It is Christmastime again and many people’s thoughts turn to shopping and presents and consuming in all its forms. As the years have passed, though, I have found myself thinking less about presents that come from the corner store (or Amazon) and more about presents that only I can give. After 27 years of marriage, my wife and I have basically agreed to give nothing more than token gifts on Christmas — something to enjoy opening with our family and something that is, hopefully, useful in our lives. These small presents are more than enough for one very special reason. Throughout the year, we give each other — and those around us — four very special gifts that are unique to us. These gifts include our time, our energy, our passion and our love. Even better, these are gifts that we have been able to give regardless of whether we have been rich or poor, ill or well, together or physically apart. We can give them to family, to friends, and even complete strangers. For me, these are the true gifts of Christmas and the entire year.
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I have come to believe that there is no larger gift than the gift of your time. While we might easily write a check to charity or hand a bottle of wine to friend, taking time out of your busy day and life shows someone how much you care about them and how much you want to help them. Even when you don’t have a lot of money, you still have time. Too often I see young people embarrassed that they don’t have the money for expensive gifts and even going into debt to buy them anyway. If you don’t have a lot of money, find ways to give time to your friends and family. In almost every case, they will deeply appreciate it. Of course, if they don’t appreciate it, it tells you more about them and their concept of a gift than anything about yourself.
Giving the gift of time can also mean just being available to others. Sometimes we can get so tied up with work and life that we forget to acknowledge and engage with those sitting right next to us. Find ways of “closing the office” with a definitive shutting of a door or other ritual. I know that for my wife and I, who work at home a lot, closing the laptop or the cover on the iPad can show an end to “work time” and an opportunity to talk and share. Develop your own rituals for “closing the office” and be sure to use them as much as possible throughout your day.
Energy, both mental and physical, has its limits. We can’t do everything we might want in our life, but we can do anything. It is up to us to decide how to parcel out our energy. Still, we often waste energy on worry, on anger, on pettiness, instead of spending it in activities that make our lives better. Look back through your days and spot those times when you wasted your energy in unproductive, unhelpful and and even damaging behaviors. Then, think of how you might have better spent that time. Don’t beat yourself up over those moments. That energy can never be recaptured, but you can use it as an example of how to better spend your energy in the future.
Your energy can be used in many forms. You can help someone through a difficult time, both emotionally and physically. Go to the store for them. Help them create a better resume or look for a job. Help them start or complete a project that matters deeply to them. Look for opportunities to deepen your relationships with others by spending some of your energy to their advantage. Do this enough and you will find people more willing to spend some of their energy on you and your projects, too.
Passion is a deep part of my own life, but sometimes I feel like my passion scares people. In a cynical world, those who act passionately about their life, their work, their projects, their family, are often seen as unrealistic and maybe even a little crazy. People often comment about how passionate I am when I speak about careers, work, technology or gardening. I often reply to them by saying, “Yes, I am passionate about this and you should be too!” I think we all need to feel a little more passion in our lives. We need to find those activities, work and people that inspire a passion in us.
Further, we need to share our passions with others. We need to take the time and energy to show why we are passionate about something and how that has benefitted our life. Sometimes those around us need nothing more than a good example. If we can display and share our passions it is very possible that we allow those around us to discover their passions as well. They need not have the same passions or display them in the same way, but I deeply feel that everyone needs passion in their lives so they can do the best work and have the best life possible.
Like Passion, the word love can be scary. It means so many things, in so many ways, to so many people and yet the gift of love is integral to a happy life, both for those who give love and for those who receive it. For me, love is the feeling and actions that wish the best for both ourselves and those around us. We might not like someone’s behaviors or actions, but we can still love them. We can still wish them the best life possible and, by loving them, help them to achieve it. It can be difficult to give love to those who don’t want it, or more usually, don’t think they deserve it, but then you give love for your own purposes and hope that the other person will eventually see the gift you give.
Giving love doesn’t mean enabling destructive behaviors, nor does it mean constantly trying to change someone and becoming angry when they don’t. It means accepting each person as they are, their best natures and their worst. It means accepting and loving them as individuals, not some generic stereotype based on gender, race, creed, beauty, success. Give love and you will gain love in return. Find those people around you that understand that fact and you will be giving and receiving the best gift possible.
This season, and throughout the year, give these gifts freely and frequently to everyone you can. Through your gifts you will develop the life, the passions, the love and the career you deserve and help others find the same.