What's in a name?

Thanksgiving means many things to each of us.  For those of us in the U.S., it's a holiday that kicks off a long weekend at the end of November.  This could include traveling, cooking, eating, spending time with family and friends, watching football, beginning preparations for the December holidays, or working extra hours to allow others to do these things.  

As a kid, I simply saw this as a long and relatively dull day, and (no judging) I don’t actually care much about the food.  Fortunately, my grandmother knew to bring cool projects like handcrafted holiday ornament kits to keep us occupied while the adults talked about things that didn’t seem very interesting or important.  When the meal was finally served, the kids were at a separate table, and it seemed like ages before the desserts finally came out…

I didn’t think a lot about the actual meaning of the day.  In fact, it seems a little silly to have only one day each year devoted to giving thanks.  What are we doing with the other 364?

When I decided to make a career shift earlier this year, I knew I would be doing something that would allow me to use my experiences and skills in new and different ways, yet I wasn’t sure right away exactly what that would look like.  I also recognized that this is an opportunity to design this next step around who I am and what is important to me. 

In choosing the name for this new venture, I wanted it to represent something bigger than me.  The concept would serve as a foundation for how I would approach work and life. 

And so, Esprit de Merci was conceived.  A spirit of thank you – for my past experiences, my present life, and my future possibilities.  This what I want for my family, friends, customers, colleagues and community.  It’s a constant reminder of my starting point for everything.

While I have been fortunate in my life, it hasn't always been easy; it's taken a lot of hard work, determination and resilience.  When things don't go as planned, the easy route is to complain and question, and I've done my fair share of this.  The frustration that follows can become distracting, blinding, and potentially debilitating from moving forward. 

Redirecting that energy takes conscious effort and sometimes a little creativity.  In doing so, I've uncovered some pretty cool things to be grateful for - here are a few examples:

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Atlanta Traffic.  While driving my own car may take less time and give me more control of my transportation, there are downsides, so I was compelled to explore alternatives.  Now, I use public transportation more often, get a little more exercise, reduce my carbon footprint, and save on gas.  Last but not least, I've encountered some great people with whom to exchange smiles and positive energy throughout the day. 

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Health Challenges.  For awhile, I couldn’t remember what it was like to feel good; I was pushing through the days thinking that was the best it could get.  If things hadn't gotten even worse late last year, I may have simply accepted this as the new normal.  I committed to learning more about how my body works including the impacts of my own behaviors.  I made some changes and because of this, I am stronger today than perhaps I've ever been.

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No Wifi.  The constant angst… Am I missing something??  There is an endless stream of newsfeeds, popups, dings and little red numbers all across my phone telling me how many things are waiting for my attention.  This year, I had the opportunity to truly disconnect for two full weeks.  It was a perfect reminder that we can do without the internet sometimes.  I was able to read, write, think, learn and build new and lasting friendships.  

A spirit of gratitude goes beyond simply looking for the silver lining; it’s about changing course, freeing up capacity, and taking positive action.  It starts with taking a pause (and often a deep breath or two) and thinking, “Ok, my original plan may not be working out, so what can I do instead?”

These scenarios occur in our organizations on a daily basis, with some of the greatest gifts coming from the most unexpected circumstances.  Leaders who see opportunity in challenging situations are in effect exhibiting gratitude by turning their energy to the possibilities of what could be, rather than focusing on what should have been.  They loosen the grip of ego- and fear-driven decisions and reactions, discovering new potential for themselves and their team members.

It takes many small steps to form new habits, and admittedly I still don’t get it right all the time.  Just the other day, I got thrown off track when something unexpected happened.  While I knew the better path, I let my frustration rise.  It took me a little time to refocus and break the unproductive loop of replaying how things should have gone differently.  I flipped through the quote book at the front table in my home and landed on this:

 
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My head and my heart were telling me that something good would come out of it; I had to step away to stop the loop and figure it out.  After sleeping on the situation, and talking through it with others, things became more clear, and I am once again moving forward.  

Thanksgiving, in its most literal sense, implies reciprocity.  We receive, and we give back.  I will continue to work on celebrating this every day of the year. 

For me, the holiday itself is a time to be with family and friends, without whose support I would not be able to pursue this great adventure.  While we won't all get to see each other next week, we will be together in spirit.  For that I am truly thankful. 

 
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Thanks for reading - I'd love to hear more about your favorite holiday memories, as well as how you lead and live with gratitude!