Being Present, Grace and Poise Under Pressure

In “The Writing Life,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, essayist, and novelist, Annie Dillard, writes: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”

It’s a simple, yet important reminder to live each day with intention and clarity. Commit to spending time with people who nourish rather than deplete you by offering true friendship. Show your gratitude by showing up, even when it’s inconvenient or difficult or sad. Listen fully, speak your truth with love and tell your dear ones how much they mean to you. 

I recently had the opportunity to put this into practice just days before my dearest friend, Molly—or Moo as I called her—lost her battle with pancreatic cancer. When she asked if I would fly to visit her in Chicago, I was so nervous about what I should say, what I should do. And, my body reflected my emotional state with a severe but thankfully brief stomach flu. 

But the next day, when I arrived at her home the fear was gone. I laid next to her, stroking her head while we talked about our 28 years of friendship, our work together writing books and growing a business, and she shared her thoughts about facing her death. In the four days together, there was nothing left unsaid. I returned home feeling the loss of this incredible light in my life. But, I learned perhaps the most important lesson of all; I simply need to be present. 

Ketanji Brown Jackson, our newest, about to be Supreme Court Justice, was truly UNSTOPPABLE during her Senate confirmation hearings.

With grace and grit, Judge Jackson endured a barrage of hostile questioning which often appeared more like an interrogation than an inquiry. Her grace under pressure was stunning. Not once did she lose her temper or her patience. 

I am in awe of how Judge Jackson remained composed under this overtly hostile scrutiny. She was interrupted, ignored, shouted at, lectured, and patronized. Senators who had previously endorsed her for lower court judgeships now attempted to distort her record. They painted Judge Jackson as a social radical, accusing her of sympathizing with criminals instead of victims, and coddling child sex abusers.

She never took the bait. Instead, at each egregious turn, she waited patiently for the senator to finish before responding. She was respectful, gracious, and poised.

According to legal experts, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a brilliant jurist. She is also an ideal example of a Chameleon Communicator – a person who uses their authentic voice to convey information in an interesting and entertaining way; inspires and empowers audiences across cultures, generations, and genders; and is able to navigate even the most obstreperous audience.  

As we watched her interact with those 22 senators she gave us a masterclass in the ability to adapt to antagonistic situations, unpredictable styles, personalities, and political shenanigans.

She read the room and reacted to the emotional temperature brilliantly. Using a steady, nonemotional tone, she told her story and answered their questions with warmth as well as strength—utilizing the best parts of her personality, communication acumen, expertise, and experience. 

She navigated a high-pressure, contentious environment using every effective communication tool to make Supreme Court history. What a wonderful example for us all.

WHAT IF: Over the last few months—in conversations with clients, friends, and family—I’ve noticed a marked increase in their level of stress. It’s not just about the difficulties they’re facing with family or work, but they are also deeply troubled about the state of the world. Our ever-widening political divisions, inflation, pandemic surges, among other global challenges, have offered little to bolster our confidence in the future. I too have found my worry escalating, and I can go down that rabbit hole of negativity and hopelessness as fast as anyone.

These issues demand our attention, but how can we manage our anxiety and at the same time affect change through actionable steps, even if it’s a seemingly small step?

REFRAME IT: Every day, choose one thing to do and/or change for the better. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:

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