by Erin Porteous, CEO

I recently updated the software on my phone and noticed a new feature. My phone now tracks my usage – including how many times I pick it up in a day. Yesterday’s count was 40 times. Wanting to know how I measured up, I did a bit of research and discovered that the average person struggles to go a little more than 10 minutes without checking their phone. I wasn’t shocked by the statistic, as I can recall in my own life times when I’m ready to hit the panic button because I don’t have my phone within eye shot.

In the last decade, our phones have become so much more than a two way channel for verbal communication; phones are now a lifeline – for me, it is my connector, my productivity tool, my encyclopedia, my camera, my entertainment and more.

The other night I caught myself reaching for my phone not out of necessity, but out of habit. It led me to reflect on how easily my mind wanders (more like races) from where I am right now to what I need to accomplish next: things I want to do at work to continue being an effective leader and colleague; stuff I need to do at home to nurture my family and keep our household running as smoothly as possible; and the goals I want to achieve as a parent and as a professional.

While I want to believe that being on my phone is leading to productivity, I know it often times keeps me from experiencing what really matters. It’s important for me to have a plan and work hard to meet my responsibilities and goals, but I don’t want to be immersed in the future at the cost of being engaged in the present. There’s also this dread that it’s quite possible my daughter will be able to crack my iPhone code before she’s able to count to five. In the words of Jon Bon Jovi, “we’re half way there.”

This past weekend we took my daughter to see Santa for the first time. I had her dressed in the perfect holiday outfit to match Santa’s red suit, her bow was in place, and I had my phone camera ready to go for the moment she was put on jolly Saint Nick’s lap. And in that 45 seconds of trying to snap a photo, get her hands out of her mouth, and encourage a look of bewilderment instead of tears, I managed to miss the entire experience. I left with 18 blurred photos and a blurry memory of the whole interaction. Was she excited? Did she smile at Kris Kringle or did stranger danger come into play? I wouldn’t know, I was too busy trying to capture the perfect moment with my phone.

Being mindful about being in the moment is even more challenging during the holidays.

During the holidays, there’s so much going on, from joyful experiences to stressful ones and everything in between. Yet, the more present I am, the more rewarding it is: putting down my phone, quieting my mind and making the most of the season’s opportunities to meaningfully interact with friends, family and loved ones.

The other night, I attended an event where our Club kids had the opportunity to buy presents for their family. I watched as our kids carefully wrapped the presents they selected to surprise their family members with joy this holiday season. While my mind was preoccupied with presents I needed to buy, cards I needed to order, family photo I need to take for the card I needed to order…my hectic holiday mind loop slowed to a stop when a young girl asked me to help her wrap her gifts. Never one to forgo the chance to show off my tape, tie and ribbon skills, we spent the next 20 minutes wrapping gifts for her family. Gloves for her Mom, a radio for Grandma and new shoes for her “Sissy.”

She was over the moon that she would be able to give gifts to her family this holiday, and I enjoyed listening to her as she shared stories about what she would do during the school break, what she wanted for Christmas, and how much she loves her dog. As we reviewed her shopping list, I asked if she was able to get everything she wanted. She explained that she has six siblings, and she picked two that she would buy gifts for this year, and next year she would rotate to different siblings. My heart sank. Here was a young child having to choose which of her siblings will receive presents, and feeling the weight of not being able to provide a gift for each of them. Yet there she was, fully present.

In her sweet voice and big smile, she happily wrapped the gifts she could give, excited for the opportunity to be a part of this experience that brought her joy, and would bring joy to her family. This brief but poignant interaction amid the business of my mind and work schedule was the perfect reminder that it’s not about the “presents,” but being present.

These moments, big and small, of true connectivity with the world around me, are what make the experience of life so worthwhile. It’s what I’ll remember long after the stress of holiday shopping and family dramas fade into the past, along with work commitments and commutes, emails, and gift wrap. And maybe, just maybe, if I stay present and engaged more often than not, I can make sure my daughter learns to count long before she learns to unlock my phone.