This time of year in the US many people, including me and my family, celebrate Christmas. It’s the most important holiday for us, and it’s a time of year when people seem more tuned in to the connections among all human beings. It seems to me that people are a wee bit nicer to each other. We take time to be with our families, and we tell our friends how much they mean to us. As far as holidays go, it’s a very big deal. Because I’m traveling on business 2-3 weeks a month I’m typically arriving home in Silicon Valley, California, from Japan just in time to be jet lagged all through the holiday season. This year, however, my last week of work before Christmas was in Houston, Texas, so instead of being jet lagged I’m merely burnt out. Well, burnt to a crisp, actually – like a piece of bacon cooked in a greasy skillet on extra high heat for about an hour longer than normal. Toast!
Send holiday cards through snail mail? Not happening! Shopping for gifts? Only if they can be purchased at the local grocery store. But I am doing my share of socializing. I find myself caught up in the emotions of the season, and sometimes moved to tears by the warmth of these precious moments. I think deep thoughts like “Life is short.”, and I’ve felt a deeper level of compassion for the people around me – even the ones who get on my nerves. Part of the reason I’m feeling more compassionate towards others is – being burned out – I really need some compassion myself. For the past four months I’ve been traveling almost constantly, and working at an unsustainable pace. Although on the outside I look pretty much like a normal human being, inside I’m a worn out, frazzled blob of protoplasm whimpering “Please be kind to me.” Definitely NOT feeling the least bit scrappy at the moment!
Unfortunately people can’t tell how I feel inside. If I’d broken my leg and was hobbling around on crutches people would be falling all over themselves to open doors for me and make my life easier. But the problem is I look like I’m fine, so some people are still doing things that stress me out. One idea I had was that maybe I should wear a sign that says “I’m a frazzled blob of protoplasm – please be kind to me.” so people would realize that I need them to cut me a bit of slack. Then I started thinking that perhaps everyone has some hidden pain, suffering, or grief that can’t be seen, but would benefit from a dose of holiday kindness. The software engineer who’s fixing one last bug before calling it a night might have just broken up with her boyfriend. The admin who arranged the holiday party might be wondering where he’s going to get the money to pay for the holiday gifts he bought his kids. And the exec who is reviewing the project budget might be squeezing in visits to her parent’s nursing home while juggling a very busy holiday season with the rest of her family.
This experience has taught me a thing or two that should come in handy in 2012. Here are a few ideas I came up with as I’ve wandered around the house in my pajamas most of the past week:
- I’m thinking about being nicer to people all year long, not only at Christmas.
- I’m considering being more compassionate to people even when they don’t externally look like they need it.
- I’m not going to wear a sign, but I am going to ask people to be nice to me when I need some slack.
I used to think that being kind would undermine my ability to get results. But, who knows – maybe I’ll even be a more effective project leader if I’m kind. It’s worth a shot!