As I drove alongside the Connecticut River today, I spotted two snow-white swans gliding elegantly atop still waters. I felt so blessed to have been in that place at that time to experience such a serenely beautiful moment. I feel lucky that way… a lot.
I don’t think I happen upon these moments any more than anyone else does. I just “see” them more than others do. I believe that’s because gratitude is so central to both my life and my work. I also happen to believe that maintaining a state of gratitude is fundamental to the process of changing course. Yet, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard another career counselor talk about gratitude as an essential element of career change. Come to think of it, I’m not aware of any career related books that talk about the importance of being thankful either.
I think perhaps the reason you don’t hear a lot of career change agents talk about gratitude is that we’re in the business of helping facilitate people moving from where they are to where they’d rather be. Changing your work and life are by definition all about the future. Gratitude on the other hand is very much about the present.
I understand that it can be pretty tough to be grateful when what you want is freedom, time, and a deep knowing that the work you do matters, but what you have instead is a soul sucking job that leaves you no time to see, never mind smell, the roses.
And yet if you really want to make a positive change, I believe it’s imperative to shift from a state of constant yearning for what you don’t have to being mindful of those blessings, however small, that you do have… right now. Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin talked about this concept in their groundbreaking book Your Money or Your Life. They write, “So much dissatisfaction comes from focusing on what we don’t have that the simple exercise of acknowledging and valuing what we do have can transform our outlook.” Said another way, ungrateful people make lousy self-change agents.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that there is a lot wrong in the world. Far too many good people dying in too many bad wars… far too many people losing their homes because of bad loans… far too many people with no job at all. I know, too, that during this holiday season that some of you may be faced with dire circumstances. Yet, “Once we are above the survival levels,” say Dominguez and Robin, “the difference between prosperity and poverty lies simply in our degree of gratitude.”
Even during my most financially challenging and emotionally discouraging days of struggling to transition from my corporate job to working for myself, I still knew on any given day that I was blessed. I can see. I can hear. I have all my limbs. I am, God-willing, free of disease. I live in relative safety. I have food. I have heat. I have clean water. I have access to medical care. I have transportation. I have friends and family who love me. And I am blessed to have all of you.
At the risk of going all Oprah on you here, to me living life from a perspective of gratitude is not just an exercise in happy thinking. To me it goes much deeper than that. Melody Beattie described the benefits of gratitude well when she wrote:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity… It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
On the bulletin board at my post office hangs a quote from the Women’s Theology Center in Boston. It reads, “We must go slowly, there’s not much time.” Achieving a dream takes hard work, perseverance, and, yes, time. Yet, life is too short to put off happiness until we have achieved our goal. In other words, with a dream, as with life, the journey is just as important as the destination.
As you enjoy a drink of clean water, a warm bed or the company of a loved one today and every day, pause and be grateful for what and who is in your life right now. Go after that better future… but also be here now and savor the journey.