Be Kind To Yourself

For those who believe in and celebrate Christmas, there’s a widespread practice that around this time of year, we’re all a little kinder to each other. Our smiles are a little bit more genuine as well as frequent, and perhaps we’re a little more forgiving to those we meet, both those we know and those we don’t.

Our Christmas carols, which we know by heart despite only singing them one month a year, have themes of coming home for Christmas, seeing good in others, and being surrounded by friends and loved ones. All in all, it’s a time of year when we look with a smile on the efforts of children being extra good, we chase away the long, dark nights with candles and Christmas lights lit, and we watch yet again the Christmas specials we’ve grown up with for decades.

That’s the experience of some of us during the lead up to Christmas. For a great number of people, this is also a time fraught with anxiety, worry, doubt, confusion and feelings that our emotions are out of control. There’s concerns about traveling in wintry weather, doubts about the sizes of clothing gifts we’ve bought, questions of whether we’ve spent too much or too little on others, and worry over the quality and quantity of food for the big day. Our brains just won’t turn off.

And then comes Christmas of 2020. My goodness… what a year. Unable to gather as we wish, people we’re not allowed to see, restrictions in stores we need to visit, having to adapt and buy online if we’ve held out doing so up to now.

Ironically, you’d think there would be less worry and stress this year for many. Seriously, think of the advantages. No large and awkward family reunions, no big turkey to buy for a gathering of 18, no crowded malls to tackle, nor driving to various destinations on Christmas day to keep both sets of parents happy. Sleeping late on Christmas morning is now an option for those who wish it who are without grandkids, neices and nephews waking up and dragging them to the tree. There’s no rush to shovel the driveway because no one is coming during the pandemic. There’s no cheeks pinched by aunts, nor kisses or hugs from relatives that smell of smoke or overpowering cologne or perfume. None of it.

Despite these, ‘benefits’, our level of stress, anxiety, worry and doubt still persist and actually seem to have escalated this year. Perhaps we’re all starring in our own, ‘made for life’ Christmas movie where we get the life we’ve wished for but are only just now coming to realize isn’t the one we want. Maybe we’re getting a little glimpse into the treasures we already have that we haven’t fully appreciated until now. Maybe that awkward family reunion is – dare I say – something we’re now missing, although we’ll deny it if we’re asked. Maybe sleeping in on Christmas morning is an option, but what will really happen is we’ll wake up, sit alone in the wee hours of the morning and in the utter quiet, suddenly miss those little feet scampering across the floor and bodies falling on us in bed urging us up. We’re not sleeping in at all, despite the emptiness.

What I’m alerting you to is a potential problem here folks, so please listen up. There’s every possibility that your thoughts are going to drift to feelings of guilt and disappointment. You may feel sad and not just for a moment, but for longer than is healthy. Whereas in years past you worried about whether the gift you bought would be really appreciated and make someone happy, maybe this year you’d welcome the usual chaos in the house just to have everyone together. You want it, they want it, but everyone is putting safety first and it’s a socially distanced Christmas for 2020; something no one in the past 2,020 years would even understand the meaning of.

Being kind to others at this time of year is more important than ever. Spare a thought for those who work in front-line healthcare and who, by now, must be feeling the impact of long-term strain. Think on the minimum-wage earning Cashiers and Store Clerks who’d rather not wear a mask for 7 hours nor be expose themselves to all the shoppers, but have no choice, other than to quit. Be kind to those who have to shut their business or switch to online only. Spare some thought for those laid off or have hours drastically cut, still with bills to pay and worries anew.

But spare some kindness for yourself. Yes you. You’re doing the best you can to cope with all 2020 has thrown your way. No one has gone through this before and no one is fully equipped with all the answers. We’re all doing the best we can and your best may or may not measure up to others scrutiny. So be it. It can be hard to see an end to this panemic and a return to the lives we had, but most of us will get that back. When we do, perhaps we’ll even have a better appreciation for the little things that matter most too.

Be kind to yourself. Be forgiving of your thoughts and mood when you try your best but fall short of who you’d like to be.

Should We Spread Our Joy?

Let me just get my answer out there. OF COURSE!

Sometimes I meet people who are traditionally happy and joyous throughout the year, but who, for reasons of not wanting to upset other people, suddenly downplay their natural positivity in the month of December. As I say, these are the kind of people who are naturally upbeat, positive and happy. Having empathy for others who may not be going through the best of times around December, and Christmas in particular, they go against their nature and act subdued.

I believe there’s another line of thinking which justifies sharing our own happiness and joy with whomever we interact. This is the act of being true to ourselves, and if that means our actions, words, tone of voice, smiling faces and overall positivity is in stark contrast to some others, it can have a startling affect.

For starters, being positive can uplift people. After all, do you want to be around people who are gloomy, sullen and suck energy or would you rather choose to be around people who energize you, make you smile,  bring you happiness just by being in their midst? These are the very people Scrooge once said, “…should be boiled in his own Christmas pudding”; the ones who go around wishing everyone a merry Christmas.

