The Gift of Love

There are so many things we could pull from this time of year to talk about regarding success. Like how businesses get people to buy stuff this time of year under the guise of giving gifts and getting great deals. Or how we talk about and celebrate the holidays for a month or more before we get to the actual holiday, allowing for sufficient time for planning, gathering and gift-purchasing. Or we could talk about how the holidays encourage people to spend time in community and do good for others (and it actually happens). Or we could talk about how the holidays allow many of us to end the year on a positive note, something that may not ring true for the rest of the year.

But today I want to talk about the success of getting love and community into our lives and into the lives of others. Whether you celebrate Christmas (religious), Christmas (secular), Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, this time of year is one of celebration and gathering together. We each celebrate something a little different, but with each holiday we’re invited to turn on or light some lights and gather together to celebrate. For several thousand years we’ve been celebrating Christmas (religious) and Hanukkah, Christmas (secular) for the past several hundred, and Kwanzaa for the last 50 or so years, taking time to set aside any differences or struggles we may have, remembering the good times and making new memories together. Anything that gets people of all cultures and backgrounds to stop and be more considerate of others year in and year out is worth talking about.

I’m willing to take on all the commercialization, crowded roads, spending, and some extra stress because more people are polite, more people are helpful, and more people show how they care unlike other times of the year. The time we take to purchase exactly the right gift for someone, make someone’s favorite foods (including special cookies), and lengths we travel to be together are all evidence of the fact that we do care about each other, even if we aren’t always willing to admit it. We may wrap our love up in the activities and actions of the season, but when all the trappings and trimmings are removed, when we stop moving and eating and sit, when the gifts are all unwrapped, what it comes down to is love for each other.

With the holiday season in full gear, I encourage you to make time to think about love and let that be the best gift you give or get this holiday season.

Be A Light

One of the things I talk about every December is the topic of light. It’s fascinating that we use light in so many of our celebrations. From candles for birthdays, to fireworks for the Fourth of July, to the lights in a jack-o-lantern, to lights on homes and trees for Christmas, to the lights of the Menorah for Hanukkah, to the Las Posadas celebration, and Kwanzaa’s lights, it’s clear we love to celebrate with light. And of course we can’t forget how we use light to illuminate our worlds and push back the darkness no matter how low the sun is or late the night is.

The other day I was shocked when I read that we’re heading to a new decade in less than two weeks. I have been anticipating and aware of the new year coming up, as it follows Christmas each year and means that the celebrations are over but the winter weather sticks around for a few more months, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me that with this new year was a big change with the calendar, and that’s to a new decade. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to celebrate and move into a new decade after this past one. This decade probably wasn’t the hardest one we’ve ever had, but there’s something about going into a new decade that is even more refreshing and exciting than going into a new year usually is.

This holiday season I’ve been lighting more candles than I often do, there’s something about the light of a candle that’s both soothing and inspiring. I may be a night person but I can’t imagine being without the light, or choosing to not be a person of light. I donate regularly to charity and non-profit organizations, and this year on Giving Tuesday I was thankful to be able to donate to some organizations that are really shining light in some dark places in the world, including one that supports children and their families with cancer (Jesse Rees Foundation), one that works with in-need children and families in Guatemala (Integral Heart Foundation), and several that work with veterans (Warrior Canine Connection, Travis Mills Foundation). With technology today we’re able to see first hand the great work these types of organizations are doing through posted pictures and videos on social media and in newsletters, and you can’t help tearing up watching some of the videos that shows the incredible difference these organizations and others are making in the lives of people who were lost and without hope, and now thanks to connecting with them and supporting them in the unique ways that they do, the lives of many families are greatly improved and they have hope again.

Life rarely changes in one day, often it takes many years to change, halt or improve, especially if you’re dealing with something like trying to change a country’s future, curbing addiction or addressing the world’s climate issues. But lately I’ve been seeing some more lights and more signs of hope than I have in the past. Light is a choice. No, every day won’t be filled with light and happiness, there are some really tough things that we’ll have to face in our life and others will have to face in their lives. But when you can, choose to light a candle, turn on a light, help a neighbor or coworker or stranger, share a positive social post, volunteer with organizations doing great things, or do something that makes you or someone else happy.

Even the smallest light can be seen when it appears in the darkness. When that one small light joins with other lights it has the power to banish all the darkness in the area. This winter solstice, on the day of the year that the darkness arrives the earliest and sticks around the longest, I encourage you to be a light today, this holiday season and in the new decade.

