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Making Christmas A Celebration Not An Obligation: The essentials for reducing holiday stress

broken ornamentIf the advertisements, TV special and store decorations aren’t enough of an indication – the holidays are here! And so begins the preparation and the stress that often accompanies this time of year. I have never begun decorating before Thanksgiving and only once did I give in to Black Friday shopping (and believe me that was enough), but this year I feel the most organized and prepared as I ever have been. The decorations are up, the Christmas cards are ready to be mailed and the holiday cheer has definitely set in. It’s not because I’ve had any more time than in years’ past – in fact, I’ve likely had less. It’s because I’m starting to identify the key factors that allow for the holidays to be less frantic and more fun. They’re common sense really, but as soon as we see that first television commercial our brains seem to fill with eggnog and we tailspin into full Christmas chaos. Here are just a few ways in which I have and hope to continue to make Christmas a celebration, not an obligation:

It’s meant to be a team effort.

Our house is small and our decorations are just enough to give a warm feel of the holidays. But preparing our house for Christmas still would have been a daunting task for one person if it wasn’t for a second set of hands. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, when family had gone home and the dust (and dirt and crumbs) had settled, we dedicated our day to organizing, cleaning and then finally decorating. Amidst his incredibly busy work and travel schedule, my husband had a very rare free day in which to help me. He actually suggested this is how we spend our day together which set the tone that this wasn’t so much a chore as it was a memory.  I planned for a full day of dusting and decorating, but once we put on some Christmas music and divided and conquered the tasks, we were done in just several hours. I know that had I tried to tackle this on my own, we still wouldn’t be decorated for the Christmas and the nooks and crannies behind the couch certainly wouldn’t be as clean. What this experience taught me was that Christmas traditions are meant to be shared and in doing so they transform from a to-do into a want-to-do. We look forward to the warm glow of our Christmas lights every evening and this shared enjoyment is what makes decorating fun not frantic.

It doesn’t “sneak up” on you.

I hear this phrase a lot. “Wow, the holidays really snuck up on us this year, huh?” Not really. Christmas is very predictable. It’s the same date of the same month every year. If anything, the decorations in the mall and commercials on TV should give us even more time to prepare as they seem to start earlier and earlier each year. Yet no matter how stressful last year’s holiday preparations were, we fail to take action to prevent it from happening again…and again. If you mailed your Christmas cards on December 24th last year, why not set a reminder in your phone to begin the process earlier next year? Writing Christmas cards, picking out a tree and buying gifts should be a loving and thoughtful experience. Any stress that comes along with it is unintended or misplaced. If you’ve made an effort to be more proactive and organized but are still left with a time deficit, then chances are you’re simply trying to do too much. So….

Simplify!

The holidays are made for tradition, but they should not take up so much of your time that you’re left with no time to actually enjoy everything for which they stand. The most important traditions should be carried on, but there are many that should also be let go. Determine what’s giving you the best return on investment (ROI) for your time. Sugar cookies made from scratch, hand painted Christmas ornaments and self-stamped wrapping paper are fun activities and beautiful memories, but don’t feel like you have to do all of them every single year. Enjoy the act of preparing for the holidays, but also remember to enjoy time with family and friends. Also, don’t be afraid to lower the bar. I imagine almost every other person you know is feeling a degree of stress and overwhelm as well. Simplify this Christmas with fewer, but more meaningful presents. Do a secret Santa or eliminate the pressure of presents altogether. Hopefully The Grinch that Stole Christmas has helped us to realize that it’s the time you spend with those you love (and the great food) that make the holidays special. Presents, cards and decorations are all just extra.

It’s a process.

So often I hear people boast that they’ve been decorated since Thanksgiving or their Christmas shopping was completely done by mid September and my inner response is, “Was it a race?” Preparing for the holidays is part of the celebration – it’s a process and balance. Rushing to get everything done and out of the way as soon as possible makes Christmas like any other task on your to-do list. I also can’t imagine you feel the same holiday cheer when shopping next to bathing suits and beach balls. Scrambling to buy that last present on Christmas Eve also makes the act of gift giving feel more like an obligation than a thoughtful gesture. Find a balance between the two, take time to sip the eggnog and when all else fails…simplify!

