The greatest gift you can ever give is time.
We all go through life selling and trading our time away until one day, we look back and wonder where it all went. It is the one thing we can never buy more of, no matter how much we earn or how powerful we become, yet we spend as if it’s limitless.
We trade away the hours of our lives in everything we do, and the best we can hope for when the sands run out is that we made every moment matter. That the juice was worth the squeeze.
I’m reminded of my place in the river of time every year when the holidays come back around. Whether it’s the annual celebrations we all observe in our own ways or the ticking of the clock as an old year passes into the new, time is always at the top of my mind during the holiday season.
And there’s never enough of it.
Harlan Ellison once wrote, “Like a wind crying endlessly through the universe, time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we were, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.”
Harlan passed away in 2018, within weeks of the two-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. Both of them hit me hard. Both of them mattered.
In the years since, especially after the pandemic started, there has only been more loss and more regret for all the words left unspoken to far too many others who also mattered. Who still matter because we remember them.
The holidays are never easy for those who can only see their loved ones now through the cloudy haze of warmer memories, but something interesting happens when seasonal delight and cherished traditions start feeling more like weaponized reminders of everything — and everyone — we’ve lost.
We begin to cherish the time we have left all the more for having lost so much of it.
Which is why, when the CEO and EVP of my company announced during a recent staff meeting that everyone was getting extra, paid, non-PTO time off for the holidays this year, the reaction was immediate and emotional.
They gave us time.
One person hasn’t spent the holidays with her parents in years because she’s never been able to get enough time off at once to fly out to see them. Another wept because she, like so many of us, hadn’t had such a large block of time off in decades, if ever. When we received the news, I immediately looked to the reactions of everyone around me because that’s what I do. I pay attention.
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What I witnessed were no faux-sentiments being passed around or any of the typical, overtly-political posturing I’ve seen far too much of throughout my career whenever big announcements are made. Our leadership wasn’t looking for displays of gratitude or to gain any favor from employees. It was just an earnest, heartfelt gesture that made everyone feel valued. People were genuinely stunned and immensely grateful. The tears were real, and they were happy.
This extra time means I can squeeze a few more final moments of childhood wonder into my teenager’s life before whatever magic still remains is gone forever. I can give them one more happy memory that may see them through darker times, that they can pass on one day to their own kids after I run out of time to give. I can make more simple, everyday gestures to my wife that show how much she means to me, how my time is worth nothing without her.
I can take time to reflect on everything I still have rather than waste it on fleeting moments of regret for all I’ve lost.
No one mentioned this word during the meeting, and you won’t find it in any of our job listings or press releases, but this one small gesture of simply giving us the gift of time made me think of it.
It’s a word often thrown about by marketing and human resources departments until it loses all meaning, but not here. Not now. Not with my company.
The casual acknowledgment of small achievements, the camaraderie of everyone celebrating each other’s successes instead of competing for prizes, the genuine and heartfelt concern we all have for each other along with the importance management places on self-care — it all adds up. In turn, we work harder and work smarter. Productivity skyrockets, morale is always high, and when moments get low, we all pull together to do whatever we can to help. Everyone here truly does feel like part of some kind of family, however unconventional it might be.
Because family isn’t just who you were born with or who you marry into, it’s who you choose to let inside your heart. Your real family is whoever you’re willing to trade your time for — and it’s whoever is willing to give theirs to you.
It’s the greatest gift you can ever receive.