I have read again a book from my childhood, “Momo” de Michael Ende. A book in which you can learn a lot as an adult and those lessons can be applied to any aspect of life, even work.
Momo’s great gift, knowing how to listen
Let’s start with the gift Momo has. It’s not that she can sing, dance, lead or that she has an extraordinary intelligence (maybe she has). Her gift is that she knows how to listen and when she does, she can get the person she is listening to, to bring out the best in them and become a better version of themselves.
You’ll think… listening isn’t a gift, we all do it. Incorrect. What we all do is hearing. Very few listen. And listening in an active way, even less.
Beppo Sweeper and his positive mindset to face the work.
Let’s continue with Momo’s best friend, Beppo Street-cleaner, whose profession is the same as his surname. In the following extract of the book there is what I consider a great lesson about how to face tasks that need a great, continuous and constant effort.
Beppo liked his job and was good at it. He knew it was a greatly needed job. When he swept the streets, he did it slowly but constantly; with every step an inhalation and with every inhalation a sweep. Every now and then, he stopped for a moment and looked thoughtfully. Then he continued step-inhalation-sweep.
One day he explained to Momo: “Things are like this: sometimes you have in front of you a very long street. It seems so terribly long you think you could never finish it. So you start to hurry, more and more. Every time you raise your head, you see the street is not becoming shorter. And you try harder, you begin to be scared, at the end you are breathless. And the street is still ahead. That’s not how it should be done.
You should never think about the whole street at once, you understand? You just have to think about the following step, in the following inhalation, in the following sweep. Never further than the next one. Then it’s fun; that’s important, because then the task is done correctly. And that’s how it should be.
Suddenly you realize that step by step, the whole street has been swept. You don’t know how it happened, and you are not breathless. That’s important.”
It seems foolish but I have applied this more than once since I read the book as a child… and I still use it when I take a hike with my friends and the hill gets too steep. In those cases I never raise my head to the top, I just focus on the next step…and for me, sincerely, it works!
The thieves of time and happiness
Lastly, in the story is what I now interpret as a lesson about conciliation between personal life and work, between duty and pleasure and about how our happiness consists in finding the right balance. In the story there are some evil men in grey suits that work for the Time Central Bank. These men in grey convince people to save time for tomorrow. And how do you save time? Not doing anything they consider a waste of time: visiting friends, talking to people, playing with your children, laughing telling stories, etc. You must only work to get more and more things. Men in grey exist or live off the time stolen from people. As a consequence of this new lifestyle, in Momo’s city, people become unhappier every day. She will be in charge of giving the stolen time back to the people and finishing with the time-thieves to restore the old way of life.
These are the reflections I deduced from the book, but there surely are many others. Yours are welcome in the comments…