Feeling unappreciated? Gratitude is the solution

Feeling unappreciated? Gratitude is the solution

FeelingUnappreciatedOverworked and underpaid?  Doing more than your fair share at home?  No one values your contribution?  Wish someone simply appreciated you?  

If you are feeling unappreciated, you aren’t alone.

If you want to get unstuck I have an unconventional and counter-intuitive cure for what ails you; focus on someone else.

It sounds crazy, in fact your friends probably told you to stand up to your boss and ask for a raise.  Your best friend likely told you to stop doing the laundry until someone notices.  Your therapist probably told you to read “Codependent No More”, and your family probably thinks you should change jobs.  

I know from personal experience that the cure for ingratitude is gratitude.  Since all of that stuff hasn’t been working out for you I’m going to suggest a radical notion.  Try this crazy idea whether you believe it will work or not and see what happens.  You really have nothing to lose.

Here is my prescription to the cure for the non-appreciation ailment:

Write one thank you note each day for 30 days. (And once you see the benefit you might just keep doing it.)

A real thank you note—on paper—in your handwriting sent via snail mail. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of thank you notes. If you want a simple way to change your life, your work, your relationships, your business, or your personal happiness then this is it.

I first learned the amazing benefits of thank you notes at an unlikely time for me to feel grateful. I had a really bad year where I lost my job, my home, and my husband in a span of six months. Life crashed in around me, and I had to take whatever work I could get.

I ended up taking a job as a commissioned sales person in a furniture store. My boss was a jerk, my co-workers routinely sexually harassed me, and I worked long hours.  On top of that there were many days that I didn’t make a single sale, which added to the discouragement. Needless to say, I often found myself feeling unappreciated.

As is the case in many commission jobs, we were required to write a thank you note to every customer who purchased something from us. At first it was just a task. In time though, I really started to feel grateful. 

The more notes I wrote, the more grateful I became.

I became so truly happy in my work that it carried over into my life. I started writing thank you notes to customers that didn’t buy anything. I wrote thank you notes to people outside of work.

I felt good.

There was a wonderful payoff, I started selling a lot of furniture. I’m not sure if it was because people appreciated the notes or because I was more joyful, less stressed and ultimately a better employee when I was grounded in gratitude. What I do know is that it worked. I learned it worked best when I started my day writing thank you notes for the previous day’s sales. It set my frame of mind for the whole day. None of the bad things about the job changed, the only thing that changed was me, which of course is the only corner of the universe we ever can truly change anyway.

I carried this habit with me through the next few for-profit gigs that I worked before finally returning to my first love: the arts. Any time things got too hard or too stressful I’d eventually realize I’d gotten out of the thank you habit. Once I started my day with gratitude again everything would turn around.

I know that everyone at times feels overworked and underpaid, most of us have times where we feel unappreciated or under-appreciated for our contributions. Never have I experienced the discouragement of that more than when working in a non-profit.  And, I know I’m not alone.  I’m sure that is part of the reason for high burn-out and turnover in the non-profit world. Non-profit workers are always paid far less than their private sector pals whilst having a greater feeling of passion and personal investment.  Interestingly, I let the thank-you habit slip for a year and it’s amazing how hard my work became.

I sat down and wrote over 30 thank you notes to people involved with my organization.

First I wrote the easy ones, the ones to people who are always positive and helpful. Then I proceeded down the list until I got to my most mean spirited critic. I stared at that blank note for a good long while. I thought about all the reasons I was hurt and angry, but I wouldn’t let myself get up until I could push that aside and find my gratitude. In time I was able to think of 3 things I truly appreciated about that person and I wrote the note.

The transformation was incredible. My heart had changed. I realized that I had real loving and appreciative thoughts about every person in my immediate sphere. Almost instantly all my hurt, anger and anxiety were gone. Not one person other than me had changed and yet I no longer felt taken advantage of or undervalued.

In time that energy spilled over into some positive and unexpected shifts in our situation. A major donation that was critical to operations was pledged, several people from outside my organization made a point to thank me for my service and I was able to sleep at night.  And it turns out there is science to support this.  The practice of expressing gratitude changes our outlook, our behavior, and in the end the way that others perceive us.

But Writing Thank-You Notes is So Hard! I Don’t Know What to Say?

I used to hate writing thank-you notes, and really it wasn’t for lack of gratitude, I just didn’t know what to say.  Once I said, “Dear Aunt Margaret, Thank-you for the lovely sweater,” I really didn’t know what else to say and I still had several square inches of dreaded white space staring at me.  

Then I learned that the trick is to end with the thanks, not start there.  Here is my easy 4-step authentic thank-you.  It works for all occasions.  Business, personal, someone you know well, a relative stranger.  It’s 100% NO fail!

The 4 Step Authentic Thank You Note

  1. Open with their kindness.

Dear _____________,

It was so kind of you to _______________________

What did they do that was kind?  They thought of you?  They came to your party?  They took time for a meeting?

