gratitude journal

A Little Thankful Goes A Long Way

Gratitude seems to be on a lot of people’s minds lately. A quick scroll through my twitter feed this morning is evidence. Many tweets and blog posts encourage others to be grateful and thankful.   In a world full of negative press and fake news, it’s refreshing to see people express authentic and unconditional gratitude.

One of my favorite ways to express gratitude comes from Tisha Richmond and Tara Martin. They collaborated and developed the genius idea of #gratitudesnaps. #Gratitudesnaps is based on the idea that connecting people based on positive and uplifting feelings makes for better human interaction. The pair encourages people to take a picture of something for which they are grateful, turn it into a snap, and post on social media, one picture for 30 days.

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Finding and reflecting on gratitude can take on many forms and is not the same for everyone. I started a personal journey towards gratitude about a year ago. My daughters were seniors in high school and didn’t need me much anymore. I started working in a new environment, and my life was in a transitional phase. I needed to get my “why” back, so I started a gratitude journal.   At the end of the day, I reflect and record three things for which I am grateful. In the beginning, my list looked something like this:

  1. My family
  2. My friends
  3. My pets

Not always in that order, but that summed it up for a couple of weeks. Unhappy with the list, I started to dig deeper and did some more reflecting at the end of each day. My gratitude expanded to the many little things that happen throughout my daily routine. Here’s what I learned on this yearlong journey towards gratitude:

It’s all about relationships

After reflecting on the three things that enriched my day, I found I could find things to be thankful for even on the darkest of days. I noticed a pattern in my journal. Many of the moments I was grateful for were connected to another person, someone who made my day better in some small way. Each opportunity to interact with someone is a choice. If people choose to interact with you, be grateful and make it count.

Finding gratitude can be challenging

Don’t get me wrong, we all probably have similar list like the one above and that truly is a blessing. But on days when you don’t see eye-to-eye with your boss, your family is taking you for granted, or your dog just ruined your brand-new carpet, it can be hard to find three things to write in a notebook.

On a particularly bad day last week, my journal looked like this:

  1. Gentleman who waved me in the merge lane
  2. Smile from a coworker in the hall
  3. The one flower still in bloom on my outside plants

Those challenging days push you to dig deep. It’s during those moments that you realize that you can find something to be thankful for each day.

A little thankful goes a long way

After a year of journaling, my gratitude bucket is full. As I continue to record and reflect on my own day, I am now ready to express my gratitude for others in my life. My new challenge is to take time at the end of each workday to reflect on a coworker who touched my day in some way and send them a note of gratitude.

I hope sharing what I have learned during this gratitude journey helps you to recognize all the big and little things that enrich your life on a daily basis. Whether it’s a #gratitudesnap, a journal, or a handwritten note to a colleague, take a step toward identifying at least one thing every day for which you are grateful.

Ali and I are both experiencing gratitude through our blogging journey. Each comment, like, and share fulfills us and shows us that it’s okay to be imperfect. For this, we are grateful. We are grateful for hidden leaders who realize that they don’t have to be perfect in order to lead.

Is there a hidden leader that inspires you? Show them your gratitude by commenting below. It might just make their own gratitude list a little longer.

With Gratitude,

Lisa

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How To Finally Stop Being So Hard On Yourself (and get some more sleep at night, too)

I had one of those nights last week. Perhaps you know the kind. When you repeat a conversation over and over in your mind, trying to find the exact moment it went wrong, and wishing desperately that you had responded differently.

Or maybe you said too much and regret a few unnecessary words. Maybe you feel that there was a much better way to handle a situation than the way you handled it.

Usually, when I can’t sleep, I can suddenly craft the perfect response in my head as I’m tossing and turning. Too late, of course. Why didn’t I think of that earlier today? The agonizing is only made worse by the crystal clear quality of what I SHOULD HAVE DONE.

This is the heavy feeling of making a wrong move and not being able to move forward. This is what it feels like when you are too hard on yourself. It’s exhausting. I decided that I wasn’t going to let my mistakes haunt me at night. Here are the strategies that have helped me deal with post-flop regret.

Create a simple statement that you can grow from. I am much more likely to accept my mistake when I reflect on it and clearly state one specific and actionable thing I will do to move forward. Here’s one I am trying now: Listen two minutes longer before I speak. If you repeat a bold, simple statement like this often, it can put you on the path of making peace with your blunder. Think of it as a mantra that guides you through your day.

