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Elf on the Shelf - A Lesson of Self-Restraint

God, I hate him. With all my soul, I hate him. That mother-elfer comes every year, causes havoc in my life, disrupts my relationships, stresses me out, then leaves. I am talking about the Elf on the Shelf of the Mello family. George. That jerk.

In the event that you live under a rock and is not aware of what an Elf on the Shelf is, let me explain. Elf on A Shelf was a clever way to sell a Christmas book. The premise is that you buy the book, with a stuffed elf, and he/she become your family’s elf. Every night the elves returns to the North Pole to report their family’s activities to Santa—little narcs. When they return the next day, they are in a different spot in the house. The kids have fun looking for the Elf and they have a direct line to the big man. Cool, right?!

The premise is innocent enough but this is what happened to our family. George came to us about 4 years ago. He came after we got our tree, right after Thanksgiving. Kids were thrilled, we read the Elf on the Shelf book, we even watched the animated movie. The kids grew fond of the little shit, and all was good. Until it wasn’t.

The responsibility of moving George every night started easy enough. Move him from the tree to the counter, to the kids’ room, to the bathroom… you get the picture. To see what other parents were doing, my wife and I googled clever places to feature your Elf on the Shelf. That is where everything started to crumble. We found that there were Pinterest boards on elf ideas, sites dedicated to making the Elf experience an unforgettable one, etc. They had the Elves eating cookies, on a bed of marshmallows, or making snow angels. Cool stuff.  We decided to incorporate some of the ideas into our elf routine.

We started innocently enough, having George toilet paper our Christmas tree. Then he went into the bathroom and drew a winter wonderland on the mirror with dry erase marker, he even decided to attach one of my son’s toy airplanes to the fan so he could go round and round.

The kids flipped. They thought it was magnificent. The first thing they started doing in the mornings was to ask what George was up to this time.  And the pressure started to build. We needed new ideas every night, we had to make sure that the elf was moved, it started to consume us.

Inevitably we started becoming overwhelmed by the effort of coming up with new ideas and we started falling short. More often than not we ended up not doing anything at all. The kids started waking up disappointed because George did not go to the North Pole. They started accusing each other of touching him and making him lose his magic. Our house turned from a magical loving home to one of disappointment and accusations. There was no question, we had failed as parents and as chaperones of this magical Christmas being.

I see the same pattern happen at work all the time. What starts out as a great idea gets bigger and bigger, and needs to be greater and greater, to a point that it becomes too overwhelming and leads to paralysis. The pressure we put on ourselves to make things perfect ends up sabotaging something pretty great, and leading to inaction .

Why do we do that to ourselves? Mostly it is because tinkering, and process improvements can be a form of resistance. A way to protect ourselves from failure or ridicule. If you keep on adjusting and improving, you delay potential heartbreak and stress. However, the truth is that you don’t know what the outcome will be, you are suffering in anticipation without having any input other than your own.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for you to mail it in and just put out something that you don’t feel good about. I am just asking you to take a step back and assess the situation. Are you truly not ready to take action, or are you just trying to outdo yourself to the detriment of the end goal? Sometime perfect is the enemy of great.

Back to the elf story. I assessed the situation and tried to understand why we needed to one up ourselves every morning. What would be the results if I just moved the elf instead of going all out? What if I planned that we would have one intricate Elf situation a week, instead of everyday? Doing so took the pressure off.

My kids ended up being happy just to see George moving, and it avoided the disappointment of not having him move. It also made the times he did do something crazy (like eat all the Christmas candy) that much more special. It turned out that it was more than good enough.

This Christmas season lets make a pledge to our elves. A pledge that we will do our best on projects to the point that we feel good about releasing it into the world. That we will not be paralyzed by trying to do too much because we know that what we have is enough. Who’s with me???

I still hate him though. That cotton headed ninny muggings.

Andre Mello is a Business Coach and hates his Elf on the Shelf. He has been in leadership and marketing for over 16 years.  To connect with Andre please visit www.wysecoaching.com.

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