Safe At Home? Be Grateful

I did a fair bit of driving this weekend. Saturday it was the trip from Lindsay to Toronto and home again, then Sunday the drive from Lindsay to Mississauga and back again. As I made the final turn onto our Crescent both evenings, the Christmas lights on the front lawn and house itself brought me a measure of both happiness and relief; we were home.

Home is sanctuary; the place with which within I am calm, protected and at peace. It’s where I recharge, relax, settle back with a blanket and at this time of year, enjoy the festive decorations, the Christmas tree, and perhaps a cup of tea. Yes, every time I make that last turn in the road and ascend the hill to our home, the promise of such sanctuary awaits me.

I imagine many of you might have similar feelings as you travel home from both near and far, whether it’s a house, condominium or apartment you return to. Once inside, it’s your space; your private sanctuary from everything beyond your door.

Of course it’s not the case for everyone. I can’t truly imagine what it must be like to live without that promise of a safe and secure place to take my rest at the end of a day. When temperatures outside are below zero degrees Celsius, not only does being homeless rob a person of much of their physical energy, it has to be incredibly taxing on the mind to constantly have to focus on finding a place to spend the night. Can you picture having to spend much of your day scrounging for shelter and then when you wake up the following day from a restless sleep, you have to move on and repeat the same process; wondering again where your head will rest that night?

Now were it you or I, we likely believe we wouldn’t be in such a predicament long. We’d likely use our resources acquired over time, including our interpersonal skills to locate and secure some place of safety and warmth. We’d turn quickly to finding work, then use our earned money to rent a place and begin to improve our lot.

The difference I suppose though is were we truly homeless, the mind that we rely and trust to make good decisions each day would be adversely affected. The mental strain upon us is not something I believe we would be prepared for. The lack of a place to shower and clean ourselves would be an eye opener, then even if we had such a basic resource, how upset would we be putting on the same garments, unwashed themselves and thus carry with us the grime, the odour? Without money, how would we feed ourselves? How might the quality of the food we do consume when we find it differ from what we eat now?

You and I, we not be rich, but we are rich by comparison. We can not only close our doors to the world each night, we sleep in comfortable beds, we eat without having to guard our plates; when thirsty we find options in our fridges. We don clean clothes each day, we snuggle in against the bitter cold, raise a thermostat if we so choose. Lucky? Well, yes I suppose we are.

Now yes, we do make our own luck I’ll affirm, but what we make our luck with is an educated mind. We have had resources our entire lives some never will have. If you grew up with a mother and father, lived in a house, had three meals a day and went to school, you likely took much of that for granted. As a child,  perhaps this is how you believed we all started out. Not so. If you’ve never had to visit a foodbank other than to drop off a donation, or never had to leave some items at the checkout because you haven’t got enough money to pay for them, you’re lucky indeed.

The nights are dark and cold, the daylight shorter at this time of year in my part of the world where winter is upon us. The streets are often slushy, which makes it trickier to walk for some in heels and harder still to push those shopping carts and buggies with worldly possessions in them for others.

If you think the simple solution is to get a job and be self-supporting, think of what herculean effort that must take. A homeless person has to concentrate on where to sleep, where to eat. They have few items to improve their personal hygiene and fewer to clean and maintain the cleanliness of their clothes. They are often shunned for their appearance, their smell, their cleanliness and much of the time lack personal identification such as birth certificates, health cards and social insurance numbers.

Luxuries are things like haircuts, dental visits, prescription glasses, non-processed foods, undamaged fruits and vegetables. Families are typically dysfunctional, relationships hard to establish and harder still to maintain. Without an address, services are hard to get, being always on the move, they have no sanctuary at the close of a day, sleeping with one eye open out of fear until absolutely exhausted.

Enjoy your home as do I, but be benevolent when you can. Consider a donation, be it a used article of warmth, food, toiletries, or your time. Be grateful, be humble.

Sorry Team, Not My Best

Yesterday I wasn’t at my best near the end of the day for my teammates. Ironically the reason why was precisely because all through the day, I’d been at my best for a number of people. I found myself jumping from one person to another, expending a lot of ‘me’, without time to pause, reflect, debrief and center myself. My 11 years plus office mate I historically debriefed with has moved on.

It started at 7:40 a.m. and ran right through until I shut down during a team meeting around 3:15 p.m. At 4:10 p.m., I walked out the doors where I work and carried it right into the usual transition sanctuary of my car. It wasn’t until early evening at home, cup of orange pekoe in my hands that I worked through the days stories and gave them up.