If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Finally and most importantly, you should be able to look back on your preparation for the holidays and smile while remembering some fond and funny moments. Even in the coldest and gloomiest months, you should feel warmer, brighter and friendlier. If you find that the holidays bring out the worst in you or your family, make you fight, feel angry or stressed, then something’s gotta give. Somewhere you’re missing the mark for what Christmas is truly all about. And once the holidays have come and gone, you shouldn’t be left feeling even worse—looking at the mounds of decorations that need put away or the heaping credit card debt. All of these are signs that a change needs to be made. Get back to the basics of what makes Christmas fun and special for you!

This holiday season be merry, be bright and….don’t be stressed!

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Advice, Life

 

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The Work-Life Imbalance

Often I come across an article or a quiz asking me to examine my “work-life balance.” It’s a term we should have all encountered by now – whether in a magazine, an HR seminar, even in a casual dinner conversation. To nod your head and affirm, “Of course, I have a great work-life balance,” carries a sense of pride as if you’re really saying “Yeah, I’ve got it all together.” But what defines a work-life balance? Must the parts always be equal to keep the scales from tipping too far in one direction?

We spend the majority of our waking hours working in some capacity. In the best case scenario, only 40 hours of our week is spent in a formal work environment, but what about all of those evening and weekend emails, phone calls and “emergency projects” that cut into the little time we’re already given for “life?” Such tasks sneak extra weight onto the “work” side of the scale and can lead to an imbalance we don’t even know exists.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve taken more notice to how I’ve been chipping away at my free time by choosing to do a several minutes of work-related tasks here and there. Even just a few minutes can turn into hours over the course of a week. For example, I try to finish up my last work project of the day no later than 6pm. But while I enjoy dinner and a little bit of television, my mind is still very much on work. If I hear the chirp of an email – I answer it. And so this persists throughout the evenings and into the weekends. My best estimate is that on average, I burden myself with an additional 7-10 hours of work each week beyond what’s expected or demanded. When all added up, that’s a full day! A day in which I could have taken a road trip, enjoyed the beautiful fall weather or simply decompressed. And while these off-hour emails may help progress work, they put a major halt on life.

Back when I wrote about The Two-Day Truce, I urged everyone to resist the urge to do unnecessary work on the weekends because it only causes the recipients of the emails to feel the pressure to respond. Essentially it takes away from everyone’s weekend. I have gotten better about not being a weekend warrior with work, but I realized an even bigger problem. We’re so trained to work, we do it without even knowing it. Consciously we may feel like we’re living a pretty balanced life, but really our scales are so off kilter they’re nearly falling over altogether.

I couldn’t tell you how many times a day I check my phone for new emails, especially after “work hours.” I’m not sure I would want to know. By proactively checking for emails and refreshing my inbox, I’m looking for work to do instead of enjoying that other component that should fill our time – life. A true Work-Life Balance is so much more than saying you leave your office or close your laptop at 6pm. Chances are we’re very accessible to work during any of the hours in between. But when we’re at work are we this accessible to life? Every week’s schedule is different and there’s no doubt that there will be some weeks that demand an imbalanced share of our time for work. The key is to find the balance not every day or every week, but over the long run.

The Work-Life Balance may not be so much about balance after all. Maybe it’s more about flexibility and our openness to work more when we absolutely have to, but to also seize extra moments of “life” when the opportunity should arise. If you can’t close down by 6pm tonight, don’t sweat it, but plan for some extra relaxing time in your schedule later this weekend to make up for the difference and realign the balance!

What about you. Is your work-life balanced…flexible…or somewhat of both?

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Technology & Honesty: Hiding Behind A Mask?

prom masquerade social media maskOscar Wilde was once quoted as saying, “Man is least himself when he walks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.” It seems that even back when “text” was what made up a novel and a “tweet” was the sound of a bird; we have always felt most comfortable fully expressing ourselves, truthfully and confidently, behind a mask. The masks we have to choose from today are aplenty. Some of us find masks to wear for only a few hours a day, for others its part of our job, but with the ever increasing use of technology and social media—the most interesting masks are the ones in which people choose to wear every time they communicate with the online world.