A Little Holiday Community

If there’s one thing that the holidays are all about, it’s community. The holidays bring us together in ways that we’re not during the rest of the year, encouraging us to spend time with those we love and those who matter to us, and taking time out of our daily lives to celebrate together. Community is everywhere this time of year, from the people standing outside stores with their bells asking for donations, to sending of cards and messages that have pictures of families and groups on them, to working together to decorate both inside and out, to gathering in homes and restaurants to eat and enjoy each other’s company.

If community is so very obvious this time of year, does that mean it’s not something that exists during the rest of the year? No, it’s just not as obvious as it is during the holiday season, with the exception of other specific holidays throughout the year (4th of July, Mother’s Day, Halloween etc.). Community is bringing up the neighbor’s trash cans for them, calling for help when something doesn’t look right, holding the door for someone, and most importantly building relationships (however casual) with those you live near and work with.

Community isn’t necessarily about knowing each other’s secrets, having the type of relationship where you exchange gifts or celebrate each other’s birthdays, but about being assured that someone will miss you if you’re not seen for a while, and that others are glad you’re part of this world and part of their lives.

Yes, we’re naturally part of a community by where we work or live, but what we do with that, and if we do anything with that, is up to each of us. Community can be as insubstantial as we want it to be, or be one of the best things about where we live and/or work. This holiday season I encourage you to give community a try and see if contributing to your community improves your life as much as it does those you connect with on a regular basis.

A Little Christmas Magic

A song that always catches my attention in the holiday season is A Baby Changes Everything sung by Faith Hill. Hearing this song again the other day got me thinking about parenting and having children. For most it’s an equally exciting day when their child is born as it was for Mary and everyone else when Jesus was born in the Biblical Christmas story. For others, in this day and age the ability to have a child isn’t as significant as it was back in Biblical times or back when the first stories about Santa circulated. In some circles and families there’s certainly pressure to have a child, but most are not under that pressure and can choose whether they want to bring a child into this world or if their time and efforts are better off with other pursuits. Finally, unfortunately there are some people who have children and aren’t as excited or changed by the process as they should be (including those families you wonder why they chose to have kids).

But then I got to thinking about some of the less-traditional ways that a child changes things. For those who can’t have children, adopting a child from a less-than-ideal situation is a huge blessing for both the child and new family. For families who lose one or both of a child’s parents while the child is still young, the child can be what keeps them going and helps them work through the grieving process. For those whose children have grown older and don’t have grandchildren or don’t frequently see them, working with children as a career or volunteer activity can be a great way to keep that child-inspired zest for life spark alive. And for those who see a cute child in the store or out and about, it’s a reminder to smile and love life. Whether they played an active roll in bringing them into the world or not, sometimes a child can be the one thing someone needed in their life or just that day.

Yes, children have their moments where we wonder what someone was thinking when they had them, or why they can’t just appear grown, or how soon they’ll get through this phase. Working through these tough times with a child can teach us many things that we can apply to other areas of our lives such as working with difficult people or coworkers, managing expectations, conflict resolution, and lessons on patience in general. I’ve found that these moments are fewer and farther between than some may think, and that more often than not kids are a blessing.

If you learn anything from kids at this time of year, learn the value of believing in the magic. We don’t often see the magic as adults because we pick out details like the amount of work or where the dirt shows up or managing schedules, but if we stop and listen and look around, hopefully we too can find some of that magic for ourselves this season and beyond. What magic will you welcome into your life this holiday season?

Taking a (Holiday) Break

Success is a combination of many things. Part of it is ideas, part of it is following direction, part of it is taking initiative, part of it is reaching goals, part of it is about your team or support system, part of it is about getting things done, and there’s another part that we don’t always remember as being influential in our success journey, and that’s knowing when to stop and when to take a break.

The holiday season both adds a lot of stuff to our plates and gives us the opportunity and encouragement to take a step back and relax a little. I’ve noticed more this holiday season than ever that people aren’t sending a lot of emails and messages over the weekend, but instead are doing other things like going places with families, doing holiday things at home or just plain taking a break and watching holiday movies.

Sometimes the only thing you can do in both life and for success is keep pushing forward and keep taking action, or else you’ll end up under a pile of stuff deeper than some people’s email inboxes and you’ll never be able to get out. But it’s not healthy or sustainable or smart to live or work this way forever. Our bodies and brains aren’t designed to be “on” all day every day. They need the recharging as much as everyone around us needs us to take a step back occasionally and take time off.

Maybe you can’t get away for an extended vacation in the near future or can’t spend lots on gifts this year, but you should be able to give yourself and those in your life the gift of a break. Try to take at least almost the whole day, one day a week off, or even all or most of two days each week off and do things that aren’t work related, and especially are fun, seasonal or relaxing. You’ll find that you’re more motivated during the rest of the week to get stuff done, and more prepared to move into the new year that is almost here.

