This post isn’t about Christmas 2015. It’s about Christmas 2016. The thing is, I’ve already planned the entirety of my Christmas 2016 based on lessons I learned in reflecting on my [re]actions during 2015. The biggest mistake I made over the course of this last Christmas was staying on the boat at a time when I ought to have disembarked. It was like floating into a canal, allowing the water to rise, and then sitting there. I never drained the water and revved the jets to greet the fishes on the other side. Instead, I watched those juicy fishes float by, becoming more and more resentful of the hunger in my body. And rather than place my hunger, anger, guilt, and longing where they belonged, in the hands of the skipper, I blamed the boat.
The small business owner in particular find disembarking hard to do. When you’re self-employed, it can be more difficult to leave work locked behind logo-laden glass doors at the end of the day. Holidays aren’t assigned in your annual schedule. Instead, hours after putting the kids to bed, that silver screen of potential income beckons from your laptop. This drive to work isn’t negative. After all, I find that many people become self-employed for the love of the product, a thirst for knowledge, and high consumer demand. Yet this habitual round-the-clock working, this fill-in-the-gaps, this just-a-quick email attitude can become such a long-lasting habit that whole weeks otherwise claimed by life and love suffer from distracted, half-presence. When we don’t fully disembark from one stage of our lives to the next, we split ourselves between both, living a less whole life overall.
Which is exactly the high water I found myself in this Christmas 2015. When my assistant casually inquired, “How was your Christmas?” I replied, without thought, “It was disappointing!” In the months leading up to Christmas I had been so hopeful about what it could be, planning out in my mind how we would spend some time with my wife’s family, some time with my own family, and some quiet time in our home together, intermingled with lots of dining, a glass of red or two, and dog walking. Yet this plan degenerated into a series of tiffs between our immediate family unit and the greater group about trivial matters. I struggled to deflect standard irritations that are bound to occur during the season: caught in the melee of juggling family, cranky kids, repeat trips to the house for items forgotten. I blamed other people for this: Why were other members of the family so controlling? Why were my kids so testing? Couldn’t I just get one hour to answer emails without some sort of interruption? Later, when my assistant asked her compassionate question, I felt the same grumpy attitude I had felt nearly all of the Christmas season.
And then, thinking a bit more deeply on the topic, I wondered. If my assistant asked my wife the same question, what might she respond? Maybe, “Why is my husband so grumpy? Why was he always unhappy with our holiday activities? Couldn’t I just get one hour of his time without his opening the computer?”
Suddenly, I realised that my Christmas 2015 woes were due to the fact that I had failed to disembark from the high-intensity boat of work and effort that I had floated on for nearly the entire year. Rather than use the holiday as a time to disengage and recharge, I tried to work through it. I never gave my family or the moment my entire self. Since I was constantly trying to make more of the situation than was actually there. Because I was always trying to multi-task, I didn’t have the sensibility to allow common holiday stressors to wash over me. When I did finally shut my laptop it was because I had decided that whatever activity propelled me to do so MUST be more important/ fun/ fulfilling than my duty to my clients. (Were they, I wonder, also floating on a ship named Grumpy?) I was over-working myself, forming ridiculous expectations, and being a lesser-involved member of the family. There was little flexibility in my attitude and less genuine relaxation. My personal disappointment and frustration seeped into the lives of those around me.
Finally gaining some clarity on the situation, I apologised to my wife and asked her to help me plan Christmas 2016. With her help, I decided that I am going to throw an end-of the year party to mark my final working day. It will be a celebration of a year well-spent. Not only do I believe this forward-thinking attitude will actually help me to achieve my goals, but it also promotes our age-old human desire to mark changes in activity with a celebration. Like my hunter-gatherer ancestors before me, I want to reap the benefits of my efforts with my family nearby. After the party I will shut my laptop and fly with my family to Lapland, where we will spend a much warmer Christmas (in this, I refer to more than the weather).
One day, I hope that I am intuitive and introspective enough to see my feelings for what they are: interpretations of reality. Then, I can choose to act in a way that positively influences those around me. After all, the only thing I really know, the only thing I can really control, is where my own boat goes. If I let the water rise and refuse to disembark, I will never catch the fish for which I strive. But if I stop, see the horizon, and propel myself there, not only will I arrive, but I will probably catch a few fish along the way.
Were you trapped on a Grumpy ship over Christmas? How can you disembark in 2016? I’d love to hear your comments here!