this time, because now my phone was only a phone. Not an internet-enabled device. No big deal, I thought, I’ll just wait.
No less than two minutes went by, and I felt like my phone was burning a hole in my pocket. I had the strongest compulsion to whip it out, turn off the power saving, and surf the web even though that would burn through my battery!
This is ridiculous, I thought. So I tried to focus on people-watching. That lasted about 30 seconds. And the urge to grab my phone resumed. There was no particular fact I was interested in checking, no particular news or update I was waiting for.
I just couldn’t handle being bored! My brain was craving electronic stimulation! For about 5-10 minutes my mind and even my soul felt jittery and incomplete.
And then, finally, I came through the other side. I stopped thinking about what I should do next. In fact, I didn’t have any purposeful thoughts at all. My mind just let go.
I found myself pondering deeply some aspects of my personal and professional life. And then I actually received new ideas I can apply to both realms. I don’t want to overstate things, but it’s entirely accurate to say that a new state of serenity washed over me.
And when Amy came out of the store with a bagful of cute workout clothes, apologizing for “taking so long,” I was like a new convert to the idea of sitting still with no phone, babbling about how great it felt. Even writing about it now makes me long for that feeling again.
Here’s the lesson:
Everyone is hyper-stimulated these days, but as PR professionals, you in particular feel obligated to be constantly plugged in. There’s always some news breaking that could affect your company or clients. There’s always another journalist, influencer, or interest group you could be checking on to notice an opportunity to deepen a relationship.
While other people check the news or social media for leisure or to kill time, for you, those things are your lifeblood!
And that means that you rarely – if ever – give yourself time to sit still and . . . think.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Shouldn’t be that way. Some questions to consider:
Which is more valuable to your executives or clients: you being up-to-the-minute right now, or you having spent 60 minutes pondering plans and new methods to provide more value?
When did you get your best ideas that have made the biggest difference in your job? Was it when you were checking email or staying current on Tweetdeck? Or was it when you were in the shower, because that’s the ONLY time you are physically prevented from being plugged in?
What I’m about to share next will probably be jarring to you. You may even be tempted to dismiss it because so much of your identity is tied up in believing this is not true. But there is a huge opportunity for you when you begin to realize how much more you have to offer.
Virtually anyone can “stay current” and be “always on.” If that’s the way you define your professional value, you are fast becoming a commodity. There are legions of fresh college grads every spring who would love to get paid to push emails around and update social media.
Your distinct value as a knowledge worker comes from your ideas and your creative execution of those ideas.
And those ideas can’t come when you’re distracted 24-7.