This is the season for pulling ornaments out of the attic, shopping for gifts in crowded malls, making the family’s favorite treats and big holiday meals, all the rituals that mark the end of one year and the beginning of another.
As I reflect on my own Christmas customs, I can see how easy I have made them for myself.
I’ve pared down my decorations to a small collection of things that are dear to me because they have a long history or are connected to someone who has died.
I’ve eliminated the stress of shopping by knitting sweaters, hats, scarves, fingerless gloves and boot warmers for my grandchildren and friends all year, picking up fun gifts for my husband’s Christmas stocking as I see them, and buying gift certificates for everyone else.
Likewise, as a grandmother who goes to where her family is instead of the other way around, I don’t do much cooking. This year I’m making a dish of macaroni and cheese to take with me to my daughter’s and a big batch of dough to bake cookies with my grandchildren.
So how will I honor the season, if I’m not decorating, shopping and baking? Something that happened the other day in the grocery store offers a clue.
Easy question for Halloween—if you see a broom with a crooked handle resting against a wall what immediately comes to mind?
Back in August I saw a row of beautifully crafted ones, all suitable transportation for Elvira Gulch, at a local craft fair, but having just been to an exhibit honoring the Shakers my first thought wasn't of the Wicked Witch of the West. What got my attention was how these handmade products stood out in our mass produced, made-in-China world.
The woman manning the booth had left a corporate position in sales and marketing to become a partner in a broom making business because it enabled her to combine her business skills with the crafts she had learned growing up in rural Vermont.
Entrepreneurs, small business owners and others who work for themselves enjoy the autonomy that comes with independence but know that there is a downside—feeling alone.
People in transition who are considering starting their own businesses also worry about the isolation that might come with being a freelancer or independent contractor. Maybe they’ve had enough of the sort of being-on-your-own that comes with looking for work, or maybe they feel that if they were self-employed they would miss the stimulation of working with others.
Both groups speak of the need to have someone to brainstorm or problem-solve with, or just to talk business with over coffee. They may prefer not to answer to a higher authority or deal with office politics, but they instinctively know that being challenged now and then keeps them on point and that the expertise of others, particular in business disciplines they are not strong in, can help them achieve their goals.
Just before sunset at low tide, the flats at Skaket Beach seemed to stretch all the way to the horizon and the sand and sky enfolded me in a soothing blanket of light.
The young parents and their sand-covered toddlers, the older couples in lawn chairs, the other solitary walkers like me were swaddled in a lavender hue in surroundings so spacious and calm that we moved slowly and kept our voices low to savor it.
In light like that you see things differently and as I ambled up the beach from the water’s edge I began to look at the day’s collection of sand castles that dotted the hard packed sand with new eyes.
Some were walled kingdoms with roads and moats, others were laid out geometrically with structures meticulously shaped using round or square molds, one featured a sea grass tower and another a beach pebble walkway. But the majority were spontaneous creations, shaped with no plan by tiny fingers for the pure delight of playing in wet sand, or by the bigger hands of adults who remembered how much fun it could be to make something for no other reason than the pleasure you get from doing it.
All would be flattened by the incoming tide, which started me wondering—which of the two types of castle-builders, the one who worked at constructing a masterpiece, or the one who had little interest in the final product, had a better day at the beach?
I like words, discovering new ones and looking up their meanings, yet I’ve always had an aversion to any piece of writing that starts off with something like, “The word x is defined as....” It’s always felt like a weak beginning and I’ve vowed never to do it.
But sooner or later we end up breaking our hard and fast rules, so I’m going to start this column with a definition for the word "responsible" which you won’t find in any dictionary: being responsible means changing the toilet paper roll when the old one is empty.
It’s a simple practice but it’s not as easy as you might think, especially for someone as mechanically challenged as I am. I’ve often had to collect the two sections and center spring of the spindle from the floor multiple times before finally getting it back on the holder, or have spent an extra ten minutes in a public stall trying to figure out how to reload one of those multi-roll contraptions.
What's important about this exercise is that I took the time to attend to the task in front of me, without an audience, or accountability, or the expectation of any reward beyond the boost it gave to my own self-esteem.
This summer I’ve been studying the Alexander Technique, an educational process developed by New Zealander F. M. Alexander in the early 1900's that teaches you how to release tension by sending messages to your body to undo unnecessary patterns of holding.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that Alexander’s idea of achieving greater freedom and ease of movement works also with more than just muscles, nerves and bones.
Looking for places in my body where I habitually store stress, it didn’t take long for me to discover what felt like a sizzling mass of hot wires in the back of my neck and left shoulder blade that appeared whenever I was provoked by an unpleasant sensation, e.g. sitting for a long period of time in summer traffic.
But it took a while to figure out where I stashed my emotional patterns of holding. When I heard myself sharing a painful situation in my life exactly the way I’d shared it for the last two years, I knew I’d hit paydirt.
In Free Agent Nation, Daniel Pink suggests watching two films to get an idea of how the world of work has changed since the middle of the twentieth century.
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) is about a public relations executive, the Organization Man of the 1950s.
Jerry Maguire (1996) is the story of a West Coast sports agent who navigates today's freewheeling entrepreneurial culture.
But what struck me on the snowy afternoon that I watched these movies back to back was not so much how the culture of work has changed, but how much it has remained the same.
Every event or conversation that upsets or displeases us is made up of two components: what actually happens in real time, and what our head does with it afterwards. We have little or no control over many of the difficult things which occur in our lives, but we can change our response to them.
A good starting point in keeping our minds from spinning out of control is to learn how to "drop the shock and awe." We do this by making a choice not to be surprised—once again—by behavior that we know from past experience is consistent with a particular person.
Because we already know what to expect, we can eliminate, or at least shorten, the time we spend trying to build a case for why we find another person's thinking, words or actions unacceptable.
I’ve been aware for some time now that what causes my clients the most pain in their professional lives is not the weight of their responsibilities, the heavier workload due to the economic downturn.
What leads to frustration, sometimes despair, are those difficult or even hostile exchanges with specific people in the work environment, often the boss. These interactions play out in predictable patterns which one of my clients recently described in great detail.
The scene was all-too-familiar: her boss kept calling her again and again, each time with a new demand, neither asking nor caring how the interruption would affect what she was currently working on, expecting her to be able to shift gears immediately, insisting that everything was urgent. It was making her numb.
Sometimes I’ve just had it with the absurd extremes marketing goes to and I have to stand up and say, "Enough!"
In the window of a convenience store near my house there is a sign which announces, "Cape Cod Ice Sold Here."
The Cape offers many wonderful things—clam chowder, lobsters, glorious beaches, and cranberries, to name a few—but no one ever returned from a vacation here saying, "I can't wait to go back next year for some more of that fabulous Cape Cod ice." Give me a break!