The Thanksgiving season naturally lends itself to recognizing what we have to be grateful for. Health, family, friends, and prosperity are among the most commonly cited blessings. What comes most easily to mind are the warm, fuzzy areas of our lives that naturally lend themselves to feelings of appreciation.
But the power of gratitude reaches far beyond those things that bring immediate smiles to our faces. And leveraging this power requires that we move beyond the happy times to consider the tougher experiences we’ve had that we would often rather forget about. Because the most challenging times in our lives and our careers are often accompanied by some of the richest blessings.
- That proposal that you worked day and night on but ended up going nowhere.
- The difficult customer/coworker/boss/direct report that continually pushed all your buttons.
- The presentation you made that didn’t have the impact you would have liked.
- The restructuring in your division that pushed you to the edges of your comfort zone and required you to navigate through uncertainty that was as unfamiliar as it was unsettling.
These things that push us to our edges come bearing gifts. And we tend to move so quickly that we fail to pause long enough to unpack those blessings and truly integrate them. But when we do, we often realize in hindsight that these less than ideal circumstances allow us to grow, to become stronger, to more resilient, more compassionate, more insightful, more wise.
The circumstances themselves pass, but the gifts remain.
Cultivating this deeper level of gratitude allows us to contemplate the idea that perhaps life isn’t happening to us, but rather for us. These challenges that test our patience, push us to our edges, and appear to be nothing more than irritating obstacles are often the very things we need in order to become the best versions of ourselves.
It’s easier to see the perfect order of things in retrospect. Can you think of a challenge you faced in the recent (or not so recent) past that pushed you to your limits? Consider for a moment what you learned as a result of that experience. What did the experience itself require that you activate within yourself to successfully move through it? And how did it make you a better leader? A stronger performer? A wiser and more compassionate person?
The reason these insights come to us in hindsight is that our thinking settles. When we are not so frazzled and pressured by the need for an immediate response, or plagued by worried and doubt, the static that prevented us from seeing and appreciating the deeper purpose and significance subsides. And there is space for gratitude to emerge.
Gratitude, yes for all the things that are going well in our lives – our health, the precious people in our lives, our prosperity – but also gratitude for the experiences that allow us to see who we really are when our backs are to the wall, to step up and into our true potential, to realize ourselves to be much stronger and more capable than we thought we were.
What if you could leverage the power of hindsight in the present? What if you could learn to look beyond the tangle of thoughts that may have you in a knot as you approach a current or emerging challenge – with the knowing that this unsettling, less than optimal situation also comes bearing gifts and blessings?
What if instead of focusing on the uncertainty of the situation and the external circumstances you could turn your attention to the knowing that you have what it takes to rise up to this and any other challenge? All you have to do is look to your past for evidence that it is there.
If you take it a step further, you can become grateful for the situations and circumstances you previously wished would go away. Because you know that along with the struggle, they provide you with gateways that invite you to discover and unearth who you really are. This approach allows you to face your challenges with curiosity, playfulness and grace – mindsets that catalyze insight, creativity, and the resilience you need to find your way and emerge victorious.
Now that’s something to be grateful for.
Implications for Real Leaders
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“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity… It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
– Melodie Beattie
Someone once sent me the above quote in a card.
I remember being very moved when I read it. It speaks to our ability to interrupt what seems like a perpetual condition of restless yearning. From such an early age, we become conditioned to always look for more – to achieve more, to have more, to become more. With such an orientation, even the fruits of our labor are not fully embraced before we feel compelled to run off and do something else.
Gratitude is a state of being rather than doing.
It is a matter of what we focus on. All of our striving and yearning keeps us fixated on what we do not yet have, but desperately want. It leaves us in a state of lack, feeling as though we must compensate for something. Gratitude reverses that and allows us to soak up and truly experience the fullness of what is already ours. In gratitude, we can fully appreciate the richness of life around us – no matter what it looks like. From that state, we can more fully connect with those we love and appreciate and truly enjoy each moment as it unfolds.
Soon the day we call Thanksgiving will be upon us.
It brings with it the opportunity to celebrate – if only for a day – the richness and bounty that is ours. But this state of appreciation and celebration does not need to stop after the day is done.
For all that we want, there is much that we already have.
When we shift our minds into states of gratitude, we are likely to act in ways that bring more to be thankful for. As I love and appreciate the important people in my life, I become more lovable. As I give my time and attention to others, I realize there is a place within me from which I have much more to give. Even with the things I really want in life, I can begin to realize the small (and big ways) in which those things are already here – and be fully present to the manner in which they are already unfolding, trusting in life’s beautiful mystery.
No matter who you are or what your life is like, you have something to be grateful for.
It has been said that whatever your place your attention, energy, and focus on will expand. Perhaps this is the true art and power of gratitude – our ability to be in a place of joy and abundance and magnify it in such a way that it truly enhances the quality of our own lives, and everyone around us as well.
If you find yourself in an environment that is difficult to appreciate or feel that what you really want is a change of some sort, gratitude might be a difficult place to start to begin crafting your desired future. In my upcoming online course and group intensive, The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow, I teach high achieving professionals strategies for leveraging their experiences to move closer to their ideal vision so they can make a bigger impact doing meaningful, inspiring work and enjoy their lives more – both on and off the job. Stay tuned for more information or click here to get on the waiting list and get first priority (with no obligation) at the limited spots that will soon become available.