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What Does Gratitude Have to Do With Career Change?

Valerie Young and her wonder dog, By Valerie Young 

This article originally appeared in Issue 175 of the Changing Course Newsletter

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.

There are 17 comments. Add yours.

  1. What an eloquent article! I think I discovered the power of gratitude during an especially low period of my life when I was trying to start over and seemed to be going nowhere. I realized that often when my daughter got home from school I would begin dumping all my woes on her. One day I called a halt to it and we made a pact that on her return every day we would greet each other by telling 3 great things that had happened. Some days it was not easy to come up with even that short list, but we did it. And pretty soon there were many good things to report. What I know for sure is you can’t whine your way to success.

  2. J Mckenna

    I too, believe in the power of gratitude and I came upon it during the lowest time of my life. I would open my eyes in the morning and say to myself “this IS a nightmare. I’m NOT dreaming.” After a few months of this pattern, I decided that my feet couldn’t touch the ground until I went through a mental list of what I was grateful for – from my eyes to my limbs to creature comforts – friends, family, etc.
    This exercise not only changed my mental and emotional state, it helped transform my life into a dream – and my entire life underwent profound change in just one year. It doesnt mean that fears don’t arise, but I give “what I have” more power than what it is I want or don’t have – and it’s made an immeasurable difference on my life. As a business coach, I find myself using this tool with clients and it works.
    Thanks for the article, Valerie and Barbara – I love the “3 great things that happened” – excellent exercise…great way to end any day.

  3. Valerie, Thanks for sharing your wonderful piece on Gratitude. It’s amazing what happens when one is grateful for whatever happens in our lives. Last night, I watched a Dr Wayne Dyer Google Video, and he talks about being in a constant state of gratitude. Rhonda of The Secret, also talks about this subject in her latest book. It is exactly what Inspirational Writer – Eleesha writes about. Thank you for sharing. Regards Eddie

  4. Every morning, I rise before the sun and walk my neighborhood, and I am grateful for every moment of those 5 miles thru all the seasons of nature and my life. I blog post ‘Walk About’says it.

  5. Tony

    Fantastic article Valerie – probably one of your best.

    It really is so important to have an end-point in mind and start walking towards it. You won’t get there over-night, but you can enjoy the daily journey, the small wins along the way, and the satisfaction of knowing you are heading in the right direction.

    Life is really wonderful, but when people have lost their way it is difficult for them to see that.

    Thanks again!

  6. John Kidd

    Gratitude is being grateful for what you already have, despite what we may not already have or possess. I’m ambitious, often replace one goal with another after it is accomplished, yet I continue to be grateful for all that life sends me.

    I have learned to maintain a humble, yet grateful attitude. It helps me to continue changing (after leaving the military over several years ago and adjusting to real-life!) and be a more rounded person. I appreciate and am grateful to everyone who has taught me some things, including Valerie’s newsletter!

    A problem is nothing more than “an opportunity in work clothes!” It is something to be resolved and learned from… not something to gripe about!

    Just because we’re not satisfied with where we are presently, we can still be grateful. There is nothing wrong with being dissatisfied, provided it is coupled with sincerity and thanksgiving.

    Just adding my two cents worth.

    John Kidd (USN/Ret)
    Certified Public Bookkeeper & Tax Preparer
    [email protected]

  7. Ana

    I put the deliberate mental act of gratitude into practice 20 years ago, when I was living in L.A. and was trapped in a job I hated, making little money. Still, I had my own apartment, which I don’t have today, and friends and independence at least outside of work, some of which I also don’t have today.

    I expressed gratitude every day for nearly 16 years … and what happened was more of the same. I am convinced the Universe heard my expressions of gratitude for what I had and sent … more of the same. Nothing better ever happened no matter what I did — until I finally chucked it all in an incredible risk and ended up worse off than ever.

    So I hesitate to concentrate so much on gratitude today, when things are so much worse. I think the motivational gurus tell us all this about gratitude as pop psychology: Most will get nowhere, so let’s teach them to be grateful for what they have because that’s all they’ll ever have.

    I am still grateful for the blessings I do have, and express it often. I will never fall out of that habit. But after battling for too many years, I’m exhausted with all this motivational talk that never actually gets anyone anywhere.

  8. Joyce Norman

    Great article without preaching. You just can’t say enough about gratitude. I am grateful for many things…my home, my son, a special friend and grateful for the gift for writing. It gives me a voice and I am blessed that I can express my feelings to people via paper and pen.

    To me, gratitude should be the driving force in each of us. Staying grateful beings grace.

  9. Jean Ash

    Valerie, I am so grateful for your article. I have a whole lot more going on in my life than I ever could have antcipated and I can say that with all of that I am so grateful for everything on many levels. I just wnated to acknowledge you for puting this in your newsletter…it may be the most important topic there is!!

