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This week we continue Lessons From Antarctica, the sometimes surprising life and business lessons that presented themselves on our recent 40-day trip to the Southern Continent.

In our day-to-day “real life,” we often fall into the habit of putting undue importance on learned habits of presentation and looking for what we expect to see.

Be honest, have you ever stressed about having enough time to polish your appearance before a client meeting? Of course, you want to put your best self forward to represent your business. I admit to being guilty of this. Just last week I cringed with embarrassment when I went to a State Board of Licensing meeting, only to realize when I got there that I had left home in my house shoes (ok, slippers), rather than the shoes that completed my carefully prepared outfit.

On the ship, however, we had very limited space, and that space was moving constantly, even on calm days at anchor. So did I want to use that space on items of presentation, or items of function? Well duh, a set of hot rollers won’t keep me warm on the monkey deck — a fur hat takes up the same space.

But there was even more to learn.

Makeup and styled hair don’t matter. Nor does a daily shower, or where to dispose of toilet paper (not allowed to flush it), or the quality of the coffee (truly bad).

But sharing that cup of instant Nescafe with a gentleman who found himself, as he puts it, “in a flat spin,” when his wife died just as they both retired to begin a planned life of travel, that matters. Listening to his abiding sadness, that shares space in his heart with great joy in this moment, and to his plans for the circumglobal trip that comes after this voyage, matters.

Keeping to a rigid schedule doesn’t matter. Responding to a middle of the night intercom call to come to the bridge to see Aurora Australis matters.

If my camera batteries were frozen and I couldn’t record forever some of the magnificence of the continent, I could work harder to record those images in my mind and heart. That matters more than batteries.

Letting go became immensely liberating.

So if my presentation materials are still a work in progress, stressing over them will not improve the quality of my meeting with a new client. What matters there is my knowledge of my job, and my honest commitment to that client’s mission. What matters is asking the right questions, and finding clients whose missions I can become passionate about. What matters is seeing the light go on as they realize how much I can help them keep doing the life-changing work they do.

What matters right now? And what is the small stuff?

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