Challenges and change come with the territory in business and in life. But despite this truism, the triggers for our daily stress can be relentless, coming both from everywhere and out of nowhere. From work demands to family needs to our own minds telling us to stop and rest, the stimuli can be enough to knock even the most determined person off course.
A recent afternoon offered me a telling example. Arriving home from a successful client meeting and getting out of the car, my arms were full of mail and groceries. The gymnastics of holding onto everything while trying to nudge the car door shut instead sent my pile crashing to the driveway. At that moment, I nearly lost it, a flurry of frustrations and complaints firing off from my frazzled nerves.
Truthfully, my problems weren’t about scale, but perspective. I have the means to buy groceries, I told myself. I am bringing mail into my beautiful new home. And I just returned from a meeting I felt good about.
In that moment, frustration gave way to gratitude. A minor shift was enough to remind me that my resilience levels were sturdy enough to endure the small stuff — ubiquitous in all our lives — and to keep moving.
Gratitude is perhaps the best answer to the challenges we face in business and in life, opening not only inner doors, but outer ones as well. It is not only a mindset but a practice that can be integrated into our relationships with our teams, our clients, and ourselves.
I know all too well that the practice of gratitude is much easier said, and perhaps idealized, than done. A year ago, I lost my husband and best friend of 19 years to suicide. Nothing could fully alleviate the heartbreak and fear of going on without his love, support, and encouragement — three elements that made it possible for me to launch my business around the same time.
There were times I wondered if I could have done more. And there never has been or will be a point where the grief fully subsides.
Each person’s experiences and journeys are their own. But things that happen, both large and small, reshape us. We move forward not from but with them, made more aware and more capable.
For business leaders, there are a few ways to put these ideas into practice. The first is to cultivate a sense of gratitude that is personal to you. In other words, self-help books, or even lectures from the brilliant Brené Brown will not do the work for you. Gratitude has to come from your own core.
Regardless of your situation, there is always something to take solace in, or a personal strength or achievement to feel proud of.
If even one of these things can anchor you in what feels like your lowest moment, it can completely transform your mindset.
To cope with the daily annoyances, it can be helpful to step back and take a 360-degree view of the situation. Often, this means removing yourself from it by taking a few deep breaths or a walk.
What perspective can you gain from the situation at a bird’s-eye view? And what lessons can be learned?
Second, even in professional spaces, it is important to champion emotional openness. The late Wharton professor Sigal Barsade famously pioneered the idea that emotions actually belong in the workplace and are essential to strong leadership. We do not leave our complicated selves and personal problems at the office door.
Particularly amid the stresses everyone has faced over the past two years, and the continued stigma around mental health, it is key for business leaders to embody and encourage vulnerability and authenticity. Gratitude, or expectations and demands for it, otherwise blunts our potential rather than empowering it.
Third, seek to authentically show gratitude in every space you move within. Almost every sector, especially public relations, is relationship-based. The ability to feel and show appreciation and connection creates deeper bonds of trust with clients and teams, which in turn foster a greater understanding of their businesses and interests. More people then gravitate toward you, because they see who you truly are.
All it takes is a few more thank yous, more recognition of jobs well done, and a commitment to replacing “I” with “we,” even in moments when this doesn’t come naturally.
Gratitude prevents us from taking anything for granted. For me, these are my friends and family, the incredible and innovative clients I am privileged to serve, and this dynamic city of dreamers and doers that I call home.
In this confusing and constantly changing world, gratitude grounds us. It does not ask us to forget or even sideline our challenges, but to embrace the unique gifts and strengths that are always inside us.
Wherever we are, we are then where we are meant to be.
This article originally appeared in the Memphis Business Journal.