Disney might be a major media company today, but did you know that they began by making movies in the back half of a real estate office?
Google didn’t start big either. Some of their most formative years were spent building the company in a small garage. Its Co-Founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, said they never could’ve imagined the success it would bring.
Nike Co-Founder, Phil Knight, started by selling sneakers out of his trunk, yet he admits there was nothing else he would have rather been doing back then.
Those early days of these now-major companies were meaningful and important. But, that’s also easy to say now—after those businesses have achieved huge success.
Let’s face it: Hindsight might be 20/20, but it can be tough to appreciate where you are in your career at this exact moment.
Why Is It So Dang Hard To Be Grateful For ‘The Here And Now’?
You might like to think that gratitude comes naturally. You imagine yourself walking through life smelling the flowers and feeling the sun on your skin, like some sort of doe-eyed Disney character.
But in reality? Gratitude is an uphill battle for most of us. Here are a few reasons why.
1. We’re Hardwired For Negativity
Whether you consider yourself an optimist or not, we all tend to default to negativity. It’s called our negativity bias, where we give greater weight to negative experiences than positive ones.
Even the words we use to describe negative encounters are richer and more varied than the ones we use to describe pleasurable ones. That goes a long way in explaining why we describe a bad day at work as “disastrous, humiliating, and miserable,” whereas a good day is just “fine.”
What does this have to do with appreciating the current state of your career? Well, when your brain is programmed to focus on all of the not-so-great things about your job, it’s harder to feel thankful at the same time.
2. We Use Others As Our Barometer For Success
Have you heard the saying, ‘comparison is the thief of joy’? Unfortunately, social comparison—where we try to understand our own status by matching ourselves up against others—is another innate psychological phenomenon.
Unfortunately, keeping score has become even easier as our use of social media continues to increase. We have instant access to other people’s ‘highlight reels’, and it doesn’t make us feel great. One study of college undergrads found that those who limited their social media use to 30 minutes each day felt significantly better after the three-week period of the study.
This constant comparison not only tanks our mood, but it can also sabotage our feelings of gratitude. After all, you might feel happy with your existing list of career achievements. But when you see that your former college roommate got a promotion or landed a book deal? Well, suddenly the negative self-talk kicks in.
3. We Feel Intense Pressure To Be Goal-Oriented
There’s a reason there’s so much advice about how to practice mindfulness: Living in the present is plain ol’ hard. That’s because we’ve been conditioned to always have our eye on what’s next.
You’ve heard it all before. Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your long-term career goals? Heck, what’s your resolution for the new year?
Call it hustle-culture, performative workaholism, or any of the other buzzy terms out there right now. The point is, we feel the need to be unapologetic go-getters and doers—to grind toward something bigger than what we have right now. That constant eye toward the future makes it harder to feel content with the present.
4 Reasons To Be Grateful For Where You Are In Your Career Right Now
Needless to say, gratitude can feel counterintuitive. When you’re so used to measuring your professional progress against others, or complaining about typical workday grievances (another Zoom meeting?), being appreciative of where you are in your career at this exact moment isn’t second nature.
But, there are a few very compelling reasons that you should pat yourself on the back for what’s happening in your career right now. Yes, right now (and not next week, next month, or next year).
1. You’re Learning A Lot
Every single experience you have is a learning experience, and not just for your skills (more on this, later). Each stepping stone in your career arms you with invaluable intel:
- What tasks and responsibilities do you enjoy? Which ones do you despise?
- What sort of work environment do you thrive in?
- What type of leadership resonates with you?
Knowledge is worth being grateful for—and you’re getting a ton of that right now.
2. You’re Building Your Skill Set
Not only are you gathering information about your values and preferences, you’re also adding building blocks to your skill set. Every single position offers small and big things you can use to beef up your resume and take with you to your next role.
Even those “soul-sucking” jobs that you deem as good-for-nothing help you refine important competencies like how to assert your needs, work with difficult people, or become more resilient.
So, take a minute to appreciate your current role—even if it’s not exactly where you want to be. It’s certainly laying the groundwork to help you get there.
3. You’re Making Valuable Connections
Your network is (and will continue to be) one of your greatest assets as a professional, and it’s something that you should build in each and every stage of your career.
Your bosses, coworkers, vendors, clients...you get it. They’re all people you’re adding to your web of contacts who might be able to help you with references, informational interviews, job shadowing, introductions, advice, and more.
Don’t just evaluate your career based on the achievements you can put on paper. All of the relationships you’re building are worthy of praise and appreciation, too.