Like me, you’ve had those days where you too gave a sizable portion of yourself to others, beyond your typical capacity? At some point, your saturation level was reached, yet you were pushed beyond into your reserves and without your typical full self-awareness, that one extra thing came your way. And it’s that one extra thing that causes us to either shut down or act in some way we wouldn’t typically. The proverbial straw that breaks the camels back.

The weird thing about yesterday was I’d sum it up as a good day for the most part. It sure didn’t go the way I’d drawn up the day in my mind when arriving at 7:30 a.m. though.

I’ve already worked through a full day yesterday twice; experiencing it live and working it through in the sanctuary of home last night. I’ve no desire to lay it out here a third time. Suffice to say, in addition to the regular responsibilities of the day, 4 people unexpectedly shared with and entrusted to my keeping, their own substantially heavy life events.

Now this is a privilege; to be the one person who comes to mind when a crisis comes up and help is needed. I’m so thankful that I’ve done enough in the past that my voice at the end of the phone, my physical presence or reply to their email was what they sought.

It was a perfect storm you know; arriving at work early with an idea to revising some workshop materials, having a call 10 minutes after arriving even though that call came 20 minutes before I officially start at 8:00 a.m. Then heading into a workshop 5 minutes before it was due to start after a huddle with two team members about an important topic expected to arise at our meeting later in the day. Then working through the a.m. break because I was needed, prepping for a lunch meeting with someone who also needed me but couldn’t make it. Hurriedly eating a shortened lunch after giving up 45 minutes of it for someone else who needed me. Responding to a couple of consults from co-workers via email seeking my advice on how to proceed with someone’s trauma, wrapping up a shortened workshop and then heading right into a team meeting for the final two hours of the day. It might be exhausting to read this paragraph, but it was ever more so to experience it first-hand.

That might not sound like a lot to many of you. Comparatively speaking, you might have days much more draining that mine. I’ve no wish to contest who’s days are more taxing so I’ll concede that for you the reader, you may have far more energy draining days. The thing about working with people though, for those of us who live it, is that if you really want to be effective, you have to open yourself up and touch emotions to empathetically feel some semblance of what they are experiencing. Then you listen, acknowledge, support and where appropriate and invited, provide hope and encouragement with some advice on finding resolution and forward movement.

To do this and do it well, you listen attentively and respectfully; it’s time consuming and can’t be rushed. So when you think about it, you move quickly doing what you’d expect and in the moments when you should be processing and recovering, you’re unexpectedly in the middle of another story; and there were some major ones shared with me. So it’s move quick, halt; move quick, halt; and it happened all day.

So in my team meeting, with no debriefing, no down time, receiving a full agenda and all of us feeling individually pulled and stretched of late, I shut down to avoid saying and acting in some way I’d later regret. It wasn’t any one thing someone said but rather a few comments which in those circumstances, had me disengage and I told the team I was doing so. My capacity was exceeded, my reserves near exhausted, and we still had 45 minutes to go at that point. I knew I had one last call to make to someone who only seconds before our meeting, also really hoped I call before the days end.

My perfect storm.

I’m glad actually about one thing. After 3 decades in the Social Services field, people’s anguish and life stories still impact me and affect me. That’s important for me at least, to know and have awareness of. To know I am still of help? That to me is it’s own reward.

Today shall be good. I shall be better.


Gratitude For That Which We Receive

How grateful are you for the things you receive and I believe more importantly, the people you interact with that put them into your hands? Here’s a brief tale of two men with whom I had a short interaction with yesterday; both of whom reminded me to be grateful to others but for different reasons.

I found myself covering the mid-morning break of a colleague in our drop-in Employment Resource Centre; a place exclusively reserved for those in receipt of social assistance; welfare or disability support. Here those in receipt of either can come in and either work independently or receive support for the asking with respect to looking for housing, jobs, general advice, community resources or maybe just have someone listen. For some it’s their outing of the day; time to be surrounded by others and connect.

At the start of the day I had gathered a number of winter clothing items such as scarves, hats, gloves, throws and socks; all new and newly arrived. I brought them there for my colleagues to get into the hands of those that need them – free for the asking and the taking. So there I was when one gentleman approached me and asked if he might be allowed to have a pair of socks.

“Absolutely” I replied. The fellow was grateful, expressed his thanks and said that these made his day. There were two pair actually in the bundle and being winter socks for the outdoors, they are thick, warm and the kind I myself wouldn’t mind finding under my own tree this Christmas. It struck me how much happiness he visibly showed on his face; again the gratitude he expressed and the words, “Thank you”.

