Gratitude: transition’s enabler

Gratitude is a big word and stands on the precipice of overuse at the moment.   I’m always wary of such popular words because it reminds me of a former colleague who was a flavor-of-the-month buzzword type.  Have you ever met one?   One month, vulnerability.  The next, birth order, transparency, and on and on.   It never really served him well.   For example, I remember being corned once by an employee who had interviewed with this guy.  “You have to talk to him,” he appealed.  It seems that during his interview Mr. Buzzword had asked about this gentleman’s parent, a parent who had abused this guy as a kid.   After that little adventure I characterize myself as ‘duly schooled’ on the risks of trendy-word overuse.   Gratitude.



Last week I thoroughly enjoyed myself in an unexpected way and it got me thinking about gratitude.  I’ve written about it once before…Leading with Gratitude.  (December 2011)  What is gratitude to you?  Can you define it in the context of your life?

My gratitude inquiry caused me to stumble onto a TedxMalibu event that featured Adam Leipzig, a film industry producer, executive and distributor.  His piece How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes is not your standard issue Buddhist-monk gratitude vignette.

In the video Adam shares some anecdotal polling he did while attending his 25th year college reunion from Yale.  He describes his classmates as well-heeled, powerful types congregating on grassy lawns.  His polling revealed that “80% of those in attendance were unhappy with their lives.”   He recounted conversations like, “I feel as though I’ve wasted my life and I’m halfway through it.”

For the happier crew, the remaining 20%, Leipzig discovered that each of them knew something about their life’s purpose.  He offers five questions that can get listeners on track to understanding this in their own world (2:30 minutes into the video):

  • Who you are?;
  • What do you love to do?;
  • Who do you do it for?;
  • What do those people want or need? and;
  • How do those people change as a result of what you do?

I found Leipzig’s piece interesting more for its two intersections with gratitude & transition than for the questions themselves.

First, Leipzig offers a better answer than anyone else I’ve heard to transition’s minefield question: “what do you do?”   His answer?  Respond only with the answer to the last question on the above list.   How are people affected by the things that you do?  This segment is funny and worth a quick listen. (7:50 minutes into the video)

Second, Leipzig emphasizes that his entire framework relies on outward facing activities.  He posits that outward facing people are the happiest.  3 of the 5 questions are external.  What do you do for others?

My cynic radar is hesitant on this last point.  Women tend to be givers….we ‘do’ a lot for others.  The question is really asking about your ‘do’s’ that are aligned with your overarching purpose.

On the last Thursday evening in February I found myself volunteering at Math Mania, an event that I co-chair at my children’s school.    Think modern era science fair.  One difference…..the kids don’t create the booths, the parents do.  If ever there was a testament to our generation’s parenting skills…..

The bubbling volcanos have been replaced with Google Glass demonstrations and touchscreen-controlled robotics but all else is exactly the same.

The event put me in a very happy moment.  It was a big give – the time involved is almost uncountable.  I loved being shoulder to shoulder with my kids on something we all thought important and fun.  I also loved the event’s energy.  Its creativity.  It’s newness…no one really knew what it should or could be.

I can’t help but think that giving made clearer those things that are important to me – particularly as I continue to explore the future.  What an unexpected gift….

In my earlier post on gratitude I quoted Willa Cather,  “Miracles seem to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for one moment our eyes see and our ears can hear what there is about us always.” (from Death Comes For An Archbishop by Willa Cather)

Maybe Leipzig is right.  The majority of purpose is what we do for others.  Maybe that lens alone could ease the stress of walking through transition….

Gratitude has introduced me to a whole new level of outward facing activities, both large and small.   Transition has challenged me to dignify those things that make me happy.   Together they create a set of opportunities for me that feel boundary-less.   Does either play a role for you?

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