Moments of Peace

One of the topics we’ve talked about this month is the topic of peace.  It’s a word that we typically think about when we see the snow sweetly falling, watch the crackling logs in the fire, and hear the story of Jesus in the manger.  It’s not typically a word we apply to Christmas morning with the kids or midnight as New Years Eve turns into New Years Day.   But if you really think about it, there is something fulfilling that brings an intense feeling of satisfaction as you sit and watch the kids around you with their newly-opened gifts, it’s almost a sense of peace if you think about it.

Peace isn’t always about that present-perfect feeling, about having a perfect moment that has nothing else intruding and nothing else involved except that peaceful feeling.  Sometimes it’s simply feeling the sensation that comes along with a job well done or feeling fulfilled or satisfied.  It doesn’t mean your kids won’t frustrate you, your partner won’t forget things and you won’t have bad hair days.  It doesn’t mean that every single aspect of your life is perfect or at peace, just that in that moment you’re at peace.

As we enter the new year in a few hours I would encourage you to make this a year of moments.  Welcome and cherish the moments of peace that you encounter.  Dig deep to find the courage you need to navigate the challenges and take action to conquer them.  Choose to invest in the relationships that will fulfill you the most and you can invest in with a clear conscience.  Choose to be at peace with what this new year will bring, knowing that you’re going to face it head on as best you can giving it your best effort.

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Hope for Navigating A New Year of Changes

It’s kind of ironic how little most people enjoy change yet how eagerly they anticipate the new year and the new beginnings it often holds. But if you think about it most of us do enjoy new things, such as new food in our fridges (rather than moldy or nonexistent), new clothes (rather than those with holes or worn out or completely outdated), new haircuts (so our hair isn’t dragging on the floor), new articles to read and TV to watch (rather than rewatching/rereading all the time), new gifts each birthday and Christmas, and new children for the next generations.

So why have we accepted that some things need to be new or replenished, but we don’t have that same acceptance or openness in other areas of our lives? What can we do to see beginnings and new things as healthy and welcome parts of our lives?

I think one way to help ease the challenge of changes is to exert some control and keep consistent some areas of your life in some ways. Maybe it’s making time to read a book every day. Maybe it’s always having a box or bag in the closet or frozen meal in the freezer of go-to foods for comfort or stressful days. Maybe it’s getting up at a point in time every morning so that you’re able to prepare before the rest of the world is up and going. Maybe it’s shopping at the same stores each week/month. Maybe it’s coffee or drinks with friends and your partner each week/month without fail.

Another thing that can help is to have a schedule. No, it won’t be perfect and sometimes things will get moved around because of changes or new things, but being able to follow it most of the time means that you’ll have some peace knowing what’s coming. It also can give you an opportunity to schedule in “change time”, and be able to work through some of the changes that come your way without feeling all the pressures of the rest of your life.

You know you can’t control everything and that there will be changes in life, and if there are too many changes it can feel like you’re out of control or floundering through life. But with a more open attitude, some go-to’s that remain consistent in your life and a schedule to help you manage your life and the changes that happen, maybe the changes and new things won’t seem as intimidating. How do you manage and navigate your changes and new beginnings?

A Holiday Success Story?

Over the past month or so I’ve been reflecting on the holiday shopping season and some of the things I’ve learned and think that business owners should strongly consider applying to their businesses in the new year.

Black Friday showed that stores that would be generally consider to be in the same market and sell the same products can still offer different deals. I can’t say that there were really great deals for Black Friday this year, but I was pleased to see that the stores had different items as their big deal items. While I doubt that they sat down and said “you offer a deal on sweaters, you offer a deal on scarves, you offer a deal on PJ sets, and you offer a deal on flannel shirts,” it was educational and encouraging to see that stores that offer the same items can all be successful, even simply by focusing on different things. If everyone’s offering a deal on cooking pots, yes, you can too if you sell them, but why not offer a deal on prep appliances like blenders, mixers or choppers that someone might use at the same time as that cooking pot?

For Black Friday there were also a couple of favorites/classics that were on deep discounts. But this wasn’t true across the board and the classics/favorites that have been on sale previous years weren’t on sale this year, which was a little disappointing.  The lesson? Just because they’re classics, it doesn’t mean that the market is completely saturated yet, and you never know if the product wore out during the past year and they were waiting for Black Friday to buy a replacement.