Now I’ve also heard the argument that because unemployed and impoverished people are affected so greatly by the season, which often accentuates their feelings of want and need, we should scale back on spreading our personal joy. Well, again, I disagree. I’m not insensitive, it’s just that being impoverished or out of work doesn’t automatically mean a person must go around looking down. In fact, some of the happiest and most positive people I’ve met live in poverty. They aren’t happy about their financial status of course, but they’ve realized that their financial status is only one part of their lives. There are many other facets of their lives which bring them joy. Why allow this one area to dominate who they are and how they view themselves? They choose happiness and positivity.

Yes, I’d rather be known as a fellow who wears a smile, stays positive and is good to be around than the opposite. Of course yes, one has to exercise some good judgement here too. When someone is talking about their bleak situation and out of politeness asks how I’m doing, I wouldn’t go over the top telling them about plans to have some big extravagant party to celebrate the season or how my investments were tripling my income. (They aren’t by the way; oh to be so lucky!)

No, I’d exercise some decorum; show some restraint in what to share, but I’d still have a smile on my face and tell them in answer to their question that I was just fine and thank them for asking.

The second argument I make for being positive, happy and merry is that it reminds people of what is possible when they may have forgotten. Don’t assume this is a given. Sometimes when we lose what we once had, we all need reminding of it’s value and in the case of happiness, merriment and positivity, they can all come again; for everyone.

When I’ve worked Christmas eve at work, those making the choice to drop in to our employment resource centre are typically either in for solace and sanctuary or to wish us the greetings of the season; a very merry Christmas. If they can do so, I certainly will wish them nothing but the same; that they too find merriment and happiness both then and the year ’round. Sometimes we’ve sat down not as clients and staff, but as people – (a rather significant distinction) and shared a drink, a bite or two and some laughs.

Being poor doesn’t mean one must by association be of any one mood. You’ll find sadness, regret, joy and happiness, neutrality and the entire gambit of emotions. Why? Why precisely because the opposite is true. Among the wealthy you won’t universally find decadence, happiness, positivity and an entire void of stress. It isn’t money that brings happiness; it’s within us to be what we choose to be – that which makes us feel as we choose.

I will continue to positive, be happy and be joyous. Don’t think me insensitive, don’t attempt to shame me into being anything I’m genuinely not. My smile is there for anyone that chooses to see it as an outward expression of my state of mind. I also find that a smile on one face tends to bring one out on another. The opposite is also true by the way..

So do I wish you a merry Christmas on this fourth of December? Do I hope you have the best day possible? Do I trust you find happiness this day and each other day? YES!

By the way, ever been served by someone in the course of conducting some business who is robotic? You know, they do their job but there’s no human emotion, no smile, no genuine appreciation for your business. Have you not thought to yourself, “It wouldn’t hurt you to smile a little?” Ah, you have? Then you understand entirely and you get it. Good for you.

Be that beacon of happiness, that one person who goes about their work with a smile and is genuinely appreciative of others. It will work wonders for your mental health.

My Christmas Post

Merry Christmas!

Now yes I know that in our 2017 politically correct, full multi-cultural societies where we have people from all manner of faiths and religions; where tolerance and growing sensitivity to the needs of all those around us would have us drop the Christmas from Merry Christmas and have it replaced with, “Happy Holidays”, I say nonetheless, “Merry Christmas” to you just the same.

I am not insensitive or blissfully unaware that not everyone celebrates Christmas. I am not ignorant that some who acknowledge Christmas and believe in the child of Christ are in a financial or emotional state to find it hard to be merry for that matter. Some find the Christmas season decidedly isolating; a poignant reminder of whatever state they find themselves in which may not be what they’d want or have imagined for themselves. I get that.

Yes some would have the world drop the word, ‘Merry’ from our greetings as well as the ‘Christmas’. While we’re at it there are those who don’t like Christmas lights – a blatant waste of both energy and money they say. I light up the dark nights of winter with my Christmas lights all the same.

You can understand I think why some find this time of year particularly challenging to deal with. They may be unemployed, underemployed, homeless or living just above the poverty line. For people who have been disinherited from families, perhaps cut out of family gatherings and estranged from those they once called brother, sister, mom or dad, yes it can be a constant source of pain to see everyone around them going about with a ‘Merry Christmas’ on their lips.

Me? I go about with a jolly ‘Merry Christmas’ just the same. In fact, I went for a walk at noon just yesterday and made a conscious decision to say just that – “Merry Christmas!” to several people on that walk. There was the guy walking towards me with his head down, hoodie on and hands in his pockets. There was the fellow who had a cigarette in one hand and just walked across the street on a full red light when the traffic gave him an opening. There was the woman who was rushing to go somewhere and had a furrowed brow and look of concentration as she navigated the clearest path to accelerate her walk. And the reaction I got?

