The 10 Gifts I’m Giving Myself This Holiday Break !
The holidays are nearly here… After another year of work – in the middle of Covid, nonetheless – I can’t wait for a break to “down tools” and get refreshed.
Sure, I’m a leadership and team coach and a psychotherapist, and I spend my life supporting people to learn and grow into more of what matters to them. But, all of that starts with my own wellbeing. I always think of the safety warning on airplanes – “fit your own oxygen mask before attending to others.”
So, I’m taking my own advice this holiday season and giving myself these 10 gifts to have a great break, feel truly refreshed, and be raring to go in 2022.
I hope this helps you feel more refreshed and rejuvenated too, and I’d love to hear your experience.
What’s on your list of gifts to give yourself this holiday season? Here are my top 10:
1. REST !
The first gift I’m giving myself this holiday is… rest.
I’ve always been pretty good at resting on holiday. When I had young kids and worked 12-18 hour days, I lost tons of sleep during the year. So, when it came to holidays, I’d need (and plan) a minimum 3-week holiday.
Now, I turn to bite-sized ways to give my body and mind a rest. I love a good sleep-in and an early night, but my absolute favourite has to be afternoon naps. As my wife says, I’ve become a champion napper!
I also remember what I learned in kinder: “mat time.” I often grab a drink and head to my mat for some alone time to chill, sleep, read a book, gaze out the window at our garden, or just do nothing.
With the added craziness of Covid, its lockdowns, and the constant uncertainty we’ve felt over the last two years, I know that “rest” has to be the first gift I give to myself this holiday.
2. DO WHAT I LOVE !
I find that one of the quickest ways to rejuvenate is to do things that I really love (not “like” or “get entertained by” – I mean LOVE).
For me, it’s making fabulous pizzas in the outdoor oven that I built from the ground up with my 3 daughters. I look into the oven with an open fire and fresh pizza (or any food) cooking away, and I feel an instinctive and deep joy. I love making dough and experimenting with new ways to create the perfect crispiness and golden colour.
You’ll also find me in the shed for hours, turning a piece of wood or making a piece of furniture that I cut down and dried myself from our own gum trees. I’m probably making a present for someone I love.
Anyone who knows me know that I’m absolutely mad about jigsaw puzzles of gorgeous landscapes – the bigger, the better. Why? I have no idea. It’s just the way I’m built. So, every holiday, my family rolls their eyes as I pull out the next 5,000-8,000 piece monster.
And I can’t leave out my passion for travelling the Italian countryside with my wife, Elisa. It’s not on this year’s holiday list (damn!), but will definitely happen as soon as we can get away.
When I do any of these things, I lose all track of time and I’m totally, completely present and engrossed. It’s full-on living for me. That’s why it’s number two on my list.
3. PUT MY DEVICES DOWN !
Gift three is unchaining myself from technology. In any normal year, much of my work can be done on my computer and phone. And with Covid, I’ve added endless zoom meetings, lots of Netflix, and various techno-distractions.
Many years ago, I started running little experiments of putting the phone down for a few hours, and even a couple of days. Every time I did, I became much more present and engaged with life – family, friends, interests, nature – and I feel great. I rediscover life!
So, while writing this post, I realised I could start right now…
I spent the evening reading my wife’s Gourmet Traveller magazine, and even found a great article on Italy, pizza making, and famous Italian restaurants in Australia. I got inspired to try their famous dough recipe and made a big batch. At the end of the night, I felt proud, whole, and really satisfied – all just from putting down my phone.
And, what do you know, it led me to things that I love!
4. GET OUT INTO NATURE !
I’ve always spent time in nature. I grew up on a 2-acre property in the leafy suburbs of New York City. There was a natural cycle: feeding the swans, geese and and their offspring in Summer; making huge leaf piles to jump into in Autumn; making snow forts in Winter; and watching the roses, tulips, lavender and bright green leaves come to life in Spring.
