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Aging & Society

From Paul's Perspective: The Pause that Saves

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One recent evening at a busy traffic intersection in our neighborhood, I started to step off the curb when the light turned green.

My wife Patty grabbed my arm and shouted, “Wait, there are still cars coming!” I stepped back, just in time to avoid being hit. 

“What were you thinking?” Patty said. 

I had to admit, I wasn’t sure. My mind was definitely wandering, preoccupied with something I cannot now recall.   

“Sorry,” I said. “I must’ve been drifting.”

If I’d hoped she’d let it drop, I was wrong. 

“This is happening more and more often,” she said. “You’ve got to pause – take a second look every time you cross the street.”

I had to admit, she was right. At 72, I did seem to find myself more frequently in risky situations.  Pulling out into traffic.  Rushing to answer a phone.  Carrying something awkward.  And whether I chalked it up to age, distraction, or just plain carelessness, it didn’t matter.   

It was kind of ironic. In my lengthy career in public relations (one which had often involved managing crises), I’d developed a professional mantra when confronted with unexpected and harsh conditions:  “Pause. Assess. Plan.” It had stood the test of time in events ranging from nuclear accidents to stock market crashes to the terrible events of 9/11. 

No moment had been more fraught with fear and uncertainty than the last. As the head of communications for a major financial company adjacent to the Twin Towers, I was part of a team that had to decide whether and when to evacuate 9,000 employees from our office buildings. My mantra helped me make sound decisions to get through that day. 

And I’ve taught it ever since to colleagues, students, and clients: 

  • Pause – Step back, take a deep breath.
  • Assess – Gather the facts.
  • Plan – Set a course of action.

Whether in an everyday moment or unexpected emergency, it’s been the pause that saves.

Back to that day at the intersection: Patty’s admonition reminded me that my mantra might be useful at this stage of life.  I don’t feel feeble, but my mental and physical reflexes may be a shade slower. It’s a mindful way of approaching those bigger challenges that pop up. Loss of a parent. A sudden health scare. Financial reversal.

And so today, whether approaching a crowded crosswalk, counseling a friend who’s lost a job, or taking a call from a relative in personal crisis, I try to stop and think three things:

Pause. Assess. Plan.

It works every time.        

Photo Credit: Elke Young

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