I’m Not Buying My Kids A Single Gift This Christmas


Stack Of Handcrafted Gift Boxes

It’s true. I am not buying my kids anything this Christmas.

Not one sweater.

Not one electronic thingamajig.

No Word-of-the-Day 2015 calendar.

No Guinness Book of World Records.

No iTunes gift cards stocking stuffers (I mean, it’s all streaming music up in here, anyway).

No, I’m not purchasing any of those things this year.

Instead, my kids – almost 22 years old and nearly 19 years old) – and I are going to have an experience.

Or, more likely, a whole set of experiences.

Because instead of exchanging gifts, we’re going on a trip this Christmas.

To some place they’ve never been, and I’ve only visited briefly for work. A place with great history and a wonderful climate and world-class food.

A place that’s easy to get to and relatively affordable. Because we’re not Kardashians, you know.

It’s a place where we can all kick back from school, work and deadlines to just…be together.

And we’re being thoughtful about it. The plan is that each of us will plan one outing during the trip – and pick up the check – as a gift for the others.

Because when it’s all said and done, will any of us remember some electronic thingamajig or will we remember the three of us stumbling upon an amazing street corner concert and dancing like fools?

I have to tell you, for the first time in my adult life my holiday stress level is so low it’s hardly measurable.

Sure, there are some things I’ve lovingly sent to folks – a shopping process which feels very happy because it’s a delight, rather than a chore.

And, OK, you might think my family would feel short-changed because there’s very little under our Christmas tree, or that our Christmas spirit would be nil because why bother decorating if you’re not going to be home?

But quite the opposite has happened.

The house is more decorated than ever – because I’ve had the time to do it.

Christmas songs are on a continual loop on Spotify. Harmonies are happening.

The See’s candy box is in its usual place of reverence on the kitchen counter.

“Love, Actually” has been viewed.

And Christmas cards are done, stamped and sent.

(That last one right there is a Christmas miracle, I tell you. A true Christmas miracle.)

So, yeah, I’m not purchasing anything at the mall or online or from a passing peddler for my kids this year.

Instead, I’m giving them memories.

Which, if you want to know the truth, is my favorite self-gift, too.




What Do We Tell Our Sons?


Detail Knight Armor

Is there really anything we can tell our small sons that they don’t already know about girls?

Shall we tell them that they can be friends with girls? I think they already know that from school.

Should we tell them that girls can be excellent athletes? Our boys are probably on a co-ed team right now and everybody knows Sophie is the best player they’ve got, anyway.

Should we tell them that girls can be astronauts and engineers and poets and doctors and lawyers and moms and governors and Senators and anything at all?

Sure, we could tell our small sons those things – and have our boys say, “Duh, tell me something I don’t know”.

Girls as peers is their reality.

After the overwhelming response to last week’s post, What Do We Tell Our Daughters?, I did some thinking.

Do we need to have a serious talk about girls and their abilities with every boy under the age of twelve – boys who are experiencing a much different world than did their fathers and grandfathers?

Or do we really need to talk directly to the men in the survey? Men thirty-three to sixty-seven?

I mean, they are probably someone’s son, or were at some point. So let me talk about these guys – our big sons – and all the people who love them.

And believe me – I love men. In every facet of their wonderful complexity.

Many years ago I read a book which was so insightful, so helpful, that I reached out to the author to say “thank you for writing this book, you are amazing, did I say thank you?” That book was What Could He Be Thinking by Dr. Michael Gurian. Mike became a friend and I’ve relied on him over the years for research-based insights. He was also a guest on my podcast twice, here and here.

In fact, when wrote about this subject in 2009, (in a post which you might enjoy at this moment: What Do Men Want?) I explored Mike’s idea that all men view themselves as heroes on a quest - and that’s a really important foundational piece when we try to figure out why so many men surveyed by Harvard expect their female partner to subordinate her career and to be the primary caregiver for their children.

My friend Dr. Gurian suggests that the male quest is about achievement and status and it’s biologically wired via the testosterone, vasporession and other hormones influencing their minds and bodies. In his book, he quotes a 42-year old male pediatrician as saying,

I admire my wife, who can take ten years off work and just focus on raising children. Even I, who love kids and have devoted myself to them, can’t see myself separating my job from my life. If I didn’t have my work, my family would not have a reason to love me. I know that sounds strange, but that’s they way I feel. I need to be doing something to make them proud of me.”

