How to Get Ahead During the Holiday Season (Or Any Time of Year)

As I write this, much of the world is in slumber. It’s the holiday season, and many people are on vacation or taking the week off. Families are getting together to exchange gifts, eat food, and nap excessively.

Get Ahead (Horse race photo)
Photo credit: Roger Barker (Creative Commons)

Some friends are taking a break from social media. Many bloggers are encouraging their readers to unplug: to rest, fast from the online world, and be present to those they love most. Which is great, but incomplete, advice.

Yes, be present. Be available. But don’t go on autopilot. This is the perfect time to get ahead. Don’t waste it.

One way to get ahead

Have you ever seen the movie Iron Will? It’s an “underdog” story about a young man who enters a cross-country dogsled race to beat the odds and save his family. Do you know what he does to succeed? He does what no one else will do.

Each night, the main character, Will, shaves an extra hour off his sleep schedule, until the last night when he doesn’t sleep at all. He is helped by a handful of guides, one of which gives him some important advice (which might be a mantra for our own lives):

You have to be strong. You have to learn focus, stamina, and balance. Only the smart ones will finish.

You have to run longer and sleep less… You’ll make friends who aren’t your friends, enemies who want to hurt you. Be careful who you trust.

You have one chance. You must run at night when the others have stopped. Run with the moon. Embrace the darkness.

Grow hard with the cold. Put pain from your mind. And on the last day… you alone will be friendly with the dark.

It’s not a pretty picture. Will’s body doesn’t cope well with the cold or lack of sleep. He gets sick, battles the elements, and encounters his fair share of obstacles. But he perseveres. And he wins.

How does he do it? When others are sleeping, he’s working.

This is how you win at life, how you break out of the constant feeling of being left behind: Work harder; show up more often; and eventually, you prevail. It’s not easy. It will require sacrifice. But it will also lead to victory.

What if you did this?

During a season when much of the world is going to sleep, what if you didn’t?

What if you tackled that manuscript? What if you got up early or stayed up late, not forever but just until the project was finished? What if you started something new, read a book for fun, or began working out?

This is the secret to beating the status quo: Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Do what you know you need to do, and do it well. And don’t think this only applies to the holidays.

Successful people aren’t successful because they’re like everyone else. They’re successful because they’re weird. Because they do what others are afraid or unwilling to do. So be weird. Be you. And start working on what you’ve always wanted to do.

Don’t work harder…

Some people will read this and get the wrong idea. They’ll think I’m advocating for a workaholic lifestyle or antisocial behavior. Not at all. What I am encouraging is you to live a life you won’t regret, one you can be proud of.

Many times, I’ve wasted energy on trivial things, squandered opportunities on distractions and comforts that didn’t add up to anything. And I’ve learned that the people who live important lives are the ones who understand sacrifice and commitment, who exchange comfort for meaning.

I want a life that looks more like that: one full of passion and purpose, a life that I don’t have to escape from.

Yes, I’ll still take vacation and time to rest, but I’ll also use opportunities to do important work. Which may mean getting up early to write, exercising instead of napping, or tackling that pile of books by my bedside instead of watching another hour of television.

This doesn’t stress me out; it invigorates me. It doesn’t steal my energy; it brings me life. And spending “down time” going deep with the things you love will do the same for you.

This isn’t for everyone

To be fair, this isn’t for everyone.

If you’ve been hustling all year and need a retreat from the world for a few days, by all means take it and recuperate. You may need to enjoy some much-needed rest in order to start the New Year refreshed. If that’s you, you should unplug without one ounce of guilt.

You deserve it.

But if you’re like many of us who have putting off important projects all year long — not drudgery, but tasks you’ve dreamed of doing and haven’t — then you really owe it to yourself to find a way to invest in those dreams. After all, they’re worth it, aren’t they?

Wouldn’t you rather exhaust yourself on the things that matter than end another year with a long list of things you wished you’d done?

How are you spending this time of year? Share in the comments.