Fix it- and then let go of the details. I once delivered a presentation and failed to anticipate the questions my audience might ask. As a result, I was unprepared for the Q and A session and unable to speak knowledgeably to a few questions at the end. For a long time, I couldn’t let go of these last few minutes, even though the majority of the presentation was successful. I belabored the awkward moments in my head, wondering what the participants were thinking about such an unprepared presenter.

Finally, I wrote a revision of the presentation that included detailed, thoughtful answers to common questions. Then I filed it in my “next time” file and released the details from my mind altogether.

Reframe the Situation As a parent, one of the most useful books I’ve read is The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Alexander and Iben Sandahl. I found it so helpful that I applied the principles to all areas of my life.

The author spends an entire chapter on the power of reframing, or the ability to see the truth in a new way. Danes find this shift in perception so important that they cite is a cornerstone of resilience.

The authors described people that are able to do this as “realistic optimists.” These optimists are aware that things go wrong, but habitually filter out the unnecessary negative information.

I thought back to some uncomfortable situations I had experienced. Sure, there were a few awkward exchanges and missed opportunities. However, when I reframe them, I see them as potent lessons in leadership. And when I start to think like a realistic optimist, I feel relief that I now have the tools to avoid that approach again when the new situation might have more at stake.

Be aware of imposter syndrome. Just the research alone helps me sleep at night. Yes, you are too hard on yourself. Yes, you are so much more capable than you think. In the past few months that I have been writing about leadership, I have discovered that our audience ranges anywhere from educators, coaches, and administrators, to bar managers, athletic directors, and entrepreneurs. Such a diverse skill set, but the recurring theme that surfaces most in conversations is the feeling of self-doubt. Yet, they are viewed as leaders and masters of their field by their peers. Other people can easily recognize their strengths, but they can’t.

It’s easy to see how a few simple mistakes can make you feel like a fraud, or worried that people will finally see that you are not as experienced or talented as they thought you were. The first step in overcoming this is being aware that this exists in the first place. Then, flip the scene. For every scenario that you feel exposes your weaknesses, think about how the same scenario reveals your strengths. Chances are, that is what people are seeing anyway.

Others feel the same way you do—about themselves.  A good friend and I struggle with these feelings often, and we pass this same piece of advice back and forth to each other when it’s needed: Nobody goes home thinking about the mistakes you made. They are too busy losing sleep over their own.

We all mess up from time to time. We are human, and we are imperfect. In fact, we will experience missteps time and again. That’s what happens when you put pen to paper, or share an innovative idea, or take the lead when others need a guide. And while we can’t avoid minor setbacks, we don’t have to lose sleep over every single one of them. I think I am finally ready to believe that.

After all, who’s keeping count anyway?

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When You Need to Hit the Reset Button

When You Need to Hit the Reset Button

My daughter ran track during high school and will soon participate at the college level. She favors the mid-distance runs, not too short or too long. Her favorite seems to be the 800-meter run. For those non-track people like myself, that means running two times around a track as fast as you can.

It’s probably one of the most challenging events because it sits in between a sprint and longer, more endurance heavy events. The 800 meter is notoriously demanding, tricky to pace and apparently hurts like the devil. The key seems to be going hard in the first lap but not hard enough to waste all your energy for the second lap.

That’s how the month of September is for me. After 24 years of teaching, the balance of starting the school year has eluded me. Unlike my daughter, I don’t pace myself; I expend all of my energy in the first lap and crash before getting to October.

Exhausted and emotionally drained, I turn to the solace of books. I need to slow down and take some time to rest and regain my strength.

If you find that you too have crashed and burned after expending so much energy in September, you may need to push the reset button. One way I do this is to lose myself in a good book. I just recently finished an Audible book listening binge. Audible is an app that lets you listen to books while doing other things like cleaning and exercising. During my binge I didn’t do any of those things though, I just stretched out on the couch and enjoyed the sweet sounds of a good book.

If literary escapism sounds like what you need, read these titles below to escape to a meth lab farmhouse, a female concentration camp, a design firm in Scotland and ten years back in time.

eleanor

After a slow start, I found myself not wanting this story to end. Be warned; it can be dark and depressing at times. Eleanor is a prim and proper loner but believes in good manners and doing things right. She is completely alone in the world until she meets Raymond. The author pulls you into Eleanor’s life, and you find yourself rooting for Eleanor to settle her past and find true happiness. Be prepared for a roller coaster ride of emotions.

 

 

what alice forgot

If you could have a do-over of the last ten years of your life would you? That’s what Liane Moriarty wants to know in What Alice Forgot. Author of Big, Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty addresses the family unit, infertility, loss, and love. Alice is a single mother of 3 going through a messy divorce. An accident at the gym leaves her with a bump on the head and missing the last ten years of her life. She wakes up thinking she is pregnant and madly in love with her soon to be ex-husband Nick. Travel with Alice through this touching and thought-provoking story as she tries to unravel the mystery of the last ten years.

