The Power of Gratitude: Thanking the People Who Changed Your Life
Gratitude is a gift to those who gave you so much
There’s a story in the Bible in which Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one thanks him. It wasn’t necessarily that the remaining nine were not grateful, but it did not occur to them to show their gratitude. Instead, they went on with the rest of their lives, returning to their families and homes thanks to His gift of healing. Only one came back to show his appreciation for the person who had changed the course of his life.
How many times has somebody made a huge difference in your life, whether through something they said, something they did, or something that, upon later reflection, meant a lot to you? Did you take the time to be grateful and share your appreciation?
We have this myth of a “self-made” person. We believe that leaders are selfless, lone warriors on a journey of their own making, and that success is a solitary pursuit. But there is so much in life that cannot happen without the support and encouragement of others. By acknowledging those who have helped us, we can strengthen our relationships, reflect on our successes, and pay good deeds forward.
Write the acknowledgments section of your life
How many times have you sat down and written a list of the people who made something possible?
Recently I completed my book, and my editor asked for an acknowledgments section. I was unprepared for the request, and I spent many days debating every word. There is no single person who makes a difference in your life; instead, there are many people who help you at different turning points. I tried to capture this in my acknowledgments, but even still, I felt like I was leaving so many people out.
As I was composing my acknowledgments, I started sending notes to those I acknowledged thanking them for being part of the journey that led me to write the book. Many appreciated knowing that I thought of them, though many downplayed how much they affected my life. What struck me was how a simple action on their part meant so much to me, and many of them didn’t even realize how profound it was.
I challenge you with this exercise: writing the acknowledgments section of your own life today, rather than waiting until you finish your memoir, and reach out to the people who have made a difference.
You can start small -- a list of five people who have made a profound impact on your life. Then write the following:
Name and relationship to you
What they did or said
How it impacted you
What you did differently as a result
What you are doing to pay it forward
It could be a conversation with someone that led to something great, or someone changing your life by really investing in you. Draft a short note about what each person did and how it impacted you. What actions did you take or what did you do differently? Whatever it is, follow it up with a few sentences about what their actions or words meant to you, and what you hope to do to pay it forward.
When you’re done, send each person an email that includes each of these points, thanking them for changing your life.
Take time to close the loop
As I mentioned previously, I have had an open-door policy for the past 8 years, and during that time, I have met with, mentored, or coached probably a thousand people. Many of them don’t follow up, so I am not sure what happened. Perhaps my words were unremarkable, or perhaps they touched on something important. I will never know for sure.
Sometimes, however, I hear back from my mentees months, or even years, later. When I do, it’s incredibly gratifying as a mentor. I have had people I've mentored come back and share the progress they've made. Some have even asked me for additional help, which I’ve given to them. I'm much more likely to say yes to those who I feel like I’ve made a difference to—not just because they're grateful, but because I feel like it was a worthwhile investment of my time to know I made a difference.
There came a point in my own life when I realized, to my surprise, that I was one of those other nine lepers from the story. So many people had had such a profound impact on me, yet I had forgotten or neglected to tell them. This has completely changed the way I look at gratitude. Rather than waiting months, or even years, to thank those who have supported me, I want to be more present and active in sharing their positive impact. The act of sending messages and sharing my appreciation has shown me why the nine others in the story went on with their lives. They received the gift, and they were so excited that they never looked back. But in returning and closing the loop with thanks, I have had a chance to show the impact that others have had on me.
When someone does something that is transformative for you, take a moment to thank them. Share with them the actual impact that they’ve had on you. Close the loop. By taking the time to reconnect, you are recognizing the investment they’ve made for you and showing them how far you’ve come thanks to their help.
Find ways to pay it forward
As I've been writing this newsletter for the past year, I've had a chance to reflect on and appreciate so many people who have made a difference in my life. I share their stories with permission because I want to amplify their impact by letting others see their advice. Whether it is those who gave me tough feedback, Fidji, who told me we would become CEOs one day, Yuji, who taught me to blossom in new soil, or Jim, who told me that what I thought was impossible was within reach, these stories came from a place of deep gratitude.
When I wrote out the story of my coaching relationship with Katia, she shared something really profound with me:
"Your piece on coaching and our work together was also a gift for my family. Because coaching is confidential, my parents never could grasp what it is that I do. So I sent your article to each of them for context. Your piece lifted the veil on what coaching is and [has been] a window of the impact my work has on people’s lives in a very concrete way. Thank you."
Though I had written the article as a tribute to our relationship, Katia came back with a reflection that meant so much. In many ways, I wrote our story to pay forward what I had learned from her, and reading her words reminded me that this is not a one-way street.
I took her gift and paid it forward to those who didn’t know the power of coaching and how it unlocked something within me both as a leader and as a person.
Gratitude is a rich part of relationships. Being able to thank and be thanked, to close the loop with those who mean so much to us—this is worth doing.
If you do nothing else this week, email your gratitude to five people. Share with them how they have affected you. Make it possible for them to see that their actions, though not done for appreciation, changed your life for the better.