There is a certain point in the morning that if I walk down to the book shop, I will pass the security check point at ‘Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe’ (SHAPE) where new arrivals have to show their ID cards to the international military police. It’s November 1983 and I am hoping to catch the eye of a certain lady and (if I get my timing just right) she will smile back at me. One smile from Joyce will light up the rest of my day! In that moment, this is more important than the job I am currently working on and I let the rest go.
Bettina, my youngest daughter who has a learning disability and autism, volunteers at a garden centre two days a week. She is incredibly proud of the work she does and the uniform she wears. Bettina is a valued addition to the team as she has a strong work ethic and is a pleasure to be around. Bettina does what is important to her and lets the rest go.
Today though, she has found a snail (and that changes everything!). Bettina is always supported by her P.A. who usually fields any approaches to Bettina by customers who ask her for help. This day, the P.A. had moved about ten feet away and this is when a customer moves in for help. Bettina is mesmerised by her snail and holds it in her hands to examine it carefully. She even ventures a short conversation with the it; making it appear as if she is paying attention to the customer. Their conversations overlap with the exasperated customer assuming she has been understood but getting nowhere with her request except to be told “oh, come on!”.
Within minutes the P.A. returns to be met with the puzzled customer who doesn’t know whether Bettina wants her go with her to find what she’s looking for or if she’s made a ridiculous request! The P.A. explains as briefly as possible that Bettina a) cannot cooperate with lengthy conversations and b) she has found a snail and therefore very little work is likely to be done that day!
Two stories which could not be more different!
Mine and Bettina’s approaches might be different but the key thing we both worked out in these stories is what is important to us; and we let the rest go. I have always been fascinated by how Bettina prioritises what is important to her and how she lets the rest go; sometimes I can get the ‘importance’ and the ‘rest’ mixed up (other than those mornings towards the end of 1983 of course).
Spending time with Bettina I have found 5 things that, I think, form her importance criteria:
- Things that must be done now (urgent)
- Things that matter to her personally
- What sparks her curiosity or fascinate her – snails are obviously one of those things
- What will make a difference to her and those around her?
- Being polite and showing gratitude. It is very important to Bettina when she is complimented on her good manners.
Between Bettina and I, this is what we think the ‘rest’ of the stuff is. Things you can put aside for another time in the day or even tomorrow:
- Will this be important to me in 6 months’ time?
- Things that we have no control over
- Things that others might be better at doing than us.
- Spending time worrying about work and life balance when we could be getting on with our life.
- People who are rude or do not show any respect or demonstrate courtesy. Bettina ignores these people and moves away from them.
1 Top Tip from Bettina and I:
Do everything with intent. If you endeavour to do something, this indicates intent:
“If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert.
He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under a radiator” (How To Be happy Though Human by Walter Beran Wolfe)
I recently came across a book in Waterstones, “The World at the Brink 1983” by Taylor Downing. It seemed strange to look at the book sleeve endorsement from BBC History, referring to something that was my job and life for a year. This military exercise took priority in my life in 1983 and anything else had to be put to one side. However, come the 11th November it was over. I was now going to do something I felt was very important to me; and for a little while at least I was going to let the rest go. So, I make my way to the book store to catch her eye and if I get my timing just right again later I might even catch the same bus as her to Mons
Three months later I received an invite to a party from Joyce (I still have the invitation!) and this year we will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary.
“Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on” Zadie Smith