As he was standing there before me, there was a second fellow within earshot of this brief conversation and I suspected that a similar transaction was about to occur. Sure enough, when the first man turned and left, the second stepped up.

“I’ll have a pair of socks. What else you got?” Quite a different tone in the voice, a change in approach from a request and gratefulness to a statement of fact and entitlement. Now less you feel I’m being judgemental and that I don’t understand or know the second man’s background, upbringing or the harshness he experiences day to day, I’ve worked long enough in the field to comprehend and ‘get’ that at both an intellectual and experiential level.

What I’m sharing is the two approaches and the impact of both on me as the common denominator; the receiver of both their messages. While my reaction may not be your reaction, the approach they each made is what I draw your attention to.

When I gave the second man the new socks he put moved them from the outstretched hand to the other and then extended his hand a second time waiting to receive more. In response to his question about what other items I had available, I asked him what he needed pointing out gloves, hats,  throws and scarves. I then asked, “Would you like a scarf?” “Give me gloves” he answered.

So I gave him a pair of gloves which he tried on and I asked if they fit him okay or whether he needed a larger size. The next words he answered were, “Got any hoodies or shirts?” Now I didn’t have either item he asked for and after saying so he took one final look and walked out of the building without another word. No thanks whatsoever.

Now you make what you want from this encounter and contrast it as you wish or not with the earlier one just moments before with the first fellow. You nor I know the circumstances which these two gentlemen exist in. We don’t know their past upbringing, how easy or tough their lives have been to this point. We don’t know if they learned about please and thank you, and we certainly don’t know… well…we just don’t have much information to go on beyond the information I’ve shared.

The items don’t come with strings attached; there is no requirement to say thank you. At other times when I’m in the area myself for the day, I typically put a few items at a time out for people to hep themselves; most do turn and ask just the same if they can help themselves and say then say thank you, others don’t.

I was raised to say please, to ask before taking and to express my thanks when I received something. I know that this is largely why I was struck with the difference in the two encounters. The need may be exactly the same for each fellow, or even greater for the second. Does it matter?

If you donate new items to those less fortunate, I’d like you to know that whether they say it or not, your generosity matters; goods end up in the hands of those that need them. They are glad to have them when the biting winds blow and the temperatures drop and gratitude may not hit them until they are huddled up against a wall up against a howling wind on a dark winter’s eve.

Maybe there’s a lesson here for me and for you to show our own gratitude in those we deal with be it Cashiers, the Newspaper Carrier etc. See if it doesn’t make a difference.

We Have To Do More, People

2015 is going to be here in a couple of weeks. When it arrives, beyond the festivities of New Year’s Eve and the wee hours of New Years Day, it may not look on first glance to be much different from 2014 but it will be.

I’m an optimist and a realist and rarely if ever a pessimist. When I do catch myself be somewhat of a pessimist I do what I can to alter my attitude and check my thoughts. Looking into 2015 I see challenges which if we do what we’ve always done, we may not overcome and our communities will be less well off than they might be otherwise.

As Employment Counsellors, Career Advisors and Recruiters, we’ve got to raise our expectations of ourselves, do more to invest ourselves with our clients, be proactive and impactful. You and I might sometimes wonder how on earth that’s possible if we feel we are already overtaxed, but I suspect (and no arrogance intended) you and I, we have the capacity to dig deeper and give more.

The philanthropists out there this means you too. There are an increasing number of middle class people who are getting squeezed by employers on the one hand who can’t pay more wages, and governments on the other who are raising taxes to pay for infrastructure we need. Your past generosity to aid the poor, to heal the ill through the provision of medical devices, to feed the hungry and house the destitute have been sincerely appreciated. You know as do I however that the need remains, that children are still living in poverty, that more folks will be laid off and out of work in the year to come. Please step up and encourage others with the resources to make a difference.

Are you a politician? You’ve got our thanks and you’ve got our wallets. You’re to be thanked for putting yourself under such public scrutiny, but you and I both know you are capable of better. Stop the squabbling and the political bantering and posturing. Get on with making decisions regardless of party politics and get things done that improve all our lives. Create jobs not red tape by getting the transit expansion underway and approve more affordable housing.

