The True Power of Gratitude

express your gratitude - advice on a sticky note against burlap canvas

A few years back, after attending a personal development workshop, I experienced the true power of gratitude.  At this session, we were asked to think about someone who made a big impact in our lives and to write a letter to that person, expressing how we felt.

As a serial over-achiever, I wrote two letters:  one was based on a professional impact, the other, more personal.

The first letter was written to someone I went to work for at a significant turning point in my life.  The job opportunity involved both a relocation and a change in professional direction.  In retrospect, I realize this man took a big risk hiring me; I also took a giant risk going to work for him.

Many of my friends in the organization advised me against the move.  The man is a tyrant, they said.  The last two people in this role lasted one week and one day, respectively.  Wow! I thought; how could I turn down a challenge like that one?

As it turned out, this was the single best career decision I ever made. The organization was going through a period of tremendous growth and rapid change and I learned a lot in a very short time.  Because I worked to gain his trust, he gave me lots of responsibility and lots of latitude. What an opportunity!

I learned so many valuable lessons working for him, including how to get my point across quickly, concisely and with impact.  I learned the value of taking immediate and full responsibility of mistakes and problems and I learned to respect and appreciate progress rather than waiting for perfect.

When I wrote, and told him these things, he was clearly blown away. People don’t do things like this, especially in the world of big business.  But who among us doesn’t long to be appreciated and valued for the difference we make?

The reality is that it sometimes takes years to truly appreciate the difference someone made in your life.  While I was working hard and dealing with the day to day frustrations and challenges, I did not stop to think of what I was gaining from the experience.  It was only in retrospect that I could clearly see it.

The second letter was more personal, written to a former family member.  She, too, had a big impact on me in my formative 20’s.  This woman was always a class act, treating people with respect and kindness. From her, I learned the beauty and value of a true loving, supportive partnership between two people, which led me to important changes in my personal relationships.

Also, though she was one of the best and brightest business people I ever knew, she was humbly content to operate in the background while others got the credit for her leadership and her ideas. At the same time, she did not allow people to steamroll her or take advantage; she had incredible inner strength and fortitude.  In fact, she gained the respect of many business people at a time when women did not get much credit for their contributions.  She had a very impressive way of balancing all the competing needs to do the right thing.

She was clearly moved by my letter.  She wrote and told me how much it meant to her to receive such acknowledgement; she had no idea I learned all these lessons by watching her.  After she passed, one of her family members told me she still had it nearby and read it often.  We all crave acknowledgement and appreciation.

I am forever grateful for having done this exercise and letting these people know how much I appreciated them and what I gained from having them as part of my life.

So, what about you?  To whom do you owe a debt of gratitude?  Who made a lasting impact on you that you have never fully acknowledged and thanked?  To whom can you extend the true power of gratitude?

I’m challenging you – in this season for thanksgiving – though, any time is a good time – to write such a letter to someone who made a difference.  I promise, you will make someone’s day – and more.  And you will feel the true power of gratitude in your heart and soul.

And, of course, I’d love to hear back from you about your experience with this exercise.  Thank you for being with me, for reading my letters, for your kind comments and challenges and questions.  I truly appreciate hearing from you!

Wishing you all good things.