Slow & Fast

A few weeks ago I was gifted the chance to share some words at Hygge’s Zero Night.
Here are those thoughts.

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In airports, grocery stores, random coffee shops, I feel like I’m told frequently, “you look really familiar….” so if that’s what you’re thinking right now, maybe I can help you place me.

I’m a wannabe Hygge member, a freelance graphic designer, a wife, and adjunct professor at Winthrop University, a Nebraska native, SkillPop teacher, and mom of an active 18-month old.

Recently someone asked me if they knew me from a run club. And I had to say, “I’m 100% sure you don’t recognize me from working out anywhere.”

That being said, it might be a little ironic that I decided to use a story about running a race as a recurring theme for this talk. But stick with me. It’s a story I’m sure you know – the tortoise and the hare.

TL;DR

The hare and tortoise race.
The hare is fast, tortoise is slow.
Hare underestimates tortoise.
Tortoise wins.

Moral of the story as told by Aesop…”Slow and steady wins the race.”

Maybe it’s because I much prefer gray to black or white or maybe it’s because the marching band was my idea of a competitive sport in high school, but if I’m being honest, I think the hare gets a bad rap and that the tortoise doesn’t get enough credit.

Two experiences in the last couple of months have started me thinking about this question:

What if we’re called to engage wholeheartedly in both fast and slow work?

This past semester I taught the seminar class for the Department of Design at Winthrop. Instead of the traditional semester-long, weekly parade of classes, I decided to pack what we were learning into an intensive weekend.

They’d meet with real-world clients on Friday night, then have 12 hours to go from idea to execution of a project.

I wanted it to be practical, hands-on, but more importantly fun.

What I’m about to say is not revolutionary. In fact, if you’ve read anything about lean growth or listened to anyone in the startup world for more than 5 minutes, you’re probably like “OKAY I GET IT.”

But there really was something fascinating about watching students, step away from their typical structure to focus in and move quickly through a project. There wasn’t the normal, natural dragging of feet, procrastination, or just moving stuff around on a page that there normally was in other classes I’ve taught.

They jumped in with focus, because they didn’t have the option not to.

In other classes, I’ve begged students to sketch out multiple ideas quickly before jumping onto their computer. I’ve provided designated class time, created specific exercises, but no matter how much I pleaded, it felt about as useful as herding cats.

But what tool did they jump into using without a second thought when they had limited time?
A pencil and paper.

There’s something about a time crunch that forces you trust the process you already know.

The same thing happened with group dynamics. There wasn’t jockeying for leadership or design control. There wasn’t one person who slacked off. There was too much to get done. They had to collaborate, they had to work hard, and they had trust each other.

I wish I could teleport the feeling in the room as they presented their work at the end of the 12 hours. There was a sincere pride, not only in their own work, but also in celebrating the designs of their peers. It was infectious.

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One of the groups, actually was responsible for creating the Zero Night poster – nice work Elanor, Kai and Alexis!

But I was challenged by the whole experience. Maybe the hare had something right.

How often do I allow for only one tab to be open in my brain at a time? How often do I fall prey to the idea that the more I’m doing at one time, the more productive I am?

What if we stopped trying to be fast simply for sake of being quick, lean, or super-efficient, but instead used fast work as a chance to focus?

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But before you go out and buy running shoes and a stopwatch (did I mention I hate running?), we can’t forget about the tortoise.

Two weeks after my seminar weekend, I went on a silent retreat with a small group of women. No talking, no phones – just 48 hours to spend reflecting, journaling, praying, creating. Now, I know, the extroverts in the room are thinking, “HARD PASS” and the introverts are already packing their bags (and as an introvert I can tell you that a weekend with no small talk was pretty amazing).

The retreat had a director who intermittently gave prompts or encouragement to guide us through the weekend. Nearing the end of the weekend, he told us simply, “Trust the slow, slow work of God.”

Now, even if you’re not particularly spiritual, I think this is something that can resonate with most of us. We have big ideas about what our life should be, the unique impact our career will have on the world, the people we’ll inspire – but if we’re honest our life is full of the slow work of living our daily life.

Our days are full of changing diapers, returning emails, calling our mom, making dinner, fighting for relationships that matter, letting others go, feeling lonely, feeling connected.

It’s a daily life we live.

But these small things matter infinitely.

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I’ve never felt this tension quite as acutely as becoming a mom. From the time I started school to entering the workforce full-time, I’ve been conditioned to pursue the end-product. Then a human being comes into the world who asks you not to be productive but to be present.

Turns out slow and steady isn’t quite as easy as it looks.

It’s hard to trust the slow, slow work. Really, the tortoise doesn’t get enough credit.

So who wins? The tortoise or the hare?

I don’t think it’s an either/or type thing. But I don’t think it’s an “Everyone wins” participation trophy type thing either.

Let me explain.

I don’t think we’re called to a life of only fast work. We’ll end up burnt out with relationships that crave attention.

But if we only focus on the day-to-day we do disservice to our dreams.

Maybe it’s not either/or, but more about consciousness.

I think most of us are unaware of our own pace most of the time. So we end up power-walking through life bouncing back and forth between exhausted and disappointed.

I see it in the moments in the midst of a busy week when my subconscious thinks “I’m going to quit everything, stay at home and become a goat farmer.”  

I feel it in the pull to scroll Instagram again as an escape from building another block tower or reading the “train book” one more time.

I’m feeling challenged to more readily name my pace. There will be seasons that require me to work quickly. There will be seasons of day-in-and-day-out slow work. Can I hold both of these with open hands of gratitude?

So, if you’ll allow me, I’m going to leave us with a benediction of sorts from our friends the tortoise and the hare.

Trust the fast work.
May we give ourselves the gift of focus and flexibility.

Trust the slow, slow work.
May we hold the small things with high value.

But whatever our pace, may we experience it with a posture of presence.