Each and every person I said, “Merry Christmas” to said exactly the same thing; “Merry Christmas to you.” Each person also did something else; they made eye contact for about 2 seconds and smiled as they said it. 2 seconds….and a smile. Hmm…. Big deal you say?

Well, if everyone I met felt visible and smiled while saying, “Merry”, perhaps – just perhaps I say – wishing others a “Merry Christmas” isn’t so bad. Now yes, I could have been more thoughtful and stopped these people in their tracks and first asked them, “Excuse me, might I know your religious beliefs and if in particular you believe in the Christ child? You see, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas but I also don’t want to impose any kind of religious doctrine on you in doing so should you practice another religion, believe but not practice or perhaps be an atheist. And also good sir/madam, I do hope its not delaying you in any way or causing you to feel singled out and vulnerable to have a stranger talk to you in this public space and use the words, ‘Merry’ and ‘Christmas’ in the same sentence? You see you might not wish to feel merry – for that of course is your right, and it would be terribly presumptuous of me to wish you to be merry when that may not be what you’d wish for yourself.”

Yes, I suppose I could have said something like that in order not to cause any offence to anyone. However, the good people I wished a ‘Merry Christmas’ to on the streets of downtown Oshawa Ontario didn’t seem to mind. Now I don’t imagine these folks are very different from others who might wander the streets of your city or town. For I’ve no reason to believe Oshawa residents are somehow singularly patrons of Christmas or unifyingly merry for that matter.

How nice then I think to have a stranger wish them a merry Christmas. I wish someone had first said that to me on my walk. I’ve noticed though that people generally walk and avoid eye contact period, let alone say a word of greeting. Yes, it’s eyes averted, down on the ground, straight ahead – anywhere other than meeting the eyes of people they meet. But me? I’m different. I walk and make a point of looking at the faces I pass. I note that people generally see me coming (they aren’t blind after all), and then they purposely avert their eyes. Oh and it’s not that they reserve this behaviour for me alone. I see them do it with everyone they pass.

And I’m open to a Happy Chinese New year, Happy Chanukah, etc. too. Feel free to give one to me when the time is right. I’d like that. So I will continue to go about on my daily walks, look for people who could use a little, ‘Merry Christmas’ and give it to them. Oh, and you out there? A very merry Christmas to you!


Do You Believe?

As I’ve made my way into many shops this holiday season and browsed the merchandise for sale, there is an abundance of signs for sale, many with the word, “Believe” on them. It isn’t a question but rather a statement.

Now with Christmas in the air, Hanukkah well underway and everyone out shopping for presents, the person reading the sign is open to applying that belief into St. Nicholas, Christ, Jesus, Santa Claus etc. However, I wonder if anyone reads that word, “Believe” and applies it to themselves.

Now there are a lot of people who do believe in themselves to be sure. I’m just curious to know if they interpret a sign in a retail store which they’d likely only display around the holidays to mean believe in yourself. I somehow doubt that.

What does it mean to ‘believe’ however? When it comes to St. Nicholas, historians say a benevolent man with the name did actually exist and yes, he became sainted (hence the St. Nick). People ever since have honoured that same tradition of giving, and so the story goes. Then there are those who believe in the jolly old elf who lives at the north pole in a land of snow and ice who makes toys with his elves and delivers presents once a year to children all around the world. I don’t know about you, but as I write this on December 18th, maybe it’s not such a good idea to scoff at this lest you or I find our stockings bare on Christmas morn.

As you make your way around the merchandise in the stores you’ll often see the nativity scene with the 3 wise men, Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, animals, and of course the baby Jesus. In the Christian theology, this is the main event, the real reason for Christmas in the first place. So for many reading a painted wooden sign the word, ‘Believe’ could have them thinking of that evening under the star of the East in a manger.

Oh and I suppose it’s not improbable that one might believe in both events – they aren’t mutually exclusive and you could well make the case that both Jesus and Nicholas walked this earth, and both did all that is said of them. One might therefore ‘believe’ without blasphemy of the other.

But believe in yourself, or rather as you read the sign, believe in me (meaning you or me, or whomever is reading it at that moment), I wonder if that’s what first comes to mind. Could it be that someone out there reads ‘believe’ and their first thought is, “Yes, I do. I’m confident, self-assured and in full control of my destiny.” Or there may be another way for someone to interpret that single word and still be referring to themselves. I’m open to that possibility.

Not to make a pun of the sign, but yes, I wager that at some point someone has hoped for something with great earnest and taking the sign – as a sign – that the hoped for item will materialize if they only believe. “Will I get that job offer? The one I interviewed for this past week? I really need that job and know I’d do it well too. Oh I hope I get it. What’s this? “Believe…” Oh that’s the sign I’ve been waiting for! I know I’m going to get that job now!” Like I said, at some point, it’s conceivable that someone looking for a sign has found solace and comfort in that simple word.

There are those however for whom believing seems impossible. Be it Jesus, Santa Claus, Christmas, themselves even… believing? Uh, no. They may have stopped believing a long time ago.

