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Redefining What It Means to Give, This Holiday Season and Into the New Year

redefining what it means to give

With the madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales come and gone for the year, but the craze of the holiday season still fully intact, I want to focus your attention away from sales, shopping, and sugarplums for a moment. Because this season is also very much about something that’s bigger than buying: it’s about giving.

If your mind just turned to the handful of envelopes dropping into your mailbox and emails landing in your inbox from various nonprofits and organizations soliciting monetary donations this season, bear with me.

Because while opening our wallets can have a stunning impact depending on where the money goes, money isn’t the only thing we can give this holiday season that can make a real difference.

Redefining giving

All too often, our first thoughts immediately go to money. Which, in most cases, rightly limits our belief that we can make a real impact. But it’s time to flip the switch on these limiting beliefs and redefine what it means to give.

Giving is all about identifying and connecting with a need that someone else has. It could be one other person; it could be an entire country. It could be $1; it could be $1,000. But most importantly: it could not be money, at all.

Other ways to give

Giving extends beyond writing that check. Here are a few other ways you can make an impact this holiday season:

Give your time: As busy moms, sisters, daughters, friends, employees, and bosses, we know that time is one of our most valuable assets — which is what makes it so powerful when we give it away. Give your time by volunteering at a local pet shelter, school, food pantry, hospital, or nursing home. Sites like VolunteerMatch help you identify local opportunities you may not have thought of on your own.

Give your skill: Combine the gift of your time with the gift of your expertise, and it’s amazing what you can do. A site like Catchafire helps you find causes you care about and apply your skills to help organizations save money — often showing you what they’ll do with that money, instead.

Give your presence: While this is a bit less tangible than time or skill, it is perhaps even more important. In a world where we are constantly and perhaps a bit obsessively plugged in, being present and focused on the people and things in your immediate surroundings is a true gift. As you attend meetings, parties, and other get togethers over the next few weeks, unplug and practice simply being present.

Give your gratitude: Thanksgiving always inspires us to take a look at what we have, and all that we’re grateful for. And while internal reflection upon that is incredibly important (and can make a huge difference in our attitude from day-to-day), turning that gratitude outward to those around us can greatly impact our relationships, our happiness, and the happiness of others.

Next time you’re feeling incapable of making a difference when money is asked for, consider any of the ways above to give, instead.

“Giving opens the way for receiving.”

As Florence Scovel Shinn so perfectly states with the quote above, the truly phenomenal thing is this: the more you give, the more you’ll see come back to you. Each and every time I’ve felt that I’m not in a place to give — whether it’s money, time, skill, presence, or gratitude — pushing myself to do it anyway has returned more than I could’ve imagined.

(Reading this story of a family that spent six months volunteering around the world only to find that in the most impoverished of villages is where they encountered the greatest amount of generosity is seriously an inspiration.)

Look outward. Identify the causes that light you up and the places that need you, and give of yourself. And if I can challenge you a step further, it would be for this: make this a regular part of your life not just this month, but all year round. Because, as Winston Churchill so famously said: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

What will you give this holiday season (and beyond), friends?

Make Space for What Matters: Unplug & Disconnect

unplug and disconnect

Where is your cell phone sitting right now? Is it next to you on your desk, over on the kitchen counter — or better yet, in your hand?

I can tell you that for me, that last option is where my cell phone has been far too often, for far too long.

A wake up call

I was recently at a business retreat (with a fantastic group of women), where we were asked to put our phones away while attending the morning session.

A simple request, right? Well, I have a confession to make: this was sincerely difficult. I have gotten into such a habit of looking at it: checking my email; scrolling through Facebook to see what’s going on; scanning Instagram for the latest. In just a few hours, I felt a weird sense of withdrawal that quickly opened my eyes.

The wake up call continued for the rest of the trip — from the restaurants I dined at to the airport I walked through to travel home. Everyone heads down, living life through their screens. To me, this is still a crazy phenomenon — and one that I’ve only recently realized I’ve succumbed to.

And it’s not just the airport or the restaurant. It’s in line at the grocery store. It’s in the few minutes before my yoga class begins. Sadly, sometimes it’s at the red light. We feel the need to fill each and every moment — and we’re lulled into a false sense of security and productivity when it’s filled with something on the screen.

Unplugging for a few hours at this retreat was exactly the experience I needed to issue a wake up call and inspire a realization that a detox is in order.

Unplug + disconnect

The fact that we are able to connect with people around the globe at the click of a button never ceases to amaze me. But instead of treating it as the tool it’s meant to be, we’ve exploited it to the point where it’s a burden we carry, and one that interrupts what life is all about: building relationships and experiencing moments that turn into stories.

Unplugging for me is about more than turning the cell phone off and hiding it in a drawer — unplugging and disconnecting means freeing myself from the need to be in touch. It means opening up the space to feel connected to what’s in front of me, instead of what’s on a screen.

With that space comes possibility: the possibility of new observations, of new growth, of new ideas. It’s a release from the connectedness of being plugged in; one where the connection is with ourselves and our immediate surroundings. This is the release I feel when in front of a blank canvas painting, out on a walk with Banks, or in the middle of an Adirondack lake in my guideboat. It’s a release I want to feel much more often, and it only requires one thing: the discipline to unplug and be okay with it.

Make yourself available

Anytime I’m anxious, uncomfortable, or feeling unproductive, my first instinct is to grab my phone. I’m guilty of it. I’ll venture to say you’re guilty of it. It’s time for me to start ignoring that first instinct — and I challenge you to do the same, as well.

As we approach especially busy times over the next few weeks filled with numerous gatherings of family and friends, I encourage you to unplug. Disconnect.

Disconnecting gives you space. Fill the space with observance; with gratitude; with thoughts that matter instead of aimless scrolling.

When you unplug and disconnect, you make yourself available for the people, the moments, and the experiences that are happening in the present — the ones that are easy to miss when your head is down and your mind is elsewhere. Build relationships and collect stories. Your work and your life will be better for it.

Will you join me in intentionally disconnecting?