Why We Love (and Lament) Thanksgiving

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.

Serenity and yoga practicing,meditation at mountain range

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.





Summer Vacations Make Us Stronger. Here’s Why.

Summer vacations make us stronger. Period. Why?

Let’s cut to the chase. In ten short days, you’ll have a summer to enjoy.


Say that your goal numero uno this summer is landing a new gig (a new job, new client, etc.). Now let’s look at this goal in the context of the top three summer goals on your list:

  1. Land a new gig
  2. Visit the Taj Mahal

  3. Hang out with family at the beach for a week

We are tempted (in the wisdom of our modern society) to say that goals #2 and 3 are a distraction from goal #1. How can you play when you are supposed to be doing something more important? 

But if you look at the facts, visiting the Taj Mahal and finding a new gig have a lot in common.

How so? Each one requires you to envision, plan, execute and move out of your comfort zone in a big way.It’s not just the precious downtime of vacation that makes you stronger, it’s the mindset of creativity, openness, goal-setting and action. It’s also the stimulus and satisfaction that come from achieving what you set out to do.

Compare that to procrastinating at your desk, or letting your body leave the office while your brain stays virtually trapped there. How is that improving your mindset?

Even goal #3 of the beach, admittedly much less dramatic than a trip to the Taj Mahal, requires vision, planning and execution. It will also take you out of your comfort zone, unless you are fortunate to live at the shore or your business card currently reads “beach bum.” A trip to the beach requires focus and action, and it exposes you to a whole new set of information and challenges that you will never find at the office.
Hmmm, a day at the beach…. It’s not just hot sand and folding chairs. You may find something washed up on the shore that makes you say “what the heck is that?” And while your mind races through its catalog of information trying to make a match, the other problem you were looking to solve (your new gig) gets a hit in your brain, and your eureka moment arrives. You have figured out the missing piece to make real progress.

Compare again to procrastinating at your desk. No synapses firing wild. No catalog of information activated in your brain. Nope. Instead, the cycle is:

Guilt for not being productive. Boredom. More guilt. Repeat.

Maybe you can even make a new connection at the beach, someone who can answer the question of what that thing you saw actually is. (Eureka again?) And just maybe, in the way that fate and coincidence often play their hands, she might be exactly the right person to introduce you to the right person.

Need I mention this would not happen at your desk? Or if you miss the weird sea life thing and connection because you are mentally checked out?

Reframe summer: less guilt, more possibilities.

Stay in the moment. Vacation strong.

Anne Marie Segal is a business and career coach to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. 

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