So it’s Christmas time, Hanukkah time, the holiday season, a time of giving and receiving brightly wrapped gifts with ribbons and bows, all sorts of gifts from large to small, mundane gifts like screwdrivers and exotic gifts like $100-an-ounce truffles—but what about giving the gift of yourself?
As we get older, for many of us, that seems harder and harder to do. Over time we seem to hold back more and more. We seem to close up and harden. Oftentimes, this process of closing up and fitting in begins when we’re in school, and continues throughout our work life where we think we need to keep ourselves in line, fit in, and do our work so our employers, colleagues, customers, and clients will be happy with us, and we’ll get paid. As the years go by we play it safer and safer all the time.
Not all of us, but most of us, hold back one or another of our gifts. We withhold our love, or our passion, or our enthusiasm, or our ideas, or our smile, or our laughter, our creativity and artistry, our commitment, our dreams.
How many of us consider ourselves artists by the time we’re 50, and who wasn’t an artist in kindergarten? How much of ourselves we give up as the years go by if we’re not careful! How many of our gifts lie dormant within us, waiting to be shared?
My idea, this holiday season, is to begin to share your gifts more and more throughout the year.
“What,” you may be asking, “is he talking about? What gifts?”
And that’s where you begin. You need to ask yourself some questions and consider their answers seriously.
What are my gifts? How do I share them? How do I hold them back?
Why? Am I afraid? Too tired? Too unemployed? Too serious?
What price have I paid for not sharing my gifts?
How can I share my gifts more fully?
Before you can give your gifts to anyone else, you have to give them to yourself. You have to own the fact that you have gifts worth giving and that you want to give them.
And this can be hard.
“I have no gifts,” you might be saying, “and even if I did, why would I share them with you or anyone else? Bah, humbug.”
If you feel this way, and we all do to some extent, there’s probably a reason. Things didn’t go as you had planned. Something was taken from you. Someone laughed or tossed aside some part of you that you offered as a gift, so you closed up shop.
“That hurt. I’m not doing that again. Thank you, very much.”
With each of life’s cuts we scar a bit and close up more. In the process we lose sight of our gifts, of who we are and what we have to offer. We withhold our gifts and we suffer. We start to become more like Scrooge, and less like ourselves.
Dylan wrote, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”
One way we stop being born is by withholding our gifts. Giving of ourselves keeps us young and alive, no matter our age or life expectancy. As we birth our next gift, we give birth to ourselves.
You may be saying this guy is smoking dope or something stronger, but check it out. Who’s alive and who’s dead? The givers or the hoarders? The generous souls or the misers?
Look at where you are dying. There’s probably a gift you are withholding, or feel unable to give.
That’s it, you might say. It’s not that I don’t want to give it, but I don’t have anyone to receive it. Or I don’t know how to give it. Or if I put it out there, I might not be recognized for it. Worse still, they might laugh and reject it. It might not be good enough.
No one said it was going to be easy, but what’s your alternative? Are you going to figure out a way to share your gifts, or are you going to withhold them? Are you going to be busy being born, or busy dying?
Often, it’s our dreams we withhold the most, because that’s where we can really hurt. Better forget about dreams—but our buried dreams can be seen in the lines on our faces, and in our tired bodies. No one sees them better than our children and others who love us, and often they carry much of the weight. And this weight can seem heavier during this holiday season than at any other time of the year.
In the real world many dreams do not come true, at least not how you first dreamt them, but that doesn’t mean you need to have no hope, no dreams, nothing fresh going on. As you mature you learn to work with reality. Your unrealized dreams of singing on Broadway (perhaps unpursued, perhaps not) turn into the real hope of singing at a senior citizen’s home. Your dreams of writing the great American novel become the blog you write. Your dreams of becoming the next Jacques Cousteau become your weekend walks on the beach exploring the tidepools with your kids, and volunteering at the Sea Center.
You rave on, where and how you can. You don’t just look for the work that is your passion; you bring your passion to your work. You show up like an artist at the restaurant where you cook, and people can feel it and come back. You run plumbing lines that would make Michelangelo proud.
At work and at play (there might not be a significant difference for the most successful amongst us) the happiest and most successful people are those who show up and share their gifts most fully. This is true whether you’re a lawyer, plumber, builder, teacher, real estate agent, restaurateur, winemaker, artist, or stockbroker.
It’s harsh news to some, but death is coming. Do you want it to come before it’s time? You get to choose. You get to do the work of putting yourself fully into your life as best you can. Remember, it’s gifts you are giving. It’s not about you. It’s about something or someone outside yourself.
We all have gifts to give. We can smile. We can care. We can listen. We can encourage. We can love. We can create. We can help. We can praise. We can share. We can support. We can acknowledge. We can ask. We can teach. We can learn. We can give. We can receive. We can sing. We can lead. We can follow. We can be open. We can hold. We can envision. We can celebrate. We can create. We can dance. We can design. We can cook. We can offer excellent service. We can mean it. We can do our best. We can forgive. We can remember. We really can do all these things and infinitely more.
So, it’s Christmas, it’s Hanukkah, it’s the Festival of Lights, it’s the holiday season. Give what really matters. Come home to yourself. Celebrate the gifts you find there, and then share with the rest of us.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (805) 680-5572.