10 years ago my gratitude list most likely looked similar to the lists of those reading this blog. Here’s how it went:
- Thank you for my good health
- Thank you for my family
- Thank you for the good health of my children
- Thank you for my prospering business
- Thank you for my beautiful house
- Thank you for my friends
- Thank you to my mom
It seems easier to find gratitude for things when your life is filled with blessings and gifts. Around 2010, my life started to go sideways and I became confused, frustrated, and stuck. I was in my early 40’s when I started to reflect back on my life and take inventory of “what had happened TO ME, what was currently happening TO ME, and what I feared was going to happen TO ME.” This began my journey of self-improvement through reflection and self-care. I began to focus on myself, how I was showing up in the world, and how it was affecting those around me. Self-reflection and improvement is hard work because it doesn’t work if you are not honest with yourself. It also doesn’t work when you think YOU can solve any and all issues that come into your life by yourself.
From an outside perspective, I had it all. My own business, a non-profit that served 1000’s of kids, two homes, three cars, three beautiful daughters, a gorgeous and loyal wife, good health, freedom, confidence, great friends, solid reputation amongst my peers, and the list went on. But internally I was struggling and I felt I was serving two masters. One was my for-profit business and the other was my non-profit affecting the lives of children in my local community. I was working long hours, not feeling my best, conflicted, and personally unhappy as resentment grew in some of my most personal relationships. One day I asked for help……… I asked my higher power, my source, my guiding light, my North Star, my God…… I asked for help in solving my unhappiness and daily angst. And then, within 90 days, “I lost it all”. I lost my business, my non-profit lost it’s funding and folded, my health worsened, my cash flow dried up, and I found myself sitting on my porch facing the question of “What now?” I was scared and I felt like a failure. What could I have done differently and what can I do right now to stop this sinking ship.
I said to myself, “Hold on, hold on tight, fight, never give up, never surrender, get it back, why are you so stupid? Look at how your kids think of you now, you failed your family, you are NOT a good man, you are NOT enough, you are NOT a good provider….. essentially you suck.”
Gratitude was NOWHERE in sight. I made myself believe I deserved what was coming because I wasn’t grateful enough or I wasn’t a good steward over my blessings and circumstance. Maybe I didn’t take care of enough people.
I asked myself: “Was my ego out of control? Where was my responsibility in all of this? “My family can’t see me like this. They can’t see the lack of confidence, the uncertainty, the fear, the feeling of inadequacy. I can’t let them see anything. I can’t talk about it. I have to fix it. I will get the solution and then I will share it with them.”
This began a journey, a process, a rebirth, and awakening that has been eight years in the making….. and it still continues.
During my childhood, I experienced a life that you may only see in the movies or read in a book. At six years old I was essentially “air-dropped” into NYC, that was 1973. For the first six years of my life, I lived in Indiana with my mom and grandparents, but my life was set to change, dramatically. My mother was so impressed during a vacation to NYC that she called my grandparents and had them put me on a plane to NYC. Two years later I was raising my mother who was fighting addiction and alcoholism. She was also struggling with the challenges of raising a young son on her own. I didn’t know my father, I met him when I was 32. My mother did her best as a waitress to support us, but at age eight I began to assume the responsibilities of a man. Often times I would search the streets of NYC at 4:00 am to bring her home before I went to school. I thought this was a normal life, so I handled my business and protected her as best I could, as well as myself.
What does this have to do with gratitude? Reflecting and coming to terms with my childhood was critical to developing my relationship with gratitude.
I made a decision on that porch that day that I needed to re-invent myself. I needed to get healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically. I needed to make sense of who I am and how I got here. I made a commitment to work on expanding my knowledge of health and wellness, as well as getting back to working on my physical body. I got a degree/certificate as a holistic health, wellness, and life coach. I developed and expanded a concept for Mind, Body, & Spirit Transformations in a gym/fitness type setting, and began a new business. I also committed to coming to terms with my relationships and what my role and responsibilities had been to cause toxic situations and dysfunction, which I found was connected to healing my mind, body, and spirit. In other words, I started to take ownership for my actions.