Believing is about choosing to think a certain thing; sometimes when there is no proof one way or the other, and some call it faith too. You know, having faith or a belief that something exists, that something will come about, that time will eventually show that thing to be true and present. The funny thing about faith and belief is that the more one believes and shares their belief, the more some rally to that belief or go out of their way to prove the holder of that belief wrong. Why is that?

It’s true though. When someone says, “I believe things will be better in 2018”, someone is bound to say, “Yeah sure, good luck with that.” If someone says, “I believe I’m getting closer to getting a job”, there will always be some person who tells them not to get their hopes up, that the market is tough. Christmas and Santa Claus? Yep, the same. Someone young or old says they believe in Santa and instead of just acknowledging that belief, someone will surely say, “You believe in Santa? You’re kidding right. Prove it! You can’t can you? It’s all make-believe!”

Sad really. You believe what you believe and I’ll believe what I believe. Isn’t that tolerance? Isn’t that showing respect for each other? Be it faith, religion, politics, favourite movies, books, etc., you have your beliefs and let me and others have ours.

You want to believe a job is just around the corner, that 2018 will be better than 2017, why not? Good for you! Do your part to make it better, both for yourself and others.

In closing, Santa if you’re elves have put you onto this blog, yes I still believe!

Grieving At Christmas

Are you grieving at this time of year more than usual and feeling out of sorts as a result? You know, there’s merriment joy all around you whether it’s songs on the radio, Christmas cards that arrive in the post, the humourous social media posts that land on your homepage; and somehow you just don’t feel in sync with all that carefree joy all about you.

You find yourself on this pendulum swinging between moments when you get caught up in those happy moments yourself and then feel pangs of guilt as you recall the loss of someone special in your own life. Your laughter and broad smile disappear from your face replaced with stress lines on your forehead and a sombre look of remembrance. One moment you feel happy, then you’re sad, and then you’re guilty again about bringing everyone around you down in spirit. Oh if you could just get back to feeling, ‘normal’; the normal you used to feel in years past!

Welcome to your new normal. The emotions and feelings you’re experiencing are valid, very real and yours to deal with and process to the extent you are able. While normally in control in most areas of your life, it seems like you haven’t yet mastered this specific one; dealing with the loss of someone significant in your life. Try as you might, you haven’t found a way to – as they say – get over it; deal with it; move on.

The fact that Christmas brings along with it words of good cheer from everyone from family and best friends to work colleagues and strangers is well-meaning but only seems to punctuate the feeling that things aren’t usual. “Usual” means that for the other 11 months of the year people aren’t wishing you happy holidays or merry anything.

Think of that pendulum metaphor again. Your balance point looking back seemed to be when the one you’re grieving now was still around. When they departed, you experienced a shift where sorrow, longing and heartache have moved the pendulum. Then at Christmas we see, hear, smell, taste and feel the good; it’s families gathering around singing carols, over indulging in rich foods, their gifts, bright lights in the night, decorations and traditions deeply steeped in family history brought out and on exhibit 24/7 until Christmas is over. All of this swings the pendulum in the other extreme; where you’d normally be happy to go and make merry of your own accord.

But whatever side that pendulum is on at a given moment, you’re private thoughts can’t seem to be a peace with. You’re feeling guilty when privately grieving and feeling remorseful when you catch yourself humming a Christmas song in your head let alone out loud. So yes, you’re feeling out of sorts all the time. Why can’t everyone around you understand this and give you your own space so you can get the pendulum back to the center?

Of course to others, they see mood swings and may feel they are walking around on eggshells trying not to set you off. They want desperately to be of help and support; they worry don’t they? And you of course are wondering why they themselves are seemingly handling things much better than you are. Don’t they miss the departed? Don’t they care as much as you do?

Everybody experiences loss and everyone processes the feelings that go with loss in a very personal way. The thing is there is no set timeline for doing so. People who experience long grieving periods might worry those who don’t, and those that don’t worry those who do because they may come across as unfeeling, callous, cold and detached.

It’s healthy to accept that we all process loss and figure out how to move ahead on our own at our own pace. We know intellectually that death is inevitable where there is life; the day we get a puppy we know a day at some point will come when the pet will pass away. Does this make it easier? Maybe for some but not for all. And things get magnified for many when the loss isn’t a family pet but a family member such as a mother or father; daughter or son.

So here it comes…Time is the answer. How much time? Who is to say? You can no better predict how long you’ll take to deal with your personal loss than you could predict how long you’ll live yourself.

Now this grieving process of dealing with the loss of someone special is identical to the process of grieving over a family pet for some and yes grieving over the loss of employment. That may seem trivializing your loss of a family member but to some people, the shock, anger, denial, bargaining and eventual acceptance which makes up the grieving process is just as real when losing a job and shouldn’t be dismissed as not just as real.

Give yourself permission to have your moments of pain and don’t apologize for your tears of remembrance. These are your own very personal moments and your thoughts are not to be taken as a weakness of character. You should never expect nor hope I imagine to entirely forget the person gone, the pet gone or the job lost.

