This thought needs very little explanation. My heart is overflowing with gratitude today - for the incredible family and dear friends who will share our Thanksgiving table, and those who can't join us but are with us in spirit. I am also grateful to you - dear readers - for joining me on this journey of New Beginnings. May you have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving wherever you are.
Thanksgiving stirs within many of us a heightened appreciation for the people and things for which we are grateful. We look forward to celebrating with family or friends or trade phone calls and emails with those who are far away. Throughout Thanksgiving day, I often think of friends and family who are celebrating elsewhere, wondering what they are doing at a given moment - picturing them in the kitchen, relaxing on the couch in front of a football game, or putting the finishing touches on an elegantly appointed dining room table set for two. This year, as the holiday approaches, I am harnessing that warm energy and sending a few Thanks(giving) notes - translating these glowing thoughts to paper and sharing them.
Similar to love notes and good old fashioned hand-written notes, the idea behind Thanks(giving) notes is simply to share your appreciation with someone who has brightened your day - or your life. You needn't fret about perfect grammar or struggle to fill a full sheet of paper: some of the most touching notes I have received have been the most brief. And the act isn't limited to this week. Note the warm thoughts as they arise, and put pen to paper after the dishes have been cleared and you have said your final farewell for the night.
Who are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season? Take time to let them know!
As Thanksgiving creeps ever closer, references to gratitude are everywhere. Whether it is a gratitude challenge among Facebook friends, hymns of thanksgiving in a worship service, or advertisements featuring a smiling family around a table full of food, we are surrounded by reminders of the upcoming holiday and what it represents.
But gratitude is so much more than a feeling or a sentimental remembrance: it is a decision we all have the power to make. We can have every advantage in the world but feel miserable and deprived. Conversely, we can be in the midst of great challenges and choose to give thanks for anything - however small - that gives us a glimpse of hope on the horizon. By choosing to be grateful irrespective of our circumstances, we can unlock gratitude's transformative power.
Is there something in your life that can be transformed by gratitude? Can you make the decision to be grateful?
A popular commercial in the 1980's warned Americans, "You'll never get a second chance to make a first impression." Arriving at an impressionable point in my own life, that pithy, albeit superficial, tagline became a mantra, and I spent years "perfecting" the act of first impressions.
I knew the best impressions seemed effortless, but I understood even more clearly that projecting ease was anything but. I was never one of the girls in college who wore pearls to the gym, but I made it a point never to leave the dorm in sweats. When I moved to Washington, I took the same amount of care preparing to read in a quiet corner at the coffee shop as I did for a night out on the town. Each time I moved to a new apartment, I made it a point to greet neighbors with a bottle of wine or baked goods shortly after arriving lest our first interaction take place when I returned, red faced and disheveled, from a run.
The desire to make a good impression extended beyond appearance. When a school year turned, introducing new instructors and professors, I sought to distinguish myself by taking fastidious notes and eagerly accepting extra projects. Upon entering each new workplace I volunteered to take on tasks my colleagues found tedious to help ease their load and be seen as a "team player." When hosting new friends for dinner, I would undertake a comprehensive review of their likes and dislikes, crafting a menu that featured their personal preferences and perhaps a special touch from their hometown or favorite travel destination. In most cases the extra effort made a wonderful impression. But at a certain point I realized I was working so hard to project, then maintain, that image that it ceased to reflect who I actually was.
So I opened myself up to the possibility of making a bad impression. I am slowly, but surely, learning to say "No thank you," and just plain "No." And I am embarking on the journey of rediscovering what brings me joy. In many cases I recognize I still derive the greatest joy from putting the needs and desires of others first. In others, I am choosing to follow my inner compass irrespective of what friends and loved ones might think. I am still learning to navigate the careful balance of being true to myself without being selfish, but the journey becomes easier - and more rewarding - with time.
Can you give yourself permission to make a bad impression? What steps can you take to ensure you are true to the person you are rather than who others want you to be?
Whenever I visit my family in the Midwest, I experience a perceptible shift in the pace and depth of interactions the moment I step off the plane. The town I called home for the first 21 years of my life is full of hard working, high achieving, early rising men and women, but they manage to go about their business in a less frenetic and frenzied manner than my adopted hometown of Washington, DC.
When I first began coming "home" as a visitor, it took me days to recalibrate, and I made the transition grudgingly: Why must things move so slowly? Do we really need to spend 15 minutes saying goodbye to people we will see again tomorrow? Is that waiter ever going to take our order? Let's MOVE, people!
Over time, however, I have learned to welcome the change of pace and perspective these visits provide. I am heartened by the sincerity with which even strangers wait for a response after asking, "How are you?" I am cheered by family and friends who greet an unplanned visitor with a warm reception (and homemade cookies). I am grateful to be able to show my daughter a different window onto life as she begins to form her own world view.
