The CEO of a multinational corporation owned not one, not two, but three cell phones. They buzzed, chimed, trilled and blared at all hours of the day and night. She also had two tablets, four laptops, 12 offices and 30,000 employees all over the world.
The CEO arrived at the office before dawn each morning and left late at night. In between, she fixed unfixable crises, negotiated unnegotiable deals and ran un-runnable meetings.
When she wasn’t fixing crises, negotiating deals and running meetings, she traveled to the corporation’s other offices. She flew from New York to London, London to Doha, Doha to Beijing, Beijing to Tokyo and on and on. All the while, answering her buzzing, chiming, blaring phones and answering an unrelenting string of emails.
And so went the days and nights, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. Over time, the hours, minutes and seconds took a toll on the CEO. Under layers of concealer and pearl-formulated brightening serum, shadows beneath her eyes darkened and hollows above her eyes deepened. A groove between her eyebrows penetrated tri-monthly Botox injections. Twinges flickered across her chest. She spoke sharply and shouted often, allowing no room for delays, errors or laughter.
One day, the CEO was in the elevator, heading to a Board meeting on the 52nd floor. She was alone, scrolling through messages, reviewing her speech and setting the agenda for another meeting when a great clang sounded and a sharp jerk almost sent her tumbling to the floor. The elevator groaned and dropped, shuddering to a halt with a thud and clank. The lights went out, plunging the space into almost total blackness.
She steadied herself and punched the “Door Open” button. No response. She hit the button for 52. No response. She let forth a frenzied pounding of all the buttons, convinced that one would suddenly set her on her way. But…no response. She hit the “Alarm” button.
“Yes?” crackled a voice.
“I am stuck on the elevator!” she shouted into the intercom.
“Yes, ma’am. We are aware of the problem and we are working on it.”
There was a crackle and whine from the intercom.
“Ma’am? I can’t quite hear you.”
“HOW LONG UNTIL IT IS FIXED?” she bellowed.
“I’m sorry, ma’am - there’s been a power outage. We don’t know how long yet. We are diagnosing the problem. We’ll keep you updated.”
The CEO roared her name into intercom, expecting it to work the magic it usually did, but no one responded.
She checked her phone, alarmed to see “No Service” in the corner of her screen.
She dug her fingers into the crack between the door and pulled with all her might, convinced she could do the impossible – because she usually could. But the door did not budge. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she scanned the ceiling hoping to see an opening she could hoist herself through like in the movies, but the surface was smooth and flat.
“Damn Hollywood,” she said.
Finally, the CEO did something she’d never done before.
She gave up.
She slid down against the wall and folded her legs under her. She drew in one deep breath and then another. She removed her heels and rubbed her feet. She unpinned her hair and let it fall around her shoulders.
She closed her eyes, senses alert to the ding of her phone. When she remembered the “No signal”, she smiled.
The CEO luxuriated in the silence, interrupted only by the distant voices of the workers repairing the elevator. She felt her breath move through her nostrils, her sinuses, down her throat, through her shoulders, lungs, and abdomen, clear down to her feet. That breath recalled one long ago afternoon when friend had tried to guide her through a meditation exercise – an exercise she had then waved off as a woo-woo-New-Agey-nonsense waste of time.
She breathed again, feeling energy flood her face and spread into her chest as her jaw, cast in iron over many years, suddenly released and opened. She reached for another breath, savoring every molecule, allowing this one to loosen her shoulders and her back. Then another and another, each one longer, deeper, more sumptuous than the one before.
The Board meeting, the chatter, the dings and pings drifted far away as deeper memories from long ago enveloped her. She was on the beach, watching the waves crash and recede, creating magical patterns in the sand. She felt the breeze caressing her face, the ancient smell of sea seeping into every pore…
She was on a mountaintop, the home of the family cabin. Running through golden grasses taller than she, chubby childhood hands grabbing fistfuls of leaves, drinking hot chocolate around a crackling campfire in the crisp air….
Galloping her pony across an open field, wind drawing tears from her eyes, hooves thundering as she urged him to go faster and faster….
“Ma’am? Ma’am?” the elevator intercom crackled, snapping the CEO out of her reverie. She shook her head and looked around, feeling jolted from a dream. The lights had come on and she squinted, adjusting to the glare.
“Um…yes?” She cleared her throat, her voice sounding fuzzy and unfamiliar to her ears.
“Ma’am, we’ve fixed the problem and you should be moving in a few minutes.”
“Oh. Yes – um, thank you,” she said, checking her watch. Over an hour had passed since the elevator had stopped.
She put her shoes back on, straightened her jacket, smoothed her skirt and pinned her hair back into its French twist, moving slowly, feeling as though she were underwater.
The elevator clunked once and began rising. Within moments, it dinged at the 52nd floor and the CEO stepped off. Her assistant was standing at the door waiting for her with a stack of papers.
“Are you ok? We figured out right away you were stuck in there. The man down at the desk said you were pretty quiet.”
“I’m fine. These things happen,” the CEO said.
The assistant gave her an extra look. That was not the reaction she’d been expecting.
“Well, the Board rescheduled the meeting for next week,” she said.
“Very good,” the CEO said. “Clear my schedule for the rest of the day. I’m going home.”
“You are?” the assistant asked. “Are you sure you’re feeling ok?”
The CEO smiled a smile the assistant had never seen before.
“Yes,” she said. “This is the best I’ve felt in years. You should go home too.”
From that day forth, the CEO set aside time each day for what she privately thought of as her “elevator time”. The dark shadows under her eyes faded, her complexion shone, a new energy pulsed through the staff and the corporation thrived.
Some days, the CEO would shut her office door, turn off her phones, close her laptop and tell her assistant to hold all calls. Other days, she would spend time in the park, sitting in the sun and watching the squirrels. And every time she stepped onto the elevator, a secret she never told anyone – she always, always hoped the elevator would get stuck.
Moral: What is without periods of rest will not endure. - Ovid