I’ve heard this same sentiment expressed by many of my male clients. And I hear another thing from them – so many men feel like their quest is very solitary. They are alone, fighting the good fight, overcoming the odds, doing everything they can to achieve and make a mark.

For many men, work is the way they identify who they are – alone, against the odds, proving something. And other men in the workplace are worthy competitors who help a man measure his success.

But today, there are women in the mix. Talented, educated women who have things they want to accomplish in their own careers. They bring plenty to the table – skills, expertise, perspective and, yes, drive.

And here’s the deal: Today, a good woman can help a good man reach his goals – not as a meek help-meet, but as a hero in her own right.

In What Do Men Want, I suggested that all men see themselves as Luke Skywalker – a hero on a quest – and we all know that while they gave Princess Leia a weapon, she didn’t shoot very well.

But times have changed, and now we have Katniss Everdeen who happens to be a very good shot. And she has Gale, and Peeta, and Haymitch – all good men – who support her, and she supports them in turn.

She is not subordinate in any way, and yet a revolution is fought and won.

So, this Katniss analogy right here? This is what I would tell the men in the study:

All the women in your life have the ability to be the strong, courageous, warrior partner you need to fulfill your quest.

When given half the chance, your female partner will have your back whether it’s at work, or at home.

Because she really wants you to achieve your quest – you’re life’s mission – and all she’s asking is that you want the same thing for her.


One Woman. One Turkey. One Story.

Hand Turkey


Yesterday, a friend told me that she’d been to the grocery store and, at the checkout, the clerk told her she’d gathered enough points to qualify for a free turkey.

A free turkey Thanksgiving week! Who says no to that offer?

So, she got her turkey. A big one – 25 pounds – which she lugged to her car.

She knew she couldn’t use the turkey because her husband was out of the country for work and she’d be having Thanksgiving with friends.

What would she do with the big bird?

Inspiration struck and she immediately headed for the poorest part of her town. She drove around looking for… something…a sign? An intuition?

Who needed this turkey?

On one street she saw a man holding the hand of a little boy. They were walking up to a creaky-looking house with trash bags covering what must be leaks in the roof.

She rolled down the window. In her naturally bright voice she said, “Do you have your Thanksgiving turkey yet?”

The man replied that no, ma’am, he sure didn’t.

She said, “Well, you do now!” 

[Now, at this point I could tell you the meaning of this story, or extrapolate a larger story.]

[I could also go all emotional and tell you about how worried he had been about affording a turkey this year and the tears in both their eyes when the big bird was exchanged.]

But I’m not going to.

I’m going to say this: What you do makes a difference. Everything – big things, small things – everyday.

You matter.

You decide how to live, how to be, what to create in the world, whether you’re the one giving, or the one who’s receiving.

It’s simple, really.

Every day you have the opportunity to joyfully give something good to someone else.

Every day you have the chance to receive with gratitude – whether it’s a kind word or a turkey.

And that’s all I’m going to say.


The Quantity/Quality Conundrum



Measure Of Success

Let’s say there’s a sales guy, working in a sales function in a sales-driven organization.

His company was acquired by a group of investors who are systematically changing the way business is being done. They have metrics for everything and statistics drive every decision.

Our sales guy has been the top producer for many years. He has deep customer relationships and generates significant repeat business.

But you can’t benchmark relationships, so the powers that be decide he must have lucked into a rich sales territory and proceed to carve it up to spread the wealth. They parcel his clients out to the rest of the sales team, leaving our sales guy with a severely diminished book.

Oh, and a mandate to make 35 calls each day.

Off the record, his boss says that it doesn’t matter if the calls are to qualified prospects or not – all the bean counters want to know is that the calls are being made because they have forms to be filled out.

Six months go by.

Sales are way off.

Repeat business is non-existent.

And our sales guy has found another job.

Because he knows that his strongest suit – his true superpower – is the ability to create relationships, and the bean counters who value quantity over quality simply don’t get it.

He knows that he can make one call and generate as much business in fifteen minutes as two other guys could get in a week. How? Because his clients know him, like him and have years of experience working with him – they trust him.

Some of his customers like him better than they like his product – what he sells is less important than how he sells to them. Which is why the guy is going to be successful wherever he goes.

If I were in charge of a sales organization, I’d hire a hundred people with the ability to generate referral business rather than hire a thousand robo-callers.

Because quality always wins out over quantity.

But maybe that’s just me.

Today it seems that so many organizations want their people to be as uniform and interchangeable as widgets.

As if one sales guy is absolutely equal to another sales guy.

That one teacher is as good as any other teacher.

