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At my last job, several years ago, I was invited to attend a Christmas party at a different organization. The party was at a hotel, and the invitation instructed each person to bring a gift. I love cookie exchanges, gift exchanges, white elephants and all of the various exchanges that happen during the holidays. The excitement of getting a surprise gift is something I love.

At the party, I was representing the company I worked for, and the event would be an opportunity to network with many other professionals from all areas of senior services and care. I wanted to make a good impression, so I bought a new outfit – gray pants and a nice white shirt with an in-style ruffle up the front. And I put together a basket including wine for the gift exchange.

When I arrived at the hotel, I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do, but I asked at the front desk, and they gave me directions to the conference room. I was told to leave my package, the basket, at a table before entering the room. I was given a number in exchange for my gift and the woman behind the table told me that when my number got pulled from a bowl, I would receive a gift.

The conference room was decorated nicely with poinsettias and a Christmas tree. We were fed lunch. The entree was chicken (I don’t eat chicken), but everything else was nice. I listened to the presentations and met and talked with several people there, but during the whole event, I was excited every time I would look over at all the gifts on the gift table that was barely visible outside the conference room.

The party was winding down, and it was time for the gift giveaway. One woman held up a package that looked like a coffee mug filled with goodies, and another person drew a number out of the bowl. The person with that number let out a whoop and walked up to pick up their gift. They called out the next number, and the gift was a massage at a local spa. Again, they drew a number and the person with that number, yelled out, “That’s mine!” and walked up to receive the gift certificate. They went through each gift that way until there were only a couple left. I kept eyeing the gifts and thinking, “I would like that one, I hope it is that one!” Finally, they were down to the last gift, so I knew it was going to be mine. They called the number, and it didn’t match the number on the piece of paper I had. Someone in the back screamed and trotted up to pick up their gift.

The women announced that the gift giving was all over. I went to one of the women and said, “I brought a gift, but you didn’t call my number.” “Oh well,” one of the women said. There were a couple of other people whose numbers didn’t get called as well. Maybe two others. So, the women handing out numbers at the table gave numbers to people who didn’t bring gifts. Those people who didn’t bring a gift knew that they would be receiving someone else’s gift and that there wouldn’t be enough.

I was so disappointed because I love games. I love auctions, and gift exchanges, contests, and all manner of things like that. I tried not to dwell on the fact that people who cheat the system can receive a reward while others, who play by the rules, lose out.

Although I have never been the type of person to cheat out others, I vowed again that day to be generous, not to be selfish and try not to have people experience the world as unfair or negative because of my actions.

Now, if someone is going to be left out of a game, prize, or event, I choose to be the one on the outs, because  I remember how awful it felt to play by the rules and wait in anticipation for something that never came.