Valuing your connections is especially important in times when job searching is on the brain—it can be tough out there so bond and connect with your network, no matter where they are!
4. You Can’t Predict Tomorrow
There’s one more reason to appreciate where you are right now: It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s happening.
No matter how much planning or predicting you do, the future is still uncertain. That makes it a pretty indefinable thing to look forward to. After all, it’s hard to feel grateful for something you don’t actually have.
Instead, practice some mindfulness and focus on what you can wrap your arms around in this present moment. Your career isn’t perfect (and honestly, it never will be), but it’s where you are today, and you’ve worked hard to get here.
How To Actually (And Consistently) Practice Gratitude In Your Career
You know by now that gratitude isn’t a default setting. But, fostering a sense of appreciation is linked to a number of benefits, including lower stress, greater mental resilience, and increased self-esteem.
But how do you make it happen? Here are a few tips to help you practice gratitude—regardless of where you are in your career.
1. Keep A Gratitude Journal
Before you roll your eyes at the mention of keeping a journal, hear this one out. This practice can be super simple. Dr. Robert Emmons, one of the leading researchers on gratitude, says it’s as easy as jotting down five things you’re grateful for.
At the end of your workday before you put your computer to sleep and grab your dirty coffee mugs from your desk, dedicate just a few minutes to making a short list of things you’re thankful for from that day. For example:
- Received positive feedback from supervisor on email campaign
- Completed the pending tasks on your to-do list
- Connected with a colleague you haven’t talk to in a while
- Reached inbox zero
- Created an amazing productivity playlist
The point? The items in your gratitude journal don’t need to be huge, life-changing moments. The small things count too, and the daily exercise of writing them down can not only help you live in the present, but also boost your mood. In that same study from Dr. Emmons, people who kept these gratitude diaries reported feeling better about their lives as a whole.
2. Take A Gratitude Walk
Yes, this is your permission to get up from your desk, get outside, and incorporate some physical movement in your day. In and of itself, physical activity is good for you. As Hippocrates said, “Walking is man’s best medicine.” But, you really raise the magic up a level if you combine walking with gratitude.
It’s called a gratitude walk, and all you need to do is take 15-20 minutes to go for a walk alone (so you have time and space to think). Spend that walk thinking about all of the aspects of your career you’re grateful for. You could even reflect on some of the items you listed in your gratitude journal. Say those items aloud, if you’d like.
Don’t just go through the motions—actually let those different things sink in. It’s a surefire way to press pause and feel more appreciative of your career, regardless of how that day went.
3. Express Gratitude Toward Others
As you’re refining your ability to feel appreciative of what’s happening in your career right now, keep in mind that gratitude goes furthest when it’s shared.
In one study by the University of Pennsylvania, participants were given different weekly assignments. Each of those assignments were compared against a control assignment that involved writing about early memories. When the weekly assignment was to write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone, participants experienced a huge boost in their happiness score.
It’s proof that an attitude of appreciation shouldn’t end with you. Take a look at the items in your gratitude journal—is there one that you should share? If so, tell that colleague that you appreciated their advice or thank your boss for their praise and recognition. Those good vibes and that positive mindset are infectious.
Does Gratitude Only Apply When You Have A Job?
Times are weird right now (how’s that for the understatement of the century?), and plenty of people are facing major career struggles as a result.
Layoffs, furloughs, or working for a company that’s on shaky footing are all anxiety-inducing situations, and it’s tough to find the silver lining as you’re trudging through those difficult circumstances.
Practicing gratitude in these situations is going to require some extra commitment and maybe even some teeth gritting, but it’s still worth trying to find even the smallest things to be thankful for—like the friend who offered to make a valuable introduction, or the time to step back and reevaluate your career ambitions.
Currently dealing with job loss as a result of all of this (*gestures broadly*)? Keep in mind that Oprah Winfrey was fired from her role as a news anchor for not having the right persona for television, and Mark Cuban was let go from his position as a computer salesman.
Things are hard right now, but they won’t stay that way forever. Better things could be headed your way.
Smell The Roses
There’s no doubt that it can be hard to appreciate the here and now. But, it’s important to remember that every step of your career journey is an important one (yes, even the unexpected setbacks and disappointments).
While a drive for your career future can be a good thing, you don’t want to become so obsessed with where you’re going, that you forget to give yourself a pat on the back for where you already are.
Sure, there’s plenty more you want to achieve, but you’ve worked hard to get where you are right now. Take the time to soak it all in with a sense of gratitude.
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