One of the big opportunities that some stores took advantage of but a surprising number definitely did not was to extend their hours for holiday shopping. If you’re balancing between online and a physical store or focused on running a physical store you have to do something to stand out as a physical store, and one of the simplest ways to please customers and differentiate yourself is to offer better/different/extended hours. There are a couple of businesses that are never open hours that are convenient for those who work odd hours or even those who work regular hours (9-5). Some things simply can’t be done on a lunch break or on the weekend, and if stores aren’t open late/early at least one day per week it makes it challenging to shop there and certainly discourages shoppers from wanting to shop there.  That doesn’t mean you have to be open crazy hours every day, but at least one day a week would be helpful.

Something many businesses did do well this holiday season was to offer free shipping any level at least 2-3 days per holiday season, or at the very least something less expensive like $2-3 shipping.  It’s a simple thing that could mean all the difference between people choosing to buy with you or buy from someone else.

Finally, a bit of a mixed bag on Christmas Day.  Quite a few companies sent well wishes, but almost no one had a special sale that day.  Today there were just a small handful of after-Christmas sales, but not remarkable numbers.  What’s interesting about this? Well, I appreciate that companies chose to send cheer on Christmas and celebrate and thank their customers.  But the fact is lots of people give money or gift cards for Christmas and there are people looking to spend them, so the few companies that have post-Christmas sales are going to finish stronger than the others.  Don’t give up on the year just because you’ve had good pre-Christmas sales.

What have you learned from this holiday sales season?

A Family Christmas

One of the things I love most about this time of year is how much we focus on family, whether you define family as those who share the same blood as you, those who you’ve known your whole life, or those you’ve met along your life journey that have become as or more important to you than those who you share blood with. Something about Christmas brings out the need to be with family in all of us. We desire to spend time with those who are important to us, we enjoy giving them gifts and showing them small tokens of our appreciation for being in our lives, and we talk about memories of those we love.

The stories of Christmas are also all about family, both by birth and by choice. Santa and the elves are a family by choice, they work together at the North Pole and are often thought of as a package deal. The Bible stories surrounding Christmas are all about family, both by birth (Mary and Elizabeth) as well as through marriage (Joseph and Mary). Even the story of Scrooge talks about family by birth (nephew Fred) and by choice (the Cratchit family).

Family should be the people that you want to spend the special occasions with, that you want to create lasting memories with, that you want to build a future with. They should be the people that you would miss if you never saw them again, think of when you want to share something with someone, and can do big activities as well as absolutely nothing with. Family are the people who see you through thick and thin, who you can rely on to give you an honest but loving opinion, and who will support you through the changes and challenges of life. Those are lots of great reasons to celebrate family this Christmas.

So whomever you’re gathering with in the coming days, I encourage you to make it merry and celebrate the people who matter most in your life.  Learn from the stories of Scrooge, Santa, Mary and Joseph, and put family first this Christmas.

Christmas Traditions

What do countless holiday movies, my own family and many years of Christmas past have in common (besides Christmas of course)? Tradition! From the lights to the trees to the gifts to the cookies to the Church services, there are traditions and memories all around. One of the things I love about the holidays is that we can each have our own traditions but find lots in common with others as well. For example many families have a Christmas tree, but some decorate with simple tonal balls, some decorate with stars, some decorate with handmade decorations, some like white lights and some make a big production out of the decorating. So I may not decorate my tree like yours, but we can all talk about and enjoy the trees we all decorate.

Tradition is one of the ways we create memories, the ways we make the holidays special for our kids, it’s also a big part of the magic of the holidays, what makes us love them so much. Without the traditions and loved ones to spend the holidays with, it’s just not as magical or special. Yes, sometimes it can seem like a lot to pull together or do, but it’s always worth it when you go back to think about the memories and time spent with those you love.

The good thing about traditions is that you can keep traditions you’ve had going, and/or you can start new ones. Maybe you don’t enjoy those you had as a child, or you’ve got new joys and celebrations in your life now that you want to incorporate and keep going forward. Whatever you choose isn’t important, as long as you make the effort to celebrate those traditions for your family and for your own holiday spirit.

Traditions are a gift we pass on to the next generation and share with each other.  It’s something we enjoy doing and sharing each year, being part of and incorporating into our remembrance and celebration of Christmas.  What traditions will you be sharing this year?

