The Elusive “Attitude of Gratitude”

I’m not a “30 days of gratitude” person.

I’ve tried. Oh, believe me, how I have tried. Many a November I’ve tried to get into an attitude of gratitude and post daily on social media about all the things I’m thankful for.

And, I’ve failed miserably every time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think being grateful is WONDERFUL. And I completely recognize the value that gratitude brings to our lives. After all, as Brene Brown teaches, it is the only thing that can help us overcome the “foreboding joy” that so many of us take on to avoid vulnerability and our deepest insecurities.

That doesn’t mean I’m good at it.

But this year, I did something different. I decided that, for the month of November, I was going to journal – privately – about the things I was thankful for. One thing each day. And you know what? If I skipped a day, I could catch up later. No judgement. No outside validation. Just me, a pen and a notebook making a few notes about what’s good in life.

Shockingly enough – I actually did it!

And today, December 1, I went back and read each of those 30 items.

It. Was. Awesome.

From little things like my favorite podcasts and floating tiki bars (we went to Key West for Thanksgiving!) to the big things like the people and things in my life, re-reading this list brought me so much joy. I was literally smiling as I took the time to revisit each item.

I’m not saying I’m going to keep doing this every day for forever and ever, amen. But I see the value in creating this practice. I feel the light that comes when I remember how much I have and how fortunate I am. And I’m experiencing the satisfaction that comes with actually doing something I said I wanted to do.

And that’s something to be appreciative of.

30 Days of Gratitude

I am thankful for…

  1. My dog and how he helps me feel silly, shameless, overwhelming love.
  2. Seeing my friends’ kids grow up, seeing my friends become awesome parents and getting the opportunity to be “Aunt Amanda.”
  3. Having the financial ability to choose healthy food and buy little things that bring me joy.
  4. Having health insurance that makes mental health care affordable.
  5. Quiet mornings in front of the fireplace, snuggled under a blanket with a book and my journal.
  6. Having the means for a winter coat and gloves/hats/scarves when I know there’s many who don’t.
  7. Having 6 months’ worth of savings in the bank!! (Yay for financial security!)
  8. The fact that, even after more than a decade together, the hubs and I still have fun and laugh together.
  9. The time and ability to hang out with friends and enjoy each others’ company.
  10. Witnessing the awesome parents many of our friends are and watching them raise the next generation – it gives me hope for the future and makes me admire how awesome our friends are even more. (Just realizing this came up twice!)
  11. A flexible schedule that allows me to take care of myself, help others and get work done.
  12. Patience and good brakes on snowy roads.
  13. The ‘pause’ – the self-awareness to go, “Is this really how I want to react/feel right now?” and the personal growth that pause signals.
  14. Having someone clean my house!
  15. My health and that – on the whole – I’m a pretty healthy 30-something and that my body facilitates the things I want to do.
  16. Time to hang out with my sister and her fiance!
  17. Fandom! I’m loving the joy and enthusiasm of things like the Binge Mode podcast and Disney+ – it makes life fun!
  18. A relatively chill weekend of doing mostly nothing – and enjoying it.
  19. A morning with no phone calls or meetings, where I can pack, tackle a few work items and relax before getting on a plane.
  20. The chance to facilitate a two-day workshop with my “work best friend.”
  21. The fact that my workshop sessions went well and that I was feeling connected to the group.
  22. A good (long!) night of rest and no evening/morning commitments.
  23. Being in Florida, where it’s warm and the sun shines!
  24. Getting back into my morning routine a bit – reading, journaling and listening to a podcast.
  25. My supervisor, who both pushes me to get better AND celebrates the good work I do/the unique skills and strengths I bring to the table.
  26. A network of people doing cool things and presenting cool opportunities.
  27. Time to read and learn.
  28. Spending Thanksgiving in the sunshine with people I love.
  29. Tiki bars! Aka – cool experiences that are fun and allow me to see the world in new ways.
  30. Safe travel home after a wonderful vacation.

I did a thing…

Confession: I’m a self-improvement junkie.

If there’s an opportunity for personal growth/self-help/professional development, I’m on it. From Brene Brown books to podcasts to coaching to mastermind groups to retreats to personality assessments, I soak it up like water in the desert.

Because of that, I tend to think I’m pretty self-aware. I know that I’m a recovering perfectionist/Enneagram 1/Obliger who is both driven and insecure. I think a lot about the stories that drive my worldview, the triggers that make me mad/sad/happy, the bias I bring into any situation. Even when I fall short (and I do…A LOT), I believe I’m pretty confident in the role I play in any given situation – good and bad.

