Most of the time I like to know my competition. Unfortunately, this competitive urge can sometimes backfire — as it dramatically did almost exactly a year ago.
On that first weekend in March, I was preparing to board the plane for my annual trek to Austin, Texas for SXSW Interactive. For some reason, though I knew it was a bad idea, I decided to look at the schedule of talks happening in the exact same time slot as mine.
I knew they were going to be my “competition” at the event and I wanted to know which speakers I would need to stand up against — figuring there might be three or four other concurrent sessions in my time slot.
There were 27.
This was not even including parties, or sponsored side events, or impromptu taco-themed meetups. This was just counting the sanctioned, scheduled and planned talks on the regular schedule. Even worse, there were four that even I desperately wanted to see … almost more than my own. Rather than being the ultimate breeding ground for a rampant fear of missing out (FOMO), SXSW seemed to be the ultimate example of always missing out (AMO). No matter what you did or where you went, you were sure to miss at least 95% of everything else.
The effect on the audience in any one talk, including my own, was predictable. People were on edge. They were constantly checking Twitter to see what hashtags might be trending and what other talk they might “pivot” to go and quickly join to maximize their time.
There was a hard cost to attending any session: the real time reminders of all the others you had chosen to skip.
No one was present, which meant everyone missed 100% of the experience both elsewhere and in the room they happened to be in.
In the time since, that experience of knowing there were 27 other places to be got me thinking about the way that we live our lives. What if we spent every moment studying a guided reminder of all the things we were missing? How happy could any moment be?
This past weekend I attended a conference called Wisdom 2.0 that took a different approach by focusing on the intersection between wisdom and technology. To avoid inspiring more FOMO — the event promised to record every session and make it available afterward.
Rather than run from session to session, they encouraged their 2500 participants to take time at the event to enjoy the experience, meet new people and simply be present. There were meditation rooms, Tibetan monks creating impressive mandala sand paintings, and small group discussions.
It is easy to think these sorts of meditative topics are best left to a quirky conference about wisdom and mindfulness. Yet one thing that became clear after attending the conference was just how mainstream these ideas are starting to become.
Starbucks, Google and other large brands are investing in mindfulness training for employees. Unexpected groups like the Seattle Seahawks are turning to yoga and mindfulness as a way to improve performance. Exploding businesses like LinkedIn are training leaders on a new form of compassionate management.
Having conversations with people from all industries across the three days of the event, it became clear that generosity, calm, intention, presence, compassion, empathy, kindness and even happiness weren’t just possibilities in the modern workplace … they were (and have always been) necessities. Luckily, the practice of putting them into place also isn’t as hard as it might seem.
Organizations are already creating full training programs, daily open meditation sessions, and small tips and suggestions that fit easily into the modern work life. The results are higher performance, greater job satisfaction, and increased focus.
In other words, mindfulness is working.
Which brings me back to that overwhelming moment when I first uncovered the sad reality of everything I was missing in every moment at SXSW. This year, for the first time in nearly a decade, I won’t be attending. Part of the reason is because I am no longer afraid of seeing or knowing what I am missing.
Instead, I am realizing how important it is to be present in the experiences which are already happening around me.
Or sometimes skipping an experience altogether.
Rohit is a trend curator, marketer and author of the new Wall Street Journal bestselling book Non-Obvious about curating ideas and learning to see the things that others miss. One of the trends featured in his new book is “Mainstream Mindfulness” — which inspired this post along with attending the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco this past weekend.