If you are looking for work you too can do more. You have to recapture that enthusiasm for the job search and overcome all that frustration and bitterness that you’ve experienced. Yes it is tough and there are many setbacks and disappointments. Reach out and get the help you need and keep asking for help. Write cover letters if you haven’t, target your resume if you haven’t always done that, give it more effort not less and get in charge of your own job search again. Make it happen in 2015.

If you run a business remember it’s the people you employ who make or break your business. Invest more in them by positively reinforcing their effort. Train them to be better but do it with kindness not as punishment. Where you can, raise their wages and give them a better standard of life. Compliment good behaviour, thank them for helping put money in your own pocket. Treat your customers with respect because these people are YOUR livelihood.

If you’ve got a job that nobody seems to think is very important like running a gas station, picking up the trash, walking the kids safely across the street or bringing food to a table, perform it better. You know you can smile more, interact with the people with a more positive attitude, and serve them better. Work like your job is important because you are important; and you are. You’re needed and valued if not always appreciated; that’s most of us.

You who have positions of influence and power have a higher responsibility to use your positions for good. With your work you’ve got a daily opportunity to be self-indulgent or become the better person you wanted to be long ago when you resented and wanted to replace people who were greedy, lazy, self-absorbed and ignored the real challenges. Okay so you are in that position now and unlike most of us have the power and influence to make significant changes. Do what you can with a social conscience.

You who are volunteering and giving of your time I personally extend deep gratitude to. You make days brighter, lift burdens from those who would otherwise fall, clothe, feed and house people with your gifts of skill and time. You’re needed more than ever in the coming year and you’ll be counted on to do more in 2015 because givers do just that; they give.

And you and I whomever you are, we can do simple things to do more. We can smile on the street, complain less, appreciate others more, do our work with enthusiasm, use our manners, stop being so high maintenance ourselves and learn what being needy really means. Extend a hand in greeting, speak kinder of each other and be the better people that we all have the capacity to be and want to be viewed by others as being.

We all have to do more because waiting for someone else to do it is a fools game. There are threats to our standard of living around us, but there are opportunities in all places, and every day. Thanks for doing what you do on behalf of those who benefit from it. Now lets you and me get out there and give more of ourselves.

From Gardening To Networking

Don’t get me wrong; planning is highly recommended and when it comes to many things – like running a business for example – action without planning is planning to fail.

But sometimes being open to whatever comes your way can have positive results you might otherwise have missed. Let me give you an example of this past weekend and how a day doing something I hadn’t originally anticipated turned out to be a win-win situation.

I love gardening; you have to accept that premise. The home I moved into with my wife four years ago was new and the backyard a quagmire of earth, rocks and contractor fill. For the first summer, I remember digging through that mess and setting aside rocks and bricks from the land. When the sod was laid, I found myself with an emerald canvas upon which to do with as my wife and I chose.

Fast-forward to 2014 and the property is landscaped, water fall and pond, a couple of gazebos’ numerous flower gardens, a patio for eating and one for lounging, a vegetable garden, and a perimeter of emerald cedars, rocks, hanging flower baskets and shrubs. There’s a few trees, a shed, 5 bird feeders, 3 compost bins and 7 rain barrels. There’s a connecting walkway from front to back, armour stone, and more. In short, I’ve really loved the landscaping and gardening, but now; well, it’s just about all done. Aside from the maintenance part, the creation part is pretty much done.

Ah, but the neighbours have a blank canvas and they aren’t really gardeners. So my wife and I have been available to make little suggestions, offers of help and advice and inspiration. These are a nice couple with College/University kids that come and go.

When they first moved in, the guy next door graciously trimmed my two garage doors in metal matching the home. No more painting of wood surfaces – ever! And two years ago when they moved in, I offered gardening help in return. We blow the snow out of each others driveways, and lend a hand as need be.

And so it was that on Sunday morning, the neighbour invited the two of us; my wife and I, out to the garden centre to help pick out some plants. We ended up with bags of soil, peat, plant starter, bushes, flowers, shrubs, and mulch. It took five trips in total to get all the stuff they bought. And there I was, clearing away grass, digging holes, replacing terrible soil with the good stuff, planting shrubs and flowers, watering, transplanting some things, cleaning up and all with a smile on my face.
I loved the work and the creativity, making suggestions and seeing things go from their mind to reality.

I figure in the end they got 8 hours of my time. There was no lunch break. And what did they have to pay for that labour? Nothing. What it did cost them was a juice bottle, a water bottle, and a homemade dinner of filet mignon, potatoes and garden beans and corn. Oops, throw in a can of Coke. And during dinner, I was given a dagger – (no kidding a real dagger) because he had one lying around for years and I had mentioned having a few swords in my possession so he thought I’d like it. And I do.

