Every year, with the appearance of the season's first holiday cards in my mailbox, I am overtaken with anxiety and feelings that I'm not enough.
When my kids were young, I'd put massive amounts of effort and brain power into producing my own "perfect" holiday card. The quest to find my daughters' themed, matching outfits took days and often resulted in spending well beyond my means for dresses they'd only wear once.
Next, I'd waste hours seeking out a splendid location for the shoot, driving all over to make sure the surroundings complimented the dresses and would photograph well.
Such efforts to create a seemingly-perfect family photo were exhausting and inauthentic. In fact, rather than the joy I was supposed to feel during the holiday season, I instead felt guilt at having spent too much money, sadness at allowing a holiday card to take up so much of my life, and resentment of the other "perfect" families I forced my self to compete with.
As the years went on, the process became unbearable.
Every card I received featured a photo of a happy, beaming, perfectly-styled family next to glittery words like "peace," "love" and "joy." But none of these cards, and certainly not my own, brought me any of these feelings.
Rather, I was riddled with anxiety that my family wasn't like those in the cards. That it took so much work to make us look happy, beaming, perfect, when it seemed to be so effortless for other families. My family was different; my family wasn't normal; I did not feel peaceful, loving or joyful.
So when the insecurity and resentment finally boiled over, I decided the only way to end the cycle was by putting a stop to it all. No matching dresses, no location scouting, no overspending to print foil-pressed cards of my own. Nothing.
And a magical thing happened that year.
The process of releasing the expectations I'd created for myself and my family around the "perfect" holiday card resulted in the peace, love and joy I hadn't been able to find for so many years. I went from trying so hard to project these sentiments via a square piece of cardboard to actually living them.
Today, after many years of card collecting, I've decided to once again partake in the holiday card tradition. But this year, I'll set an intention for my cards, going beyond stock sentiments like "Happy Holidays." I intend to send heartfelt, handwritten notes to everyone on my list, making sure to include individual thoughts and personalized well-wishes as I reconnect with friends and family authentically.
Here's what my intentions look like, beyond "peace," "love" and "joy." I hope they can inspire you to reach a little further than preprinted sentiments this holiday season: