Have you ever heard something obvious put in a new way that it changes the way you look at life?
I was in a meeting this week when the speaker said something so obvious, yet so profound, I couldn’t help but change my way of thinking. Honestly, I couldn’t wait to tell you about it.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve either heard myself or someone else say something to the effect of, “Can you believe it’s already [fill in the month]? Where has the year gone?” or read a Facebook post counting down the days or weeks to Christmas.
Just the thought of it makes my blood pressure rise.
The year is almost over. We all know what that means:
- Year-end performance reviews
- Budgeting for the next fiscal year
- Planning for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve
- Juggling schedules at the office so no vacation days go unused
- Holiday gatherings
- Gift shopping
- Gift returning (Sorry, Grandma!)
- Thinking back on all of the things we wanted to accomplish this year
- Trying to remember those New Year’s resolutions
The list goes on and on.
Stressing out at the end of the year has become almost as much a part of our culture as the holidays we stress about.
There’s so much going on, what’s not to stress about?!
Before my meeting, I would have agreed. But now, I see things differently.
When the topic of year-end stress came up, the executive in charge of our meeting said,
“It’s time for year-end budgeting. No stress. Right?”
As we were all chuckling at what we thought was his blatant use of sarcasm. He said the most obvious, yet most profound thing. He said (in a very serious tone),
“Well… it IS on the calendar.”
BAM! Right between the eyes.
Thanksgiving Day – On the calendar (fourth Thursday of November)
Christmas Day – On the calendar (December 25)
New Year’s Eve / Year-end – On the calendar (December 31)
New Year’s Day / Beginning of new fiscal year – On the calendar (January 1)
Notice a common theme among all of these “stressful” days (other than the associated stress)?
That’s right. They’re all on the calendar.
And since they’re on the calendar, we had to expect them.
And since we expected them, we’ve had time to plan for them.
And since we’ve been planning for them for a year, we should be ready to act.
And since we’re ready to act, we have no reason to be stressed.
We get stressed out around this time of year when we haven’t been intentional.
By being intentional, we can lay out our plans so that when we turn the page on the calendar and see that one of these key dates has arrived, we have no reason to be stressed out. Whether the topic is how much to spend on equipment, what to do with the kids over the winter break, or what’s going to be on the table for Thanksgiving, stress will be gone – as long as we’re intentional.
Planning is a simpler, and more common, way to speak of being intentional. It is easier to understand how to make a plan than it is to fathom the depths of “intentionality”. Putting together a good plan is much like walking across the room – you just take one step at a time.
Walking across the room was much easier before I had children. I didn’t need to be intentional to walk across the room pre-kiddos. However, in my current era of dolls, tea parties, and pointy-cornered Legos (OUCH!) – I need to be very intentional when I set out to cross the room.
Especially if I’m carrying a sleeping version of one of the aforementioned kiddos.
In that case, I need to plan each step from the beginning, which is easy – when the lights are on and I can see clearly all the way across the room. However, it is more common that I’m carrying a sleeping child because I don’t want to wake her, and turning on the lights is a good way to do just what I’m trying not to do. So, I often set out across a dark bedroom – the floor of which may or may not be (but probably is) covered with any variety of toys and debris.
At the beginning of a year, are the lights on? Can you see clearly across the year? Or, is the way dark?
Where this is concerned, business and home are both very similar – you can’t see out very far. That is, you may have a good idea of what the next couple of days or maybe even weeks look like, but odds are you can’t really tell what your life/work is going to throw at you much beyond that. So, you can’t really take off running across the year without expecting to step on a few sharp, and very painful Legos – which can be very stressful.
(Side note: I love Legos. They were some of my favorite toys as a kid, and they’re some of my kids’ favorite toys to play with still. They are wonderful for creativity and the imagination. And, they are horrible on bare feet.)
What can we do? We know there are some stressors ahead in each year. The problem is, we just don’t know when we will encounter them.
This is true.
Life throws stuff at us that we can’t foresee and that we just have to deal with as we encounter it. However, as we’ve just discovered, some of the “stressors” we have perceived in our path are not hurtling toward us as we might imagine, the are really just obstacles to navigate – they have been there the whole time. We’re the ones moving toward them.
The key is to think a step ahead.
