Make Room

mcleer-guysI keep a folder on my iPhone along the bottom row for the apps that I use the most aside from email, phone, and text. The folder title is always the “theme” I pick for the upcoming year every New Years. For the past 12 months, that folder’s name has been “Go Get It”.

I chose that theme on purpose. I had a lot of actionable items for 2016 that I wanted to reach. The biggest one was a new job – which I started in July of this year. I also had some goals within both my old and new job that I wanted to reach, and also had a few personal goals I wanted to go after.

But that wasn’t the only theme I considered for 2016.

Those of us in the “twentysomething” age range have a terrible habit of never making room for the things that really count in this world. Or at least it takes us a fair amount of time before we realize it.

I realized it in the second half of 2015. It was around August and I had to ask my mother when we were going to go to Atlanta for our annual Thanksgiving with our extended family. My mother responded with something like, “We’re no where close to planning that.” Of course they weren’t – it was August. But I was having to schedule events at my previous job that far in advance and if we wanted to do Thanksgiving the week before the actual holiday, I needed to know so I could “close” the facility for any rentals or major events. It was around this moment that I realized something had to change in my life.

I had let my professional ambition dominate my life in a way that was impacting relationships with people I care most about. It wasn’t just Thanksgiving, it was committing to birthday parties, weddings, or even dinner with friends and family. And it wasn’t just the job I was in, it was the choices I would make that limited my time with those around me.

When it came time to set my annual theme though, I opted for “Go Get It”. The ambitious side of my personality took the wheel for 2016. Whenever something professionally or personally revealed itself as something to “go after”, I did.

But while reflecting on 2016 this month, it’s clear that “Go Get It” was not the real theme for the year. Rather the second theme I had on my list, “Make Room” was.

Over the year, I worked hard on creating a better work / life balance. I made room for my family, made room for my friends, made room for new people in my life, and even made room for hobbies.

I made a conscious effort to choose to experience more of life rather than having those experience find, or force, their way into my life.

I still stand firm that “Go Get It” was an appropriate theme for my 2016 – I would not have been able to “Make Room” if I had not had gone out and “gotten it”. But at the end of the day, the real message 2016 has delivered to me is that it is important to find room for the things that actually matter in this world.

I don’t know what the folder on my phone will be titled for 2017 yet. I don’t decide on a theme until after Christmas. But I do know it will be a theme that capitalizes on what 2016 has taught me and will push me to always make more room.

When the Floor Creaks

scooby-dooIt’s a typical series of events. Scooby-Doo and his gang of meddling teenagers enter a dark and gloomy house late at night. They make their way through spider webs, pass a few mysteriously lit candles amongst a deserted dinner table, and slowly make their way around the house in search of the truth. At some point, one of the crew members steps on a stair, or walks off of the carpet, and the floor creaks.

Much like episodes of Scooby-Doo, our lives are defined by what we do when we hear the floor creak. Do we run for the door? Do we freeze up? Or do we keep moving to find what we came for?

Unfortunately, too many of us too often turn away and head back home to safety. We carve out a safe space to exist where nothing unfamiliar can touch us, or we develop a pattern of behavior to cope with the thought of what may be up the staircase.

But we can’t keep doing that. At some point, whether it’s by choice or by force, we have to keep moving when the floor creaks. If we never go up that staircase, or never walk off the carpet, we miss out on opportunities to learn, to grow, and maybe even find what we came for.

Sometimes, you find that the dark hallway is really a dead end. Sometimes you find thirty more rooms to explore. And sometimes, you find exactly what you needed even though it isn’t what you expected. But you’ll never know if you don’t try to move forward.

Don’t flee every time the floor creaks.

Spread Joy

947c8cbc-852e-4336-b858-6d8697821c96At a recent meeting in DC, I sat at a table with nine other colleagues from around the country. Our topic for the day was “The Future of Arts & Creativity in America.” Conversations throughout the day wavered from the impact of the election on the arts to cultural shifts in community arts initiatives, to diversity in audiences and leadership.

At one point, we were asked to narrow our conversation down to three questions, developed by our table-mates, and dig into them a bit. Our table only had two questions though – one dealing with working on making audience members reflect the community members better and one on creating a better pipeline for arts leadership.

So, we were left with seven minutes without a question to answer. What to do?

One person at our table posed this question to the group:

What is one way that you plan on spreading joy?

During this time of year, spreading joy can be a little overhyped. There’s this pressure to use the world around us to spread joy – leveraging material items to produce a joyous response from another person. Pile on top an unnecessary competition we enter into against each other in trying to create the greatest joy in those we each love.

Spreading joy becomes a chore this time of year doesn’t it?

But it doesn’t have to be. And it shouldn’t be. Joy comes from us giving something to a person who otherwise would not be able to obtain it otherwise. And what’s the great “something” you can give to spread joy?

Time.

Spend time with your parents. Spend time with your siblings. Spend time with your friends. Spend time with those you love.

More than anything, time is the gift that spreads joy. Because time is not infinite. Time is the most valuable asset we have in our lives. When someone spends time with another person, they are giving a part of their life to you that both of you can never get back or return or exchange.

You can mail a new bag to your friend across town, but you can’t mail an hour of your time at a coffee shop.

Time eventually runs out. People move, friendships and relationships end, and people exit your life. But spending your own time with another person or with a group of people is the best way of spreading joy, regardless of how much time is left on the clock.

How will I be spreading joy this season?

This year, and every year for the last 5 years, I volunteer almost every night for my community’s Christmas Festival. It’s a 16-day festival that centers around classic horse-drawn carriage rides around one of the city’s most decorated neighborhoods. I help get people on and off the carriage rides. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s cold, but it’s worth my time.

Why? Because for the 20 or so hours I spend loading and unloading carriage over the next few weeks, I see families and friends share in their own act of spreading joy – spending time with each other. I’ve seen at least one proposal happen each year, watching a nervous young fellow buy all 16 tickets for the carriage, hop on with his girlfriend, and come back 20 minutes later with a future wife. I’ve seen groups of friends, of all ages, share in an annual tradition to jump start their Christmas. And I’ve even seen my own family spend their time selling carriage ride tickets, volunteering alongside me, and even all five of us taking the time to spend time together, riding a carriage.

Spread joy this season, by spending time.