I’m Not Buying My Kids A Single Gift This Christmas

 

Stack Of Handcrafted Gift Boxes

It’s true. I am not buying my kids anything this Christmas.

Not one sweater.

Not one electronic thingamajig.

No Word-of-the-Day 2015 calendar.

No Guinness Book of World Records.

No iTunes gift cards stocking stuffers (I mean, it’s all streaming music up in here, anyway).

No, I’m not purchasing any of those things this year.

Instead, my kids – almost 22 years old and nearly 19 years old) – and I are going to have an experience.

Or, more likely, a whole set of experiences.

Because instead of exchanging gifts, we’re going on a trip this Christmas.

To some place they’ve never been, and I’ve only visited briefly for work. A place with great history and a wonderful climate and world-class food.

A place that’s easy to get to and relatively affordable. Because we’re not Kardashians, you know.

It’s a place where we can all kick back from school, work and deadlines to just…be together.

And we’re being thoughtful about it. The plan is that each of us will plan one outing during the trip – and pick up the check – as a gift for the others.

Because when it’s all said and done, will any of us remember some electronic thingamajig or will we remember the three of us stumbling upon an amazing street corner concert and dancing like fools?

I have to tell you, for the first time in my adult life my holiday stress level is so low it’s hardly measurable.

Sure, there are some things I’ve lovingly sent to folks – a shopping process which feels very happy because it’s a delight, rather than a chore.

And, OK, you might think my family would feel short-changed because there’s very little under our Christmas tree, or that our Christmas spirit would be nil because why bother decorating if you’re not going to be home?

But quite the opposite has happened.

The house is more decorated than ever – because I’ve had the time to do it.

Christmas songs are on a continual loop on Spotify. Harmonies are happening.

The See’s candy box is in its usual place of reverence on the kitchen counter.

“Love, Actually” has been viewed.

And Christmas cards are done, stamped and sent.

(That last one right there is a Christmas miracle, I tell you. A true Christmas miracle.)

So, yeah, I’m not purchasing anything at the mall or online or from a passing peddler for my kids this year.

Instead, I’m giving them memories.

Which, if you want to know the truth, is my favorite self-gift, too.

 

 

 

What Do We Tell Our Sons?

 

Detail Knight Armor

Is there really anything we can tell our small sons that they don’t already know about girls?

Shall we tell them that they can be friends with girls? I think they already know that from school.

Should we tell them that girls can be excellent athletes? Our boys are probably on a co-ed team right now and everybody knows Sophie is the best player they’ve got, anyway.

Should we tell them that girls can be astronauts and engineers and poets and doctors and lawyers and moms and governors and Senators and anything at all?

Sure, we could tell our small sons those things – and have our boys say, “Duh, tell me something I don’t know”.

Girls as peers is their reality.

After the overwhelming response to last week’s post, What Do We Tell Our Daughters?, I did some thinking.

Do we need to have a serious talk about girls and their abilities with every boy under the age of twelve – boys who are experiencing a much different world than did their fathers and grandfathers?

Or do we really need to talk directly to the men in the survey? Men thirty-three to sixty-seven?

I mean, they are probably someone’s son, or were at some point. So let me talk about these guys – our big sons – and all the people who love them.

And believe me – I love men. In every facet of their wonderful complexity.

Many years ago I read a book which was so insightful, so helpful, that I reached out to the author to say “thank you for writing this book, you are amazing, did I say thank you?” That book was What Could He Be Thinking by Dr. Michael Gurian. Mike became a friend and I’ve relied on him over the years for research-based insights. He was also a guest on my podcast twice, here and here.

In fact, when wrote about this subject in 2009, (in a post which you might enjoy at this moment: What Do Men Want?) I explored Mike’s idea that all men view themselves as heroes on a quest - and that’s a really important foundational piece when we try to figure out why so many men surveyed by Harvard expect their female partner to subordinate her career and to be the primary caregiver for their children.

My friend Dr. Gurian suggests that the male quest is about achievement and status and it’s biologically wired via the testosterone, vasporession and other hormones influencing their minds and bodies. In his book, he quotes a 42-year old male pediatrician as saying,

I admire my wife, who can take ten years off work and just focus on raising children. Even I, who love kids and have devoted myself to them, can’t see myself separating my job from my life. If I didn’t have my work, my family would not have a reason to love me. I know that sounds strange, but that’s they way I feel. I need to be doing something to make them proud of me.”

I’ve heard this same sentiment expressed by many of my male clients. And I hear another thing from them – so many men feel like their quest is very solitary. They are alone, fighting the good fight, overcoming the odds, doing everything they can to achieve and make a mark.

For many men, work is the way they identify who they are – alone, against the odds, proving something. And other men in the workplace are worthy competitors who help a man measure his success.

But today, there are women in the mix. Talented, educated women who have things they want to accomplish in their own careers. They bring plenty to the table – skills, expertise, perspective and, yes, drive.