  10. I’m one of the lucky ones who left a full-time job to live my passion and write about it in Discover Your Passion and Profit From Your Passion, BUT I have to read an article like this or words from Barbara Winter’s e-zine to remind myself that the meaning of life is found in gratitude, practiced on a daily basis. Because it is so easy to step off the path of gratefulness and descend into less sunny climes, I will print this article and post it next to my computer. Thank you, Valerie!!

  11. Wonderful article and timely. I am aware of my blessings, and unfortunately I don’t recognize them enough. As a transitional person who is launching her own career training company I know the importance of being grateful and acknowledging the good things I have now in my life. One of my best blessings is my 14 year old daughter who often reminds me to be grateful for what I have – out of the mouths of babes! If nothing else, being grateful keeps you grounded and realigns your spirit into the positive.

  12. Teresa

    Thank you Valerie for this wonderful article and thank you everyone for your comments. It really touched my heart today. My family is currently faced with some serve financial difficulties and I have only been able to focus on these problems doing this holiday season. Thank you everyone for reminding me that I do have many things to be grateful for everyday. I’m very lucky that my boss does allow me to work from home occasionally and I’m doing that today. I live in Denver and yesterday it snowed all day. Today I can look out my window and see the sun shining on the beautiful sparkling snow. I have a warm place to live, I have food to eat, I have clothes to wear, I’m healthy, I have a job and a great family.
    I like John’s comment: A problem is nothing more than “an opportunity in work clothes!.
    It’s time to take a different look at my problems instead of just worrying about them and see what opportunities I do have.

  13. Michael Love

    I’ve been asked by many what do credit the way I look and act for my age, which is a considerable no of years I say I love my work love and when I occassionaly say I.m getting out of , another great client comes along and off again. The real reason I. this lucky is , all my life even as a youngster I never fretted over somethinmg I had no control over, I don’t complain, I say I bitch a lot.and last but not by any means the least I never say” I would-a,could-a or should-a. it saves a lot of phsyic energy. with no negative waves sent out into the universe to come back at me.

  14. Jackie Dallas

    I always love reading your ariticles! Just a year ago I lost a job to illness. I never thought that I’d have an uncaring employer who would terminate me for seeing my doctor during office hours. I was very ill for months, even after the loss of the job. I lost my apartment, my brand new car.. insurance coverage.. and to top it off I was the single mother of teen girl turning 13. We put our stuff in storage and moved in 7 miles away with my police officer brother. THAT was hard living! Here it is a year later. I have more than enough, and I have felt a keen sense to GIVE! People tell me.. You’ve come a long way baby, that you think about giving! I’ve always been a giver, but you know what, it takes sometimes losing something to see – our blessings. And as WE recover from whatever our situations may be, think about it.. we still breathe.. we still eat, like Valerie said.. We are clean and healthy, and sound.. We live in a garden! How can we eat from this garden and not plant any seeds? Giving thanks by giving.. giving thanks by saying “Thank you…” giving thanks by being true to yourselves.. IS planting seeds in the garden. In 365, I found a new job, that pays more.. but entails a hefty commute.. I have a new car, and new home.. I have totally new friends and people so many more people in my life I didn’t know 365 days ago! I’M LIVING IN A GARDEN!!! Thank you! Thank you! For MY Garden! Thank you for reading/listening. Thank you, Valerie for being my teacher. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  15. Lillian Murphy

    Great article. When I feel down, I list 10 things I’m grateful for. If I do it daily, my attitude improves. The fact that we can change or career or contemplate it is a blessing. Those who do not have alternatives and cannot make choices are the ones in trouble. We all create prisons of limitation, but some are really locked up more than I am. Appreciate your writing the article and sharing the wisdom.

  16. What a lovely article. So good and so particularly meaningful to me that I read it twice. I’ve been suffering from SAD more than usual this winter (I live in the northern climes where this type of mild depression is more common – should have been born a Hawaiian!). SAD gives everything a “blue” hue and it can be challenging to smile, let alone be grateful. However, I’ve always known I live a blessed life, even if I don’t always get what I want. Gratitude is an acknowlegement that God is good and is the first step towards positive change. Thank YOU for the reminder.

    Barbara, your 3 great things tip is an inspiration! Today I’m grateful for leftover Chinese food, being greeted at the door by my beautiful cat, and early shift which releases me into the sunshine at midday.

    Jackie, your garden analogy is lovely.

    Thank you all.

  17. Dear Ana, no 7, I am no authority but definitely agree with this principle of gratitude. One has to do it from the heart,not just mentally or by rote. It might feel very mechanical when you start but if you focus on what you are saying thank you for, and let your feelings resonate with gratitude, you are sure to see a difference.
    I practise it and even my posture has changed. For some of us, it is not in leaps and bounds but it is seen in gentle and quiet ways.

    I am grateful to live in such times when teaching abounds around us so much.


    Nana ( England)


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