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  • Writer's pictureJay Whitmer

Dirty Distractions

The decibel level is deafening. When did the world get so loud, and will the noise ever settle down?

While we all have strong opinions as to the “real source” of the root issues that seem to be swallowing us whole, there’s one conclusion that I think most would agree about: we are all distracted more than ever before.

This goes way beyond the teenager (or suit in NYC) that walks straight into a pole because they are lost in their phone. This is deeper than the upside-down disruption of the pandemic. And it’s more complicated than navigating through web of busy work and social or school calendars without losing our sanity.

To be sure, the speed of life today is a major contributor to our distraction. With so many balls in the air and things to think about, it’s not a surprise that something is bound to fall through the cracks – whether by mistake or increasingly by necessity. And maybe we just feel like smashing those glass balls on the ground anyway.

I’m not sure who started it, but the first person that started bragging about their overly full calendar has caused a more subtle pandemic if you ask me. While we probably don’t consciously or deliberately boast about how busy we are, it’s very common to publically “lament” or proudly complain about our responsibilities that demand our attention in the span of 24 hours. You’d think we don’t sleep anymore with all that action. Well, maybe that is partly true for anyone imprisoned in our cultural whirlwind.

There are two major problems with this mountain of distraction. First, we’re out of breath and in many cases exasperated if not downright miserable. But the second is even more critical: it keeps us from focusing on what matters most.

The physical manifestation of our lost focus and fatigue is creating havoc on our minds and bodies. This light speed of life has suddenly turned into ludicrous speed, which is probably the most significant contributor to the rising mental health battle – with or without the impact of a global pandemic (although COVID is certainly piling on with evil pleasure). The unspoken expectation is that you must run as fast as the rest of the cool crew, and much like our champion Olympians, everyone is getting faster each year.

At some point along the journey of the last 25 years, I think we forgot the power of saying “no.” Or at least “not right now.” Or simply stating “that’s not important.” Because if we pause long enough to actually think, asking if something is important or just urgent in front of me are two totally different questions.

One of the best lines I’ve ever read in a book is from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer: “why am I in a rush to become somebody I don’t even like?...”

Because if we’re being honest, this hurried up and distracted version of ourselves ain’t pretty. It certainly isn’t making us better, it’s just making us busier and more frantic. Are we trying to tell convince ourselves that we’re going faster and further? Do we expect a straight line up and to the right in all walks of life? Is that even possible when we’re so distracted?

Distraction is a dirty word to me. In business, the Dirty D is often disguised as productivity, efficiency, and even profitability. In our families, we have to literally wash the dirt out of our kids’ athletic clothes every day lest they get off track from their D-1 scholarship path. In our communities, we pick verbal fights and endlessly debate about non-essential tertiary issues that none of us will likely even remember in 5 years.

If only we could have one big time out, then maybe things will begin to reset back to square one. Oh wait, I think we already used that card.

So as we try to find our rhythms, whether new or old, might we at least think about what we’re running after? And why we’re chasing it?

Might we give ourselves grace to let go of the wrong race? To give ourselves the gift of time and guard it at all costs? Otherwise, our distractions will simply suck the life right out of us. Just like the Mega Maid vacuum in Spaceballs.

I’m convinced there is a better race with a different pace. Where endurance matters more than our ability to sprint. And most importantly brings with it a medal that matters when we unlace our shoes at the finish line.

Which race am I running then? The one with distractions where I run aimlessly that has my tank running on empty, or can I train to keep my eye fixed on the real prize of purpose and significance.

By default we’re already entered into one race. But it’s up to us whether we withdraw in order to intentionally chase something better.

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