Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentines Day, birthdays, anniversaries and other holidays have exponentially grown to revolve around consumerism and excessive behavior. We feel we have an obligation, rather than an opportunity to give. This leads to stress, resentment and spending beyond one’s means.
That may be about as far removed from the original purpose of these holidays as we could get. Like most everything else, major corporations and much of the rest of society has successfully monetized these formerly meaningful events and sucked a lot of the beauty out of them.
But just like anything else in life, we can take it back any time we choose.
As a family, we are making a conscious decision to start our own holiday traditions that are more congruent with our ethos and consequent lifestyle.
For us, holidays are a time of reflection on the many blessings we have. It’s a time to be aware and grateful for the deep, meaningful relationships we have, and to invest dedicated time in them. It is not a time where we stress or feel obligated to consume, spend money, attend every holiday party or gorge ourselves on foods we normally wouldn’t touch. (Except Eggnog. I love Eggnog.)
For holidays, we give a gift of time, art, gratitude or service. We give from the heart. Gifts that reflect our attention, care and awareness of those we love.
We may give a coupon for a date or plan a family vacation. We may create a piece of art like a painting, poem or a letter of appreciation. Or we might make an herb garden together. We gift dedicated time to each other. Either in the time we spent creating a gift or the time we will spend with each other.
We may also give a gift of philanthropic service by donating time or money to our favorite charity on behalf of the person we are gifting to.
We are not against gift giving at all. Every day we pay attention to what our loved ones care about. We love to give gifts from the heart. Throughout the year, we may see things we want to buy for a friend or family member. Something we know will bring a smile to their face.
When we do, we don’t wait on a holiday to give it. We just buy it or make it and give it as a random act of caring and kindness. That way the gift is always given as a genuine gift from the heart, and never out of a feeling of obligation.
Have you ever received a gift from someone at a random time? We are usually flabbergasted that someone gave us a gift outside of a designated gift-giving day. It’s an entirely different experience than when you receive a gift on a holiday, anniversary or birthday. It’s memorable, impacting and meaningful.
You know you’re on the right track when the act of giving outweighs the value that the recipient puts on the actual gift.
Holidays and other special occasions are about spending dedicated time with one another, and we are committed, as a family, to taking our holidays back and making them our own; keeping them sacred. This is the tradition we want to teach our children and pass down the family line.
Imagine what the world might look like if everyone rejected the tradition of stress, excess and consumption and took their holidays back. Every revolution starts with one person making a commitment to change. It could be you, and me, and….
Relationships are what I care about most. I believe relationships are most profoundly influenced by your level of care. It’s how others experience you.
I talk to Francois (our son) quite often about his reputation, and his trail. How do people experience you? What do they remember about you? What is your story to the world? What people experience from you is the foundation of your relationship with them.
Every aspect of life, from the way you live at home to the way you operate in business and in social settings is affected by the way you treat people.
At home, I take the time to put my things away, keep the kitchen and bathroom tidy and so on. I am deliberate about it. We share cleaning duties, for sure, but I always take time to clean up after myself and not leave a trail. Why? Because I respect my wife and value our relationship enough to do so. It matters.
Though many would disagree, I believe that the way we conduct ourselves at home is more important than how we conduct ourselves in business or social environments. Home is where we create the habits that represent the foundation of every other aspect of life. If my home is untidy, most of the rest of my life is too. And so on.
Leaving a trail of selfishness behind me at home just tells my family that I don’t care enough about them to even clean up after myself. I’m outrageously busy, but I make time because it’s important. I’ve made a habit out of it. And that habit says, “I care”. That’s important, in all aspects of life.
I treat business relationships the same way. Steve Jobs was one of the greatest innovators and artists of our lifetime. But he left a wake of broken relationships and crushed coworkers along the way. That’s cheap, lazy and selfish. And it represents a distorted value system. That’s disappointing.
Things don’t always work out, but I handle relationships with grace and respect no matter the circumstances or outcomes. I don’t burn bridges and I always show respect, no matter if it’s the CEO or the delivery guy. I value them the same.