Now my plans on Sunday morning were to go food shopping and relax a little, play the guitar a little, and unwind. By the end of the afternoon, I was dirty, sweaty, and entirely content working with both my neighbours and having laughs along the way. After we all took a shower (sorry, not together), we were clean, rejuvenated and able to stand back and enjoy looking out on what we had created together. They appreciated our suggestions for plants that were native and would grow in the conditions we have to contend with, and I was grateful for the activity and doing something that made them so happy.

Now what about a job searching connection? Well for starters, both of us (my neighbour and me) can now attest to what the other is like to work with. Our cooperative skills, work ethic, teamwork, listening skills, labour skills, stamina, endurance and creativity are now known to each other bound by the experience, not just the idle claims one makes to another. If he needs a reference, I can attest to what it’s like to both live next door to him and complete a project together.

So here’s how it’s gone: We gave them the history of their home the Real Estate agent hid before they bought. He installed steel flashing around my garage: free. I shovel out his drive and he mine when the chances arise: free. I donate my time helping him with his lawn and landscaping: free. We’ve even gone golfing once this year together, and that reminds me I’m losing one game to nil.

This is how you build relationships and friendships. It’s not so much what can I get out of the guy next door, but rather, what can I do for the guy next door. When you think more about the giving than the getting, the getting usually takes care of itself and you find you both benefit.

Networking works the same way. When you are networking and building relationships in job searching, start with what you offer to others and can do for them. You may find those same people remember you and ask how they can help you out in return.

The Healing Sweater

I’m going to share with you a very special story that demonstrates a group of Educator’s going beyond their job description, the thoughtfulness of a child, and the lasting impact on a recipient of a gift carefully chosen.

Approximately 18 or 19 years ago now, my daughter was attending primary school in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It’s a small community roughly 150 kilometres north-east of Toronto Canada if you’re wondering. One late fall day, she came home with a letter from the teachers in the school, and the letter asked parents to consider donating either new items they had around the house they didn’t want, or gently used items in excellent shape. These items were going to be all put on tables in the gymnasium, and class by class, students would get to go to the gym and for 25 cents an item, students would purchase and wrap a Christmas present for both mom and dad.

This always struck me in year’s since as such a fabulously touching idea. You see this way, neither parent would know what two gifts under the tree were; one for each of them. Every other year, I’d take my daughter out and together we’d pick out something for my wife from her, and then my wife took her out and bought something for me. Parental influence was evident both times. But in this case, it was truly entirely up to the child as to what they thought mom or dad would really want. So there was anticipation building to see what was going on in that precious little mind!

Although I’ve long forgot what the 25 cents per item was raised for, I have never forgot the idea, the generosity behind it, and the gift itself. When I opened my gift that Christmas morning so long ago now, it turned out to be a dark burgundy gable sweater. The arms were about 8 inches too long, and the overall length went to mid-thigh; clearly donated from a home where the man of the house was much bigger than I.

I loved the thing. I put it on and it was loose-fitting, really warm and light weight despite it’s size. Because it didn’t fit correctly I never wore it to work or out in public, but around the house it was comforting and great lounge wear. One day I can recall having the chills from a cold, and donning the sweater to ward off a long cold, I immediately felt snug and warm, like a big old hug. Hence, “The Healing Sweater” was born. I’d wear that sweater for years every time I was home ill, or just needed that comfort feeling people seek when they make comfort food on a cold winter’s day.

Ah but things don’t last. Eventually the sweater got stretched through use and the washing machine, holes appeared, and common sense told me it needed to go. To this day however, I’ve always got a sweat top or sweater that when lounging around on a Sunday in the winter at home, or feeling cold or ill, that I’ll put on and announce I’m wearing the healing sweater to ward off a lengthy illness.

So tying this story back to job advice, I often think about the person or group of people more likely, who thought of the idea in the first place up at Bobcaygeon Public School. Why did they do it? I mean sure the gifts were donated, and some parents donated wrapping paper, tags, bows and tape for each child to wrap their purchased gift. So it wouldn’t have cost the school anything at all to do the activity. And at 25 cents an item, I supposed they raised a few hundred dollars which may have gone toward school-related expenses of some sort. But it was never really about the fundraising.

