Let’s have a stretch

It’s somehow December, so it’s time to really stretch out and limber up for the fast-approaching end of 2021. I’m stretching to cope with the extra layers that always come with the end of the year, giving it such texture that is different each time – concentrated layers of tradition, layered up with work, family, friends, and the desire to make this year stand out. It’s a multi-layered extravaganza. Feeling stretched just thinking about it? I know I am.

It’s officially started – the countdown from Thanksgiving, to Advent, and Christmas. I briefly considered whether this could be the year when I hand make some gifts as I leafed through the latest picture-perfect Christmas themed magazine – the home-made Christmas Fudge perhaps? Because, of course, this is the time for making traditions. For example, a few years ago I started the tradition of an Advent Book Tree. It’s evolved over the years but, at its core, I wrap up a selection of books and pile them up in the shape of a Christmas Tree. In the office, we started an annual hunt. First for the best Yule Log and this year for the perfect Christmas pudding (a few of us anti-Christmas-pudding types are being stretched here!) And then there are the traditions we keep – I am still one of the few that still send Christmas cards. Stretching can yield traditions.

Yet with all this, I’m not feeling stressed. Instead, I’m excited to see where stretching will take me – will there be a new tradition? – and it’s not just a tricky bit of mind-games and re-branding to stretching. I’m recognising that I know what stress looks like and this is not stress for me. Even with the family logistics on my mind as I headed off to our Strategy Day in Ascot, I knew this was just stretched. Stretched because I see this period from mid-November to December as short window; a time to thrive because there is an end (around 24th December) and then we can rest.

Consider your own temporal point. When stretching turns into stressing, it’s different for everyone and I have learnt that it’s about picking up the clues. Stretching becomes stressing when the deadline shifts and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight – when there is low visibility and it’s hard to sustain the thriving. I’m reminded of big periods of work stress, in particular, when the start and end of the day seemed to merge into one and stretch the definition of the working day because of a series of global conference calls and never-ending email chains. I didn’t do much in the way of thriving during that period. It was more about surviving.

So, how do we manage our stretching and keep an eye on it turning into stressing? In 2018 I was cautious – I had come out of such a stressful period that I was anxious about stretching becoming stressing. Back to this festive period, perhaps if I were to draw parallels sooner between work life and family life over Christmas that would have helped. As with most families, I have a unique set and get togethers have previously been tricky. But I’ve learnt to relax more over the years and have managed expectations with humour. Within a few months of 2018 I was stretching again with the good humour of a fantastic team around me, and managed expectations which came from a very open and honest feedback environment. I was thriving.

With the year-end approaching, I encourage you to stretch and thrive with just three reminders:

  1. Find the temporal point for you, personally, when stretching turns into stressing.
  2. Manage expectations with humour by surrounding yourself with support.
  3. Stretching might become a much-loved tradition – so don’t be afraid to give it a go.