I also spent many formative years on holidays at a summer camp in Vermont, based on native American traditions. We’d spend up to 3 weeks at a time hiking and canoeing in the remote mountains and lakes of New England and Canada. I can still remember the damp fresh air of the fir, pine, and spruce forests, and the sound of a paddle dripping as I bring the paddle forward for the next stroke. And, because this early experience imprinted me with nature, I passed it on to my daughters.
This year I’m planning to: head down the Great Ocean Road again, including hiking and camping behind Lorne; get out on my few acres to do the (seemingly endless) work of planting and weeding, chainsawing and splitting all my own firewood; sit on our deck, as I am right now, on a gorgeous sunny and blue-sky day, watching our 50-year old spotted gums and 18 year old red ironbarks swaying gently in the breeze, as I listen to the lorikeets calling to each other while the bees buzz around in their endless quest for nectar.
5. GET INSPIRED BY OTHERS !
Any time I’ve been through a tough period, I find myself browsing for hours finding deeply inspiring stories that make me feel good, grounded, and appreciative. Every time. Sure, it involves being on a device, but it’s for a great cause.
Years ago, I was out in my first home office. After a lean year of building my fledgling business, I needed a lift. I found this amazing video about Mark Johnson – a fellow New Yorker whose world-changing initiative came accidentally while riding the subway to work – and his creation Playing for Change.
(I’ve used this in many leadership programs ever since).
Another year, it was Britain’s Got Talent, focusing on the best stories of everyday people taking a risk to share their previously-hidden talents with the world.
Yet another year, it was Nick Askew and his beautifully-filmed and moving Soul Biographies about the amazing lives of ‘ordinary’ people.
When I look, I find so much good that is happening in the world. And, thankfully, there are now a growing number of dedicated sources to find and share it (including TED talks and positive news, like here and here and here).
I wonder what I’ll discover this year.
6. BE RE-INSPIRED BY MY OWN HISTORY !
Erv Polster, the famous Gestalt Psychotherapist, wrote a book titled: Every Life is Worth a Novel. His point is that we often marvel at the adventures of others, but don’t realise the unique and special nature of our own lives.
Many years ago, in my own search for direction, I completed an exercise from Richard Bolle’s famous job-hunting book What Colour is Your Parachute. It did wonders for revealing my unique achievements and successes in life. But, more importantly, it reconnected me to the feelings and vital energy that is core to these moments in my life. It motivated me to get back out and conquer the world, knowing that I could.
What I’ve since added to this exercise (and now use with all my clients) is that it also makes possible the unearthing of the specific success formula – the sequence – underneath these achievements. In effect, it is like unlocking a patentable process.
I’m going to revisit my 7 life stories this holiday break because they inspire me with the ways I have lived my own life.
If you’d like to do this exercise, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I’ll be happy to send it to you.
7. LEARN SOMETHING NEW !
I’ve always loved learning something new. Whether it was learning the trumpet or piano in primary school, the oboe or Spanish in high school (after all, I got to study in Salamanca, Spain for the summer, a beautiful city with lip smacking potato omelette baguettes and the oldest continuously-open university in the world, since 1218!).
When I got older, it was learning the bagpipes and playing in a pipe band in full regalia, or doing a furniture-making course and discovering the love of making things from beautiful timbers, or starting to learn Italian and Turkish to accompany my love of travel. Living on a few acres, I’ve spent years learning so many new skills to build, fix, or take down everything on a small hobby farm.
Probably the craziest (for someone with a sensitive inner ear) was going skydiving with my middle daughter, Annie. It seemed like a great idea… That is, before I started walking to the plane and then had to be the first one out at 14,000 feet!
Some of my new pursuits last, and some don’t, but the only way I know is to give them a try.
(Skydiving is not something I ever have to do again!).
I wonder what I could experiment with this holiday?
One thing’s for sure… I’ll be cooking something new in the pizza oven!
8. START OR RETURN TO A DAILY WELL-BEING PRACTICE !
I’ve started many daily practices over the years. I remember – during the first running craze when I took up running the local roads – doing what I thought I ‘should’ do and pushing myself until the breakthrough moment when I discovered what people meant by ‘runner’s high’. I got to the prize.
