presence as a privilege

Presence: the fact or condition of being present.

Privilege: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor


I’ve been thinking a lot differently about what it means to be present since late September, when I had the privilege of attending a breakout session run by United Way at the 2022 Vermont SHRM conference, where I was also presenting.

There’s a fun connection to a post on LinkedIn this past summer by Ross Gibson, who was instrumental in organizing that conference. Ross posted a meme about memory and imagination not being real—that only the present is real. Very reminiscent of Eckhart Tolle’s regular reminders to tap into “the power of now.”

presence as a gift

I feel like in the wellness space, we often think of that line in Kung-fu Panda—yes, I’m quite sure it’s not original to that script—about the present: “The past is history, the future—a mystery. Today is a gift; that’s why we call it the present.”

I spend a lot of time encouraging individuals to “stay present” and “come back to the present.”

A lot of us live in the future (constantly cycling through a list of “But what if …” thoughts, all negative) or in the past, constantly cycling through a list of “If only I had….” (Ha, yes, that’s right—“If only I would have is bad, bad grammar!)

And when we live in memory (meaning regret about the past) or imagination (meaning anxiety about the future), we are completely missing out on the present—the only space/time in which we have the capacity to act.

presence as a challenge

What does this have to do with United Way’s presentation?

During the discussion of the Working Bridges program, the presenters introduced a model of the world based on three views: one of lack (also known as being in poverty), one of connection, and one of abundance.

When someone is living in lack, they have no ability to focus on the past or future; instead, they’re permanently stuck in the present, fighting for the next meal, the next paycheck, the next bill payment, etc. 

It made me realize what a position of privilege it is to have the ability to live in memory or imagination.

presence as a privilege

I know, it’s a bit mind-bendy because people who live in regret or anxiety certainly wouldn’t wish that on their worst enemies. It doesn’t feel like a privilege at all.

And yet—it kind of is!

What’s the point of all this, though?

It’s definitely not to shame those who struggle with regret or anxiety—especially not anxiety, which seems to have become the next big pandemic, especially among young people.

And it is an opportunity to gently remind us that we exist in these spaces because we have a lot to be grateful for: we live there because we come at least from connection to resources and at most from an abundance of resources.

staying present with gratitude

One of the most powerful practices we can develop if we struggle with regret or anxiety is a gratitude practice—and it doesn’t have to be complicated!

The simplest form I know is to start each day—yes, before you even open your eyes, and definitely before you pick up your phone—by listing 3 things for which you’re grateful, no matter how small.

Try to change it up daily—it’s easy to let it become rote: I’m grateful for my family, my friends, my home, food for the table, a car to drive, etc. Really try to not repeat items—it’ll make you become aware of your surroundings and use all your senses.

Oh hey–you can be grateful for your 5 senses!

Ready to uplevel?

Add on why you’re grateful for that item: I’m currently grateful for my eyesight because I’m enjoying the fall foliage in VT for the first time in 35 years!

Want to add on again?

At the end of each day, list 3 things that went well.

The first part of the exercise pulls you back from the future: stop worrying about what’s waiting for you; what do you have right now?

And the second part draws you forward from the past: we can usually easily list everything that went wrong that day and dwell on it; it goes against our negativity bias to find the successes!

make the connection

A gratitude practice really is the best way I know to make a shift away from regret and anxiety, negative memory and negative imagination to a positive mindset. And having a positive mindset is one of the best things we can do for our health and wellness!

Let me know about YOUR gratitude practice in the comments or in an email—I’m always eager to learn new ones.

In the meantime, know that I’m grateful for you reading this post as part of my online community!