A 3 Step Exercise in Gratitude to Refocus Your Mind for the Holidays
On the heels of Thanksgiving, I starting pondering what Thanksgiving was for our family, our life, and for me personally — and I have a confession: Sometimes I allow the little things to drive me crazy. I get really annoyed. My mind spins. I get upset, frustrated, and sometimes I even say things I don’t mean. I can lose sight of the things that are most important.
It’s true. I’m human, dangit.
You see, I am driven. I want the best for my family. I want to have a hugely successful business in breadth, size, and impact. And to be successful in other ways: by making a difference in communities, by building wealth to sustain my family for generations, and by teaching my children what hard work looks like — and what having fun as a family does, too.
And sometimes, I just let things get to me. This week was no exception in the “things that drive me crazy” category: more issues on a particular rental property, paying a little more for some unforeseen things on our flip project, issues with a closing, and an email over something really unpleasant to deal with. Yuck. These things make me so frustrated sometimes. I know how things are supposed to go… why can’t they just fall in line and work as they are supposed to?
I was reminded this week that some people aren’t kind. They are not willing to be real. They are willing to lie. Or, even at the extremes, they are evil. As humans, we are responsible for our own attitudes. Our own directions. And along the way, the people we surround ourselves with are those who have the greatest ability to impact us, our way of thinking, our actions — and in return, we have the greatest opportunity with those closest to us to make an impact on them.
With all that said, I still have an incredible life. I am not boasting, but rather observing. I have a lot… a lot to be thankful for. And even through sometimes things are unpleasant to deal with, I try my hardest to put it all back into perspective.
An Important Reminder
The other day, I was reading through a Time Magazine article about the Ebola epidemic and outbreak and the devastating impact it is having on thousands of people abroad. I distinctly remember a picture of a mother looking down at her deceased daughter and two aid workers wearing these astronaut-meets-doctor suits, trying to use extreme caution and safety while removing this child’s body. It presented real mortal danger to themselves and others, but I can only imagine them trying to also keep as much dignity for this child and her family as possible.
Can you even imagine? Truthfully, I don’t want to.
Through many years of church ministry, youth events and trips, I have had the privilege to travel abroad for mission projects in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Costa Rica, as well as many projects in the United States. Some involved building wells; some focused on helping build schools, or driveways, or sidewalks. But they were all centered on helping others.
And you know what always happens?
We go to help others, and instead we receive more than what we feel we have given.
The people we are there to help are always so kind, so compassionate, so thankful. We are humbled as humans. These people we are “helping” know we spent our own money to come. But through that process of working side by side with others, we are more aware of ourselves — and we are more aware of how good things really are.
My Story of Gratitude
There was a particular time I was in Costa Rica, and we walked up this massive, winding, dirt road to reach the “soccer field” where the kids wanted to play a game of soccer. Nearly everyone in our party was so exhausted by the time they got to the top of the hill, it turned out that I was one of only a few able to play. The homes we walked past along the way, mingled in between the exotic jungle landscape, were small huts about 10 ft by 10 ft, made of metal.
That’s where they lived.
The water was supposedly contaminated, harmful and could make us ill, and we were explicitly told not to drink it.
These kids were so excited to play, unaware of any of my preconceived notions of where they lived, or the size of their homes, or the clothes they wore. These children were so excited to be around others. So thankful for the attention and love. And you know what? I still remember vividly playing soccer with them to this day. I also remember you couldn’t kick the ball too hard or you were highly unlikely to retrieve it past this insanely steep hill just past the edge of the soccer field.
What really is gratitude? It was knowing when I arrived back home, I had food to eat and clean water to drink. A bed to sleep in. I was not concerned about gangs trying to harm my wife or children outside the walls of my home. Thinking again of the outbreak of Ebola — although we did have an outbreak here in the United States, we don’t have to deal with thousands dying from this horrible disease spreading through villages and towns in Africa, decimating cities that have little or no medical and governmental infrastructure to handle its growing problems.
And friends: we have a lot, who give us an insane amount of things to be grateful for.
I want to encourage you to take the time this week to do something: to give thanks for what you have, whatever that may be.
Whether you are literally working two jobs, feeling the sting of not quite getting your first real estate deal under your belt, or perhaps you are just getting into real estate full time, doing more and more deals… or maybe you are on pace for a $1m plus profit year — we are in different places, but places of no less reason for gratitude.
Please hear me. I am NOT in any way trying to stir a political argument for or against a particular country or argue that we just have it too good here.
Here is what I am asking of us all.
An Exercise in Thanksgiving
1. Appreciate what we have.
Take a little more time, maybe around the table at Thanksgiving, over a great glass of wine, with and among the friends we have, to have a discourse on how we are grateful. What we are grateful for — and I don’t mean a fancy television or a fast car, but the things in life that really matter, like health, and family, and love, and safety, and clean water to drink.
2. Ask what YOU do to make impact on someone else who is less fortunate.
There are always people above you on the list of money, resources, etc., and there are always people below. That doesn’t mean — regardless of your social status or checkbook reads — that you can’t do something good for others.
Ways you can help: give to local charities for Thanksgiving and Christmas, volunteer for a local soup kitchen, donate blood, adopt a family and have your family go together in picking gifts for others.
3. Share this post, and invite your friends to join you.
There is nothing more fun than to work alongside people you already enjoy being around and to do something good. I have even made new friends while on mission trips or helping out here in our KC community. Ask another family to join you serving in a soup kitchen or in helping kids select Christmas presents for their parents. There are so many ways to serve.
Don’t just write a check. That’s easy. Roll up your sleeves, and go do something. That is where the power of the experience lies for you, for those you are serving, and for your entire family: to have that shared experience, and also to share the power of gratitude.
There is this great Bob Dylan song called “Serve Somebody.” The lyrics talk about all different kinds of people: some with power or a kingdom, some without power, some with money or prestige, some rockstars or councilmen, some down and out.
The chorus of the song goes like this:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
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We all are going to have to serve someone: a boss, a friend, a loved one, a spouse, a coworker. Maybe it’s someone you don’t know, someone in desperate need.
When it comes to it, let’s do it with grace, gratitude, and thanksgiving. If you have thought through things you are grateful for now, I believe you will be more prepared in the moment to have a response you will think about after — and be pleased with it.
How are you going to share your gratitude and thanksgiving this year? How are YOU going to serve somebody?
Let me know what you’re thankful for this holiday season in the comments below!