Same thing with swimming in my early days in Melbourne. Many years later, I dedicated 5 years to meditating (almost) every day, with a weekly group meditation (pretty amazing, if you’ve never tried it). At different points, I took up yoga, then Qi Gung, then the Canadian Air Force 10-12 minute daily exercise routine.
In the years since we moved to a few acres out of Melbourne, there’s been so much work to maintain the property: endless chainsawing and chopping firewood (we’ve been here 20 years and we’ve never bought a single piece), repairing fencing, constructing new things, landscaping (thank god I bought a tractor!).
With all of that, I gave up structured exercise, assuming I had enough workouts from simply managing the property.
When I finally re-started an exercise program this year with a young Brit who has a dry sense of humour and a totally positive and empowering style, I realised just how much my body was compensating to be able to do all the farm work. Now, with his guidance (one of my several coaches), I am developing a much keener awareness of my body, an improved ability to activate muscles for greater stability, and some new strength to boot.
So, what’s next?
For this holiday, I’ve started early with a meditation app by Sam Harris that’s been touted as one of the best on the market. I’ve found my reactive mind getting more air time in these challenging, uncertain times. I‘ve over-relied on distraction and entertainment over Covid – both useful strategies that have their limits – and I know that to be really well, I want to get back to training the most powerful ‘muscle’ in my body – my mind.
9. GIVE TO OTHERS !
I’ve always been a giver. In fact, my Turkish name, Kerim, means “generous, noble, giver”. Both the Turkish and American sides of my family were known for their philanthropy, public service, and teaching. It was a thrill to visit Turkey in 2015 to meet my relatives for the first time.
But, name aside, I find that giving to others or dedicating myself to a cause bigger than myself has always felt good and can take me out of my own difficulties or suffering.
In high school, I used to tutor underprivileged kids. In Uni, I taught literacy to a young father who wanted a better job so he could move his family out of a high-crime neighborhood with almost nightly gunshots. After Uni, I went to teach for the US Peace Corps in Gabon, Central Africa. Not only did I have the adventure of a lifetime, but I got to make a small – but meaningful – difference to young African students.
More recently, over the last two years of Covid, I found meaning and support as a volunteer therapist in a Melbourne community clinic. I can’t tell you how much that contributed to helping me get through Covid and the many lockdowns.
From all these experiences, I’ve benefitted at least as much as the people I gave to. Giving is meaningful. I feel good, proud, connected, bigger. It is a truly rejuvenating practice.
10. LAUGH AND PLAY !
And the last gift – another high priority for holiday refresh – is to take time to laugh and play.
I remember so well when my three daughters were young and we’d have Sunday morning “wrastling” time. They’d take turns jumping all over me to get a high-flying ride as I twirled them around in the air, then to come crashing down into the bed, with rounds of hysterical laughter and “My turn, my turn…”.
Nowadays, I really notice during the holidays when they’re back home – with everyone in the holiday mood singing holiday songs while we put up a massive freshly-cut Christmas tree (the biggest was a 4-metre monster!). We each have different decorating jobs. Mine is always the lights and tinsel; theirs, the decorations.
When all the jobs are done, and we’ve settled into relaxing family time, how fantastic it is to laugh loudly together – perhaps watching the classic movie My Cousin Vinny, or Jim Carrey’s Fun With Dick and Jane, or one of Michael McIntyre’s comedy stints, or even spouting off quotes from every animated movie we’ve watched together over many years.
We often head outside with a Frisbee, soccer ball, or backyard cricket game. My youngest daughter, Mimi, and I also have a decade-long tradition of a mini-golf game.
My wife and daughters are joyous reminders and co-conspirators for laughing and playing. I look forward to another holiday together this year, unfortunately minus my eldest in Perth.
My top-10 gift list has proven a lifesaver, time and time again, helping me to refresh from the pressures of the year and feel ready for the next year.
So, at the end of 2021, it’s no wonder I’m giving myself these gifts again this year. And, I encourage you to pick a few from the list and see if they help you feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
I’d love to hear more about what works for you, and I’m always looking for more ideas to add to my own list for next year.
With that in mind, what’s on your list of gifts to give yourself this holiday?