I am sitting in an open, terraced coffee shop in Canggu, Bali, up steep and rickety stairs. I have just had cross words with our the lazy villa manager — a fat Javanese man who seems to be 50% smiling assassin and 50% Mafioso and I am 100% grumpy. It is humid, my hair is frizzy, my tummy a little upset. From my funky, but uncomfortable chair, I can see stray dogs fossicking through the rubbish strewn all over the ground. I have raised the average age in Canggu by 20 years. The tanned lovely young things are emerging from their Bintang induced slumber and are now slurping juices and eating acai bowls — making sure they photograph them first for Instagram. My coffee tastes like heat-treated milk and the watermelon juice could do with some ice.
Yet still I am the happiest person alive — because for me, this litany of annoyances is pure gold. How extremely lucky am I to travel – full stop?! How gorgeous is this warm breeze and to be able to hook my Mac into their WiFi and to work uninterrupted for as long as I like? Then when I look up from my laptop I see the lovely long mocha legs on that beautiful French girl, a smile dancing on her face as she and her travelling companion remember the fun of last night. Do they know how lucky they are? It doesn’t matter because I can appreciate it on their behalf – it’s one of the joys of getting old — wisdom and perspective.
The owners Labrador plonks itself at my feet and after a quick hello falls fast asleep.
I order green tea, answer a client’s email enquiry and make a handout for an upcoming workshop. Eventually I pay the bill and wander across the road to my villa passing a family of caramel coloured cows on the way. The staff have made the bed and mopped the floors, I think I could get used to staff, I think to myself.
Today is the International Day of Gratitude and also The International Day of Peace and I am grateful and truly blessed. Right here, right now, I am safe. The volcano might blow and Trump might attack Rocket Man but here, watching the pool toys bounce and blow in the breeze, I am safe. The sunlight reflects off the pool to form palm patterns on the tiled floor — the same pattern as the beautiful shirt I bought the day before. How serene.
I am safe and I am grateful. Grateful for the tough choices I made to ensure that I have a fair amount of flexibility and choice in my life. Flexibility in the work that I do – choice in when, where and how I work. Gratitude for being able to create businesses that fuel my curiosity and pay my bills. Grateful that I am accountable to myself first and my clients, obviously, but no longer to a “boss” or an “organisation”. Grateful that I realised that I am not a very good soldier and that I no longer want to be a leader - a ‘thought leader’ maybe – but not a ‘people leader’. Grateful and blessed to coach smart, self-reflective women who just want to be their best selves. Their conversations fuel and inspire me more than they will ever know.
My life could be very selfish if it wasn’t for the fact that I love and care for someone with some pretty significant health issues — both mental and physical. I am grateful for the lessons that this brings. Some days I am so tired, busy, or I just had plans, yet none of this matters right now as he is panicking and literally can’t function without me – so we stop and go through the routines that soothe. Or it may be middle of the night before a big presentation and he is refusing to go to hospital, because the fear is real and it’s greater than the pain. In these times, and there are many, I summon up the goddess of empathy and patience and I do what needs to be done to make sure he feels safe and looked after. That doesn’t mean I don’t get annoyed, frankly sometimes I feel ripped off in this relationship. However, unlike his, my life has been full to overflowing with positive experiences, with love and opportunities. A little altruism won’t hurt me. I have learnt that empathy is as good for me as it is for the other person. As I finish this piece, he is doing his 3 favourite things simultaneously — watching soccer, surfing his iPad and having a Bintang. This makes my heart sing. He is safe, he is peaceful. I am grateful.
I am fascinated by how appreciation and gratitude can be used in the workplace without the toxic insincerity that often accompanies such “initiatives”. Ten years ago I was so self-important, so stressed, so sarcastic and so bloody busy managing everyone else’s negativity that I would have told you to shove your gratitude journal where the sun don’t shine and do something bloody useful. It’s not my job to make them happy and they get paid don’t they?, were two phrases I am ashamed to say, I had uttered aloud - often.
Since then, I have witnessed the benefits of simple daily gratitude practice on individuals and groups. I have poured over the research on being mindful, read books on noticing the small and positive in our lives. I have experienced the difference that gratitude can make to the mood and performance of teams. I understand the major constructs of positive psychology and the science of optimal human flourishing, so it is not surprising I get frustrated when these simple practices, are dismissed as fluffy, or silly and managers go looking for a package cure for workplace well-being. However, I have been where they are. I know that it is very easy to want everyone else to change, to become happier, more productive, nicer to be around, work better in the team. It’s tempting to seek out an expert, a program, a product, a magic bullet that will solve the problems for you. But no one-size-fits-all, not even gratitude. But it won’t hurt.
So stop and sit quietly with yourself for 5 minutes a day.
- What am I grateful for today and why?
- Write three things down.
- Do it again tomorrow. Just 5 minutes.
- And for the next 30 days until it becomes a habit.
If you feel worse after 30 days I will gratefully gift one hour of my time (in coaching currency).
If you feel better, or just want to share, I would love to hear from you too.