Where are all the Christmas Trees!?

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“There are no shortcuts,” every successful, law-abiding individual to ever live has said. “Put your nose down, work hard, and you’re going to make it there.”

To which I’ve replied, “Thank you... But, anywhere worth going, surely has a shortcut.”

Most people’s lives follow what I call – The Christmas Tree Cycle:

Pulling the tree out of the box, representing a new task; Decorating it. The work involved to complete the task; Revelling in its decorated glory. Enjoying the accomplishment of a task complete; And lastly, putting it back in the box. Proceeding to life’s next, big challenge.

Two things I have never enjoyed: taking the box out, and putting it away. This has pushed me to try and live in the middle of the cycle.

Enter stage right, the shortcut. Seductive in every which way of the word. We look for her. At work. In the mall. In our tax returns…

She calls for us. She wants to be found! She wants to be wanted

But beware! Shortcuts can lead the most clever, most good-to-do individuals astray…

In grade 7 and 8, I was part of a morning homework group. And, every Monday through Friday, 8:00–8:30, a few friends and I would operate a paper-shuffling assembly line in the boys’ bathroom.

Much like a curling team, our tasks were to determine the conditions of the ice/assignment, how many ends/questions remained and whether we had last-stone advantage. “The hammer” – typically meant a member had done some of the homework the night before… At home… A preposterous idea, and a huge sacrifice! But, one that provided our team with a rare opportunity to play aggressively.

Every member had their strengths. As self-appointed team skip, mine was making the other person’s work my own in the copying process. A gift that provided me with ample opportunities for shortcutting in school. And more importantly, more time basking in the Christmas tree!

We didn’t always finish in time. And often, a member could be heard shouting “Hurry! Hurry hard!” while the others pushed their pencils frantically. Nevertheless, we took our wins and losses as a team.

When assignments were handed back, we always compared grades.

“What!?” a teammate complained. “How did Jared get full marks on questions 6 and 7!? Those were my questions and he only copied half of what I wrote!”

“…It looks like he went straight for the answer,” another replied.

When I began my professional career, ideas of shortcutting chased around my brain like a gang of bikers cycling a spherical steel cage…

Hired by a cutlery sales agency out of high school, I was told the company’s average order size was $250, and one of two appointments resulted in an order. This meant, a rep could expect to sell $125 worth of cutlery per appointment.

“That’s good to know,” I told a co-worker partway through our training program, “but I’m not spending the entire summer in a suit.”

He laughed, not realizing I had every intention of outselling him and every other rep in the company that year.

When booking appointments, I chose my customers carefully.

“Yes, we’re fine if you come and show us the knives,” a potential client would say, “but we won’t be able to buy any.”

“No problem,” I would hear other reps say, “I get paid just for showing them!”

But something inside me refused…

“That’s okay, Mrs. Jones,” I would reply. “They are pretty expensive knives… Tell you what. Give me a few numbers of people who might be able to afford them, and if one buys, I’ll get you a vegetable peeler so good, you’ll be skinning pineapples with it.”

By the end of summer, I had completed fifty-two appointments with an average order size of $932.

“Son-of-a-gun!” said one of the hardest working reps from our office. “Selling that much would have taken me three hundred appointments! How’d you do it?”

“Well,” I said grinning, “I guess I just valued my time...”

Skipping from Christmas to Christmas was working out great. When one season ended, I quickly found another tree to curl up next to. I didn’t always know where I was going, but it didn’t really matter… I was there. And it never took me too long to arrive.

Then came love. Then marriage. Then, a confusing portion of time, prior to three children in a baby carriage…

All of a sudden, I was not only needing to put away every Christmas tree I had ever marvelled, I was pulling out countless new ones. And at a rate I had never imagined!

What the heck happened! I couldn’t keep up! I wasn’t ready! I hadn’t properly trained!

Where are all the Christmas trees!?” I cried out, tripping over empty boxes with every step I took.

While I had been frolicking about, reality had been rehearsing its grand reveal! … And what a reveal it was…

I didn’t know what to do. The shortcuts had become riskier. The consequences – greater.

I wasn’t exercising. I was eating whatever I wanted. And a mere six months after tying the knot, I found myself carrying thirty extra pounds! An impressive gain had I been a competitive power lifter… In hindsight, I should have also tied a knot with my stomach…

I was beginning to realize, despite all my crafty scheming, life was refusing to be cheated.

Unemployed, and running out of money, I started skipping sleep in search of the next big shortcut. Then, one afternoon, nearing an all-time low, my wife, Michelle, said something that changed me forever:

“Jared,” she said, taking a seat next to me in the high school bedroom her parents had let us move back into, “you can do anything you want in life… But, sometimes you’re going to have to do some things you don’t want to.”

The next day, I was working as a labourer for fifteen dollars an hour. It was hard work and fell short of providing the quick, thrilling money I had come accustomed to when selling knives the summer before.

It did, however, allow Michelle and me to move into our own place and start a family. It also lead to a connection that helped me land a higher paying desk job, which ultimately lead us to becoming co-owners in a wonderful new business. A business, in which shortcuts proved to be non-existent.

When strung together, life might resemble an incredibly long strand of popcorn garland circling the length of a giant Christmas tree. Each piece, unique. A moment. A memory. A challenge, failure or achievement.

For some, the garland will be a mile long and include every burnt, defected piece encountered along the way. For others, the garland will be crafted using only the best and puffiest pieces.

For me… I don’t really know what it’s going to look like yet. Or if it will ever be complete.

…But until I find out, I know I’m going to be working on it.

One piece at a time.