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The Elf on the Shelf – what my daughters have taught me about the power of optimism

I learn something from my daughters, Payton and Addison, every day. Their curiousity, their zestfulness, and their learning agility are such a huge inspiration to me. It is so amazing to see the spirit of a young child, untainted yet by the trials and tribulations we all go through in life and our careers. When I’m at work, I often think about them, and ask myself, “what would Payton or Addison do in this situation?”

At this time of the year, they always teach me a big lesson in the power of optimism.

We are an Elf on the Shelf family. For those not familiar with this holiday tradition, here is the drill. The Elf sits on the shelf and watches you. Every night, he flies back to the North Pole and reports to the big guy if you’ve been naughty or nice. Then he comes back to a different spot in your house the next day. The kids get to run down the stairs in the morning to find his new spot, like a game of hide and seek. You can tell the Elf what you want for Christmas, but you can’t touch him, or he loses his magic. On Christmas Eve, he flies back to the North Pole for the last time until next year. Pretty simple, right?

Not really. There’s a lot of reasons not to believe. And this is a month-long project with lots that can go wrong:

  • Payton was devastated one day, when, in a moment of weakness, she touched the elf. But Addison immediately took control of the situation and reminded us that, “it’s ok; if you just touch him once, he still has enough magic to make it back to the North Pole.”
  • I can’t count how many times the Elf has miraculously shown up in the morning in the exact same spot as the day before. Each time, the kids have a different explanation, such as, “he didn’t have much new to report to Santa, so he decided to stay last night.” Never is it, “dad fell asleep on the couch before he could move him.”
  • Last year, we were packing up the decorations after Christmas and Addison discovered the Elf in one of the boxes! For sure, I thought, the gig is up. But she quickly ascertained that, “he must have forgotten something and come back for it; I’m sure he’ll be heading back tonight."

Do you see what’s happening here?

When we make mistakes or things go wrong, I don’t even have to step in and course correct. The girls immediately take control of the narrative and remind us why everything is going to turn out fine. I expected them to jump on these setbacks and say, “Ha! I told you so! None of this is real!” But instead, they are the ones telling me why I should believe. And I can tell you, it’s that unwavering faith and positive attitude that drives me to continue to want to stay up late every night and make sure the Elf moves.

To be honest, I’m pretty sure my kids don’t really believe in the magic component any more. But they love the tradition and the family activity; so much, that they will construct their own narrative on why this is possible. It is this optimism, this belief in what is possible, that I find so refreshing and inspirational.

Now the lesson here is not that we should all believe in magical elves.

But think about your work – how many of your biggest goals or milestones seem unattainable? How many of your key projects are in red or yellow status? What is the narrative you are carrying around in your head? What stories do you tell your co-workers – do you give them reasons to believe… or reasons to doubt?

We’ve been conditioned over the years to always question whether we can succeed. We tend to focus on all the things that could go wrong instead of the possibilities. We are always looking for self-reinforcement, to see those examples of the elf not moving. And this is self-fulfilling, as these examples serve to justify our own cynicism, which leads to even less progress against our biggest goals. Your mindset and your attitude at work matter a TON.

But think about how a child would view it. This is how we were conditioned at birth, to want to believe, to have a possibility mindset. Payton and Addison have not been jaded yet. They just see possibilities, they just have hope. They just believe that everything will turn out right if we all stick together. And it’s the best reminder for me on why I need to be more optimistic in life.

What did Henry Ford say?

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.”

Changing your narrative and focusing on what is possible can have a dramatic effect on both your success at work and your happiness in life.

Just a thought.

Wishing you and your family all the best this holiday season!

About the Author

Brent Reynolds

After a long career as an executive in financial services, I recently started my own company, Payson Solutions, to help companies transform their business. I have a passion for building high-performing teams and leveraging advanced analytics to build amazing customer experiences. If you would like to connect, drop me a line at brent@payson.ca.

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