More and more I prefer email communication over any other. I like the shield it creates between direct communication like a phone call or a face-to-face meeting where immediate responses are expected. Email provides me with the luxury of answering requests at my own pace and on my own time. It also gives me a paper trail of conversations that is much easier to search and recall than anything merely spoken. I don’t argue that there are times where a quick phone call can clear up what would have become a lengthy email chain of confusion or that a sit-down meeting can easily knock off a laundry list of tasks in record time. But aside from these particular circumstances, email is my mask – and I feel most confident, professional and organized when working behind this visage.

Email is only the first of many technological masks we can choose to communicate from behind every day. Can you identify yours? Think how much easier it is to write out a difficult conversation over an email than to do it by phone or in person. I admit I still create an outline of a “script” when I have to communicate some difficult news that I know will upset the other person – even when I do it by phone. This mask allows me to say everything I want in the best way possible without forgetting or stumbling. I don’t do it with the intent to be insincere; I do it with the intent to minimize negative feelings and to organize my thoughts.

But what about the most fascinating mask of all – social media? This is where communicating with friends, acquaintances, members of your extended family – and even exes and enemies – is made a lot easier than doing so in “real life.” With this mask we tend to share overly personal information, comment or message people we’d never pick up the phone to call and even develop what can feel like a personal relationship with someone we’ve never met in person. If you don’t believe me, just wait until your next high school reunion where someone you haven’t spoken to in years will come up to you and somehow know your job title, marital status and the last thing you ate. Social media is a masquerade ball after all. Just because you’re wearing a mask, doesn’t mean you’re the only one. People are also sharing more information with you on social media than they might ever feel comfortable repeating to you again in person.

So what’s the incentive to be so confident and honest behind this front? What are we hiding from? The answer to this might be as unique as the person who’s being asked. Introspectively I believe I’m hiding from the fear of appearing disorganized, unprofessional or misinformed. When I can write it out and proof read it before I click send, it gives me time to think through what I’m saying and revise it if I so wish. Real-life, instantaneous responses do not afford me this same luxury. For social media, I think it’s the fear of having to witness a reaction we didn’t expect or having someone reply negatively. We’re not as afraid to be honest because we never have to witness an immediate response. We can say something and walk away and not have to hope that someone laughs at our joke or supports our rant about a bad day at work.

What do these technological masks mean for the welfare of face-to-face communication? I don’t think anything can replace the meaning of a conversation held in person. For the most sensitive topics – whether negative or positive – the ability to look someone in the eye and take in the expression in their eyes, smile and body language is crucial. And while technology can make a person sitting across the world feel like they’re sitting right across the table, it has yet to recreate this important aspect of “real” communication. While Oscar Wilde’s quote rings so very true, I hope that during the key moments in life in which we need to, we can be so bold as to remove our mask and be just as honest walking in our own person.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Technology

 

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Every Day Is An Interview

interview, hiring, pitchFor most people, a job interview is something you have to do only periodically throughout your career. It’s that nerve wracking moment where you’re sized up, asked ambiguous questions about your teamwork and professional skills and then ultimately judged as to whether what you’re offering is worth hiring. Even if you’re fortunate enough to snag the job, there’s yet another challenge of settling in to a new environment, building a relationship with your boss and being seen as the “new guy” on the team for quite a while. This whole experience is not something most people would willingly choose to do every month and certainly not every day.

But entrepreneurs do.

I often joke that as an entrepreneur, every day I wake up unemployed. Obviously this isn’t entirely true as commonly my clients are not just day to day, but at the start of any month they make the choice to hire me by continuing their services. Imagine how different a job would be if every month your boss had the opportunity to re-hire you, pause your work or end it all together. It’s a different career experience for sure – but hey, that’s what I’m after. It keeps me on my toes, always wanting to do my best and prove my worth. This, along with pitching to new clients, has also helped me become more comfortable and confident with interviews.

When I pitch to prospective clients, it’s usually a one-on-one meeting where I talk about my career experiences, my strengths and most importantly try to form a deeper connection with them and their business. For all intents and purposes—this is an interview. They need to see if my skills align with their needs, if I’ll be a good fit for their company culture and if they generally like and trust me. And similar to an interview, the fear of rejection will never fully go away because my desire for acceptance and validation is inherent. The pitching/interviewing part of my job is not the easiest but it’s one of the most necessary for growth.

