To me, the holidays are about connection. Gathering to celebrate with family and friends in the real world, letting others know you care about them with cards and gifts, and the chance to start or revisit family traditions.
But all the opportunities for connection can cause us to add an incredible number of to-dos to our already full plates. Host a home-cooked Thanksgiving feast for 12. Bake up a storm for the neighbors, teachers, and anyone else with a mouth. Purchase the most thoughtful gift for everyone on your list, wrapped perfectly and sent out with plenty of time so the recipient knows he or she was top of mind and not a last-minute afterthought. I could go on and on.
But, before you become a living, breathing cross between a Food Network chef and an HGTV host, ask yourself this one question:
What’s most important to me this holiday season?
I promise you that the answer to this will help you decide what you’re going to spend your precious time doing between now and when the new decade starts.
My life is ruled by my Priorities—the things that are so important to me right now that not serving them is non-negotiable. (Yep, I capitalize that word, because it's that damn important.) What I fill my days, weeks, and months with are the activities that get me closer to reaching my Goals (yep, capitalizing that too), which I’ve set because they serve my Priorities. When I started living this way, I was able to build a life filled with what I really want.
Over the last several years I’ve approached the holiday season as a goal-setting exercise aimed at staying true to my Priorities. Since making healthy choices is always a priority of mine, I set a holiday season goal of hitting my usual bedtime five nights a week. This means that I can’t cram so much more into my days, and then force myself to stay up late baking or researching the perfect presents or cooking for an upcoming party. Nu-uh, no more.
Another Priority of mine is being present and involved in the lives of my husband and our kids. That means I won’t set holiday entertaining goals that prevent me from being available and enjoying my most important peeps.
My third Priority is my work helping women design the lives they really want. To achieve that, I refuse to overcommit myself this season and let that too-important work suffer. I intend to shoot for all of my work goals during the holiday chaos, but that one is sacred.
Now it’s your turn. What’s so important to you right now—your Priorities—that not serving them is simply not an option? As you decide what you’re willing to take on over the holidays, ask yourself if it’s serving your priorities or working against them.
Take Thanksgiving, for example. Maybe it’s really important to you to host the feast, but making everything that goes on the table doesn’t really serve any of your Priorities. Instead, it’s something you think you should do because you feel pressure to be the perfect host. But if the holidays are about connection, isn’t being a great host about making a space for people to connect? Why not choose one or two dishes that you love to make and that you can fit in with your schedule (or in my case, make with my kids to increase our time together), and then either buy the rest or assign your guests to bring something they love to create. If the sound of that has you breathing more deeply and taking your shoulders out of your ears, you’re on to something, Sister.
If you’re like me and want to say “yes” to as many holiday events as possible--because you love the merriment or your business benefits from networking and being around other humans--you’re going to have to say “no” to other things. My usual flurry of end-of-year work is compounded this year by the heavy lifting required to launch my book in January. So when I started telling myself I should do everything I did in years past leading up to the holidays, I called BS and you, now, should too.
If it would serve your Priorities to exchange individual gifts this year with friends, family members, and colleagues for a charitable donation in their honor, do it. You may find yourself telling a story about what the recipient might think or whether he or she would be disappointed. But remember, that’s a story you’re making up, and giving gifts—including the kind that pay it forward—is a way to tell the recipients that they matter. And if getting your holiday cards out before Santa comes down the chimney will keep you from serving your priorities, don’t set that goal. Send out New Year’s cards this year instead or, even better, make this the year you save trees (and time) and send out e-cards. The recipients will love hearing how you donated the cost of postage to a cause dear to your heart.
This season—like every moment we get on this Earth—is a gift, so don’t waste it doing things you think you should. Together, we can savor these special moments and transform the holidays to be all about connection. That’s all that really matters.