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Accepting the Gifts Put Before You; An essay by Beth Bridges

Right now, someone is trying to give you a gift.

Do you see it?

No?

Maybe you’re looking for the wrong kind of gift.

I’ve been receiving a lot of good stuff for a long time but I’m just now realizing they are gifts.

Nearly a year after his sudden, shocking death, my husband JD continues to leave me gifts. The greatest of those was this understanding and ability to see, recognize and accept nearly everything –  pleasant and unpleasant – as a gift.

The first gift I recognized was a big bag of frozen chicken breasts.

You can laugh, but it’s so typical of him. You were thinking he paid a year in advance for floral deliveries or left me millions from a secret bank account.

Nope. Prepared and practical daily living was JD’s thing. If I broke something – a piece of jewelry or my favorite sunglasses – I only had to show it to him and the next morning, it was fixed.

One day, he brought home a padded toilet seat after I complained about how cold and hard the old seat was. He didn’t say a word, just brought it home and installed it.

That was his love language – practical gifts that made things easier and more comfortable.

When he was in the hospital I ate only because my friends and family put food in front of me, but I wasn’t so out of it that I couldn’t feed his dogs. And there was no way I was going to have him come home and tell him that I fed them dog food instead of the hand-crafted gourmet breakfast of home-cooked chicken, sweet potato and vegetables that he made them.

But then three days later he died. And the container of chicken in the refrigerator was empty.

I couldn’t even think of how to start the BBQ much less go to the store, buy a bunch of chicken and grill it. So I opened the freezer – maybe they liked TV dinners – and there was a dozens of frozen, individually packaged bags of chicken breasts.

Just thaw, cut them up and go.

What a gift.

Weeks later I still wasn’t ready to spend Saturday afternoons cooking dog food, so I tried canned chicken (too expensive), the WalMart roasted chicken (too much sodium) and “frying” chicken (too messy).

I was learning the gift of home-cooking ingenuity with all these options.

Then I found the InstantPot I had given JD but that he had never used. Cooked chicken in 10 minutes?

What a gift.

Once I started looking for the gifts he had left me, I saw them everywhere.

It helped ease my grief and yet the greatest gift he gave me was directly tied to that grief.

As The Networking Motivator, I had been a very public networker for years. I went to events all the time and even if I hardly knew anyone, I was always relaxed.

And confident. In command. Comfortable.

Then – after two months of wandering around my house in a fog, leaving only to go to my Mom and Dad’s or to run with my running buddies – a business friend invited me to be his guest at an award luncheon.

A big luncheon. Full of people I probably wouldn’t know. Or worse, who would know me and would know what happened.

I think he suspected I might back out, so he offered to pick me up and graciously insisted that he needed me, his networking coach, to make sure he took full advantage of it.

I was terrified.

What if people asked me how I was and I froze up? Said the wrong thing? Forgot someone’s name? Or worse, started crying in the middle of the event? (I did, but very quietly, during the keynote speaker’s presentation.)

Me and good-guy Ted at the BBB Awards luncheon. I did my best to smile for the picture.

I was incredibly uncomfortable and unhappy while I was there and completely exhausted when I got home.

I didn’t realize for months what an incredible gift that feeling of discomfort was.

I have attended over 3,000 networking events in the last 15 years. It had been a very very long time since I had felt those distinct, unpleasant feelings.

It was a shock to be sitting there thinking:

“What am I doing here?”

“What am I going to say to these people?”

“Did I just make an ass of myself?”

And “How soon can I leave?”

So many of the people who read my book and hire me as a keynote speaker and trainer are looking to me to help them solve and resolve those feelings in themselves and for their members and audiences.

I always sympathized with them and that’s one of the reasons I do what I do… but I couldn’t completely empathize.

Oh, do I get it now.

I went to my first party later that summer and I’ll admit, I drank too much and I clung all night to the arm of a friend who had escorted (and driven!) me there.

And just in case I didn’t get the picture yet, I repeated the experience of extreme discomfort at a friend’s Christmas party.

I was fine until I got there. Then the first person I talked to asked if I had just come from running practice (his girlfriend smacked him) because apparently I was dressed inappropriately casual.

Ugh.

Once again, I felt awkward, out of place and dreading the effort of trying to make conversation when all I wanted to do was leave.

I ended up huddled in the kitchen with an old friend who was willing to do most of the talking.

I fled right before the toast …

It wasn’t until was invited by a friend to go with him to a conference that I wouldn’t otherwise have gone to. Add that “I don’t belong here!” feeling on top of the continuing social networking anxiety and it was a perfect storm.

Until suddenly, standing in the middle of this event full of truly lovely people, I realized that that feeling of discomfort was a GIFT!

And that’s when I began to embrace it. I soaked it in and relaxed into that feeling.

What a deep, useful insight into the feelings that so many people have about networking.

It caused a shift in the direction of my networking teaching, both in my trainings and in my keynote speech. I’ll be able to show people that I acknowledge and can relate to those feelings and I will be giving them mental tools and specific networking strategies to specifically address their perspective.

JD’s gift wasn’t just for me. It was for YOU too. I hope you’ll see it.

And you’ll see that right now, someone in your life is trying to share a gift with you.

Maybe they’ve got some wisdom to share.

Or they’ve had a similar experience and they can empathize with you.

Maybe they’re setting a good example.

Or serving as a horrible warning.

Everyone has a gift to share and they are freely offering it up to you.

Open your eyes and open yourself up to accepting that gift.


BETH BRIDGES is the author of “Networking on Purpose: A Five-Part Success Plan to Build a Powerful and Profitable Business Network.” She attended over 2,500 networking events in 10 years, secured a new job in 18 hours with one email, and launched a marketing consulting business through networking. She speaks at chambers of commerce, associations, and conferences across North America. Beth, 2018 Western Regional 400m and 800m W45 Champion, is training to compete in the World Masters Athletics Championships in 2020. Learn more at The Networking Motivator.

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