You will eventually get to where you will give yourself permission to be happy without feeling conflicted or guilty. Your good mental health will return. Do accept wishes for a merry Christmas as they are intended; with only the best of intentions.

Give A Gift To Someone In Need

So you’re out in some mall looking for that perfect gift that someone on your Christmas list would appreciate. Or perhaps you’re sitting in your favourite seat at home tapping your fingers and wrestling with the thought of what the people on your list, ‘need’. If you are like many people I know, many of those on your list don’t, ‘need’ much at all.

Each gift received not only comes with the ribbons, bows, wrapping paper and scotch tape; each gift comes with the message, “I am thinking of you.” The gift may be homemade or store-bought, expensive or not, but still each one says, “I think enough of you that I wanted to present you with something to let you know I appreciate you.” Well something like that anyhow.

Sometimes the gifts we give are given to people we’ll never know personally; people we don’t necessarily want to know personally, but we give them just the same. Take the financial donation or food donation you make to the local food bank; the clothes you donate to the Diabetes Foundation, the change you throw into a Salvation Army kettle or some other charity box.

Maybe – just maybe mind you – you’re like the little drummer boy who doesn’t have any money or items of value to give and you wonder, “What could I do?”

And so, here’s some ideas for giving both during this festive holiday season and for other times of the year.

First and foremost, one of the easiest and free things you can do is acknowledge the presence of the down-and-out, the destitute, the poor, and the homeless when you see them on the street. You and I both know they aren’t invisible. You know they are there because you look everywhere but where they sit or stand as you pass them by without a glance. Maybe just having the courage, assertiveness or whatever it is that you need to look them in the eye and actually give them a slight smile would help them feel visible. Sure it’s a small thing; but it’s a start.

When I was in Toronto this fall I was out with my daughter and some people were handing out free bottles of water on the street. While I drank mine down due to my thirst, my daughter hung on to hers for a few blocks and then without breaking stride set hers down beside a sleeping man on the street. Again, not much, but he awoke with something he didn’t have when he fell asleep.

You can also hold back on your judgement of others; we don’t know what they’ve endured or continue to endure. Even when the decisions they make contribute to their current plight and we would rather they made better decisions, we don’t know what events in their past have shaped their present. They probably have multiple problems, some of which are of their own making. Maybe a little tolerance, a little support, or even holding back from voicing our opinions would be a small start.

You can volunteer your time too if you’ve got it to give but draw the line on contributing financially. Yes, you can join a non-profit organization, contribute your talents in bookkeeping, leadership, organization etc. Helping to guide an organization, support the people who staff it and the users who benefit from its services; do it and if you need something for yourself, add it to your resume. Why not?

If you run a cleaning business, offer free cleaning for people who have job interviews coming up and can’t afford your services because they are jobless at present. If they get a job, think how much they might appreciate your help. If you have that, “why don’t they just get a job?” mentality, you’ll actually help them get one and pay their taxes if your motivation must be so inclined.

You can opt to be more courteous too. It costs nothing to give up your seat on a bus or subway, to actually smile instead of frown, to actually look at people and talk instead of walking around with a perpetual frown. When you enter a fast-food restaurant drive-thru, thank the person who takes your money and gives you your food. Break up their monotony with a ‘thank you! Have a nice day!” or ask them where their smile is. You’ll get a smile immediately and make their day.

That harried check-out Cashier who gets verbally abused by customers who think they alone should be served first and hold up the line examining their bills to make sure they aren’t overcharged? Why not thank them for doing a great job and telling them to forgive that rude person. These folks usually make minimum wage and are people too.

It’s not hard to think of all the small things you; you and I, could do to make the lives of others around us just a tad better. If you see a couple with a dog on the street trying to get by begging for change, don’t forget the dog. If you pass them every day, drop off some dog food every now and then – something they can easily carry. That’s just cool.

When you do any of the above, you send them the message, “I’m thinking of you – you’re not invisible.” Good on you for your act of kindness. You never know what your small act might mean.

Overcoming Trepidation Part 2

In short, the answer is yes. If you haven’t got a clear idea of that to which I refer, I’m following up on my blog of yesterday, in which I shared the fear, anxiety and excitement of performing a guitar/singing performance in front of my co-workers.

So the question some folks asked me in reply to that post was, “So how did it go? I hope there is a follow-up.” And that’s why I start today’s blog by saying that yes things went well and I did overcome this trepidation.

Gayle Draper who is a valued connection of mine picked up in my post that by sharing my story and illustrating the steps to overcoming my own fears, other people and specifically my own clients can transfer my process to overcoming their own fears. Gayle is like that; insightful. And make no mistake, she is spot on in her summation, otherwise it’s just a nice little story.