What are you doing to relax and enjoy life this holiday season?

A Season of Good Tidings

Today is one of the last “titled” holiday shopping/spending days of the year, today is Giving Tuesday. The numbers so far are saying that it’s been a great past week for stores and lots of people were shopping both in store and online. I have hopes that the non-profits will get a good fraction of what was spent in stores over the past week, having seen quite a few emails already indicating organizations have match-donations in place, and last year having raised over 1 billion. But I think we all need a reminder from time to time though that this month is about more than finishing another calendar year and taking advantage of great deals, and take time to not just remember but appreciate and apply the sentiments behind Christmas (both secular and religious) and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

For people around the globe this month is supposed to be something special, a reminder that there is still good in the world, that we haven’t forgotten our fellow mankind, that peace can be a reality, that the light can beat the darkness, that maybe we can finally have some victories over the things that hold us back. Over the past week I’ve been a bit surprised and pleased by something, and I wanted to share it with you today, as we begin this holiday season.

On Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday I made a phone call to a government office and spoke with a very pleasant lady who was also very helpful at the end of the day no less. On Thursday I met some extended family for the first time and we had a fantastic time. On Friday while shopping all of the employees I encountered were not only helpful but had a very positive attitude. Also while shopping the majority of people I encountered were not only polite but also relaxed and patient, and even some who had holiday cheer.

Why share all this? Because for the first time in a long time, I have hope that maybe we’re making a difference in the world and people are getting the message that it really doesn’t pay to be a Scrooge or a Grinch, and that it’s much better to live your life with consideration and care for others, working together to make the world a better place. Some of the interactions I had with people this past week were a great reminder that it really doesn’t take much to make life a little easier, just a smile, kind word, willingness to help and/or positive attitude.

So as we head into this holiday season, I would encourage you to be of holiday cheer; to embody the things we’re taught in the Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and both Christmas stories; and to let this be the most wonderful time of the year.

A Season for Community

You’re probably aware that yesterday was Thanksgiving, today was Black Friday, tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, and Tuesday is Giving Tuesday. All of these have to do with one thing: community. The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of community, partnership, victory and life. Black Friday many of us go out to stores and stand in line and make small talk with those we share our towns and cities with. Small Business Saturday is all about getting people to spend at their local small retail stores (mom and pop shops) to support them. Giving Tuesday is all about donating to non-profits and the organizations making a difference in our communities and around the world and giving them a portion of the financial support that we just spent in for-profit stores over the past week.

One thing that really stuck out to me this year as I read between sale emails, was the number of emails from organizations that included a picture of their whole crew as part of celebrating the season, thanking their supporters, and thanking their people too. It’s so easy to forget in this digital age that there are people who send these emails, people who pack our many boxes, people who bring the petitions to organizations and governments, people who grow all our food like turkeys and hams, people who pick up our garbage and recycling, people who truck items to big box stores and so many more examples, just like businesses sometimes forget that there are real people buying their stuff. There are people on all ends of the story, and it’s about time we not only recognize that but celebrate it as well.

We have a choice how we treat each other, the people we choose to have in our lives, and the way we living in not just our individual communities but how we share the world as well. Thanksgiving may be over, but I would encourage you as we enter this Christmas (and Hanukkah and shopping) season, to spread good tidings wherever you go and whomever you’re with, and let others know you appreciate them. It will be a better holiday for all if we remember we’re all part of a community and that love, peace, patience and joy goes a lot farther than rudeness and hate does.

Bringing the Fun Back to Holiday Shopping

For many businesses they’re hitting some of their biggest shopping days this week and next, from Thanksgiving food shopping to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday to Giving Tuesday. Is your business ready? I don’t think these shopping days ever become “old hat,” and many of us reach a point where we just throw in the towel and say that we’ve prepared as well as we can and just work our hardest through these days.

You may do a decoration switch if you did a big Thanksgiving spread and have to change it over before Black Friday and the unofficial start of the Christmas/Hanukkah season, but otherwise we are pretty much at the point that there’s nothing you can do except minor marketing or website updates; you probably can’t get in additional product before Monday, you probably can’t hire anyone else before Monday, and aren’t going to overhaul your store (online or retail) because you don’t want to risk screwing it all up.

So unless you’re planning a big decoration activity between now and Tuesday, there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s to encourage yourself and your employees to have fun. I was listening to Christmas songs the other day on YouTube while I was working and caught some of the video that was playing along with the song and the thought that popped into my head was that the artist looked like they were having fun! Yes, they were working hard to give an excellent performance, but they still were smiling at the band accompanying them and looked like they were having a good time.

