The notion of gratitude is prominent at this time of year, especially in the United States where the Thanksgiving holiday is a widely celebrated secular holiday. It is a favorite of mine and I know many of you gathered with family and friends yesterday to eat, watch football, and visit as a way to affirm your connection to one another as well as to express gratitude.
I too am grateful for my family, friends, fascinating work, and good health.
The most significant focus of my gratitude is opportunity. While I enjoy possessions and can get pretty excited about new shoes, it is opportunity I appreciate most.
What are the opportunities that I, and many of my friends and colleagues have?
- The opportunity to start over.
Many of my colleagues have reinvented themselves and continue to do so in ways large and small. The freedom to do so is stunning.
In many places in the world, people are not able to change their lives so easily. I dropped out of college in my sophomore year but landed a job in a bank where I was a teller. A few years later, with better clothes and more confidence, I became a stockbroker. Finally, I got myself back in college and went straight to graduate school afterwards. There were challenges, to be sure, but I knew it was possible.
In the past 25 years, I’ve changed my work place only once – leaving a consulting firm to launch my own business – but the work I do has changed quite a bit. I can change my focus, influence my schedule, decide what to write and when and spend time thinking creatively. The opportunity to self-direct fuels the motivation to act.While I enjoy possessions and can get pretty excited about new shoes, it is opportunity I appreciate most. Click To Tweet
- The opportunity to learn.
I liked being a bank teller more than I liked my job as a stockbroker. The compensation was far better as a broker, but I hated it. The atmosphere was hostile and competitive in a very negative way. Clients were a means to an end.
I spent the last year as a broker in learning mode. I decided that the best time to figure out what job I wanted to do was while I had a job. I was curious about why smart people made foolish decisions about their money and why brokers were so confident in their role as advisors. I read about psychology and decision science, simultaneously. Then, I quit and went back to school. Fortunately, The University of North Carolina–Asheville, welcomed me back.
- The opportunity to help others recognize the opportunity they have.
One of the great joys I have as a consultant is to make the invisible, visible. I help clients see what they aren’t seeing. Whether I point out an opportunity or a risk, my client’s range of options are expanded.
Even more significant, is watching leaders grow so that they begin to move beyond what is immediate, focal and obvious. Many leaders believe they were born good at this, but more often it is a discipline they develop over time. Those who have the humility to be learners, especially to learn what they don’t want to entertain, create the most lasting value.
- The opportunity to give.
I am acutely aware that not everyone has the capacity or support to take advantage of opportunities. The veterans who were my patients during my residency year had suffered physical and emotional harm as a result of their service. Their ability to take advantage of opportunities was diminished by their injuries.
We see dramatic examples of people aided by stunning advances in medicine and technology. These are great and makes us hopeful. Let’s remember that many cannot access new advances. Whether one can or cannot benefit from dramatic interventions, they need, and deserve support, patience and loving care to enable them to use opportunities to the extent possible.
Illness or disability is a clear reason why opportunities may not result in dramatic improvement. Those are obvious. The less obvious reasons are social or personal. Familial relationships that discourage any one person from succeeding more than the others, for example. Beliefs that we have about ourselves that keep us from taking steps to improve our lives.
I believe it is our job to serve those who need our help. I am grateful that I have that opportunity, that I recognize it, and that I act upon it.
As we begin this holiday season, please consider how you can contribute to help those who are unable to use opportunities in the way many of you reading this, can and do.