One of the best events of my Christmas vacation was running to Walmart for emergency toothbrushes and pajamas for our friends. They had been stranded on a mountain highway in a snowstorm and came to stay with us overnight when they couldn’t get to their home two hours away. It’s not that my vacation was so boring that a trip to Walmart and emergency shopping was a high point. It’s that I love having family and friends around. I am honored when they feel comfortable enough to “impose” and pleased that my own family could easily shift gears and get beds set up and food warmed for our guests.
There are many people who run a very tight ship at home, planning meals, keeping strict schedules and being way too worried about whether the house is clean and presentable for guests. I am so grateful to my parents who, while structured, were casual people who created a comfortable and welcoming environment. No pretension…fairly pragmatic…and always room for one more at the table. I learned some important lessons from them.
For our friends on the highway, we definitely turned lemons into lemonade. They had been stuck on the road for nearly six hours before they called and asked to come to our house—all four of them plus their 80-pound dog. My daughter and I had a giggle fest selecting fun and cozy pajamas including some very funny T-shirts for the guys and Minnie Mouse polka dots for Mom. More important, we made them comfortable and put them at ease after what had been an extremely stressful day.
I am super-proud of the fact that people of all ages feel comfortable in our home, welcomed as family and safe to speak up on any subject. This is especially true when it comes to my children’s friends. Nothing made me happier than when my New Year’s Eve dinner two years ago consisted of a table full of college-aged young people, laughing and discussing all sorts of topics both big and small.
When it comes to the big stuff and the overall culture in our home, my husband and I have worked very hard to create an environment of ease. Oxymoron, right? Working hard to create ease? But it’s true. We don’t fluster easily by what the kids say or discuss. And we truly respect them as people, interested in understanding their world and their perspective. The more receptive we are to their perspective, the more they want to share. To be clear, we do not want to be our kids’ BFFs—we clearly are the parents (and they clearly are the children), and there definitely are rules and expectations about their behavior, but we do it with an ease and acceptance that attracts rather than repels.
Ease…one of the most powerful tools in our human tool chest. There is a fascinating concept in martial arts about strength through softness. In other words, a fighter actually has more power when his/her body is soft or at ease. But when all sorts of muscles are tensed, the power is disseminated throughout the body, rather than focused on the punch or block or kick.
So, too, with life. Responding to change and challenges with softness is far more effective and far healthier than the cortisol-spiking fight-or-flight response that erodes our bodies.
Being adaptable is a form of this softness. Some people make their plans and get ruffled when things change or plans don’t work out. At home, it is critical to be fluid since, hey, stuff happens—plans change. I lost track of how many playdates got rescheduled or car pools had to be rearranged for whatever reason.
The same applies in grown-up land. In fact, tonight, I was supposed to go to a movie with a friend. The weather was unpleasant and slippery, and I hadn’t yet finished writing this blog, so we switched nights. No biggie to me. To others, though, a change in plans symbolizes an absolute breakdown of the ordered world as they know it. Needless to say, that ease and adaptability are critical in business on every level every day. Crises will arise…plans will change. A successful leader confronts these changes with quiet confidence, rather than anger, denial, frustration or any of 1,000 other counterproductive options.
As for our Christmas friends…after a good night’s sleep, we all rearranged our schedules. We had originally planned to spend Christmas Day and the following day together. But since we were all together already, and no one had any special plans for that day, we shuffled things around, went on a spectacular hike and cooked a delicious Christmas Eve dinner that ended with a chocolate-strawberry tart. All with ease.