Thanksgiving, as it is practiced in the countries that celebrate it, is a nationwide day of gratitude. We are called to stop our busy lives and reflect on what really matters to us most. Extra credit is granted if we actually spend time with the people who matter to us, doing the things that matter to us and living in the present moment.
Something inevitably gets in the way. A relative makes a misplaced comment. A loved one would rather watch the football game than engage in heartfelt conversation. (Or, conversely, a loved one would rather talk than turn on the TV.) The food isn’t ready on time. We eat too much and feel like we are going to burst. The dog steals the pie right off the table. A work issue draws us away from the celebration.
Or occasionally, a true, pressing emergency arises.
Each of these distractions, disappointments and interruptions can take us away from the present moment by highlighting a gap between how we imagine Thanksgiving and the reality of what we are experiencing. I know that has happened to me. For many years, I had an idealized version of the holiday, and I worked very hard to meet it.
Distractions, disappointments and interruptions can reveal the gap between our idealized and real experiences.
This year, I stopped working so hard. In fact, I put aside the “work” mindset altogether. I took each moment as it came, each interruption as an opportunity to experiment and each person as they arrived that day.
The dog ate all the pie…? Now what?
If you will laugh about it next year, laugh about it now.
It would be superficial and misleading to say that this mental shift was achieved in one day. I have spent most of 2019 – and indeed, good parts of prior years – peeling back the layers of why I feel the need to work so hard. If I were to universalize the main discovery, it is this:
To simply be present with who and where we are, we need first to be content with who and where we are.
We love (and lament) Thanksgiving because it brings us face to face with this truth. It is the same with every holiday, celebration or tradition that purports to stop time. If we are stuck in cognitive and emotional dissonance – knowing and feeling to our core that our outward life conflicts with what we want and know to be true for our lives – we will not be able to live in the moment. We will constantly be trying to fix things, but they will be the wrong things, because we have not yet closed the gap between our ideal and reality.
When we are not content with our reality, we set up a dichotomy. We imagine that somewhere far away, we could experience a reality that would truly allow us to experience the present moment. Yet the only way to bring that far away place and truth into our current reality is to first be content with where we are today.
Otherwise, we can climb every mountaintop but find no inner peace. We can transverse the globe or drive across three states to visit relatives, friends or sacred spaces yet return tired and spent rather than refreshed. We can do lots of “work” to create an idealized holiday, while we would be better served by embracing the day. We can continue to leave no stone unturned, on a restless quest, ignoring the rich stones in our own gardens.
As we move through the final days of November, turn the page for December and start the New Year, let’s look ahead but also stay present in NOW. Whether it is Thanksgiving weekend for you now, or a regular weekday now, how can you allow your reality to be closer to your vision? What large or small steps can you take to grant yourself freedom, forgiveness, expansive breath and emotional space?
What large or small steps can you take to grant yourself freedom, forgiveness, expansive breath and emotional space?
In my coaching practice, when clients wish to change jobs, we often start with what they can change in their current situation. Sometimes it is an outward change, such as asking for more responsibility in a competency that is highly relevant for their careers and in which they wish to grow. Sometimes it is an inward change, such as creating better boundaries or growing their influence across (and outside of) the organization. We also ask what is working, so they do not lose sight of what they already have.
Taking it back to the holiday season, what feels like an unsurmountable gap between your ideal and reality? How can you close that gap? How can you reflect on the lessons of yesterday and today to create a present moment that serves you?
Feel free to leave a question or comment below.
Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, business and resume writer and author of two well-received books on interviewing and career development. She served as a corporate attorney for 15 years before launching her coaching practice, including roles at White & Case LLP and a hedge and private equity fund manager. Anne Marie is based in Stamford, CT and serves an international clientele.
Image above: Adobe Images.