So what does your trail look like? Is it full of respectful, meaningful relationships? Is it tidy or messy? Are you proud of your trail? Is it something you would use as an example to your children, friends, employees or colleges and feel good about? If you are in leadership of any kind, you are leading by example whether you intend to or not.
Your trail is your most telling reflection. It’s the story of who you truly are, not just who you say you are or pretend to be. Take time to be deliberate about it. If you’re not proud of your trail, change it. Start now.
People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.
Click here for the full Steve Jobs article in Wired that was the impetus for this post.
People expect most conversations will remain on the surface and that you won’t stray from the norm; that you’ll keep it safe. When you make a bold comment about someone’s new look, weight loss, attitude or lifestyle, it rattles them a bit. This level of engagement can be remarkably profound.
I used to be embarrassed to make comments that were overtly kind and seemingly out of the blue. I feel it often, but saying it can be scary and intimidating. I would fear that people were going to think I’m nuts, or that I’ve watched Jerry McGwire one too many times.
But I do it. I’ve made a habit of it. Why? Because I’ve seen the power of a boldly kind and caring comment. I’ve seen the impact it can make, and the joy it brings into the world.
Lots of people notice these opportunities but don’t say anything because it’s too uncomfortable or risky. “What if people think I’m weird?” I’ve got news for you. We’re all weird. Why not use that dynamic to bring more love into the world?
I notice the nuances of life around me because I care. I take the risk of being boldly kind because I care enough to forego my own comfort for the possibility of bringing more joy into someone else’s life.
It took a lot of time and conditioning to create this habit. But now it’s not so scary; it’s fulfilling. And lots of people that know me well have come to expect it from me. I’ve never looked back and regretted being boldly kind with my comments. Never.
People are often scared of engaging too deeply with others because too many variables come into play. It could all go wrong. It could result in hours of conversation you weren’t prepared for or willing to engage in. It could make you look stupid.
Or, it could bless someone immensely and enhance your relationship with them. It could result in something more beautiful than you ever imagine. It could give you strength to show more kindness to others.
People are typically pleasantly shocked when I make a comment like this. They think, “Wow, he noticed, AND took the opportunity to mention it to me”. Remember, most people are scared of making these types of comments. So when they experience it from you, they recognize what you’ve chosen to overcome in order to deliver it.
If you have the opportunity to say something boldly kind to someone, go for it. Say something extraordinary. Chances are, it will bless you just as much as it does the person you’re complimenting.
The more I experience life, the more I appreciate the unexplainable. I’ve been trying to teach Francois some of the nuances of the love I feel for my wife. Not an easy task, especially when explaining to an 18-year-old Rwandan boy from the village that’s never experienced love.
When he asked me what it’s like to love Ilea, I said, “I could spend the whole night explaining the things I love about her, but I could not explain what I feel in my heart. It’s unexplainable, beyond my words”. This resulted in hours of conversation that has continued since.
The love I feel for my wife is not something I have the ability to articulate in its entirety. If Shakespeare struggled with it, I doubt I’m going to nail it. I don’t have the words to encapsulate it.
The feeling I get from sitting on the beach, overlooking the Indian Ocean with Africa as the backdrop is more magnificent than I could ever describe. When Francois chooses to serve someone else for no other reason than him seeing a need and wanting to help, I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that I am a part of his journey.
Seeing a pregnant mama, knowing that she is choosing to grow a little human inside her womb; that is unexplainable. It’s beauty at it’s purest.
The feeling I get after a hard day of work or a finishing a major project is something I value above most all other feelings. The feeling of understanding your purpose, fulfilling your calling and serving others is more profound than I can explain.
The miracle of how we were created, unique in every way. The way someone can live as profoundly and powerfully as the likes of Mandela, Maya Angelou, Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Bono; that is beyond explanation.
In my experience, the greatest things in life are the ones we have the most difficulty explaining. Francois had a hard time understanding that at first. He wanted to know why. How does that make sense? I explained that it doesn’t have to make sense at all. The true gift is when we can recognize the beauty in something that is beyond explanation.
When you can recognize the beauty in the unexplainable, you’ve found something truly extraordinary. I find it in my relationships with my wife, with Francois, my family, the ocean, Africa, the stars, the moon and in serving others.