 

Lilac Girls

Martha Hall Kelly’s story is centered around three very different women with three very different situations during WWII. Their lives come together when one of them is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this novel explores the depths of love, the shared human story and uncovers secrets hidden for decades. An uplifting story during one of the most horrific times in our history.

 

all the ugly and wonderful things

This novel pulls you outside of your comfort zone and asks you to read without judgment. It reveals things that are ugly and uncomfortable like family discord and mental illness while showing you wonderful things like unconditional love and understanding. Simply put it’s about Wavy, the young daughter of a drug dealer and his abusive wife, and Kellen, a loner drug runner, and ex-con fall in love. However, there is nothing simple about this novel. Just read it, you’ll see.

 

If you sprint through September and need a breather, take a weekend and choose a book from our stack. For more titles check out our Pinterest page for a glimpse into our literary life.

Tell us what you are reading. We’d love to know!

Lisa

 

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why people don't see you as a leader

Why People Don’t See You as a Leader

As an educator in teacher leadership positions for the past 6 years, I am pretty confident that the people around me don’t see me as a leader. Perhaps you’ve felt this way, too. You are probably right.

I’ve often thought to myself, I don’t look like a leader. I don’t command any kind of attention when I enter a room. I trip over my own words when I’m faced with uncertainty. I suffer from an extreme case of imposter syndrome. Even now, I just wait for someone to call me out as a fraud. That girl writes about leadership?

For a long time, I harbored a deep insecurity about how others around me perceived my supposed leadership. Was I an imposter? I became frantic, doubting I was enough for this thing called leadership. And for those around me, what did they see?

A Mentor’s Feedback

I turned to a trusted mentor, a colleague that had always defined and modeled leadership for me. I asked for her feedback. I wanted to know what she thought. Did I look like a leader when I facilitated that training? Did I sound like one when I gave suggestions to the teachers?

It turns out, I was asking the wrong questions. This mentor helped me realize the glaring error in my reasoning. She flipped my whole idea of leadership on its head.

“I’m really not sure about that,” she said easily. “I wasn’t watching you. I was watching the teachers.”

I looked at her, about to repeat my question. I wanted feedback on my leadership.

She continued, “The teachers were smiling. They were pushing each other to be better, celebrating each other’s victories. They had the space to grow.” She didn’t mention anything I did at all.

And then it was clear. She couldn’t answer my question because it was the wrong question. I cringed at my glaring mistake. I had leadership all wrong.

I used to reflect a lot about my impact as a leader, and I still do. But I no longer ask myself, What do they see when I walk into the room?

Instead, I ask, How did they feel after I walked out?

Great Leaders Create a Trusting Culture

My mentor’s message stuck with me. I shifted to a new mindset. I’m really not sure whether people see me as a leader, and it doesn’t matter. People don’t see leadership, they feel it. The true mark of leadership shines through when you stop looking at the leader.

Shortly after this talk with my mentor, I came across Simon Sinek’s TED talk, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe. He talks about how leadership is not a set of instructions. You can’t tell people to be inspired, cooperate, or trust. They have to feel it. Sinek says that remarkable things happen when people “feel safe and feel like they belong.”

This is the very reason why leadership defies rank and title. The person who makes others feel the most safe and the most cared about creates the most change.

I thought about some mistakes I had made the previous year: giving advice when I should have been listening, forgetting the nuances of daily life as a classroom teacher, making assumptions. My first instinct was always to gloss over these mistakes, pretend they weren’t important.

Now, I allow my mistakes to be transparent. Yes, this could affect the way others see me. It’s even possible they look elsewhere for leadership. I’m okay with that, as long as they trust that they too can make mistakes. That they are on this same journey, too.

It’s no secret that leadership is about serving others. Yet, when we assess our leadership, we tend to look for what people think about us. It’ s not about us, and it never was.

Great Leadership Breaks Barriers

Five years ago, I visited Brazil for two weeks for an international teaching experience to raise global awareness in education. During my visit to my host teacher’s school, I felt a strong connection with the teachers who greeted us.

I remember walking into the staff lounge, greeted by baskets of pão de queijo and a group of warm, smiling teachers. The principal introduced me. In a soft voice she practically whispered, “Please welcome Ali, our American teacher who wants to learn about our wonderful school.” Then she gestured for everyone to gather close around the warm, cheesy bread.

