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What Does Gratitude Have to Do With Career Change?

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 6 comments. Add yours.

  1. Shell Mendelson

    As a Career Path Counselor of some 25 years, gratitude is central to my work and to that of Richard Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute, who has been a mentor to so many of us in career development over the years. Thank you for reminding us that gratitude is critical to career and life change, and especially in one’s daily life. Sometimes a quick reminder makes all the difference.

  2. Hi Shell,

    Thanks for taking the time to write. I’m thrilled to hear that others are mindful the role of gratitude in career change.

    It has been a hard year… indeed a hard decade in so many ways starting with 9/11 and ending with a recession. Yet, there is still so much to be grateful for in the small daily conveniences and gifts we so often take for granted.


  3. HI Val and happy new year to you! It’s a snowy Saturday morning and reading your post on gratitude was just perfect! It made this day even better. You know I’ve been a fan of yours for years…but honestly, you really punctuated the power of the present, and the incredible generativity of gratitude, with this exquisite essay. Thank you.

  4. Valerie, this is a right on time reminder. Just today as we here in Tulsa are dealing with unseasonable colder weather for longer period of time, I had to remind myself to be grateful that I have a warm home to stay in and that I don’t have to live on the street or that I’m homeless. I was also reminding myself that it could be worst…i.e. like -30/-40 below like my friends in Canada is dealing with :).

  5. Linda Connolly

    I am so grateful to you for writing this glorious piece! The capacity for, and the practice of, gratitude is a stunning human strength. Thank you so much for reminding us of this.

  6. Patricia

    Thank you for this encouraging article! I have so much to be thankful for, even during this time of change in career, location, etc. I needed this reminder to keep my focus, instead of staring at my doubts.


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