And here’s the deal: Today, a good woman can help a good man reach his goals – not as a meek help-meet, but as a hero in her own right.

In What Do Men Want, I suggested that all men see themselves as Luke Skywalker – a hero on a quest – and we all know that while they gave Princess Leia a weapon, she didn’t shoot very well.

But times have changed, and now we have Katniss Everdeen who happens to be a very good shot. And she has Gale, and Peeta, and Haymitch – all good men – who support her, and she supports them in turn.

She is not subordinate in any way, and yet a revolution is fought and won.

So, this Katniss analogy right here? This is what I would tell the men in the study:

All the women in your life have the ability to be the strong, courageous, warrior partner you need to fulfill your quest.

When given half the chance, your female partner will have your back whether it’s at work, or at home.

Because she really wants you to achieve your quest – you’re life’s mission – and all she’s asking is that you want the same thing for her.

 

What Do We Tell Our Daughters?

 

 

My daughter, Grace, is in her first year of college at a very competitive school. To qualify for admission, she took nine Advanced Placement credits in high school, captained two varsity sports teams, went to regionals in the science fair and wrote, directed and performed a one-person play.

Excited group of graduates in their graduation dayShe’s taking sixteen credits in her first semester of college and has begun talking about the best graduate studies for her career goals.

Her female friends, also at good schools, were similarly focused in high school and are achieving in college. They plan to go to medical school, to get PhDs, to excel.

This is what we want for our daughters, isn’t it? That they can be anything they set their minds to? That if they work hard then the sky is the limit? That there is no boundary to what they can achieve with their lives?

And yet.

And yet, here comes a new study from researchers at Harvard Business School that shows high-achieving women don’t feel a great deal of satisfaction in how their lives have turned out.

To tell you the truth, once I read the study I had to take a few days to process and understand it because it rocked so many of my assumptions.

You see, the researchers sampled 25,000 graduates of the Harvard Business School and found an enormous gap in expectations between male graduates and female graduates. It looked like this (for the Gen X group age 32-48):

- 61% of men expected their careers to take precedence over their wife’s career

- 70% of men reported that their careers did take precedence over their wife’s career

- 25% of women expected their husband’s career to take precedence over theirs

- 40% of women reported that their careers took a backseat to their husband’s

That’s a lot of disappointed women.

Think about it – they went to Harvard Business School. They expected to have a career parallel to their husband’s career – but…they didn’t.

There’s another question the researchers asked which is relevant – and it’s about child care:

- 78% of men expected their wives to handle primary responsibility for child care

- 86% of men reported that their wife was the primary caregiver for their children

- 50% of women expected to be the primary caregiver

- 65% found themselves doing so

So the majority of women expect a career-leveling partnership with their husbands, while the majority of men actually…don’t.

Women expected they’d be 50-50 partners with their spouse when it came to childcare, but men didn’t share that expectation.

It manifests itself this way: Men report greater satisfaction with their professional lives than do women. Across the board. Women feel stymied when it comes to having meaningful work and professional accomplishments. They feel like they haven’t had the chance to grow professionally the way they’d like to.

I wonder if part of the reason women are paid less than men for the same work is because the person deciding who gets paid how much is a guy who brings his own views to the table, thinking a man’s salary is “must have” while a woman’s salary is “nice to have”. Maybe women aren’t promoted because subconsciously the boss thinks she’ll step back and subordinate her career to her husband’s if he needs to relocate for his job. Because aren’t men’s jobs more important? And all women are primarily taking care of kids?

There’s a big, untrue belief that women want to opt out of their careers to care for children. The researchers write:

Our survey data and other research suggest that when high-achieving, highly educated professional women leave their jobs after becoming mothers, only a small number do so because they prefer to devote themselves exclusively to motherhood; the vast majority leave reluctantly and as a last resort, because they find themselves in unfulfilling roles with dim prospects for advancement. The message that they are no longer considered ‘players’ is communicated in various, sometimes subtle ways: They may have been stigmatized for taking advantage of flex options or reduced schedules, passed over for high-profile assignments, or removed from projects they once led.”

I also wonder if the reason so many of my fabulous, gorgeous, achieving female friends are still single is because a guy subsconsiously thinks, “She’ll never put her career on hold for me” or “She’s more successful than I want my wife to be.” If my hunch is true, how sad is that?

So what do we tell our daughters? Do we tell them to work hard, do well and excel in their chosen fields – to maybe end up graduating from the storied Harvard Business School – only to have to a secondary, unfulfilling career? Or to stay single their whole lives? Or, if they want to be truly successful, to never have kids?

And what do we tell our sons? Do we tell them that their work is always going to be the most important thing in their marriage? That women’s careers don’t matter? That good fathering amounts to less than a part-time gig?