I think looking back, it was a small school doing something to connect the children and their families to each other. No one complained about this being a Christian celebration that I know of, and the town did have at that time families from other cultures and faiths. It was a shining example of a group of teachers in this case who came up with an idea that got unwanted items out of homes and into the hands of others who would use them, built anticipation both for the children to see the reaction from their parents, and for the parents to see what their children purchased and wrapped for them. It was just such a win-win on so many levels.

And there’s an example of some people in a workplace who collectively put forth the effort to go above and beyond. The labour involved to get all those items displayed on tables in a gym, parade all the classes down, collect the money, help the child wrap all those presents and label them, then take the classes down again for other people in the family when there were still items left; that was a lot of work.

Does your workplace do anything on a social basis perhaps that gives back to the community? Some staff yesterday at my workplace exchanged gifts with a twist. Each gift had to be what you imagine they might have wanted as a child. After being unwrapped, all gifts were collected and donated to a toy drive for Christmas. No one went home with any gift, but everybody received so much more.

How To Get Ahead In One Word; Give!

Getting ahead in an organization is something many people aspire to do. Whether it’s a raise in salary, increased visibility, an enhanced reputation, a promotion, a corner office, a coveted parking spot with ‘Reserved’ tattooed all over it, or getting to the point where you can actually reduce your time in the actual office by working from home, getting ahead is usually seen as a desirable thing.

So how to get ahead becomes a question that many people start asking of themselves and of others around them. Is it taking a course, upgrading your formal education, volunteering for tough assignments etc.? Maybe.

One of the key things that is required is that you become more visible and recognizable to those who are in a position to help you along the way. After all, if you are fairly invisible, you’re not going to be on the mind of the people you need and want to be known by, when it comes to advancement. And increased visibility comes from working smarter, not necessarily working only harder. Working harder without a plan may just be interpreted as you need to work harder than others to garner the results that others are routinely obtaining. In such as case, your hard work is going unrecognized.

If you truly want to GET ahead, I sincerely think you have to GIVE. For starters give your goals some honest thought and make sure they are SMART goals; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound. Saying, “Someday I want to be in a position of power” isn’t a smart goal. Saying, “In 6 years I want to be the Manager of the Personnel Department” is a SMART goal; if of course it’s relevant to you.

Now that you’ve given some thought to creating a SMART goal, give some thought to the strategy and steps necessary to make it a reality. Plotting backwards, not forwards, what will things look like just before you obtain your goal? What has to happen prior to that? If it’s education you need, where do you get it? How long will it take to complete? How do you register? How much money is required? Now keep that plan accessible and visible so you give it some attention on a daily basis. Pin it on your corkboard for example, not hidden in some desk drawer.

Next, turn your attention to the human factor. For starters I’m going to say right up front that I believe we should all be very ‘giving’ of ourselves to all those we come in contact with. However having said that, make a short list of those who are currently holding positions of influence in regard to the distance between where you are now and where you want to be. So in the example above, that Management position you covet might mean that the 5 Managers on the hierarchical chart will have a say in who they work with if and when one of them moves on. Then too above them there is the Department Head. And not to be overlooked are those to whom the Managers and Department heads have surrounded themselves with. Their support staff for one can make it difficult or easy for you to get access to the people you want to meet.

Now this all sounds very conniving, as if in some way should everyone take this advice, all the employees would be secretly plotting out how to take advantage of everyone else and use them to their own best advantage. In some workplaces, I imagine it is somewhat like that. However, most people have hopes of moving ahead but few actually give thought to doing the necessary planning to make it happen other than by chance.

Giving of yourself means not always scheming to get something in return but giving because it is helpful to others. When you give your time especially, you’ll find that it is appreciated and yes may be recipricated in some way, but it’s sad to think that anyone would only give of themselves if there is something directly in it for them.

“How can I help?” is an invitation you can extend to others whether it’s on a short-term basis, a significant project, or maybe even just a request for advice. Asking this one question doesn’t commit you to anything at the moment, and after hearing what the other person has to say, you may realize that the help they seek isn’t within your ability to provide. Can you however give some thought to the need and perhaps refer someone else to them? Then by way of your assistance, you have given of yourself and others will remember that kindness.

Remember that some of the richest people got that way because rather than hoarding they gave – and continually give of themselves. And by rich I don’t necessarily mean money in the bank.

So here’s six things to try today:
1) Give someone words of encouragement
2) Give someone praise for completing a task
3) Give someone an ear
4) Give your boss a word of thanks for their support and leadership
5) Give up your coveted parking spot to someone else as a reward for a single day
6) Give someone a tea or coffee when you make one for yourself in the staff room

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.