  1.  Gratefully describe their gift/contribution and what you will do with it

The ______________ is __________________ and I will __________________

What did they give you or do for you?  How will you use it or will the contribution be applied in your life/work?

  1.  Describe how it will positively impact you

Every time I ______________ I will think of you.

What good will this do for you?  How are you better for what they did for you?

  1.  Say Thank-You

I can’t thank you enough.

Here is a template:

Thank-You-Template

Here are two examples.  One personal and one professional:

Thank-You-Personal               Thank-You-Professional

You’ll notice that in both examples I embellished a bit and that is always great.  Creativity is always a good thing, but stick to the format.  There is a real psychology to the process.  It helps facilitate authentic gratitude that impacts your thinking and has an impact on the recipient.  If you consciously focus on thanking others your whole world can and will change.

Sorry Sheryl, but I decided to Lean Out

Sorry Sheryl, but I decided to Lean Out

Charmion-strongwoman

In March of 2013 Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg’s much anticipated book, Lean In, hit bookstore shelves. I’d followed the buzz and clamored to the bookstore to get my copy right away. I was hoping that this highly successful woman would have the insight I needed, but alas I was underwhelmed. In the end I forged my own path and I decided to Lean Out.

Our workplaces are broken

Sandburg did quote statistics most women already know about the inequities in the workplace, and struggles that women face. She did share some of her own personal challenges with candor. I can’t disagree with any of the problems she presented, but I certainly noticed some glaring omissions.

I’ve lived a ton of clichés. I’ve worked the same job as men for significantly less pay (I made 1/3 to be exact). I’ve had bosses hit on me, or even worse try to force me to date their friends (isn’t that tantamount to prostitution?) I once found out that a young man, with no education or experience, who was an assistant manager reporting to me, was in fact being paid MORE than me. And then there was the time my employer tried to deny my maternity leave and when I “Leaned In” and stood up for myself they started building a case to fire me. I could go on, but suffice it to say, I know this is a man’s world.

However you look at it, my own career simply hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped it would. In fits and starts I’d poured myself, my WHOLE self into job after job, and over and over I’d hit walls, glass ceilings, or dead ends. No matter how hard I worked, how much I cared, how desperately I chased achievement and produced remarkable results, in the end I was depleted, unappreciated, and often looking for another job.

The mentor myth

Where Sandburg really went off the rails was in a chapter titled, Are you my mentor? Once you weed through the litany of humble brags and whatnot you find that successful women like Sandburg don’t want to be bothered with peons asking for mentorship. Her advice is to just plug away and work hard, somehow your mentor will just magically show up, after all, that’s what happened for her. It’s good to be Sheryl.

Funny thing is, that’s exactly what I’d been doing my whole life and my mentor had never come. Was something wrong with me? Of course not, ask ANY woman and they’ll tell you that mentors don’t fall out of the sky.

So what do we do?

Sandburg talks a lot about “Leaning In.” The idea feels a lot like victim-blaming, but basically she suggests women stand up for themselves, be assertive, and advocate on their own behalf. That’s nice, but I didn’t need a book to tell me that, I’d been standing up for myself for quite some time and it hadn’t really panned out in the ways Sandburg seemed to think it should.

In my experience “Leaning In” was a sure-fire way to find myself out of a job. My elusive mentor probably wasn’t going to show up any time soon, and I was at an all-time low.

Then I got a message from an acquaintance (who later became a friend and mentor.) “Maybe it’s time you start something of your own?” she said; and so I did.

Leaning Out

Around the same time another book was published. David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell, and it was just the inspiration I needed. In this book Gladwell makes the case that meaningful social change seldom happens from within, rather, the misfits, underdogs, and marginalized make the greatest impact from without, when they can play by different rules.

This became my formula. If the system is broken, why am I trying to be a part of it? Why try to fit where I obviously don’t? Why should I keep setting myself up to fail?

I decided to Lean Out, and for me that took the form of entrepreneurship. I started my own business, and did it my way, on my terms. That means people first, the profits will follow, and above all else, building everything I do on a foundation of loving-kindness.

You know what? I’ve never been happier.

My manifesto

One of the first things I did when I founded Tog Loft was write a manifesto. This was serious business for me, because it is the foundation of everything that I do. I’ve always lived and worked with purpose, but often found myself at cross-purposes with the organizations of my employ. Never again is my life and work out of alignment with my values, and for me that is a beautiful thing.

The Tog Loft Manifesto

We believe

every living thing deserves to be treated with dignity and respect

We want to live in a world where

cooperation and sustainability is our way of life

What we know for sure is

entrepreneurship and the arts are powerful catalysts for change

You matter

Your voice matters

You bring something wonderful into this world by being you

Tog Loft is developing space

Developing photographers, community, and entrepreneurship

with love

 

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