How To Be a Gracious Gift Exchanger

(If you prefer video to text, click here to see this post in a 3-minute video.)
“Oh, thank you…but I didn’t get you anything!” How often has that awkward response ruined a nice giving moment? Sometimes it’s hard to accept a gift without feeling the need to give one back. For a long time it was difficult for me to accept that. Sometimes I didn’t give gifts that I wanted to, because I was afraid of imposing an obligation with my gift! How silly. It took time for me to realize not everyone thought the same way – some people can accept a gift graciously. I learned that when someone has the desire to say Thank You, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, or Happy Arbor Day with a gift, my gratitude is usually all that’s needed to make the kind gesture complete.
The best gifts, in fact, might not even arrive in a package. Last week for a special occasion, I wanted to give my Toastmasters group a gift, a final thank-you speech, to express in 10 minutes how the program, and its members, changed my life.
(Click here to view.)
The response to my going-away speech was overwhelming – appreciative tears all around. I gave a gift; and immediately, unexpectedly got 30 gifts back. In my past, I would have said, “Thanks, but I wasn’t THAT good,” or found a way to deflect the praise to a mentor, colleague, or family member. Not very gracious.
Perhaps because I am 15 years older than when I joined, or perhaps because of the work I have done on my own emotional intelligence, or perhaps because I’ve been hanging out with the right people or it was the right day, I soaked it up with as much grace, courage, and humility as I could muster. Because I allowed that to happen, the exchange felt complete. I left the meeting on an emotional high, and I hope everyone else did, as well.
This season, if you find yourself moved to be the generous gift-giver, are you doing so without expectations (as my Tennessee grandmother used to say, “out of the goodness of your heart”?)
Conversely, if you find yourself overwhelmed with someone else’s generosity – intangible, tangible, or financial – how will you handle it? Will you graciously accept, honor the giver’s gesture, and allow the exchange to be complete? With so many messages about self-determination, independence, and not “needing” others in our lives to get by, it can be easy to forget how exchanges of gifts, if handled well on both sides, weave the fabric of our support networks tighter, and make it more beautiful. When not handled so well, we begin to take that fabric apart.
I invite you to think about what your giving and receiving this season will do for you and for those around you. Whether there is money involved or not, you have the potential to enter 2016 feeling a whole lot richer because of it.
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Letting Indecision Delay Your Estate Plan

The best reason I ever heard for not seeing an estate planning attorney came from a late client who, upon learning that over half of his estate might be taxed, said, “I don’t mind. The government has a lot of good programs.”  (I responded, “Ok. How can you be sure your money will go to the programs you like?”) I don’t believe, despite his political views, that he really wanted to leave half of his money to the government. I do believe it seemed better than addressing his mortality, though.
Talking and thinking about our own death is stressful, so it’s no wonder many people avoid it, deny it, and don’t want to deal with it.
But what if your reason is simply, “It’s too hard to decide”? No doubt about it, estate planning can involve gut-wrenching decisions, like choosing a potential guardian for your minor children. (Ugh.) Or figuring out what’s “equal” vs. what’s “fair.” Who to include and who to exclude? Which charities will handle a bequest most responsibly? Leave money in a lump sum, or spread it out over time? In-laws, multiple marriages, step-relatives, girlfriends, boyfriends….today’s families are complicated. Perhaps you and your spouse or partner disagree. Or you and your children do. The more you delay, the more the questions, and their unknown answers, multiply. You might want to brush it off, like my client, since you “won’t be around anyway to worry about it.” But until then, it can still eat at you.
A lot of people think they must make all the decisions before they go see the attorney. But when you think about it, estate planning attorneys deal with such decisions all the time. Many of them are actually pretty good at suggesting alternatives you might not have considered. Attorneys are more than just note-takers; they are advisers and advocates. The good ones are smart people who love to come up with creative solutions to legal questions. So when I hear someone can’t decide, I encourage them to make the appointment anyway. Addressing our mortality may not be pleasant, but it’s better than being eaten alive by indecision.
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