Sometime during my senior year of high school, I listened to a motivational speaker named Clayton Barbeau. He came to our church in Huxley, Iowa, and I remember being enthralled with what he had to say. At the time, I was entirely, utterly dedicated to being as Christian as it is possible to be. All I remember from his talk (talks?) is his name and this recommendation: “Do what you are doing.”
Disclaimer here: as long as I’ve had internet, I never bothered to look up Clayton Barbeau and see if I even remembered his name correctly. Turns out there is a Christian family therapist by that name who started publishing in the 1960s, so I think my memory serves me well, and the twinkle in his eye in his photos dredges up memories enough that I believe this is the same guy.
Back to the point at hand. In high school, I was notorious in my own mind for living in the future, for looking forward to some event, or anticipating some aspect of my future that would ensure a greater chance for happiness. And I’m afraid that some tangents of Chtistianity unwittingly play into this: if you live for eternal life above all else, you are living with your eye on the future, one foot in heaven, and you lose the chance to keep both feet firmly planted on earth, in the middle of life that you’re living. I was guilty of this, as guilty as one can be.
So Barbeau’s words and admonition to be present in the moment, to “do what you are doing” with your whole heart and every bit of energy and passion you can muster fell right into all the places that it needed to inside of me. For years, I kept “‘Do what you are doing.’ –Clayton Barbeau” on the bulletin board by my desk. Beginning then as a senior in high school, but slowly over time, I learned to be present in the moment, to do what I’m doing, and to pour passion into this task I’m doing right now. To listen to the person right in front of me as much as is humanly possible, to ride my bike with my whole body and soul when I ride, and to do the same when I teach or when I write, or when I’m with my family. It has paid off. It has not paid off in some huge success story because I don’t have one…no, but it has paid off in how I like my life. It certainly took me years to make this work. It wasn’t a five-year process. More like 20 plus or even 30, and now it’s 40+ since high school (I don’t think I’m stupid, but I am a really slow learner), but I feel like I’m finally getting it, and just now thought about writing about it. Not that I’ve achieved it. I still fall short, pretty much every day, but I’m more aware of how I’m doing it.
It has paid off in how I love every moment of my life, or at least try to be utterly present wherever and however I am, even if the moment is tough or uncomfortable, or even miserable, but being there means you are walking through the misery and you’re fully present to get through it, all faculties engaged. It’s worth it.
There’s another, light-hearted side to this whole diatribe. If you do what you are doing, you aren’t watching the clock. And that means, you just might be late for your next thing that you are going to be doing. I seriously believe that this is why I have garnered a reputation for being late for almost everything. I’m always late. Yeah, it’s an excuse. But it’s also true. If you do what you’re doing, you might not always move to the next thing in time to be on time.
So take that as a caution: If you live for the right now, you might be late for the next. But you might just enjoy both of them more.