Since 1944, “Ideals Christmas” has been a tradition in thousands of homes across the USA. The book contains traditional poems that explore the meaning of the holiday and recall special times with family and friends. I came across the following poem which resonated with me (Thanks Mabel!):
I felt like doing something different with this blog. I am a huge fan of the literary works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and was recently revisiting and discussing his essay on friendship as part of a class I am teaching. I’ve always believed that a life is defined by the quality of one’s relationships. We all want the same thing: some level of connectedness with other individuals that that both allows and encourages us to live the best life we can. While at its very beginning and final end, life may be a solo journey, the rest of it is full of human interaction. Our level of happiness during the balance of our existence is most often dictated by how we navigate the dense forest of interpersonal relationships. As usual, Emerson is much more eloquent than I am on this topic and here are a few excerpts from the essay:
In my line of work you know you have tapped into a serious problem when you encounter disproportionate emotion. There have been many times where I have sat across from someone and literally watched them break down. I learned a long time ago to let the other individual have their moment and not try to downplay or negate their emotion. You don’t make someone feel better by making them feel embarrassed or disappointed about how they feel. All of us hit an emotional “brick wall” at times and become frustrated/upset with the rigors of life and work. We all need people we can turn to let us be our authentic selves, even when this isn’t pretty or easy to watch.
If we are honest with ourselves, most of our relationships in life are out of convenience or due to necessity. Typically these types of friendships are fine as long as things stay relatively stable and major life issues don’t complicate the mix. However, once something bad happens, you do learn who your true friends are and it may surprise you. Friendship is easy when life is easy. When life gets hard, some people just don’t have the stomach for it. Always remember that this says more about them than you. Some people are just much more comfortable taking rather than giving – sad for them. Others just can’t handle any level of emotional depth or commitment.
I was in a meeting with a group of leaders the other day and after being prompted by a question most of them said that they had many acquaintances but very few friends. It was clear they weren’t particularly happy by this fact, but felt their busy life didn’t leave them much of a choice. I find it paradoxical that in a day and age where we have so many more ways to stay connected with other people, every study I read says that people feel lonelier and more disconnected than ever before. This is especially troubling for people in leadership positions because they feel naturally isolated to begin with.
I’ve always thought that the whole concept or work life balance is a bit of an illusion. It’s difficult for me to imagine someone who has a life that is always completely in balance. Things don’t always work out this way. It’s like the idea of a 50/50 partnership or marriage. Rarely do both partners put in the same amount of effort all the time. What you hope is that in the end it all balances out properly. I view my life in the same way. There will be periods when some things take precedence over others and that’s okay as long as it doesn’t become a lifelong habit. However, there are certain aspects of our existence we should be paying attention to all the time (to varying degrees as needed). We ultimately ignore any of these items long-term to our own detriment.
Another year has come full circle and I find myself celebrating my 46th birthday. Wow! Sometimes the passing of time is hard to believe. My dad once told me that “the days can be long but the years will grow shorter as you age.” As usual he is right. It seems like yesterday I was wide eyed kid playing with my friends and day dreaming about my future. While I never did become President or Secretary of State (there’s still time), soar through the universe as an astronaut, solve major crimes for Interpol, play either professional baseball or football, or lead troops as a great general, I’ve had a rich full life. Today is a day to count my many blessings:
It’s disheartening to see how petty, judgmental, jealous and critical we can be of other people. This is especially true when someone does well. We often jump to quick conclusions and second guess their motivations or worthiness. My belief is that we do this more because of how we feel about ourselves rather than anything that the other person has done. In our highly competitive and materialistic society we are constantly reminded of what we don’t have or where we fall short and this hits even closer to home when the point of comparison is a peer.
I’ve always believed that a life is defined by the quality of your relationships. Whether it is at work or home, all of us should be looking to grow friendships and supporters along the way. The road can get rocky at times and you want to have others there to catch you if and when you stumble or fall. You’ll also need their helping hands and shoulders to stabilize you as you climb the next rung up the ladder.
Take stock of the people you are spending the most time with personally and professionally and make a conscious choice to maximize the time spent with the brightest, happiest and most capable people you know.
I sincerely hope your homes are filled with love, friendship and joy this holiday season. And, in the midst of all the unnecessary consumerism that accompanies the holiday, I wish for you moments of clarity and peace around what’s truly important in your life. I also pray your hearts are filled with compassion and charity for those who are less fortunate.