It stuck with me that yes, much of this season has become about giving gifts to each other and buying stuff, but it’s also a ton of fun to sing songs, dress up with Santa hats and bells and reindeer antlers, decorate our houses inside and out, make special foods, and gather together. You can’t do anything about not having a product in stock anymore or about the long lines or how tired people are because of how early they got up, but you can keep your Christmas Cheer close at hand and welcome each guest with a smile and maybe even a bit of that joy, magic and giddiness that kids have on Christmas morning.

Go beyond being patient, courteous, helpful, and efficient this holiday season in your business and add some sincere celebration too. How do you spread Holiday Cheer in your business?

Making Room for Holiday Memories

We’re heading into the holiday season, which always brings opportunities to celebrate and end the year right even if the rest of the year hasn’t been so great. But the holidays can be challenging if you’re having family troubles, or if you just moved and are in a new location and don’t know anyone, or if you’ve got a sick family member, or if you’ve lost someone. One of my grandmothers’ birthdays was this month, we lost my grandfather several years ago right after Christmas, and a client lost a family member last month, so I understand that the holidays can be difficult for people. It’s a mixed bag to experience the holidays as time and life changes and share stories about family members you’ve lost and enjoyed celebrating the holidays with, or if you’re alone or not well.

From the earlier years the holidays have always included some downside, from struggling pilgrims, coal in stockings, and long distances to travel while pregnant, so the holidays haven’t ever been just about joy. However, they have been about community and sharing and coming together. Community and coming together happens in the good times and the not so good times, especially if we truly are invested in the people in our lives and that we share this world with. The reality of life is that it’s not all joy, that there will be some awesome years and other years where you’re thankful that you’re just all still there.

I think it’s healthy to have moments of sorrow even years after you’ve lost someone, if they meant something to you, you should never truly and completely get over their loss. But more important than having moments of sorrow, are sharing the moments and memories that you remember with those people, to share their recipes, to share their holiday traditions, to share their and your holiday stories, to read the stories that you all enjoyed together, to laugh over the mistakes and craziness, and make more memories so that will last even if you’re all separated by time or life.

Holidays are to be celebrated, both with the new and trendy celebrations of today and the older memories and traditions of the past. Encourage your kids to have times of reflection this holiday season as well as celebration and be reminded that it’s not just about the gifts or food. It’s often in those moments of sharing and passing on that we create our best and brightest memories.

Success Secrets: Plan Ahead

If you’ve been looking around your corner of the world lately and it looks anything like mine, you’ve probably seen it. Yes, that’s right, signs of CHRISTMAS are popping up everywhere! I’m a Christmas person so I do Christmas in July and have no problem spending the month of November talking about being thankful, eating turkey and pumpkin pie, and playing Christmas music.  Seeing Christmas decorations and gifts pop up everywhere a full month before it typically would arrive got me thinking about how important it is for us to plan ahead in our businesses (all the decorations are a sign that there are lots of businesses who probably have a jump on you when it comes to holiday advertising too). I know that life and business both move and change very fast, and it’s not always wise to plan ahead in great detail because you don’t know what trends or needs might be, but there are things that happen regularly or are likely to happen, so you should always be able to make at least some kind of plan.

But this is all about a bigger and more important conversation than your next Christmas movie choice, it’s about making sure that you’re planning ahead and at least attempting to anticipate some of the things that likely will come your way in the near future, and having alternative plans for when things don’t go your way. Planning starts when you choose to go into business and is something you should be doing until the day you move on to the next adventure. It should get you through the sick days and challenging customers, help you manage changes, empower you to make decisions easier and quicker about what’s in line with your business and what’s not, and help you succeed.

Thanks to the internet even if you’re starting a new business, as soon as you’ve got some of the finer details planned out, it takes very little work and time to put up a one-page website and social accounts and an email newsletter or blog and start spreading the word about what you’re going to be offering and why people want to be part of your community. You don’t have to have all the details to start spreading the word about what you’re all about and getting people interested.  The excitement of having a new business often keeps us going, the challenge is that you don’t want to get to the point that it’s too late to market, which is why creating a plan and sticking to it can help you keep your success going.

Other ‘plan ahead’ keys include making connections and building relationships every opportunity you’re given, because you never know when you can help connect someone, or need a connection yourself. You also should always have a plan “b” (and maybe a plan “c” too) because you never know how things will change or how you’ll need to pivot your business (or your life).

Finally, plan to celebrate your business, the milestones you’ve reached and the team and customers who make it all possible. It is very possible to get wrapped up in the day-to-day running of a business, and that’s when you can lose the passion and purpose that people were attracted to in the first place. Making time for celebrations on a regular basis (like the holidays) and showing that you appreciate your people, will help you stay motivated and your people stay interested and connected.

What insights do you have about business and success planning?