That a 60-year-old surgeon who’s done a thousand procedures is absolutely equivalent to a 30-year-old surgeon who’s so desperate for business that she’s willing to deeply discount her fee to get people in the door.

I don’t think so.

Sure, it’s comforting to think that if you check off all the boxes then you’re less likely to fail. Does our health plan provide access to a surgeon? Check  - yes. The question so few ask: Is that surgeon any good?

Quantity is: We have a 20-person sales team making 35 cold calls every day. Quality is: Are they talking to the right people? Are they taking time to build relationships? To build trust?

There’s not a box to check next to those quality questions because they’re rarely being asked.

It’s likely that you have quantity/quality decisions to make every day in your own life. And all I ask is that you keep a few things in mind:

It’s not the number of brownies you make that’s important, especially if they taste awful. Make good, quality brownies and let that be enough.

It’s not the number of bills you have in your wallet, especially if they are all ones. If you want to sit down, it’s better to have five $100 bills in your back pocket than 250 singles.

It’s not important that you have a whole lot of friends, especially if you have no one to call for help in the middle of the night.

When it comes down to it, real success comes from the things that cannot be quantified – connection, relationship, kindness, appreciation, trust.

I don’t know about you, but I want more of those quality things in my life and work, and I’m consciously working on them every day.

I really like the idea of being un-metric-ifiable.


Pay Attention To Taylor Swift. Really.


taylor-swift-vance-joyA friend reached out this week to ask if I’d ever read Viktor Frankl’s classic book Man’s Search For Meaning. I told her I had, it remains one of the most important books in my life and it’s formed much of my approach to living. We had a sparkling dialogue about it (I just love sparkling dialogues, don’t you?) and the next day I pulled my copy off the shelf and settled in for a re-read.

Frankl, a leading psychiatrist and thinker, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and other camps during World War II. Coming from that horrific experience, Frankl gained deep understanding of how people under tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual pressure react. It became his life’s work. In short, Frankl believed that people can endure nearly anything if they are deeply connected to something bigger than themselves, or are doing something in service to others.

This is why you might stay in a job you hate – it provides the income you need to give your children a great education. Or, it allows you to care for your aging parents. It might give you the space to write poetry, or raise rescue animals.

You do what you do – even if it’s hard – when you feel you’re serving a bigger purpose.

In the re-read, a key passage from Frankl’s preface stood out to me:

“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

And that’s when I realized just how powerful Taylor Swift is.

You see, I recently saw Taylor sing on a British TV show called The Live Lounge. Now, the premise of the show is this: famous musicians sing songs that aren’t theirs. They cover other popular songs - a really fun concept.

So, Taylor could have chosen any song. She could have phoned it in – I mean, she’s an international superstar! She could have been silly or jaded or intent on preserving her famousness and make a boring choice.

But she didn’t.

From what I could see when I watched the clip, Taylor chose to sing a song that gave her joy, that she could be creative with.

She covered Vance Joy’s great song “Riptide.” Here’s the link: BBC Radio

If you watch it, you’ll see that at certain points Taylor is amused with herself as she sings certain words. She lingers on phrases. She doesn’t just cover the song – she interprets it.

And that’s when I realized that Taylor Swift is deeply, powerfully connected to her “why”. And it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with seeking fame.

Her why, in my opinion? She’s a musician. Plain and simple.

I am sure she faces a lot of pressure to be commercial and crank out hit after hit. There are probably people who suggest she phone it in and collect the cash. I’ll bet she has plenty of haters.

But I’ll also bet that despite all of that pressure, she feels compelled – yes, compelled – to do what she’s doing. And to do it her own way.

She’d do it even if she wasn’t famous.

Which, according to Frankl, is precisely why she’s famous.

Now to you. And to me. What can we learn here?

I think it’s this: whether you know it or not, whether you’re currently connected to it or not, you’re here to create something. You’re here to make meaning with your life – to do good – in service of something larger. The more you do it, the happier you’ll be. The more you do it, the more successful you’ll be.

Try as you might, it doesn’t work to only pursue fame – you live fully when you fully pursue meaning. 

Serve your creativity – whatever it looks like for you – and in so doing, you will succeed. It might be a long path, and the success may look really different than you imagined, you might even fail a time or two. But if you are deeply in touch with your “why”, you’ll get there.

And, if you’re at a place in your life where you feel disconnected, or things seem futile, or you don’t even know why you wake up in the morning – do yourself a favor.

Read Frankl.

 [photo credit: Time]