A gift of a physical thing can be wonderful, but when you give an experience, you’re helping change a person forever and shaping their life story.
For my niece’s 16th birthday last week, I sent her an engraved bracelet. Then a few days ago, also in honor of her birthday, I learned that a certain very famous TV star/producer of a popular show about a sport in England (yes, that one, though if you ask me his name, I won’t say) who happens to be friends with my brother-in-law, got brother and niece tickets to watch another very famous show be taped on Saturday night because my niece’s hero, yet another very famous teen singer, is this week’s guest star– plus, he insisted on flying them out and putting them up at an awesome hotel.
Of course, I was annoyed. Way to upstage my perfectly very nice bracelet, Mr. Guy! I figured that I’d now also have to get her a T-shirt that said, “My dad’s famous friend gave me a dream weekend in New York and all I got from my aunt was a bracelet and this dumb T-shirt.”
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Despite knowing full well that experiences make fantastic gifts (case in point, we offer a 31-day creativity-boosting course at One Lit Place that is a wonderful energizing gift for any writer), as I hadn’t seen my niece in over 2 years due to COVID, I went the safer route by gifting a thing rather than something she could do (while being fully aware that a 16-year-old liking anything is fraught with shooting-fish-in-a-dark-barrel-at-night-under-cloud-covered- moon peril).
What I do know for certain is this kid will grow to 3x her normal size from this weekend. The story of it will remain with her as one of her life’s most treasured moments until the day she dies. I couldn’t be happier to know what she’s about to do- or who she’s about to become as a result of it.
Gifts, whether physical or experiential (like those in our curated holiday gift guide for writers) are wonderful for all parties involved; the giver gets a sweet hit of dopamine simply for considering someone else: friends, family, teachers, and people in our communities, and receiving a gift is usually pretty fun. Even if you don’t like the gift, it’s still an acknowledgment of the relationship, and in today’s disconnected e-world, relationship is the particular glue that holds most of us together.
I.S., a writer and producer, was given a wine subscription to a collective last year designed to encourage conversation.
“It was fun to receive a few unique bottles each month I never would have tried otherwise with tasting notes to share with friends.”
While there is a lot of merit in a thoughtful item (I have many from friends and family I hold dear), an experience leaves a different lasting psychic mark on a person, one that reverberates throughout the recipient’s life long after the experience has ended, like rings emanating from a stone thrown into a pond.
“My dad took me to the Detroit Institutes of Arts, just the two of us. We spent the day looking at the most exquisite art, had lunch in the atrium, and took a goofy selfie on the steps. It was an amazing day I will remember always.”
Rebecca Hales, writer
Unlike an item, experiences force us to engage with inquiry, invest time, and invite deepening relationship to the self. In the aftermath, there is revelation, confidence, and expansion.
Experiences also leave us with a richer life story, and those are the stories that make up the narrative of our lives.
Even the gifts of experience we give ourselves can be meaningful.
“I have a singing membership for people at any level who want to sing more,” says Melanie Tapson, owner of Melanie Tapson Voice Care. “One of my newest members just told me this is the greatest gift she could have given herself because it’s been her mental health lifeline. She’s working full-time and parenting her teen trans child’s baby and has been totally overwhelmed – five minutes of focussed singing exercise a day has given her so much to look forward to, some structure, and has made her singing better, which gives her so much joy.”
Allison Venditti, owner of CareerLove, has seen women feel more empowered and connected from giving themselves the gift of being part of a community that honors and supports them in their work.
Kerry Byrne, founder of The Long Distance Grandparent, has witnessed transformations in her clients once they’re members in her community. “People blossom as grandparents,” she notes.
As writers, the thing we want and need most is time. I will always be grateful for my husband giving me the magic combination of time and experience with signing me up for AWP, the biggest literary conference in North America after my second child was born to nudge me back into circulation. I got to fly to Boston, stay with an old friend, and had three whole days to sink into great authors talking about writing, process, and publishing, see friends, and feel like my old self again. That conference became part of my life’s vocabulary, something I’ll always be happy about.
Writer Josie Elfassy-Isakow is in no small part changing her life because of a writing course she received as a gift.
“I was given an experiential gift that changed many things in my life: a writing course, which my mom found from a Google search. The intention behind the gift was simply to allow me to do something I like because I didn’t need any stuff. But what resulted was a spark for something I had long forgotten about within myself. I ended up taking several courses with that writing studio as well as One Lit Place, I met a community of writers that’s welcomed me warmly, I’ve self-published two kids books and I’m in the process of a career change to return to my writing life. Sometimes it’s not about the single experience, but what we discover about ourselves during that experience.”
Whether it’s jumping from an airplane or taking a class, going to a concert, or my brother-in-law and niece having to dodge 30,000 Santa Clauses (Clausi?) in NYC for a convention on their way to 30 Rock to go see the show, experiences always makes room for us to learn, enjoy, and witness, and those moments, those stories, give us the greatest room to grow.
So, for me, lesson learned. Give the chance for the story to unfold. And be grateful to kind famous people who do what seem like the impossible. Because the story of this experience is going to be pretty cool– and last this pretty cool kid for her entire life.
When you’re ready to put your lifetime of great stories to the page, reach out to find out how we can support you. Your stories are important and meaningful. And we want to help you tell them.
Thanks so much, Jenna! You’ve written another thought-provoking piece (and I always love the humor in your writing). Wishing you the best for the Holidays!
Darren, thank you so much for reaching out and for the complement- that means so much to me! (I find these days it’s increasingly harder to be funny but this is when we all need it most. I rely on my daily dose of McSweeney’s articles to keep up the faith). Thank you for the wishes, and all the best to you and N. in the new year!