In my office at work I’ve several motivational/inspirational quotes. The practice is a carryover from my time in the Air Force — in particular, the lasting effect of one quite exemplary and outstanding squadron commander who had such quotes displayed in very conspicuous places. They were quite effective in instilling focus and motivation.
One of my favorites, and one that is displayed in my office, is from legendary college basketball coach John Wooden. The “Wizard of Westwood,” who won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, stated: “Confidence comes from being prepared!” In other words, the ability to do one’s duty, fulfill one’s responsibility, play effectively one’s role comes from careful preparation and planning beforehand. Success rarely comes from chaotic, haphazard and disorganized actions.
The more prepared, the more confident. Such confidence can be a great antidote to the stress and worry that inevitably come when one is called upon to perform. So, as much as possible, proper preparation and planning is something I try to practice.
However, there seems to be a glaring, elusive exception to this quest for preparedness — Christmas.
Try as I may, for me Christmas and planning seem to be two very incongruent, contradictory things that I repeatedly fail to put together. As a result, instead of confidence and ease, stress and pressure end up being my constant holiday companions.
Invariably, I end up being that guy frantically going from store to store attempting to buy gifts days, or in some cases, the day before Christmas.
Initially this came with a lot of shame. When approaching a store clerk to make one of my last-minute gift purchases, I avoided making eye contact. It’s as though I knew from my profuse sweating and the anxious look on my face, he or she was passing judgment on me. I could imagine them thinking to themselves, “Look at this guy! This is so pathetic. Who in their right mind tries to complete a long list of gift shopping at the last minute!”
Sometimes this scorn could be detected in their voice as they carried out a necessary conversation with me to complete my purchase. Meekly, I would just keep my gaze downward. “Don’t look up,” I would tell myself.
Now, however, I’ve come to embrace the fact that when it comes to the Christmas holidays, this is just my preferred way of doing things. Sure, maybe the best gifts are gone three days, two days or one day before Christmas, but it’s the thought that counts, right? I may end up having to buy the leftovers: a sweater with one arm longer than the other, a doll missing an arm, a toy truck that doesn’t have all its tires, but my heart is in the right place.
Instead of not making eye contact with a store clerk, I now happily and politely exchange pleasantries with him or her. When I take my bags, with a twinkle in my eye, a smile on my face and a heart full of Christmas cheer, I wish the clerk a very Merry Christmas before heading out the door. The shame I had in times past are no more. I’ve come to know a different type of confidence that Coach Wooden would probably have a hard time understanding.
What’s also added to my cheer and confidence was my discovery of gift bags. In times past, hurried, last-minute shopping also meant hurried last-minute gift-wrap shopping.
As a result, you could always tell when a gift was from me without me having to put my name on it. The wrapping resembled a piece of abstract art. Before opening it, you may want to study it and take in the stunning visual display before you. As a matter of fact, some of my gift recipients would not open their gifts for some time. Like a piece of art or a collectible, they would keep it as a display piece to show off the “unique” or “creative” wrapping methods I employed. I didn’t know whether to be ashamed or feel honored. I just went with the latter.
Those days are long gone now. After all my last-minute shopping, it probably takes me around 10 minutes now to “wrap” my gifts. That’s because I can simply take a gift bag, open it up, stuff some tissue paper in it (I prefer the fancy, multicolored tissue paper), drop a gift in it and bam! I’m done. I enjoy the process so much I get a little sad when I run out of gifts to bag. I can’t say when the gift bag epiphany hit me, but it’s been a transformative experience.
Yes, I’ve made peace with my Christmas holiday imperfections. Who needs Black Friday? Cyber Monday, that’s too easy. What’s Christmas without dashing from store to store in an utter frenzy?
For me, the most fun and joy to be found in the Christmas holidays is in the time spent with family and friends. Time well spent with them in conversation and laughter. And you better believe every year I give them plenty to talk and laugh about.