It is no longer my desire to figure everything out or find a way for A + B to = C. I’ve learned to appreciate the unexplainable beauty in life. There is a great peace that comes from that. And from that, I find more joy than I ever did from trying to quantify and reconcile life.
There is great beauty is in the unexplainable.
Now, as an adult, I start out every year by listening to this book on my iPod. It’s narrated by Mr. Carnegie himself, which I think makes it a little more personal. As the book is largely about more effective communication, I appreciate hearing the author deliver it with his own inflections.
Mr. Carnegie wrote this book in 1936, but the principles are timeless. There is no greater character trait than that of someone committed to listening, understanding and communicating effectively.
If you are interesting, people will like you, for sure. But if you are genuinely interested, people will love you. Be interested in others. Listen. Respect others enough to try and understand their perspective and desires. Then react with kindness and grace.
Of all the principles I’ve ever learned about business and relationships, this is the most relevant and effective advice I’ve received.
Thanks Mr. Carnegie, for being wise enough to write this book. And thank you dad, for being a living example of these powerful principles.
Gandhi famously and profoundly posited, “be the change you want to see”. This practice of being the change is just as applicable to relationships, leadership and many other facets of life as it is to good will towards mankind.
The best leaders are ones that inspire and lead by example. They are on the front lines, exemplifying the actions they want their followers to practice; they don’t just preach, they walk the talk. They are being the change in their followers that they want to see.
We all have moments where a friend, spouse, employee, boss or otherwise shows us a negative attitude. My gut reaction is to respond with a similarly hostile attitude. That’s natural, but not typically the best way to resolve the issue.
My father always asked, “who’s in control of your attitude”? That infuriated me as a child, but he had a good point. Gandhi was certainly in control of his attitude and he had a lot more to complain about than I.
I know have the ability to take the high road if I really want to resolve the issue, as opposed to just being stubborn. I can change my attitude to reflect the attitude I wish I was experiencing from someone else.
Otherwise I’m just showing the other person that I’m more concerned with being right, being heard, feeling validated, or winning. That’s usually an uphill battle. But if my goal is to move beyond a disagreement and come to a mutual understanding, I can just be the attitude I want to experience.
This is much easier said than done, but it works. Stop arguing; think for a moment how you wish the other person would act, and then act that way yourself.
If you want to really throw someone off, just change your attitude in mid argument. Start being nicer and more agreeable. It’s profoundly disarming, and often the recipient feels obligated to reciprocate with the same positive attitude. Problem solved.
If you can’t do this, you might want to reflect on what you’re really trying to achieve. Just winning an argument for the sake of winning is lame, and doesn’t often solve the real issue at hand.
If you’re real goal is to solve the issue, you’ll have to exhibit some serious will power and force yourself to smile, be agreeable and maybe even compromise a bit.
Lead by example and be the attitude you want to experience.
I realize how blessed I am to have a happy marriage, to a wife I admire and respect, that inspires me to be a better man, and that I am madly in love with.
We have an adopted son, Francois, from Rwanda that we love dearly. He calls me “father”. I am teaching him to be a man of integrity and strength. He is teaching me patience, understanding and perspective.
After four years in Rwanda and one year back in the US, we move to Mombasa, Kenya, indefinitely. We came here with $700 in hand and some substantial debt, believing we could make it work. We had no income and no promise of work. We did not know a soul in Mombasa before we moved here. We had no relationships set up for our business (KEZA). Every bit of logic said this move would be a disaster. But we had each other, big dreams, determination and a lot of faith.
Four months later, we have a group of friends that have become family to us. Francois is moving here from Rwanda to live with us. We move into our new condo on the beach in two days. We’ve set up a partnership with an amazing artisan workshop that supports the handicapped, and I’m finally in the design room again.
We run an ethical fashion label that affords us the opportunity to work with amazing people, from Africa to New York to London. We’re showcasing the beauty and excellence of Africa, which brings us great joy. We’ve just been asked by the Mombasa Coast Tourism Association to head up the Swahili Coast Fashion Group, as an effort to bolster the fashion industry along the coast.
