Why It’s So Hard To Settle Debts Of Gratitude

Yesterday, I reached out and thanked two people who’ve been influencial—beyond measure—in my life over the last four years. The exercise was harder and evoked more emotion in me than I ever thought it would. And I hope I do it again.

Who are these two people and why did I want to reach out to them to express my gratitude? 

The important thing is that we choose our purpose in accordance with our own values and passions rather than conforming to others’ expectations.
— p. 39, Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar

Person #1 - His work helped me understand I wasn’t alone in my quest for more out of my professional life. He’s the first individual who spoke about quitting as being a good thing. He reframed my concept around the word and the action. He identified the upsides of quitting, along with the words of caution we always need to hear to ensure we’re fully owning what we’re doing (thought and action). He helped me find the courage in myself to walk away from a "perfect" job that wasn't perfect for me.

His name is Dan Benjamin. His podcast is QUIT! on the 5By5 podcasting network.

News organizations will only ever be able to offer up sketchy and sometimes deeply mistaken maps of what will continue to be an infinitely elusive and varied reality.
— p. 75, The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton

Person #2 - He’s a passionate journalist who gets to the essence of a story, and who’s also chosen to take on the tough role of keeping the Canadian media in check. He isn’t shy about attacking the toughest issues head on and holds us all accountable for our views and behaviours as Canadians, whether we’re citizens, journalists, politicians or leaders in general. And, he speaks out for those who don’t have a voice in the court of public opinion.

His name is Jesse Brown. His podcast and news site is CANADALAND.

Why Are They So Important To Me?

These two individuals helped me sort out my thoughts on important personal and professional issues. They made me think on a deeper, visceral level. At times, what they had to say made me feel uncomfortable, sad, angry, and at other times confident, happy, strong, thoughtful and kind.

Their edgy straight talk is what I needed to hear, what helped me consider extremes, what challenged me to go deeper into my own thoughts and better understand myself. That depth also fuelled either action or closure on my part.

Why It Was So Important To Say Thank You

I Wanted To Add Fuel To Their Fire

Gratitude is more powerful than we allow ourselves to believe. Hearing how we impact the lives of others fuels us to do more of the good we do. Too often, we hear about the opposite: failures, weaknesses, mistakes. Gratitude and recognition is part of what fuels us as human beings. It reaffirms our sense of purpose, it offers us renewed momentum that helps us drive ourselves further.

I Also Fuelled To My Own

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.
— Cicero

Expressing heart-felt gratitude is cathartic. That fact renders the giver as much, if not more, of a beneficiary as is the recipient. By giving thanks, we acknowledge the power the other's good deeds have had on us and it makes us feel happier, more fulfilled, more whole. It makes us realize the good there is in the world and the bountiful resources we can tap into to lead our best life, both in good times and in bad. 

Knowing vs Doing

Why Then Do We Shy Away From Thanking Others?  

Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.
— Brené Brown

We know we should thank the people who help us more often than we do.

So why don’t we?

Because giving thanks exposes our vulnerabilities. 

I’m not talking about the standard “thank you” that we’re expected to verbalize throughout the day, every day. I mean the type of thank you that makes us think about why someone’s actions were so important and why it’s hard for the words to cross our lips; the type of thank you that evokes (sometimes-) unexpected emotions; the type of thank you that makes us feel exposed because it makes us realize we can’t do it all on our own. 

[W]e do not need to make a choice between helping others and helping ourselves. They are not mutually exclusive possibilities.
— p. 126, Happier By Tal Ben-Shahar

That exposure can cause me to wait, sometimes months, sometimes years, sometimes forever to express my gratitude to those who are or have been most influential in my personal and professional success. 

It also seems that my potential to express gratitude exhibits an inverse relationship: the greater the impact someone’s had in my life, the greater the emotional barrier in delivering a proper acknowledgement of their positive impact. The same holds true when it comes to proximity: it’s sometimes hard to express deep gratitude when that someone is part of my inner circle—the proximity makes me feel even more exposed.

I hope I’ve learned from my actions yesterday and that I’ll continue to tell others of the positive impact they have on my life, how I choose to live it and the successes I’m fortunate to experience along the way. 

Do you owe a debt of gratitude to someone? Are you intending to settle it?

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