One of the teachers spoke Portuguese only, and nodded and smiled as we conversed about the school. Halfway through the conversation, she pulled me close to her and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. She smiled warmly at me, and despite the language and cultural barrier, I felt like I belonged.

The soft-spoken principal did not say much more, and she stood back as we swapped stories full of similarities and differences. She created a feeling of trust and acceptance in her building that was so strong, I forgot how far I had traveled to get there. I realize now this is what my mentor was talking about.

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Whether you have an official title as a leader or not, chances are you have wondered how others see you. Do they see you as a leader? Perhaps you wonder if you are leadership material, if people are about to call your bluff, or if you have it in you for others to follow you. But it’s not about how people see you—it never has been.

If you want to know how your actions will change the way people see you, instead ask, “How will this change the people around me?”

Because people don’t see leadership. They feel differently because of it.

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In Leadership, Compassion Matters

 

I was three months pregnant with twins when I got a phone call at work saying I needed to come home; my mom was gravely ill. After I hung up with my dad, I tried calling my husband. The gym office was busy each time I tried. After several attempts, I gave up, closed the door to the small conference room, and with tears in my eyes told the secretary I needed to leave. I uttered the words that my father said, “your mom is very sick, and she’s asking for you. I think you need to come now.”

I left that day and didn’t return for two weeks, after my mother’s funeral.

Normally the hour and a half drive is simple and quick. That day, my racing thoughts tortured me for the entire drive. Shelly, the secretary, was able to get in touch with my husband, so he wasn’t too far behind me. His school’s response was the same as mine: “Go, now.”

Each of our respective schools offered so much love and support during our time of need. My coworkers and teammates picked up my work load, sent flowers and cards, and many made the drive to attend the funeral. One friend even reached out to my obstetrician’s office to let them know of my situation, wondering if this stress would affect the twins.

Looking back, it was the compassion and kindness of my coworkers that kept me going after losing my mom.

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I have been extremely fortunate; I have worked in organizations that value kindness and compassion in the work place. However, for many, that is not the case.

The symptoms are everywhere. Work place memes on social media often depict sad employees not wanting to go back to work. “TGIF” is something many can identify with and heard frequently in the work place. Many people dread going to work and look forward to their time outside of work. A recent Gallop poll showed less than 30% of people are engaged in their work. They feel devalued, not listened to and disrespected. How can we change this reality for so many?

Instead of creating a dog-eat-dog environment, focus on compassion, not pressure, to motivate and inspire colleagues. Hidden leaders will be more compelled to step forward in an environment that values building trusting relationships rather than the cut-throat atmosphere that is evident in many workplaces.

A compassionate environment helps create a positive work culture, improves working relationships and reduces stress. A compassionate workplace is a win-win for everyone.

Here are some simple tips to begin creating a compassionate work culture to inspire your hidden leaders.

Make Deposits

Begin making deposits into people’s emotional bank account, a metaphor coin by Stephen Covey. You can make deposits through kindness, courtesy, being honest and keeping promises. Doing this allows you to build trusting, long-lasting relationships with colleagues.

5-minute favors

Start small. According to business professor Adam Grant, the most successful ‘givers’ don’t try to be Gandhi or Mother Teresa. Creating a compassionate workplace can begin with making it a goal to smile and say good morning to every co-worker every day.

Be Kind To Yourself

Sometimes our biggest enemy is ourselves. Negative self-talk can derail our best effort to maintain kindness and compassion. The more self-compassion we have, the more we can give to others. We must also make deposits into our own emotional bank account to be able to make deposits into other’s accounts. Make time for yourself to do the things that inspire and nurture both body and mind.

Assume the best in people

It can be tempting to see negative first. Dwelling in bitterness and negativity seems to be easier than giving someone the benefit of the doubt. However, most people really do have good intentions. People often live up to your expectations. By focusing on the good intentions of others, you are creating a positive and compassionate frame of mind.

Be Reflective

Make compassionate decisions whenever possible. Before acting ask yourself some reflective questions, What is our motivation? Are there any harmful implications from this decision? How would I feel if I was on the receiving end of this decision?

Compassion is contagious. If we begin with these simple steps, creating a compassionate workplace will begin to take on a life of its own. Creating environments where people feel inspired, cared for and celebrated allow for hidden leaders to emerge and be agents of change.

Don’t wait for an illness or tragedy to bring compassion into the work place. The start of the year can be filled with uncertainty and stress. This is a time when colleagues need kindness and compassion the most. As we wrap up this first week of school, reflect on how you can fold compassion into your everyday routine. Compassion and kindness need purposeful, daily practice to become deeply rooted and valued if we want to truly inspire and cultivate leadership.

Lisa

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