Being an entrepreneur technically makes me self-employed (at least that’s how I fill out my taxes), but I’ve found that while this does make me my own boss, it makes each of my clients my boss as well. This means that on any given day I may have upwards of 12 people asking me to do something. Because of this, much of the success of my business is dependent upon two things: 1) How well I can prioritize my tasks and 2) How efficiently I can complete them. Unlike a salaried position, I have full incentive to work quickly and take on as many clients as I can. Increasing my clients may mean increasing my “bosses” but it also means multiple paychecks.

When I hear someone say they have to go for an interview I often get nervous for them and think how glad I am I don’t have to do that. But then I stop and realize that I do; every day is an interview for me. And while this career choice may bring limited stability, it also brings endless possibilities.

 

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Leadership Finesse (Guest Blog by Mark Mathia)

The following blog post is part of the Bennis Blogger Battle. Support Mark by “Liking” this post, leaving a comment and sharing it on your social media! The blog with the most hits, wins.

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There are many formulas that lay claim as the best pathway toward great leadership. Just the other day a friend, who is an exceptional leader, raised a challenging notion. He remarked that the secret to great leadership doesn’t lie within a predetermined set of principles. He claimed that even though there is much written about great leadership it’s not what great leaders know but how they apply what they know that matters. He felt that great leadership is found in the finesse of its execution.

Then he did the unthinkable – he issued a challenge – Why not write about that?

Since that talk, this idea of leadership finesse has haunted the leader within. If leadership is really more about finesse or how we execute, then how does someone interested in growing leaders communicate that? The execution of principles comes in the form of a slight shift of wording or an empowering expression that compels people toward positive action. It’s more than learning a formula, even a proven one.

It was easy to agree with the hypothesis but defining what finesse looks like was when the heavy mental lifting took place.

The Merriam Webster dictionary offers these definitions of finesse:

1: refinement or delicacy of workmanship, structure, or texture

2: skillful handling of a situation: adroit maneuvering

3: the withholding of one’s highest card or trump in the hope that a lower card will take the trick because the only opposing higher card is in the hand of an opponent who has already played

The first two definitions definitely relate to this discussion. However, they didn’t really offer the kind of practical application needed to communicate this leadership idea. That left the final definition about a card game. This definition sounds crazy. The temptation was to slam the dictionary shut and give up.

Then, like a lightning bolt – inspiration hit! The third definition came through for me; in fact, it offered the answer I was searching for. There are two plainly visible characteristic of leadership finesse expressed in this definition.

What was initially disregarded as irrelevant was beginning to prove to be the key to greater understanding.

Characteristics of Leadership Finesse

1. Humility

The value of humility is that it allows a leader to ‘withhold one’s highest card or trump.’ Leadership finesse starts with being humble to the core. My favorite definition of humility comes from John Dickson, author of the book, Humilitas.

“Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others.” – John Dickson

This definition allows people some freedom to fail. There are times when having all the answers actually becomes a hindrance to team growth. In reality, great leaders understand that you can be completely right and still be wrong. Not every situation requires the “most-correct” answer. Why? Because time has shown that great leadership is a journey, not a destination. It’s a slow growth process that needs many different experiences to develop and strengthen ones ability to execute.

The fact remains; in the absence of true humility, leaders don’t own the necessary “finesse” to develop greatness in others. Therefore, organizational effectiveness is diminished.

2. Hope

Finesse in leadership offers people real hope that a lower card will eventually ‘take the trick.’

Offering hope is more than simply being a blind optimist. Truly great leaders set and articulate a clear and concise vision that allows followers to see past problems towards a better future.

Leadership finesse requires that leaders constantly identify the cause of struggles and then, with relentless determination, make the best of their current reality. All this is done in preparation for a glorious future.

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Using a building metaphor, if the concrete of leadership finesse is humility – then the building blocks are hope. How does one become an expert at leadership finesse? Start here and then let’s work together to figure out the rest of the equation.

What would you add to the essence of leadership finesse?

Mark Mathia is a Christian blogger, writer, speaker and co-founder/CEO of Tiburon Financial, LLC.  He is passionate about helping others succeed in business and life. Please support Mark by “Liking” this post, leaving a comment below and visiting his personal blog: www.markmathia.com. You can also find Mark on Twitter @mmathia!

 
10 Comments

Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Business & Success, Guest Blogger

 

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