Can You Be Ambitious and Grateful?
By Shannon Reinard Demko, Senior MBA Prep Coach & author of MindfulMBA
In business, striving for your next step is how you stay alive. If you’re content where you are, you had better be really content because before long, you will find yourself alone there, as your colleagues or classmates (or competition) keep pushing ahead, deciding how to take everything they are working on to the “next level.”
At least that’s how it feels, right? When you’re driving in the fast lane of hard work and big dreams, it always feels like there should, or could, be a way to get there sooner. Your vision is trained squarely on the future, and on finding the most effective means to get to where you currently aren’t, to acquire what you don’t yet have, to evolve into who you haven’t yet become.
So, with all this focus on bigger, better, faster and more, where does gratitude fit in? Is it possible to be both ambitious and grateful?
The answer is yes, but only if you’re paying attention.
Gratitude often happens by accident – like when we’re grateful that we’ve avoided some misfortune. Those moments fill us with a “whew” sense of gratitude, for being spared that outcome ourselves. On other, less dramatic occasions, we miss the opportunity to be thankful in our everyday lives because we haven’t established habits of practicing gratitude as part of them.
Why don’t you want to miss out on gratitude? Because it makes your brain happy. It’s not just about getting into the grateful zone, either. Even intentionally trying to be grateful stimulates the release of dopamine in your brain. If you’ve been skeptical up to this point, it’s time to get on board because, well, you know, science.
As the grown-ups probably told you when you were a kid, it’s never too late to say “thank you,” and it’s not even that complicated to do so. Because inspiration is always a good thing, I’ve got a few suggestions for you:
- Be still. Gratitude usually brings us into momentarily stillness, filled with reflection about the source of the feeling. Likewise, stillness is an excellent way to cultivate gratitude. Set aside even 2 or 3 minutes away from the fast pace of your day to be still and intentionally consider something or someone that you appreciate in your life.
- Look around. You can’t be grateful for what you don’t notice. See anything you feel fortunate to encounter? Even if it’s as simple as sun on a cold day, a stranger holding a door open for you, or a funny text from a friend far away that makes you smile, there are small moments worthy of gratitude all day, every day. Try to capture as many as you can, and you’ll notice how easily they can pile up.
- Make a list. A tried-and-true method of deliberately creating a grateful mindset is to simply make a “gratitude list” of all the people, things, place and experiences you are thankful for in your life right now. You’ll get in some of that practice doing it, and you’ll have a nice visual to keep you thinking gratefully long afterwards.
- Be generous. How’s this for a psychological twist? Turns out giving makes you grateful. Even small acts of generosity can stimulate the same parts of the brain as feeling grateful, which as we know by now, means a happier you.
- Speak your mind. Or maybe your heart, as the case may be. Along the same logic lines as the previous point, saying “thank you” feels good for both the giver and the receiver. So, don’t hold back. Let someone know when you’re grateful for something they’ve done, and warm two hearts for the price of one.
These are just a few ways to bring more gratitude into your life, which lead to a multitude of benefits beyond just feeling thankful, during this Thanksgiving season and beyond.
True, deep gratitude is rooted in the present moment. It emerges when we step out of the steady stream of our thoughts about the past and future, and into what’s true right now. People with a grateful disposition are checked in. They are good teammates and thoughtful friends. Although they may be driven, their efforts are not about filling a void, but rather creating more abundance. It’s a subtle shift that requires intentional practice, but it will in turn make your ambition more purposeful, compassionate, and with the clarity of knowing your gifts, more effective as well.