We started our philanthropy consulting company (Angaza) in January, hoping we could figure out a way to make a living by helping others bring their altruistic endeavors into fruition. It worked. We’ve got business coming in regularly and it’s afforded us the opportunity to play a vital role in so many beautiful projects that foster a more peaceful and just world.
We have purpose, love, passion, beautiful relationships and we live exactly where we want to live. We love the rawness and beauty of the Swahili Coast culture. And the landscape is breathtaking.
We have many people that have supported us along the way; that have invested in our lives and specifically in our character. We are grateful for all of you that believe in us and encourage us daily.
There is nothing logical or academic about how we’ve achieved this lifestyle that we love so much. We literally chose the life we wanted and believed in it until it manifested before us. We are still shocked sometimes at how things continue to come together, despite the odds.
By most people’s standards, the way we live seems like complete lunacy. But we love it. It is a commitment to love and faith that the universe is always working to bless us that has gotten us here. It’s a minute by minute decision to believe this way. And God has blessed us beyond what we were even able to cook up in our dreams.
Love manifests love. It’s as simple as that.
I believe that most anything worth having or achieving typically comes as a result of discipline.
I work out daily because I want my body to perform optimally. Optimal performance helps me achieve the things I believe are most important. When I was learning Kinyarwanda, I disciplined myself to speak it when it was much easier to use a translator.
I’ve poured my heart and soul into many entrepreneurial businesses over the years, making many sacrifices along the way. Sacrifice, in and of itself, implies an act of discipline. In many ways, discipline is synonymous with perseverance.
Conditioning myself to employing a worldview perspective is a discipline that affords me a great deal of peace and balance. I’ve disciplined myself to always see the positive in life. That’s what I default to first.
It takes a lot of discipline to foster a healthy relationship. If I don’t prevent myself from reacting in anger or frustration, it causes serious problems. I have to choose to remain calm, understanding and to always positioning relationships above all else in life. This discipline has provided me with an absolutely beautiful marriage and many thriving relationships that I cherish.
Can you think of anything negative that comes from self-discipline?
Discipline leads to achievement. Consistent achievement leads to self-confidence, which leads to a higher quality of life and a sense of purpose. In the absence of discipline, I feel life is living me, rather than me deliberately seizing each moment of the day.
MLK and Gandhi were disciplined. Even the mere knowledge of being disciplined empowers me to do more and be more.
Discipline is an ongoing, deliberate commitment. It’s a direct reflection of your ethos and intention.
I believe the sweetest things in life are a result of discipline. And when I operate from that perspective, disciplining myself to achieve these things gets easier and easier.
It provides a path to achieving the things I want in life. Thriving relationships, a strong body, self-confidence, inner peace, life balance, understanding and wisdom are all the result of discipline.
The more discipline I employ in my life, the sweeter life becomes.
How does discipline play a role in your life? Can you connect your level of discipline to your quality of life?
Most people want more money, more time, better relationships, to loose more weight, to work out more, to finally go on that trip to Africa, or whatever the case may be.
But when it comes to putting in the work, things change. We want the results of having a daily workout routine, but fail to discipline ourselves to do it. We want to travel the world, but not the work that leads to financial ability to do so.
For every excuse we have for not doing something, we can look back in history and find someone even more disadvantaged that did it anyway. Think of the Olympic athletes with prosthetic limbs, the Helen Kellers of the world, and so on. They wanted it, they believed and they chose to make it happen, no matter what.
We lock ourselves into imaginary boundaries from which we do not stray. Civilizations have done this since the beginning of humanity. But no matter where you come from, the education you never obtained, the family you never had, or the circumstances you are in, you can choose to follow your dreams. Just stop doing what you’ve always done and take steps in the direction you want to go.
From the way we treat people around us, to our careers, to our humanitarian endeavors, to our character, to our weight, it is a series of choices we make based on what is most important to us.
It’s a lot easier to just say, “that’s impossible” or “I don’t have enough money/education/time”. But I believe we all ultimately do exactly what we want to do; it’s just a matter of how badly we want it. And I don’t believe it’s any more complicated that that.