Another Thanksgiving has come and gone.
It is a unique time of the year. A time to stop. A time to remind ourselves of what is truly important. A time to reminisce the memories of Thanksgivings gone by. A time to be thankful for the people in our lives.
Food, football, parades or shopping are the rituals that come with it. These are merely the conduits for bringing people together, reliving old memories and creating new ones.
Spending time with friends and family is what makes it meaningful. That is nothing you already don’t know.
Here is my question to you. This past weekend, did you make the time to specifically tell the people in your life why they were special and the impact they have had on you?
I am not talking about giving thanks at the dinner table in general with everyone gathered. That is good.
What I am asking is, did you look them in the eye, speak from the heart and tell them something specific about why you are thankful for them?
We all take people, things and circumstances for granted in our lives. That is part of the human experience. We say things to ourselves like, “of course they know why they are special to me, I have told them before, I don’t always need to say it”.
Yes, actions speak louder than words, but words are very powerful in their own right.
Time is the other thing we all take for granted. Until it runs out.
There are a few people I would have loved to tell how they impacted me, if they were still here to tell them. I am sure you had people you missed as well this past weekend.
We know life is short. We know we should make more time to do the things that are truly important.
However there is a gap between knowing and doing. There is also a gap between our thoughts and our words. These gaps help define our legacy for the short time we are here.
The Meaning of Work
So today you are back at work after 4 days off.
If you are like me, there were many days I came back after a holiday or a vacation and struggled getting back into the swing of things. Wishing for just a little bit more time away with my family. Not feeling like amping back up for the work priorities staring me in the face. Asking myself about the meaning of work, and if it was all worth it in the end.
That lasted for a few minutes and then I went back to getting on with the work to be done. Sometimes I would think about it again on the drive home, but it became a fleeting thought in the routine of my daily life. These interruptions in my routine I have come to learn are the most important ones and should not be ignored or suppressed.
Here is something else you already know. We spend more time with the people at work than with anyone else in our lives.
I have heard many people over the years say “work is work, and family is family”. They keep their two personas very distinct. Separate their realities. Showed up differently for both.
I could never do it. Truth be told, I felt sad for them in a way. I also felt that it was one of the biggest missed opportunities in creating an engaged workplace.
There have been countless people in my career that have had a significant impact on my life, directly and indirectly. Whether they knew it or not. Managers who supported and challenged me. Co-workers who inspired me. Senior leaders I looked up to. All made me a better person having known and worked with them. The lessons I learned are still with me today.
The meaning of work is the impact we have on others for the short time we are together.
Thing is, I didn’t always tell them. Don’t be like me.
The Truth About Your Job
Here is one thing I can guarantee you with absolute certainty. The people you work with today will not be the people you will be working in the not too distant future. They will come and go. Teams change. People move internally or externally.
Here is another thing I can guarantee. You will not remember people for their work accomplishments as time passes on. You will remember them for who they were and how they made you feel. How they made you a better person.
That goes both ways. People will not remember you for your work accomplishments either. No matter how important or urgent your projects or priorities are. No matter your job title or your career history.
Your legacy will be how you lived your “gap” at work. How you made them feel. How you impacted them. Positively or negatively.
If you don’t believe me, just try to list your work objectives and how to performed against them from 5 years ago. 3 years ago. Last year even. Likely, you will have to pull them out to read them to remind yourself. Now try listing the people who have impacted you at work and why. I bet you did not need a piece of paper.
A Recipe for a Better Workplace Through Gratitude
Make the time to express to people at work why you appreciate them. What you have learned from them. How they have impacted you and others around you.
I have had the privilege of facilitating many team business planning sessions in my career. Many times I was asked to include a “team building” exercise. “No rope climbing or falling backwards exercises please” was the usual request. I was always happy to oblige. They are all shallow, don’t really change anything and honestly, no one really likes them anyway.
The exercise I did was a very simple one. I gave everyone a set of recipe cards with a simple set of instructions. For each member of the team, write the answer to the following question, one person per card- “One thing I appreciate about you is……..”. Sometimes I would give another trigger question like “The most important gift you bring to this team is….”.
Initially people would look at me with an expression of “you want me to do what?” or “this is hard”.
The next part was critical. Instead of just handing people the card afterwards to read on their own, I asked them to stand up, look at the person, and read what they wrote. Sometimes I let people do it in a round robin format if it was a larger group with many people to speak to. The more powerful way was to focus on one person, with everyone else getting up one at a time to read what they wrote about that person with everyone else listening. When everyone had read what they wrote about that one person, we moved onto the next person and so on.
Nothing is more impactful than looking someone in the eye and telling them how grateful you are for them and why. The energy it created in the room was palpable. Almost everyone at the end of the exercise would say it was a great experience. I would run into people months afterwards who still had the cards people gave them.
It was real. It reminded people of the meaning and impact of your time with people at work.
Thanksgiving is Not Just a Holiday
What I outlined anyone can replicate. It does not have to be a structured exercise. You don’t have to be a leader, and you don’t need a formal occasion to do it.
This week, make time to share with people you work with or for one thing you appreciate about them, and how they have impacted you. Make it personal. Be specific. Be sincere. Do it in person, otherwise known as the “old fashioned way”.
Life is short and there is much to be thankful for. Thanksgiving reminds us of this with our friends and family.
Don’t wait for a holiday to share with loved ones why they are special to you.
At work, don’t wait for a farewell gathering or retirement party. Make the time this week for the important things. You just did with your family and friends.
There is no difference between you at work and you at home. We do not stop being ourselves, being human, when we cross the threshold of our office everyday.
The impact will be palpable.