Or do we take a deep breath and start thinking and talking differently? Talking about individual needs, the amazing power of true, loving partnerships and the joy that comes from allowing one another to be at their best – whether that looks like someone staying at home and someone going to work, or both going to work, or both starting freelance gigs so they can parent the way they want? And maybe thinking about how to best utilize people in the workplace based on their accomplishments and abilities without a thought to gender?

It’s a conversation we need to have, and a mindset we need to shift.

So, yeah, I know what I’m going to say to my daughter and also to my son.

And I’m saying it right now.

 

One Woman. One Turkey. One Story.

Hand Turkey

 

Yesterday, a friend told me that she’d been to the grocery store and, at the checkout, the clerk told her she’d gathered enough points to qualify for a free turkey.

A free turkey Thanksgiving week! Who says no to that offer?

So, she got her turkey. A big one – 25 pounds – which she lugged to her car.

She knew she couldn’t use the turkey because her husband was out of the country for work and she’d be having Thanksgiving with friends.

What would she do with the big bird?

Inspiration struck and she immediately headed for the poorest part of her town. She drove around looking for… something…a sign? An intuition?

Who needed this turkey?

On one street she saw a man holding the hand of a little boy. They were walking up to a creaky-looking house with trash bags covering what must be leaks in the roof.

She rolled down the window. In her naturally bright voice she said, “Do you have your Thanksgiving turkey yet?”

The man replied that no, ma’am, he sure didn’t.

She said, “Well, you do now!” 

[Now, at this point I could tell you the meaning of this story, or extrapolate a larger story.]

[I could also go all emotional and tell you about how worried he had been about affording a turkey this year and the tears in both their eyes when the big bird was exchanged.]

But I’m not going to.

I’m going to say this: What you do makes a difference. Everything – big things, small things – everyday.

You matter.

You decide how to live, how to be, what to create in the world, whether you’re the one giving, or the one who’s receiving.

It’s simple, really.

Every day you have the opportunity to joyfully give something good to someone else.

Every day you have the chance to receive with gratitude – whether it’s a kind word or a turkey.

And that’s all I’m going to say.

 

The Quantity/Quality Conundrum

 

 

Measure Of Success

Let’s say there’s a sales guy, working in a sales function in a sales-driven organization.

His company was acquired by a group of investors who are systematically changing the way business is being done. They have metrics for everything and statistics drive every decision.

Our sales guy has been the top producer for many years. He has deep customer relationships and generates significant repeat business.

But you can’t benchmark relationships, so the powers that be decide he must have lucked into a rich sales territory and proceed to carve it up to spread the wealth. They parcel his clients out to the rest of the sales team, leaving our sales guy with a severely diminished book.

Oh, and a mandate to make 35 calls each day.

Off the record, his boss says that it doesn’t matter if the calls are to qualified prospects or not – all the bean counters want to know is that the calls are being made because they have forms to be filled out.

Six months go by.

Sales are way off.

Repeat business is non-existent.

And our sales guy has found another job.

Because he knows that his strongest suit – his true superpower – is the ability to create relationships, and the bean counters who value quantity over quality simply don’t get it.

He knows that he can make one call and generate as much business in fifteen minutes as two other guys could get in a week. How? Because his clients know him, like him and have years of experience working with him – they trust him.

Some of his customers like him better than they like his product – what he sells is less important than how he sells to them. Which is why the guy is going to be successful wherever he goes.

If I were in charge of a sales organization, I’d hire a hundred people with the ability to generate referral business rather than hire a thousand robo-callers.

Because quality always wins out over quantity.

But maybe that’s just me.

Today it seems that so many organizations want their people to be as uniform and interchangeable as widgets.

As if one sales guy is absolutely equal to another sales guy.

That one teacher is as good as any other teacher.

That a 60-year-old surgeon who’s done a thousand procedures is absolutely equivalent to a 30-year-old surgeon who’s so desperate for business that she’s willing to deeply discount her fee to get people in the door.

I don’t think so.

Sure, it’s comforting to think that if you check off all the boxes then you’re less likely to fail. Does our health plan provide access to a surgeon? Check  - yes. The question so few ask: Is that surgeon any good?

Quantity is: We have a 20-person sales team making 35 cold calls every day. Quality is: Are they talking to the right people? Are they taking time to build relationships? To build trust?

There’s not a box to check next to those quality questions because they’re rarely being asked.

It’s likely that you have quantity/quality decisions to make every day in your own life. And all I ask is that you keep a few things in mind:

It’s not the number of brownies you make that’s important, especially if they taste awful. Make good, quality brownies and let that be enough.

It’s not the number of bills you have in your wallet, especially if they are all ones. If you want to sit down, it’s better to have five $100 bills in your back pocket than 250 singles.

It’s not important that you have a whole lot of friends, especially if you have no one to call for help in the middle of the night.

When it comes down to it, real success comes from the things that cannot be quantified – connection, relationship, kindness, appreciation, trust.

I don’t know about you, but I want more of those quality things in my life and work, and I’m consciously working on them every day.

I really like the idea of being un-metric-ifiable.