Look (And See)

by Justin Ahrens
Every day we get up and go through the motions. The usual, the grind, the routine—you get the picture. But I’m convinced that if we want to evolve in our lives and careers, we need to spend more time actually “seeing” the world around us. (You know, taking time from our Starbucks drinking and social media interacting to pause.)

My friend Bob shared a quote from Henry David Thoreau that really challenged me: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

This nagged at me—maybe because in my life and work I sometimes feel things getting rote, or expected. I turn too quickly to the proverbial “bag of tricks.” We all seek a certain level of comfort. We like routine. But we also get busy, self-focused, distracted, find ourselves going at warp speed.

I decided to review some definitions of “look” and “see”—and I was even more challenged:
Look: to view something for a reason, with an intention.
See: to notice something that you weren’t looking for.

The definition of “see” is what I want more of in my life, in my day-to-day, and ultimately in my work and conversation. So what to do? That, my friends, is the magic question. The good news is that there are so many roads to “seeing.” Ask yourself the following questions: Do you want to “see” things you weren’t expecting? Do you want to see the world and all it’s beauty, pain, challenges, hypocrisy, and the hope that it holds? Do you want these things to affect you and motivate you? Or do you like just “looking” as you go through your day? Really, your answer to this last question is the key.

If you answered yes, then you’ll want some activities built into your day to help remind you to see. Let’s focus on one: creating space. The concept is simple: Plan a time every day, once a week, once a month, whatever you can spare, and just do something different. It can be for five, ten, fifteen minutes or more. Find a place that works for you—ideally one that is inspiring but not distracting. When was the last time you were all alone and able to just dream? Dreaming about you? When was the last time you were just still, silent, and focused? When we are alone, we can really take time to be honest and tune in to what we have been doing well or what we’ve neglecting at work and at home. Take the time, and take notes.

I think we “look” during the majority of our day—I know I do. But now it’s time for me to “see” more. To create space to see. Do you want to join me?


illustration of eye looking straight, and looking forward

We “look” during the majority of our day. But now it’s time to “see” more.

Image courtesy of Rule29


Quick Tips
1. Take twenty minutes and just go sit somewhere: in a park, at a coffee shop, on the roof of your building, in a room you barely ever spend time in, whatever. Just listen and watch. Lay down and stare at the sky if you want; just be free for a moment from anything you have to do…just be. When are still you can hear and see better, both what is going on around you and what you are thinking about.

2. Get out of your comfort zone. Submerge yourself in a different culture, or volunteer somewhere. The key is to do something outside of your normal.


Dig Deeper!
1. As the wise sage, Mr. Ferris Bueller, once said, “Life moves pretty fast—if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile you might miss it.” Stop and look around; life is short. Play hooky and watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, even it’s just for a few hours.

2. Make a list of the things that bother you in this world. Right now, just make a list. When you are done, put it away. Tomorrow, take a look at the list, and then spend sometime learning more about one of those things.


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