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How to use gratitude after getting knocked down

....and why it might be the key to keeping us committed to our work.

A few weeks ago I was on a writing retreat with my coach and mentor, Heather Steele.  On this retreat she shared five ways to get the most out of the retreat. 

Number five on her list was this:

“Gratefulness - When you commit to gratefulness, you will raise your state of awareness and consciously choose how and what to create next for yourselves and our world.”

Reflecting on gratefulness had me thinking about all the ways I was paying attention to the hard and painful things in my life, all the things I was ungrateful for.  A term for this is negativity bias.  Scientifically understood as a survival mechanism, negativity bias simply means that we pay more attention to what isn’t working in our lives.  We keep track of the wrongs committed against us, the bills that we still have to pay, the time in the hallway our colleague didn’t return our smile.  We read these things as threats and that’s why they get our attention.  We’re programmed to survive.  

But to be a leader in our modern world requires more of us.  

It requires the discipline or the commitment to notice the good.

When we attend to the bills we have paid, the food that is on our table, the kind thing our partner said to us on our way out the door, the email of acknowledgement we received from a peer, it fortifies us to stay in the game of our lives and leadership. 

And what we know is up in the world is quitting.

Remember last year when the term “quiet quitting” was popular?

Our negativity bias makes us really good at justifying a quit.

I’m hot off of a really rough moment in my leadership.  As I was facilitating a team, a few people were upset and angry and many of the negative emotions got directed right at me.  

I’ve spent days trying to pull the hurt I feel out of my chest.  I’ve thought about quitting.  I’ve mulled over all the ways I’ve messed up, been unclear, not delivered the “right” content.  My negativity bias has been really, really loud.

But the way my life is set up right now has meant that I have kept coaching, met with other teams, prepped for retreats.   And as I’ve been carrying on in my work, Heather’s invitation from the writing retreat has come back to me:

“When you commit to gratefulness, you will raise your state of awareness and consciously choose how and what to create next for yourselves and our world.”

What am I grateful for?

What am I committed to?

What do I choose to create next for myself and the world?

Heather also coaches the power of finding gratefulness in the things we are particularly ungrateful for.  

So I’ve been excavating my gratitude from a really rough moment in my work.

  • I'm grateful to know that I can survive a blow up.

  • I’m grateful for the clarity it’s given me on who I want to work with.

  • I’m grateful that I have people to call on to support me when I’m down.

It’s no secret that there are some big problems in the educational landscape.  I have a lot to say about what I see going on and I’m closer than I’ve ever been to really being willing to say what I see.  (Not everyone will agree with me or like me for it - but I’ve recently been reminded that not being liked doesn’t actually kill you).

One thing I see is this:

Gratefulness is missing.

And as leaders, I suspect you feel this.  Many of you share it in coaching sessions.  Generous acts in your leadership go unremarked on and don’t seem to generate good will.  Leaders I work with have said, “Is it even worth it?”

This past week, I’ve been asking this too.  Is it worth it to keep trying?  To get knocked down?  To feel unseen or unappreciated?

Here’s where I’m at with it and I share it with the intention that we might see each other in our work as leaders and that being seen might help us stay in the game:

  • I’m grateful for you, the leaders who really give a shit and keep trying.

  • I’m feeling hurt and have some victim consciousness (if that’s unfamiliar to you, email me and let’s do a session on drama consciousness - such helpful paradigm to understand our mindsets) which is really good to know because it points me in the direction of where to go to next in my own personal growth

  • I’m clear that “feedback” from people who are shut down to gratefulness isn’t something I’m open to right now

  • I’m grateful I get to try again with other leaders and other teams

  • I’m willing to see all the good in our schools, in the systems, in our resources.  I don’t lead in Gaza or Ukraine where safety and basic resources are scarce.  

  • I’m more committed than ever to learning how to source from joy and ease in my leadership

And with all this said, I end up in a familiar place.  The only person I control is me.  If I’m seeing a gratefulness problem out there in the world, I’m going to get really right with myself before I do anything else.

This Thanksgiving week I’ll be journaling to these prompts below.  Please join me and email me with any insights or breakthroughs so we can be learning and growing together.  

Journal prompts:

  • What am I grateful for?  Be super specific.

  • What am I ungrateful for?

  • What gratitude can I find in the things I am not grateful for?

I’ll also be taking some easy gratitude actions:

  • Texting and emailing mentors, teachers, family - whoever - genuine words of appreciation

  • Meditating.  Just ten minutes, as many days as I can make it happen.

  • Ending my day with gratitude for my body - the blood I feel flowing through my veins, my heart pumping away, my legs that moved me around, my neck that held up my big ol’ head and that has done a good job healing from surgery not long ago

  • Prayer.  I follow a basic structure.  I say thank you and then I ask for help. 

Let’s consciously choose gratitude together, raise our states, and return from break clear in what we want to create and lead for next.

With gratitude,



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