We live in a world where far too many people find themselves far too often caught in the endless struggle of survival and never having enough. I was no different, and I often found myself in a similar place, frustrated that I didn’t have enough and wanting more. The most visceral example for me is how I dealt with various stages of life. When I was in high school, all I wanted was to graduate so I could be in university. When I was in university, I envied our professors iron rings in my longing to be an engineer. In my first job as an engineer-in-training, I was determined to get my next placement in the city of my choice. While this may read like a progressive realization of a worthwhile dream, it falls short in that I didn’t take time along the way to enjoy the journey nor where I was on the journey.
It’s only been in hindsight that I’m able to look back at highschool, university, and my first job with nostalgia and appreciation for what those phases of my career added to my life. I could share a parallel sequence in my relationship with Lyn as we dated, married, raised a family, and now plan for retirement (although I’m no longer waiting for retirement). Life on the terms of never having what you want turns the world into a battleground. And it feels like one too. It is drudgery, unhealthy, stressful, and plagued by financial pressures on the unending treadmill of wanting more.
In the early 2000s, I had what I describe as an aha moment. While most people can pinpoint the time and place of their aha moment, I really can’t . Mine was a gradual shift. It spanned a several months but it was extremely powerful. My aha was the realization that it was as if my life was handed to me on a silver platter. It all started one Sunday at church and I had no idea what was about to begin. The priest asked, “Where did it all come from?” The question seemed innocent enough to me. I’ve always believed in God but I considered myself the master of my destiny. I thought about the question a bit more at church that day, but in the weeks and months that followed, this simple question began to haunt me.
As the question noodled in my mind, I began to see that my education was predicated on having schools, teachers, books, and centuries of thought that countless people made available to me in the late 1900s. The same went for the food I ate. Instead of it thinking of it as my income paying for my food, I began to notice all the farmers, producers, and systems that bring food from around the world to our dinner table. One of my more challenging realizations was the gift of freedom. While I always knew it wasn’t me who was largely responsible for my freedom, that innocuous question made me realize I’d been taking all my freedoms for granted.
As I came to discover, my life was a gift. All aspects of my life too — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
This realization resulted in an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and without me even being aware, it transformed me from feeling that I didn’t have enough into being grateful for what I had already had—whether we’re talking about possessions, health, relationships, or career success. While I knew that more may come later, I realized that what I had now was already plenty.
At the time I was in grad school putting the finishing touches on a master’s of business administration. I was one of the many engineers who opt for MBAs to complement their technical expertise. For me, all the course work had been completed and the only thing left for me was my research. My aha moment gave me the perfect opportunity to dive into this topic. Under the guidance of my wise and caring faculty advisor, Dr. Cathy Driscoll, I landed on researching the connection between gratitude and charitable giving. While we started out looking for this simple connection, by the end of our research, we found that gratitude was the core motivation for giving and for helping others.
The stories shared by the research participants reignited my aha moment over and over again—so much so that I convinced my wife that I should quit my job and start a business where I would do leadership development focused on gratitude. My decision to quit engineering was not based on running away from engineering. I really liked my engineering work and was grateful for it and knew it was a stepping stone for what came next. In fact, the atypical career shift was based on moving towards something that aligned with what was becoming an ever more clearly defined purpose. My engineering background fully informs the approach to my professional practice at Gratitude at Work Limited.
Based on the internal transformation I’ve had, I know that we need more people to be more grateful in our world. I started my business in 2007 because businesses also need what gratitude can bring to the workplace. Gratitude has such a powerful way of transforming how people show up. Gratitude at Work is a Trojan Horse to infect society as a whole with more gratitude.
I have spent a lot more research, attention, and professional practice on gratitude since I initially embarked on my gratitude journey. Over this past decade, I’ve discovered a simple truth that applies to leaders in all aspects of life. This truth applies to leaders in offices and churches, on playgrounds, in schools and hospitals, at dinner tables, in arenas and pools, among friends, and within families and communities. Leadership applies to every breathing soul on this planet. And the truth is that a grateful frame of mind is the key to a thriving life and to not getting stuck in survival mode and feeling that you never have enough to thrive. My dream is that together we will use gratitude to transform many lives from battlegrounds into playgrounds.
Join me on the journey to the launch of my new book this fall. It’s called Surviving to Thriving: The 10 Laws of Grateful Leadership. This book is the ultimate guide on gratitude and its importance for spending more time thriving and less time surviving. Through reading the book, you’ll deeply understand how to implement gratitude in all aspects of your life.
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