This Year Don’t Leave Magic on the Table: Bookend Your Life with Rituals

This Year Don’t Leave Magic on the Table: Bookend Your Life with Rituals

Erica Keswin
Lady Gaga's daily rituals, illustrated. from

Lady Gaga eats breakfast and has “mindful thoughts.” Jane Austen woke up and played the piano. Beyonce prays.

Me? I walk to Starbucks for my grande, extra-hot soy latte. I travel so much these days giving talks and doing research for my next book on rituals at work that I don’t always get to my favorite pilates class, but unless I’m doing some kind of crazy fast or retreat (which I’m known to do. Check out this recent article from Forbes), I can always find a Starbucks. 

In this wonderful illustrated piece on daily rituals of famous women, based on Mason Currey’s book on the same topic, we learn about the daily delights of 36 creative women, the kinds of things that keep us all juiced up and in-the-making. 

It’s no surprise that morning rituals are a thing for the women of history because we modern women love them too—yoga, meditation, cycling, coffee, special brews of teas and juices. Whether or not we consider ourselves “morning people” (Coco Chanel slept till noon), or particularly superstitious, we humans love our rituals, and mornings just seem to be made for them. When my kids were little, I lived by the words of the late pediatrician, Penelope Leach, who encouraged parents to “start the way you mean to go on.” What she meant is that if we want our kids to like spinach, don’t even get them started on goldfish. 

But here’s a question: What about end-of-day rituals? A lot of the 36 women featured end their days with things like “entertain” or “read” or “write memos.” Kind of a letdown to the glamour and glitz of morning rituals, don’t you think? I understand—we’re tired by the end of the day. We want to hang out with the people we love. We want to catch up on work while watching the news and eat our favorite ice cream. (I was obsessed with the peppermint bark ice cream from Häagen-Dazs over the holidays—it’s only around once a year.) Or, if we’re Lady Gaga, when else can we read our fan mail? 

But this is what I’ve learned talking to folks of all kinds about rituals at work and at home: Rituals aren’t just stand-alone events. They’re best as bookends, casting a spell on both sides of the most mundane of activities. We’re leaving valuable magic on the table if we don’t begin and end with rituals. Likewise, for those of us who are heavy on the ending rituals…don’t forget about the beginnings! Maybe you read to your kids every night, but wake them in a fluster and flurry—breakfast and backpack and teeth brushed—oh my! 

Who couldn’t use a touch of magic in the morning?

Take a wedding ceremony. There’s nothing inherently tear-jerking about walking down an aisle, and there’s nothing automatically celebratory about throwing rice or birdseed or blowing bubbles. But because we grant those actions magical properties, they influence our experience of a wedding, whether we’re the ones taking vows, or just guests. Wedding traditions abound—from the beginning to the middle, to the end—surrounding the actual business of getting married with ritual. 

Morty Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, is one of the ritual rockstars I’m featuring in my new book, Rituals Roadmap: How to Transform Everyday Routines into Workplace Magic (McGraw-Hill 2021). After he left Williams College to become the President of Northwestern in the summer of 2009, one of his very first meetings was with the office of Student Affairs. He asked them, “What are our long-standing traditions?” The response was, “What traditions?” While Northwestern doesn’t date back to the 1790s like Williams College and other East Coast educational institutions, Morty still wanted to identify and amplify existing Northwestern rituals and create new ones. 

One of Morty’s colleagues suggested they create a ritual for incoming students, walking kids through an arch on campus. Morty loved it. The first year they had about 20 kids pass through, and the second year, that number grew significantly, and by year three, every single student—over 2000 kids marched through the arch. They were led by a marching band, their proud parents on the sidelines, wiping away the tears. Today, this ritual is not-to-be-missed.

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Soon after the incoming march became a ritual, someone came up with the idea of walking students back through the arch before graduation. Morty told me, “Yeah, that’s still a work in progress. The first year, there were 50 kids. And this year, there were probably 700 kids. It’s not 2,000, but we’re getting there.”

Morty once asked a student about their proudest moment as a Northwestern student. The student’s response: “My best moment that brought me to tears was March through the Arch because to be part of such a grand old tradition really touched my soul.” Morty told me, “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was only the third year!” 

When a ritual works, that’s what happens—it feels like it’s been there forever. And everyone participating in it feels like they are part of something big, and like they belong. What could be more magical than that?

Erica Keswin is a bestselling author, internationally sought-after speaker, and founder of the Spaghetti Project, a ritual devoted to sharing science and stories of relationships at work. With her outstanding career, she helps top businesses, organizations, and individuals improve their performance by honoring relationships in every context. 

Erica will be a keynote speaker at NYC SHRM’s Annual Conference, Navigating Next. Be sure to catch her session “Don’t Stop Believin’ – The Human Way to Transform Everyday Routines Into Workplace Magic” session to learn how important and useful routines can be at work, impactful to business outcomes, and doesn’t have to cost a penny.

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