A Stocking Full of Success

One of the oldest traditions during the holidays is the tradition of hanging stockings. Since at least the early 1800’s people have been hanging stockings to wait for gifts on Christmas. I think Christmas stockings have lots of great lessons for business owners as we journey through the holiday season and reflect on the new year beyond.

Stockings are fun because everyone can get involved and the cost to participate can be a lot lower. Yes, you can easily put some expensive jewelry in a stocking, but it’s also fun to put little knick-knacks in, gifts of candy or fruit, or those unique odds and ends that are posted all around the checkout registers this time of year. Yes, some businesses only offer big products or services (and are typically expensive) but most businesses offer large and small products at a variety of price points. The smaller/less expensive products/services can be a way of getting a customer to initially purchase from a business, they can also be impulse purchases, and they can be little add-ons that lead into or connect with your bigger offerings.

The concept of many gifts in one package is also a great opportunity for businesses. You can package up some of your most popular offerings, and you can also partner with other local or related businesses to create a combined offering that brings you all exposure. Whether you offer a package deal (aka discount) on several offerings when purchased together or just make it easier shopping for people by packaging things often bought together into one joint offering, multiple offerings put together can help to clear off someone’s gift list (or needs list) quick. The holidays are all about being together, sharing and caring and there’s no better way to celebrate what you offer and what other great businesses and business owners offer than by putting together a “stocking” of an offering from each of you that could either compliment each offering or are just a smörgåsbord of offerings that have something in common like for a specific career (nurse, business owner etc.), locally sourced, or other passion (dog lover, traveler etc.).

Finally, the packaging matters. Stockings have become a special, treasured memory for people. They’re often adorned with special scenes, made by hand or personalized with names or initials. Year after year we’re proud to hang the stockings and excited when we can add another one to the family when someone else becomes a permanent member of our Christmas gatherings. The packaging and presentation of your offering also matters. From the marketing to the website to the physical packaging to delivery there’s a lot to consider and attend to with regard to the appearance of your offerings (including the people involved), and it’s important to do so. The presentation tells a lot about how you feel about what you’re offering as well as is the initial introduction to what you’re offering and can create a positive or lackluster first impression.

So go ahead, make the holidays a little merrier with a stocking of gifts from your business to your customers. How are you helping your customers celebrate?

Giving with Generosity

One of the lessons we’re reminded about this time of year is that of generosity. The story of Santa is always one of generosity, the story of Scrooge is one of generosity, and we give gifts not because people deserve them or for any reason other than it’s a time of year that we’re called to be generous to one another. What does it mean to be generous? The dictionary says it means to be “liberal in giving or sharing” or “abundant” We often determine generosity by amount or cost, but that cost or amount isn’t always by society’s standards, your generosity simply means giving above and beyond what you usually do.

There are some other lessons to consider along with the overarching one of generosity from these holiday stories too. Santa’s generosity comes with a bit of a catch, because if you end up on the naughty list you’ll get a gift but it will be coal in your stocking. Scrooge’s story reminds us that sometimes we can get wrapped up in our lives and forget about the blessings of being generous to others. And when we gift others we don’t give things that we would like or what we want, we give what we think they would appreciate.

Ultimately though generosity isn’t about going bankrupt to give to others, it’s about giving from your heart. Sometimes the best gifts are those that we can’t attach a monetary value to like a conversation with a friend, a hug, a timely arrival of a coworker to help pick up papers, a helping hand at the grocery store, a donation of old (but gently worn) clothing or blankets to a local shelter, or baking cookies for shut-ins in your neighborhood.

So as the official holiday of Christmas draws near, I encourage you to give with generosity. Give to your employees and customers with generosity, give to your family with generosity, give to friends with generosity, and even be generous with those you meet in line with the holiday spirit, in whatever form generous giving looks like for you.

The Love of Christmas

This time of year is really about love. It’s in Jesus’ story, it’s in Santa’s story, it’s in countless stories recorded by Hollywood, and there’s many a couple that will tell you they fell in love over the Christmas season. Love is many things: it’s giving, it’s forgiving, it’s endearing, it’s celebratory, it’s rewarding, it’s difficult, it’s educational, it’s life giving, it’s challenging, it’s attractive, it’s exciting, it’s work, it’s fulfilling, and that’s just for starters.

Love has highs and lows, but I believe if we’re talking true love (regardless of whether you’re talking romantic, family or friends), the highs and rewards far outweigh the challenges and difficulties and hold true to the statement ‘it’s better to have loved and lost than not loved at all.’ The challenge of the journey doesn’t make you love them any less, and you can work through just about everything that is thrown at you as long as you do it together.