So to share what happened, I was fortunate first of all to have had the responsibility of teaching a class all morning on learning computer basics. I shared with the class what I’d be doing at lunch time and what I had done to prepare myself leading up to the performance: getting into the empty room to play myself days before, practicing with three women who were singing along with me, and then growing in confidence as a few passers-by over that period remarked how nice we sounded.

The setting was a staff appreciation luncheon, which based on the time of year leading up to Christmas day, would involve some music as entertainment. First up was a colleague of mine who played 5 songs on his accordion. Some we knew, some we didn’t but it was nice to hear his playing and discover his talent in the process. Then it was time for our little quartet to step up.

So there I was sitting with the music in front of me and my guitar on my knees. For some reason I can’t fathom at the moment, I notice the three of these ladies accompanying me are not standing beside me as I’d expect but moved slightly back and behind me. Then it dawned on me that they were having a little bit of doubt themselves and were more comfortable behind me and standing up against the wall. The second thing I immediately noticed was the chatter of co-workers in the room and not the absolute stillness of the room when we had been practicing and no one but us four was in it. That was my clue to play louder than I’d practiced in order to signal we were beginning.

So for the first song, we launched into Silent Night. In no time, the room stilled, all those eyeballs turned our way, and I sunk my eyes onto the music on the table in front of me. Sure I could have looked up along the way and looked directly into what I’d envisioned and hoped would be smiling faces and kind eyes, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to be distracted and miss a line or hit a wrong chord because I couldn’t find the page again, so I kept the eyes focused on the music.

At the end of the song, we got some claps and an assortment of positive comments. Now we moved on to the second song and I acknowledged that I was still breathing and no one had left or appeared to have stuffed napkins in their ears to block out terrible singing or guitar playing. This would be the number where I’d sing solo the John Lennon part of Happy Xmas, and the three of them would be the refrain and chorus sung by Yoko Ono and a choir.

So there I was singing along when something unexpected happened that I had to overcome mid-song. My right heel had been elevated to keep the guitar at the height I wanted and suddenly it was going up and down on its own due to the adrenalin of the moment. So I put the heel flat on the floor, adjusted to the drop in height of the guitar and carried on. That was just weird, but no one knew what had just happened. Odd.

In the end, things worked out great. Apparently some of the staff even started welling up and had started to cry. Really? To provoke an emotional response is more about the song, the lyrics and the meaning of it than the actual performance of it, or were they crying because the sound itself was painful? I’ll choose to believe the prior.

In our workplaces, we get opportunities to step out of our normal comfort zones periodically. It could be heading up a committee, making a speech as someone retires, making a presentation, or leading a training workshop for the first time. That nervous excitement we feel is good for us, keeps us alive and it’s good to stretch ourselves and learn new skills.

In my own situation, were I asked to play some other time, I’ve got one success upon which to build, and everything starts with one small step. Another benefit is that if others see me outside something I’d normally do and risk it all in front of them, maybe they can be motivated to overcome their own challenges and risk a bit too.

Christmas Shopping And Job Applications: One And The Same

Last Friday morning, I was standing at the front of a classroom leading a resume writing workshop. Later in the evening of the same day, I was out Christmas Shopping with my wife. It struck me over the weekend how similar the two activities are as I sat in the basement, wrapping presents, affixing ribbons and bows, and writing nametags.

You see, when it’s get mid-November and into early December, it’s customary in my family to be asked what you want for Christmas. It starts out innocently enough, something like, “Start thinking about what you want for Christmas”. As the days progress, it becomes, “So have you started thinking about what you want for Christmas?” Then it becomes direct, “I need to know what you want for Christmas.” And it ends up being, “You still haven’t told me what you want for Christmas, and if you don’t tell me soon, who knows what you’ll get!”; that is if you haven’t already laid things out clearly.

Now truth be told, I usually have no problem putting together a list of the things I want. I’m really just a big kid around this time of year.

Now contrast this with the old job search. It starts off with you asking yourself or someone else whose helping you out saying, “Start thinking about what will make you happy”. Then becomes, “So have you thought about what you’d like to do?” Then it becomes, “Okay you need to know what it is you want in order to get on track and focus”. And if you’re wandering all over the occupational landscape with no direction, it becomes, “You still don’t know what you want to do? If you don’t figure out soon, you’ll settle for the dreaded, ANYTHING!”

Yes, be is shopping for presents or shopping for a job, both activities need some focus. Of course when you ask others for their list of wanted items, you have a choice as to whether or not you’ll buy them anything on the list. I’m not a list guy when it comes to others personally. I’d ask for a list from my daughter and wife to just put them off whatever I’d be planning on buying. I’d head out to the mall and see something I’d like on them if it was clothes, or something I’d think they’d like and buy it, wrap it, label it, and put it under the tree. What used to drive me insane then was how they would guess what it was – sometimes just by looking at it. Although I suspect both them felt, smelled, touched, shook, listened etc. all under the guise of ‘arranging’ them better under the tree.

