Back in the Summer of 1983, I was working at a sign company in Allentown. I was excited to start my career, and since I was already working part-time at the company, I jumped at their offer of full-time employment. Due to my youthful exuberance, I chose to not celebrate completing high school, instead going immediately to work the day after graduation.
Six years into the role, my attitude towards my job took a dark turn, forcing me to try and make sense of why it was happening. The business was doing well, but I was not. I had grown increasingly bitter and resentful and started blaming everyone and anything for what I perceived as a lack of opportunity. The problem wasn’t the company; it was me.
My supervisor, Mr. Darryl Shellhamer, had witnessed my slow and steady transformation into the dark side, and he grew concerned. He spent time coaching me, often trying in vain to help me understand that my life is not as bad as I was making it out to be. He wanted me to stop looking for all the wrongs in every situation and instead focus my energies on the positive aspects. In retrospect, I can see what held me back was my complete lack of awareness and appreciation for all the good in my life. Privilege, without gratitude, becomes an entitlement, and entitlement is the natural enemy of gratefulness.
While a positive, mental attitude was something that had eluded me during my time working with Darryl, his efforts were not in vain. Fast forward some fifteen years later; while I was working for a different company, I had a rather rude awakening when I was asked to lead a team where several individuals needed major gratitude adjustments. That’s when the lessons Darryl tried to teach me came full circle. Karma wanted my mea culpa. All that Darryl tried to instill in me, I now found myself using to help my new team grow and succeed. Trust me when I say that I can appreciate the irony. Lessons taught to me that didn’t stick then now get used by me to help others change their behavior. The biggest lesson for me from Darryl was that he never gave up on me. He may have gotten frustrated, but he always believed that I had it within me to change. That left an impact on me.
Recent studies on the topic of gratitude have proven quite convincingly the many aspects of your life will improve once you begin embracing a positive mindset. Many experience better sleep, less stress, improved relationships, lower blood pressure, more robust immune systems, and generally feel more alive, alert, and awake, and have higher optimism and happiness levels. Cultivating gratitude is not difficult. It merely requires that you shift your mental focus and be open to the abundance present in your life. The beauty of it is that anyone can do it, and the rewards are real and life-changing. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, studied the link between gratitude and well-being. “Gratitude is fertilizer for the mind, spreading connections and improving its function in nearly every realm of experience. Gratitude empowers us to take charge of our emotional lives and, as a consequence, our bodies reap the benefits.”
For the uninitiated, I’m sure this sounds like folly. I can assure you it’s not. A positive mental mindset is one of the tools I use daily. Next time you find yourself spiraling down a rabbit hole of disappointment or feeling sorry for yourself or your current situation, try applying some good old-fashioned gratitude. Over the years, Whenever I get asked about the one thing that helped me the most during any rough patches during my life or career, it always comes back to optimism. That singular ability to believe that whatever challenge you might find yourself facing, by being positive or looking for a silver lining, You can work your way through it. The Persian poet Rumi sums it up best, “Wear gratitude like a coat, and it will feed every corner of your life.