I will be glad to return to the rhythms of a life and city I love, but I am embracing this opportunity to soak up more time with the people whose fingerprints are all over my life and the places that feature fondly in my memories.
Can you give yourself permission to slow down and appreciate a different pace?
Megan Blackburn wasn't looking to make a change when she was offered a job halfway around the world...in a field in which she had neither worked nor studied...in a city she had never visited...and with little time to process the decision - but that didn't stop her from saying yes.
In the latest installment of our Trailblazers interview series, the woman behind the beautiful and beautifully written new blog Sharing a Table shares her story of striking out into the unknown and the beauty of living life on her own terms.
Continuing with the theme of gratitude, I offer a favorite verse from e.e cummings. When I wake up to a day as beautiful as the past few in our nation's capital, or witness my daughter mastering a new skill, or read something inspiring, this thought often floats into my mind.
Of course, not every day feels amazing, and it often is easier to find fault than a reason to rejoice, but this quote reminds me the potential for joy is ever-present. Whatever challenges you may be facing, each morning begins a new day! There is a sky! There is nature! And therein lies infinite possibility!
Can you revel in gratitude for what is and what may come?
I recently received word that a friend was in the hospital. Without knowing the circumstances or giving it another thought, I reached out her and asked whether and how I could help.
"I'll be released shortly," she said. "Can you come pick me up?" While my offer was sincere, I hadn't considered that there would be an immediate need, and leaping immediately into action was complicated: I was finishing up a project, my daughter was soon to wake from her nap, and my husband wouldn't be home to watch her until hours later.
But as I evaluated the mental list of reasons to say no, I couldn't escape one nagging thought: Was your offer sincere or not...?
Without further delay, I made arrangements for the babe and headed to the hospital. While en route, I considered the situation. My friend is an incredibly strong, self-sufficient woman. And it takes courage for anyone in our I-can-do-it-myself-thank-you-very-much culture to ask for help. I was glad to be a safe place for her to acknowledge a need and even more pleased to have been in a position to respond.
I am as guilty as the next person of insisting I am "Fine, just fine" no matter how I am feeling or what I might need. But when we reject offers of assistance, we are not only complicating our own lives unnecessarily, we are also denying those who love us an opportunity to feel valued and valuable.
When is the last time you told a friend what you needed (or wanted) rather than brushing off an offer of assistance? Next time she asks, can you answer honestly? Can you help a friend by letting them help you?
The arrival of November always fills my heart and mind with gratitude. From crisp days and cozy evenings to the anticipation of the Thanksgiving celebration, the month invites an awareness of and appreciation for what we have and all that lies ahead.
As I reflect on gratitude in my own life, I see clearly the faces of the men and women who have invested in me. The mentors who have spoken encouragement and offered sage advice when it was needed most. The friends with whom I have shared amazing adventures. The family who has loved me unconditionally through the bumps and turns of my path.
While I can't claim to live in a perpetual state of gratitude, I am constantly aware of - and thankful for - these relationships and the grace of God that, together, have shaped a happy life. And as another year draws to a close, I am committed to embracing - and expressing - gratitude.
Rather than get caught up in the air-kiss parade of holiday parties, I am reserving space on my calendar to spend time with those who have nourished my soul. I am making time for a long lunch with a girlfriend; a weekend yoga class with a favorite teacher; a night on the town with my sposo; a week with my daughter in my childhood home.
Who are the gardeners who have helped your soul blossom? How can you share your gratitude with them?
Over the course of the past several weeks, I have had the opportunity to reconnect with three of my dearest friends - all of whom reside far from DC. Two of these friends have been part of my life for more than two decades, and each of them holds a very special place in my heart.
Whether meeting up on familiar ground or exploring new destinations together; whether joined by our families or catching up one-on-one; whether we had last seen one another a few months or a few years ago, the experiences had one thing in common: an instant ease.
There was no need to manufacture conversation or couch a response. We spoke freely and sat quietly. We laughed about past experiences, caught up on current joys and struggles, and discussed what the future might hold. While we have each been shaped and changed by the journeys that have led us in different directions, our intrinsic connections have remained strong. In the midst of the frenzy that is life, such consistency seems rare, and the experiences were incredibly grounding and comforting.
Each encounter left me feeling refreshed - and curious why such reunions happen so infrequently. Of course it can be a challenge to coordinate calendars, and traveling across the country - let alone halfway around the world - can be a strain on the schedule and budget, but I intend to make such connections more of a priority moving forward. And when a long drive or flight isn't possible, I will pick up the phone or send a handwritten note to bridge the gap until our next meeting.
Could you benefit from reconnecting with a dear friend? What steps will you take to make it happen?
Thank you for visiting the Starting Over blog. Stop by anytime for a dose of inspiration, tools to help you achieve your goals, and a community of fellow travelers. I hope to see you often!