Jobs, careers and occupations are much the same. Employers make lists of all the qualifications they want in their job applicants and post them on the big job boards where everyone can see them. Some job seekers go right to task, modifying their cover letters and resumes, so they appear to be giving employers exactly what they want. Getting a job interview is like being invited over to their home on Christmas morning as they unwrap the present and see what’s inside. Does the interviewer seem pleased or not, want to spend more time with the applicant or toss them aside like an unwanted gaudy sweater?

This is the time when poor job applicants do with their job search what I do with my Christmas lists from family. I usually gaze at them and then get to work on getting them what I want, not what they want! Poor job applicants do the same when they fail to modify their resumes and cover letters and expect the selection panel to invite them in for an interview when they’ve done nothing to address the employers needs. The employer says, “I want enthusiasm, a Forklift licence, 1 – 6 month’s experience, the ability to work well with others and take direction.” Poor job applicants counter with, “I’ve got an ability to work productively alone, a driver’s licence, can work a variety of shifts, and can start immediately”.

Good qualities of course, but maybe your qualities as offered would better suit another employer. Remember the kid who wanted a remote control model airplane and opened up a pair of knitted socks instead? Hmmmm…. If it’s that easy to see that the kid is going to be disappointed and keep hunting for another package in the hopes of the airplane, why is it so hard to see that an employer is going to keep reviewing resumes to see if someone better suited to their needs is in the pile?

Strangely, I’m one of the few men whose wife’s and child seldom if ever are disappointed with what they receive. Oh I’ve missed the mark to be sure – but not often. There’s a beautiful red-sequin top in the clothes closet my wife never wears, which I think she just keeps there out of pity not wanting to hurt my feelings by passing on to someone else. Then again, this is the woman who wants an iron and flatware for Christmas and three years ago wanted a vacuum. Most men would be shot for buying a vacuum and an iron.

Bottom line here people is get the message that you have to match what employers want with want you offer. Don’t count on doing this at the interview only, because if you don’t match up well on paper, you’ll never get there!

Losing Employment In December

Losing employment is rough no matter when it happens, unless of course whatever you are falling back on is better than the employment you had. Losing a job in December however can magnify the grief, depression and sometimes humiliation. In the blog today, I want to tackle this situation and offer some perspective.

Of course not everyone celebrates Christmas, and whether you do or you don’t, you will still likely encounter all kinds of people around you who are more upbeat, happy, optimistic and walking around whistling or singing jolly Christmas songs. You’ll hear the happiness on the radio where some stations are only playing Christmas tunes, you’ll find your regular television shows replaced for Christmas specials, and you’ll have people wishing you a merry Christmas in shopping excursions.

All this merriment at a time when you are feeling vulnerable due to recent unemployment can create such anxiety and heighten feelings of failure to such degrees that people sometimes feel no option but to resort to all kinds of poor coping behaviours. Some will drink to forget, take drugs to mask emotions, closet themselves away from family and friends, cancel any house parties they were giving, and some unfortunately will go so far as to commit or attempt suicide; an extreme and final choice of avoidance. Movies such as A Wonderful Life have tackled this issue too.

It’s normal to feel negative and down after losing employment, and it’s common to just about anyone who experiences job loss. What can make the situation appear magnified of course is that at this time of year, people are encouraged to be merrier, friendlier, more giving and happy than at any other. Amid all this merriment and happiness, you might be dealing with some pretty dark feelings including anger, fear, lack of self-worth, shock, depression, and denial if it’s happened recently.

What troubles many too of course is the expense of Christmas on top of everything else; trying to keep things as normal as any other year, especially in the case where children are concerned. I’ve known some people to return presents purchased for others to try and get money back, go without a Christmas tree, and sell furnishings and household items to make a buck or two. Understandable in some situations as people try hard to cope and normalize their experience.

One way to look at things is to realize that the year is ending, and while the new year might find you unemployed, if the job you had wasn’t your dream job anyhow, perhaps it might be a good thing in the long run to have been fired from a job you hated but wouldn’t have left on your own until forced out. You may not realize or accept this until you start another job, or look back in a few years. You might years from now say, “Remember that Christmas of 2012 when I got sacked during the holidays? I thought the world was ending but you and me…we’re survivor’s. Now look at us”.

While your personal situation has temporarily turned bad, objectively you should remember that businesses go on 12 months a year; meaning there are hires and fires happening all the time. Some industries shut down over the holidays and others gear up, some fields continue to need people year-round as in the Medical profession, Social Services or Education, while for others like Retail, Construction and Campground Operator’s the lay-offs are high.

December and early January might mentally be a good time to take stock. Do an inventory of your skills, your interests and your contacts. Rather than rushing out to just get a job, perhaps a short break would help you take larger steps forward next month. Don’t stop everything of course; but getting your resume up-to-date and lining up references is sound advice at any time of the year. Meet an Employment Advisor, maybe your Doctor too just to ensure you haven’t got anything happening you can’t manage. Make it your goal to end 2013 better than 2012. Think about the luxury of time you now have to do some upgrading, take a course, meet with a Financial Advisor to get your money situation stabilized.

