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The Gift of Presence

Title: The Present

Author: Spencer Johnson

Publisher: Bantam Books

Price: Rs 125

From the author of Who moved my cheese? comes The Present, a parable that attempts to connect with its readers at different levels. Spencer Johnson tells you that the secret to success and happiness lies in living in the present rather than dwelling in the past or in the future. Like its predecessor, The Present is short and to the point.

As a business grows, pressure builds on the CIO to juggle projects for various departments. Naturally, his or her time is at a premium and the book offers a way to address the problems of a stressed-out work life and the constant feeling of having less time.

As in Who moved my cheese?, the point is made that embracing change and evolving with it is critical. The difference is that this time around Johnson offers a way to do just that.

Peek Inside

The book opens with a contrasting pair, a man who is seemingly happy even though he has more work than he used to, and a woman who seems tired and anxious. The Present is the story of the man's success. A child comes to know of The Present from a wise man, and hopes someone will give him something like that. As he grows older he meets with life, its problems, and confronts his failures. Embittered and unhappy he yearns for that present. He imagines it to be something that will take him away from the reality of the world.

In stark contrast to his expectations, he learns with the help of the old man that what counts is not escaping from reality but living in the present and facing the challenges of daily life, one at a time. The young man recalls how his mentor had once told him that he already possessed the present as a child, but had just misplaced it. This approach helps him achieve his immediate goals, but after a while he seems to be caught in a rut once again. He then realises the importance of learning from the past and planning for the future.

The tenets of what the book preaches are as follows:

Although you should not wallow in the past, you should take a good look at it, and change the way you did things that went wrong.

Staying focussed in the present and channelling your attention to what you are doing at the moment is the key.

You have to visualise a future and figure out what you are doing today that will help you get there.

As part of his thesis, the author also defines happiness and sorrow. He identifies the pain causing the sorrow as the difference between what you have and what you expected and wanted to have. Happiness in contrast is to be positive about what’s already there, and focussing on the present to make a better future.

Beyond the short-term

Over and above this, Johnson suggests that everyone needs a purpose that justifies all of their actions in order to find fulfillment. A man's purpose in life, as the protagonist of the story finds out, must expand beyond selfish interests. That, says the author, is the key to success and happiness.

The author says that everyone posses the present and has truly experienced it as a child. At some point, while growing up, we lose track of it, and get caught up in anxieties from the past and the future. Johnson ends with a compendium of the ways in which different people have been affected by the story. That said, he confesses that some people merely put it away, and remain unchanged after being exposed to his book.

The Present makes for good reading as it awakens your conscience about daily sub-conscious actions. After listening to the story, a sales person realises that every time he finds his listeners not responding positively, he thinks about how much harder it is to sell at that moment than in the past. The book puts things in perspective, and helps in prioritisation and time allocation.

- Deepali Gupta

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Indian Express - Business Publications Division

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