You’re the one moving, so you’re the one who has to do the thinking. And, no, you can’t just stop moving. Just as my arms don’t have unlimited strength for holding my sleeping daughter until morning, so that a) I don’t have to wake her and b) I don’t risk stepping on a Lego (trust me I’ve contemplated it), we are all being pushed along on this conveyor belt called time.
Year-end isn’t moving. It is on the same day every year (unless your company is on a 52-53 week fiscal year, and I still have a hard time understanding those). For most of us, that day is December 31.
That happens to coincide with the time when most employees are taking the last of their use-it-or-lose-it vacation days. It also comes at the end of a busy holiday season.
This is not a surprise. This is an obstacle in your path.
If you take the time to plan – that is, think a step ahead – you can overcome this obstacle with minimal stress. What can you do today that will help you out tomorrow or next week? Just a step. You don’t know what you’ll encounter when you take that next step, so don’t plan so far ahead that you get stressed out when you can see something on your next step that you couldn’t see on your last one, or when you encounter something you didn’t expect.
It’s like the time we got home late one night, and my three year-old was sleeping soundly in the car. Like a good dad, I didn’t want to wake her (because she can be a terror when she doesn’t get enough sleep) so, I gently freed her from her car seat, picked her up and carried her through the dark house to her bedroom – stopping at the door to kick off my shoes so I didn’t track up the clean floor. I know where the majority of the furnishings in the house are, so I made it through most of the house without much thought. I did take care to slow down going through the living room, because I can’t be sure we actually got all of the toys cleaned up before we left.
When I reached her bedroom, though, I stopped. I had a decision to make.
Do I turn on the light and risk waking her? Or, do I make a plan to get her into bed without turning on the light? I knew we didn’t get her room cleaned before we left. I knew there had to be toys on the floor. But, what were they? Soft, squishy animals? Or, sharp, pointy, pain-inducing Legos? (Remember, I took off my shoes at the door.)
I chose to proceed in the dark.
Starting with my first step in the door, I planned where to put my right foot. I did my best to look around the 35 pounds of sleeping toddler to see what I could. Realizing that it was very dark, I gently swept my right foot side-to-side just over the surface of the carpet to do my best exploration before putting all my weight on that foot.
No toys that I could feel…
I steadily transferred my body weight to my right foot, hoping that I hadn’t missed anything…
Success! One step.
I repeated the process with my left foot and found a wooden block, which I successfully slid out of the way before transferring my weight to that foot.
Yes! I’ve got this. Just a few more step and…
Arrrgh! What the…
Hmm. Some ingenious spider sought to catch himself a big meal by making this (seemingly) huge web from the pull chain on the ceiling fan. I didn’t expect that. Now, I’ve got cobweb all over my face (how can one little spider wreak so much havoc in just a few hours!), and a sleeping toddler in my arms and who knows how many Legos just waiting to be stepped on and who knows how far before I can put her down and wipe this off my face!!!!!
Wait a minute. I know how far. The pull chain for the ceiling fan is halfway across the room. The bed is on the other side of the pull chain. Those things didn’t move. I can count on them being there.
No stress. I’ve got this.
The spider web is just an unexpected challenge. I can’t deal with it as long as my arms are full. I just need to plan out my next step so that I can successfully – and painlessly – navigate to the bed.
Right foot. Then, left foot. Then, right foot.
There’s the bed!
So, I tucked her in, did the best to wipe the spider’s web off my face and turned around to do the whole thing again, in reverse. (Although I didn’t have the web to deal with on the return trip. Sorry, spider.)
As we face the end of another year and all of the busyness that comes with it, we have got to be intentional. The dates on the calendar are there. They have been there. They’re not moving. We are moving toward them.
When confronted with the “stress” of year-end, just be intentional – think a step ahead and you’ll have the capacity to deal with the unexpected stressors that will undoubtedly come your way.
A few days lapsed between the time I wrote this and the time I posted it. In that time, I encountered another situation where I was barefoot, carrying a sleeping child across a pitch-black bedroom. Well, I had already written about thinking a step ahead, so my work here is done.
With no forethought, I set out across the room and blindly stepped on a hard, pointy, one-inch cube of wooden block that nearly caused me to drop my daughter. (I think I actually yelped in her ear, but she didn’t wake.)
The moral to this story: Taking a break from being intentional can be painful.