Losing a job that defined you isn’t likely something to celebrate or feel good about. Please do your best to stay connected to those around you rather than pulling away. Share your situation with your friends and family if possible and be open to offers of help, even if for a short while. Allowing others to help you and your family out when you really could use some help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of wisdom on your part. Be grateful and appreciative. Think of it like giving your friends a chance to good for others, namely you.

Losing employment in December is not something I’d wish on anyone, but then again, when would I wish unemployment on anyone at all? Doing an inventory of your skills, strengths, positive qualities, interests, values and beliefs may help remind you just how rich you are.

Remember too that if you know someone else in this situation, why not pick up the phone and see how they are doing? Maybe offer to meet over lunch or on the weekend if they are family and lend a hand or make a gift of some money to help them along. Do for others what you’d imagine you’d like done for you if the situation was reversed. It’s caring and being willing to reach out to someone in need, and that’s a wonderful thing to share with your own family.

24 + 25 = Dignity

24 + 25 = Dignity? Huh? It’s true. Today on the calendar it is November 6. There are exactly 24 days left until the end of November, and then on the 25th day of December, many people will be celebrating Christmas day. Just the thought of the day can have a surprisingly negative effect on you perhaps if you are currently unemployed. Let’s see if I can’t help with that.

First of all, I’d like you to realize that whether a person is employed or not, Christmas can be a very stressful time for anyone. Stress itself is neither good nor bad, but most people use stress in a negative sense; referring to elevated pressure to compete, perform, deliver etc. Realizing that all kinds of people feel the pressure therefore to deliver on Christmas day is somewhat comforting – to a limited degree I concede. Knowing others are under pressure won’t be of much comfort to family members if there isn’t SOMETHING under the tree for them though, and that may be your concern.

I want to speak about planning now for Christmas because easing that pressure can actually help you remain focused on your personal job search. Otherwise, you may find yourself not doing what you should do to land those interviews because of mounting frustration and even possibly depression.

Despite all the ads and commercials you will hear and see over the next couple of months prompting you to buy things you can’t afford, I want to remind you in case you may have forgotten, that hand-made gifts are truly valued by people who receive them. I’m suggesting that you start now to make  presents and gifts for others that are traditionally on your shopping list. If you have some talent with wood and carpentry, perhaps you can make a keepsake box with a lid, stain it and give it as a gift to your child or a niece. Nothing huge, maybe even the right size to sit on a desk and be stuffed with notes. To get it going, maybe you provide the first note telling the person how much they mean to you.

Perhaps you have a talent for poetry. I remember a gift my dad gave me one Christmas when I was in my teens. He had a tough time thinking what to get me, and he didn’t usually do the Christmas shopping, leaving that for my mom. What he did was compose a one page hand-written poem that essentially was sharing his problem about what to get me for Christmas. By the end of the poem, he had settled on enough gas money to fill the tank, and included were the dollar bills. He could have just said Christmas morning, “Oh here’s $30 for gas, Merry Christmas”, but this was a better delivery.

Other ideas? Why not get some photos collecting dust in shoe boxes somewhere in a closet, and put them into an album. Print some captions around the photos to explain whose in them and what’s going on. You might also set aside some money bit by bit and purchase tickets to a show so you all have something to do on Boxing Day. If you are handy, you could take some plain Christmas ornaments and hand-paint designs or names on them to give to your kids starting a new tradition of putting their own special ornament on the tree each year.

Then again, you could give somebody a hand-made coupon book. Each coupon would be redeemable for things like “No lecture when I goof up”, “I didn’t make my bed today”, “I’ll pass tonight on dishes”, “a drive to school when I’m late”, “One night staying up until midnight”, “Breakfast in Bed”. Be creative. This coupon book is something that will get read and get some laughs on Christmas morning.

I really want you to think of planning NOW and getting going on this whole Christmas thing. Too many people out of work don’t give it much thought on purpose, hoping they will get hired soon and then be in a position to buy Christmas gifts like normal. Unfortunately, by the time they realize that they won’t get hired or a cheque before Christmas, they have a very small window to do anything and stress even more. Then of course there isn’t anything much to do, and others get hurt which only causes more pain and disappointment for everyone. If you start now, you can minimize this damage and maybe turn it into a great Christmas – the year you really put a lot of effort and thought into what you put under the tree.

By starting on November 6, you really can make 24 + 25 = dignity, because your dignity will remain intact. Christmas doesn’t have to be all about the gifts and the presents. It can be about thoughtfulness, time with others, hope for a coming year, and something to bring a family or couples together. Then your season will be merry indeed.

Now if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you can still benefit from this article, because the same strategic thinking can be applied to celebrations in other faiths, birthdays, holidays etc. Think ahead, plan out what you could do with your available resources, and then act to deliver.

By taking action now, you will still be able to focus back on your job search, knowing that Christmas won’t be the negative experience it may have been otherwise, distracting you from conducting your job search with enthusiasm.