Over the past eight years, there have been ups and downs. I have rebounded from a business standpoint and created new projects that have become successful, lost 20 lbs and come off my medications, and have resolved important relationships in my life and now enjoy healthier new versions with people I genuinely love and respect. And, I hit rock bottom, lost all my property and assets, had the unfortunate experience of having the electricity and water turned-off on several occasions as I was trying to juggle financial responsibilities. I reconnected with a childhood friend and designed a holistic curriculum and professional development approach for kids focused on the Mind, Body, Community, Digital Consciousness concepts of their development. I was blessed to become the CEO of a major youth development facility with a mission of holistically developing young athletes. I began to appreciate and be grateful for Divine timing and the struggles I have encountered since 2011.
And the story continues…
This past year I have felt more connected to my work, more connected to people in my life, more appreciative for those people and can now express my love for them openly and easily. Things have started to make sense even though I am still trying to gain financial consistency, work/life balance, and contentment in every aspect of my being. Then last July BOOM…I was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer in July and had a radical robotic prostatectomy in September. I never ever had a symptom in my life. It was found by a blood test during my yearly physical. Life changed again.
It was time for more reflection, more self-care, more spiritual exploration, and more examination of my personal mission in life. If I had limited time left in my life, how was I spending that time? I felt like I was now studying for my Ph.D. in the exploration of life and how you live it. The truth of the matter is that even with all the progress and rebuilding of my life over the last eight years, my life was once again out-of-balance. My days were not aligned with the person I had become. Once again, the perception was that I “had it all.” I had a great high-level job working with kids in one of the country’s newest state-of-the-art facilities. I was still involved with my holistic education project and I was earning a respectable salary to stabilize years of financial struggle. Over those eight years I grew as a man, worked on my relationships, and spent a great deal of time working on balance (emotional, spiritual, work, family) and now this. It was hard not to ask why. But I didn’t and that leads me to this blog post on how gratitude changed my life.
I began to look at perceived hardships or obstacles as methods of alignment. I began to look at times of my life with a lens of what it was preparing me for. My childhood, my rock bottom times, my struggles, and all of the perceived “bad luck” all had/have a purpose. You can either be a victim with regard to what happens for you or you can be a learner.
When things are going awry for you, ask yourself these questions:
- What lens do you use?
- What can be learned?
- What will this lead to?
- What will this prepare you for?
- What has this relieved you of?
So NOW let’s look at my gratitude list:
- Thank you for my family and all the opportunities that show up for growth.
- I am grateful for the ability to LOVE. Family, friends, and every living being that has a soul.
- Thank you for my cancer because it has brought me back into alignment with how I want to live, how I want to eat, how I want to manage the stress I allow into my life.
- Thank you for all my troubles.
- Thank you for my loss.
- Thank you for my lack.
- Thank you because if given another chance at prosperity I will learn from the past and be better at managing my financial blessings.
- Thank you for running water and electricity and the amazing power of the light switch and faucet… lol.
- Thank you for pain. Because I know pain, I embrace comfort and loving people.
- Thank you for my attention when receiving love. I am worthy and being loved feels good.
- Thank you for my children and having the daily opportunity to love and make an impact in their lives.
- Thank you for roofs, blankets, sunsets, rainstorms, and rainbows.
- Thank you for being seen and heard.
- Thank you to all my elders because I love learning from them.
- Thank you for the children. All children are magical and have unique gifts to share with the world. We just need to foster them and provide opportunities for them the shine and share with the world.
- Thank you for Basketball.
- And as always…. Thank you for my Mother.
Gratitude makes the world go round. Lead with gratitude because it changes things. It shifts energy and creates culture.
How can you use gratitude?
- Personally, with family and friends?
- With the kids you work with?
- With staff, in meetings or with daily opportunities to express thankfulness?
Gratitude changed my life because it allowed me to make sense of the inexplicable. My process, journey, and rebirth has made me realize that things were not happening TO ME but FOR ME. (Oh, my mom is living a sober life, she is a Ph.D. and I am cancer free).
Try it on, gratitude fits everyone.
For breakfast, I had avocado toast and coffee.