Giving Gratitude to the Grateful

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

I recently overheard a young woman* talking about her life with another equally young woman. And as the first young woman spoke about how well things had been going, her face glowed, her eyes lit up, she seemed to exude a kind of peaceful energy that I’ve only ever read about.

“I’m so grateful,” she said, her hand pressed into her chest as though swearing to the truth. “I love my life so much, I almost feel guilty talking about it.”**

I was immediately taken aback by this admission. It seems to me that the word gratitude has been increasing in prevalence lately. It gets tossed around, casually and impulsively, like a football on Thanksgiving. There are blogs and websites dedicated to it, books explaining how to practice it, and a plethora of experts and studies detailing the enormous benefits of reaching a consistent state of thankfulness. But like a successful climb up Mount Everest—an inconceivable, almost mythical goal for all but a select few—achieving gratitude seems an elusive feat for most of us, myself included. In fact, I have wondered if it’s even possible to maintain for longer than a day, an hour, a minute.

And then here I was, face-to-face with proof: An amazing young woman who had beat the odds and ascended that mountain. But instead of standing proudly on the summit with her arms raised overhead, celebrating her accomplishment, and shouting her gratitude for her beautiful, blessed life, she whispered about her joy. She felt nearly guilty in mentioning it at all.

Why? I wondered. Why, after learning to embrace the goodness in her life, would she want to keep it to herself? And then it hit me. Although, the overall societal message regarding practicing gratitude is one of encouragement, the reaction to doing so is often the opposite. There is frequently envy, diminishment, judgment. Because if things in our own lives aren’t lighting up our gratitude sensors, then it’s difficult to appreciate someone else’s good fortune.

But we need to hear from these perpetually positive people. For those of us for whom gratitude does not come easily—again, myself included—they are our teachers, our guides, our proof of possibility. So let us celebrate them. As we learn and yearn for the ability to rejoice over the blessings of our own lives, let us also rejoice for theirs. Let us start practicing gratefulness by giving gratitude to the grateful.

*This is a relative term as: 1) I am extremely terrible at distinguishing age and 2) as I close in on forty, I’ve noticed a developing tendency to refer to anyone who appears even remotely younger than me as young woman or young man.

**This isn’t an exact quote. Although the essence of the young woman’s words affected me greatly, the actual words were quickly lost amid my declining short-term recall. Did I mention I’m almost forty?

A Purposeful WIP Acknowledges Accountability

“I can’t stick to a schedule because I have too many other things/people/chores that need my attention.”

“If he was more supportive, then I would be more driven.”

“I rarely ever get to do the things I want to do because she always makes me feel guilty.”

“If they didn’t hold me back, I could grow.”

“Someday . . . when I’m less busy or less tired, when I’ve saved enough money, when the kids are in school/out of school/away at college, when summer/winter/Christmas is over, when I’m more organized and fully prepared, when I’m retired . . . THEN I’ll be able to get more serious about my own goals.”

Do any of these statements sound familiar? If you’ve experienced that stuck-in-a-rut feeling that I mentioned last week, chances are good you’ve found yourself using some derivative of at least one of them. I, myself, have thought or felt several of these, as well as many others, at different points in my life.

For a long time, I was big on blame, resistant to taking responsibility. But once I made the decision to be more purposeful about both my WIP novel manuscript and my WIP personal development, I realized that meant turning my perpetually pointed finger in my own direction. I realized that A Purposeful WIP Acknowledges Accountability.

This was one of the first obstacles I needed to face in my effort to move forward and make progress and it was and continues to be a struggle for me. I’d much rather lay the blame at someone else’s feet than admit that the reasons for my inertia are often of my own making. I am much more comfortable playing the role of helpless victim than declaring myself the self-sabotaging villain. But progress requires a certain amount of discomfort and so into the mirror I looked.

I saw many things when I really paid attention. I saw fear, both of failure and success. I saw years of harbored grudges and unforgiveness and resentment—for others and my past self—so old and heavy it was like dragging around an extra limb oozing with bitterness and blame. But the biggest truth reflected back at me was that my progress—or lack thereof—had little to do with anyone else and everything to do with myself. It was my own self-limiting beliefs and misplaced priorities that held me back. One fed into the other, contributing to that vicious cycle of perpetual immobility and stunting any opportunity for growth. I believed I couldn’t make progress, I believed I couldn’t change, I believed I couldn’t succeed, and so I did everything in my power—including giving up that power—in order to create that reality.

And that’s what all of the above statements do. They give control of our lives to our circumstances, to other people, to our past experiences. It’s said that knowledge is power. Well, so too is acknowledgement. If excuses and blame relinquish our power, then simply acknowledging our accountability, and furthermore our tendencies to shirk that accountability, is the first step in taking it back.

So, if you find yourself held hostage by the belief that your growth, your progress, your life is at the mercy of someone or something else, I encourage you to take a closer look. Maybe the guilt you sense from that other person is actually emanating from yourself. Maybe all those tasks and chores that you use as distractions and to keep yourself busy aren’t actually all that important. Maybe you do have some precious time in your schedule to work on you and your goals, but you just need to use it more wisely. Whatever go-to excuse that you employ for renouncing responsibility for your life, own up to it. Stop giving it your power and start making progress.

What small step can you take to acknowledge accountability?

What’s Your Why?

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

There are days when I can’t seem to focus. When my words and writing projects seem inadequate and useless, mere whispers in a world already saturated with stronger, louder voices. When my inner critic pesters me with relentless questions about purpose and talent and worth until there’s nothing running through my mind but a revolving door of doubt.

Those are the days when I need to remind myself of my why. To remember why I keep writing even though it’s hard and often scary and sometimes lonely. To remember why I started in the first place. To get back to the basics. Before there were blog posts and web sites and social media platforms to worry about. Back when I was just a girl with a story, a notebook, and a dream.

That girl wrote because she had to. Because she was led by an internal spirit that refused to let her rest until she followed. She wrote with hopes of transforming simple turns of phrase into resounding prose that made someone’s day, changed someone’s life, woke someone up to his or her own passion. She wrote with abandon even when it seemed no one was reading because setting words on paper was how she made sense of the world, and of herself.

So, when my memory gets bogged down with fear and doubt and insecurities, and I forget what I’m doing and why, I conjure an image of that girl—her compulsion, her optimism, her vulnerability—and I remember that, although I have grown and changed in many ways, I am still her. I still feel that pull, that sometimes overwhelming passion to write. I still hold onto that naïve hope that someday, somehow, somewhere, my words will be a light, a lift, a gift to someone in need. And I still write, despite crickets and critics, because writing not only helps me identify and understand the world and my place in it, but it has become a part of who I am.

What about you? What’s your why? What keeps you getting up, showing up, and moving forward?