One day at a time.
What business, therapy, stoicism, and recovery teach us about a life well-lived.
I’m a restless observer of patterns.
Patterns, to me, are one of the most useful types of information. Because if you see a pattern, especially one that carries across a broad and disparate set of circumstances, that information feels more reliable. More durable. More flexible.
Patterns can be a form of hedging our bets in a world where we have far too much information and ideas for any one person to make sense of.
My second book, Redwood: A Guide to Leading a Remarkable Life, was nothing more than a book of patterns observed across people that lead compelling lives.
But the most useful pattern I’ve observed recently is a simple one (the best patterns always are), and it’s this:
Life is best lived one day at a time.
The stoics would have used a term you’re likely familiar with - carpe diem - seize the day. They believed that we should focus on what is within our control and live virtuously in the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or future.
Fast forward a couple thousand years and you’ll find Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (and their various recovery counterparts) teaching their attendees to focus solely on the day at hand. To win in recovery, you have to win the individual day.
If you find yourself in a meeting with a therapist or a coach, while the conversation might wander to the past and future, there’s a good chance it will make its way back to the here and now - what’s in our control in this moment.
And while businesses spend some measure of time thinking about the future and the past, neither of those move the business forward. The only thing that does is the next actions - the places the team is going to apply effort today. After all, the gap between an idea or vision and reality is solely filled with action.
Stoics, therapists, leaders, and people in recovery always default back to the same thing. Control the moment. It’s all we have.
This reality is why I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about productivity.
Not because people are machines.
Not because output is the only thing that matters.
Not because our worth is tied up in this output.
But because the day in front of us is the only thing we’re given.
If we can figure out how to focus on what’s in our control right now, we’re pulled out of the past that hijacks our minds, and we’re pulled out of the future that deceives us into thinking the dream is the same as the path.
There’s comfort in the familiar path. There’s hope in the compelling future.
But there’s life in the here and now.
One day at a time.
Not because a long-dead philosopher, recovery sponsor, therapist, or leader told us so. But because when we strip away the imagined realities of the past and future, we’re left with the most practical thing possible - being intentional with the time we’re given right now.