Jeff Davidson's book, Simpler Living, was Amazon Kindle #1 in its category, first quarter, 2012. Jeff is featured in the NY Times, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Businessweek, Fortune, Organized Executive, and Success.

Mastering Your Domain

I moved to Washington, D.C., years back. My third month there, I was at a party talking with three women, when someone came by and asked the four of us if we would like tickets to see Westside Waltz, featuring Katherine Hepburn, playing at the Kennedy Center. I barely knew one of the women, but the four of us, as a cohesive group, took immediate advantage of the offer.

What I am about to explain accounts for why I can recall the details of this evening so vividly. We took our seats (and they were good ones) with about eight minutes to spare. We were in the balcony, dead center, about two rows back. It was a thrill to be at the Kennedy Center for the first time, with free tickets, seeing Katherine Hepburn.

Several minutes into the second act, while Miss Hepburn (it is never “Ms.” with Miss Hepburn) was in the midst of delivering her lines, someone took a flash picture of her. This, of course, was forbidden in the Kennedy Center and during theatrical plays, in general.

Miss Hepburn stopped in her tracks and, for a few seconds, seemed to be in a trance. Then she broke out of character, walked a couple of paces to the front of the stage, and peered intensely at the perpetrator.

“How rude! How utterly rude,” she said in an unforgettable voice and tone. I was so embarrassed that I wanted to disappear, and I hadn’t even done anything! Imagine how the guy felt who had snapped the picture.

Did That Really Happen?

Quite magically, she then retreated to her position on stage, metamorphasized before our eyes, and become her character again. She picked up her lines right where she had left them. The rest of the play continued without a hitch.

It took me years to understand the phenomenon in its full context. Katherine Hepburn was the master of her environment, certainly on stage, and no boorish, unauthorized, amateur photographer would have the temerity to ever “invade” her space like that again. What’s more, Miss Hepburn was able to keep her stress in check by responding to the offending source in the moment, air her views on the matter, however dramatic, and then move past it.

The moment that she went back into character, it was as if the disruption had never occurred. I don’t simply mean that the audience was relieved that the incident was apparently over; rather, within seconds after returning into her role she was completely immersed in it. For those in attendance, it was as if the incident had happened ages ago.

I have never had the opportunity to speak to Miss Hepburn, and I didn’t read any of the reviews or newspaper columns the following day. However, I can surmise that she carried no residue of the incident following that performance. Also, it became abundantly clear for me why Katherine Hepburn had endured so long and so prominently on the stage and screen–in an ultra-competitive profession that offers little mercy; you are only as good as your last performance, and, your next performance may be your last.

All about the Strategic Pause

Who knows if such an incident had happened to Katherine Hepburn previously. Perhaps not. She conveyed to me that she was the master of the strategic pause. She dealt with an acute stressor as it arose.

What would have happened if she had simply ignored the flash? Would the offender have tried it again? Would others have attempted it? Would she have been as sharp in portraying her character for the rest of the performance? Would the others in the play have been as sharp? How would she have felt about herself for having let the perpetrator soil her art?

In the world of information and communication overload, I don’t know that you can read enough books, take enough courses, attend enough seminars, or make enough observations that will provide the “sacred scrolls” for functioning effectively in a world filled with stressors. I do know that the major component to keeping your level of stress in check is to become a master of your environment, at least your immediate environment, to the degree that you can. This is aided by the ability to pause, if even a fleeting pause, so that you can continually assess where you are, and take action in the moment to maintain control. The pause could be merely seconds, or several minutes. In the Kate Hepburn example, it was a couple of seconds, but clearly, she rapidly undertook some reflection and acted in kind.

Many of the messages that you receive encourage you to speed up activities– go faster, read more, take in more, or do more; however, sometimes the best solution to a situation is not to proceed rapidly, but to take a strategic pause, whereby you give yourself a chance to:
  • Take a deep breath or get a glass of water.
  • Compose yourself.
  • Collect your thoughts.
  • Creatively address the situation.
At your work place, unfortunately, motion and activity are probably valued more than thought and reflection. Sometimes, the most important thing that you need to be doing, when confronted with an issue, is to simply sit and think. I saw a clever book title once that succinctly captures my observation: Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There.

When you make your way home from work at the end of the day, it is easy enough to use your spouse and family as a sounding board for all that didn’t go well. Yet, if you vehemently relate all of the stresses of your day, all you are doing is upsetting your home environment. You would be better off to take five minutes, or perhaps in your case ten, to sit quietly, allow the trials and tribulations of the work day to dissipate, and then be the spouse, father, or friend that you know you can be.

Mastery Can Be Illusory

Becoming a master of your environment is enticing, however, it has collectively eluded people since the dawn of civilization. Archeologists are finding that no society has fully grasped what it means to live in harmony with their environment. Charles L. Redman, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, says, “The idea of the primordial paradise, that pre-European societies were somehow great environmentalists, is romantic history.”

Dr. Redman says that in the last ten thousand years of civilization, remarkably little has changed in the way people treat their surroundings. “Without exceptions, the societies that we’ve studied, ran into trouble, degrading in some way their potential to produce food by undermining their environment.” The Mayan civilization, for example, fell into ruins following the depletion of the rainforests and heavy soil erosion. The uplands of Arizona and New Mexico were forested before human occupation.

“As a culture grows in power and wealth, it artificially increases pressure on the environment,” says Dr. Redman. As you face more challenging situations, and perhaps greater demands, the potential increases for your ability to control your personal environment to be undermined. Frequently, you see apparent go-getters, people who work around the clock, seemingly never stopping to take a breath, accomplishing all kinds of activities. Be careful in your observations. You are only seeing the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” the top 10%, whereas 90% of the “iceberg” is submerged in the water.

Those who accomplish great things, and make it over the long haul, understand the value of taking a strategic pause, reflecting, and getting back in control of their personal environment.

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 65 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 886 presentations to clients such as Lockheed Martin, Eckerd, Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute and the author of books such as:
  • Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
  • Dial It Down--Live it Up (Sourcebooks)
  • The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
  • Breathing Space (CreateSpace)
  • Accomplishing Your Goals (Smart Guide Publications)
Jeff is the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues and has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, USA Today, Businessweek, Forbes, and Fortune. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his website

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