Christmas isn’t the time to be discouraged about the love in your life, it’s time to celebrate it and commit to being more loving from here going forward. Even though it’s a story that’s grown over the years, why would Santa deliver presents around the world if not for love? It’s a lot more factual that Jesus came to earth some 2000 years ago as a baby, and it’s been said many times and in many ways that it was because of love. Why would we give gifts each holiday season if not for love?

So be encouraged that love is really all around. Will you welcome love into your life and heart this holiday season?

The Story of Success

One of my favorite things about the holidays are all the fun stories that we read from year to year. While I’m not in love with all of the new holiday stories that have been written, some are cute and the kids certainly seem to love them, and one has become almost on par with some of the traditional icons. Last week we talked about some of the figures that make the holiday season what it is, but behind each of those figures is at least one incredible story, stories that we read from year to year and share with our kids, and you may be able to recite or at least get close to telling perfectly. It’s these stories that have allowed the figures to become such enduring parts of our lives and holidays.

One of the things that has become a topic to talk about is the story that you’re telling in your business, through your marketing and with your customers. One of the biggest reasons I support story in a business is because it instantly humanizes it. It reminds the business and employees that they’re selling to people and it lets the [potential] buyers know that there are real people behind the products and marketing. Story is also can bring incredible life and depth to products, helping to differentiate a product from others similar to it.

So how is story shared? Well, it can be a video on your website Home page, it can be pictures and text on the About Us page, it can be behind the scenes glimpses on social media, you can share pictures and details on product listings (some products like this one on Amazon are a good example), and it’s in the words that you use to tell people about your products, services or brand.

Don’t think you’ve got much of a story? Well, the most classic Christmas stories are both relatively short and simple. There are lots of stories that have spawned from Santa’s classic story by Clement C. Moore, but that intial story is simple and straightforward. There’s a lot more after the initial Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, but again, the initial story is simple and relatively short. That doesn’t mean that they don’t include some really specific details like the names of reindeer or the exact types of gifts baby Jesus was presented with, because they do. Just adding a few descriptive sentences that bring some life to the presentation along with the relevant details can make all the difference in the world between people choosing to work with or buy from you or someone else.

Between now and the end of January take time to reevaluate the story you’re telling and make sure to begin communicating an authentic and clear story with your customers (ask me, I can help!). So what story is your business telling?

The Light of Christmas

I’ve really been enjoying the journey to Christmas this year.  It’s been fun to play the Christmas music, talk about Christmas memories, plan Christmas events and buy gifts to share with others.  Even though Christmas comes along with some challenges and logistics to work through, I always look forward to the magic of this time of year, especially all the lights that come along with Christmas and the other holidays celebrated at this time of year. Christmas alone comes with lights on trees both indoors and out, lit candles, advent wreaths and door wreaths, and all kinds of blow-ups and other lit decorations. Add in the Menorah for Hanukkah, the Las Posadas celebration, Kwanzaa’s lights, and all of the lights that are lit simply because it’s December and dark in much of the world for most of the day/night and it’s clear that lights are everywhere.

All of this light speaks to me on several levels. First, it’s a guide. Countless stories and stories of miracles have had a connection to seeing a pinprick of light off in the distance that made all the difference. Today we can work anytime and anywhere thanks to the advances of technology that allow us to have all kinds of safe, artificial light. The light chases away the shadows and mysteries and allows us to see clearly where we’re going and what’s going on around us, helping us make the right decisions about which way to go and what to do.

Second, the light is an encouragement, inspiration and reminder. There’s a lot of darkness in the world, especially during this time of year in the US, which can be discouraging and depressing to many. I know I enjoy seeing the light of the sun rather than the dark of night, but the way nature works we get both light and dark, it’s part of the rejuvenation cycle. The extra lights of the holiday season give us the encouragement we need to get through this dark time of year. They’re also a reminder to us to be a light to the world and spread light wherever we go.

Third, it’s cheerful! Above all I find this time of year an opportunity to spread cheer. It’s acceptable and expected to spread cheer and be cheerful and have fun during this month, something that we don’t do during the rest of the year. I know that being serious and dealing with life’s challenges is part of our day-to-day lives, but what happened to cheer being part of them too?

How are you celebrating with light this year?