In all this personal growth study and reflection, though, there’s one thing I’ve never done. It’s not something I’ve actively avoided or been opposed to (quite the opposite actually), but it’s a step that I’ve never taken.

Until this week that is.

Because earlier this week, after several conversations and lots of journaling, I decided to do a thing…

I started to see a therapist.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

I’ve thought about seeing a counselor/therapist for many years. As life’s ups and downs have come, there’s been passing notions of researching professionals in my area or asking other people about their experience in therapy. But I’ve never done it – until now.

One of the things that tipped the scale for me was reading the book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. In it, the author shares her perspective on therapy – both as a therapist and as someone going through therapy herself. This book made the idea of seeking help less scary and more accessible. It doesn’t have to be stigmatized. This book gave me a peek behind the curtains to something I already inherently knew but maybe wasn’t acknowledging – all kinds of people see therapists for all kinds of things. No problem is too big or too small to earn the space to talk it out.

I’ve also ended up in several conversations over the last few months with people I trust who shared their positive experience with counseling and therapy. Coworkers, friends and – even from afar – high-profile influencers, like Brene Brown, Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell. These people have been open about why they went to counseling, how they found their counselor or therapist, and how their experience has helped them work through the challenges of being a human being. They’ve also encouraged me that seeking therapy or counseling doesn’t signal weakness or being crazy – it’s simply a tool to live a more joyful, empowered life.

I Can’t Do It Myself – And Neither Can You

The last six months have been particularly stressful for me. Challenging relationships. Frustrating dynamics. Figuring out my place in the world and where I go next. Through all of this, I’ve tried to handle it myself. To journal. To read. To vent and complain, hoping airing it out would fix it (#spoileralert: it didn’t). And, finally, I had to admit:

I can’t do it alone.

I’ve done talking to friends. I’ve done coaching. But this finally felt like the time to do something different. To sort it out in a different way with a different type of perspective.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that I should be able to handle my stress and frustration by myself. There are so many of us that carry an unbelievable amount of weight – the pressures of work, parenting, relationships, caretaking – and we think that, if we just spend enough time on it (or ignore it), our pain and frustration will eventually go away.

And while it might, it also might not. In those instances, it’s okay to ask for help.

The Only Way to End the Stigma is to Talk About It

I could keep it to myself that I went to therapy – many do and I support whatever approach you choose to take. However, I also really do believe that the stigma around mental health care and seeking help won’t go away until we start talking about it more in our everyday lives.

I wouldn’t have gone to talk to someone if it weren’t for my friends, family, coworkers and famous people who overtly or covertly said, “It’s okay and I support you in this.” Because they were brave enough to talk about it, I was brave enough to take action.

And, let me tell you, my first experience in the therapist’s office was great! I felt heard, but not judged. My thinking was challenged (it didn’t take long for me to say, “Huh…I hadn’t thought about that before”). I was supported from my first moments on the couch – my therapist is on my team and we’re going to figure out how to make things better together.

I’m not saying you have to go to a therapist or a counselor, just because I did. If that’s not your thing, that’s fine. Maybe you’d prefer to talk to a friend, colleague, coach or spiritual advisor. Whatever you choose, I hope you talk to someone.

If you have thought about therapy, however, and have been worried about what it looks like or what it says about you, I’ll say this:

For what little it’s worth, I support you seeking the help you need. I don’t regret it. No one I’ve talked to has regretted it.

And I don’t think you’ll regret it either.

Lessons from a Life Well-Lived

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I first met Dick Coon at a graduation open house nearly 10 years ago. I was 20. He was 77. It was his granddaughter who was graduating, and we were sitting at the bar in his son’s basement, making small talk, while people milled around – family, friends, young and old.

As Dick and I chatted, he suddenly said, “Do you want to see something?”

Not really knowing him that well but noticing the sparkle in his eye when he asked the question, I said sure. Dick asked his son, who was helping mix drinks by that point, to hand him a beer stein that was up on a shelf.

This beer stein was one of those ornate, German-style ones, where you press a lever in the handle and the lid opens. I remember it being blue and white, but that may be my imagination filling in the gaps in memory. Regardless, Dick’s son handed it to him and then he handed it to me. He told me a story about how he’d gotten this stein when he was abroad during his time in the military – the Navy, to be specific – and how it was one of his favorite souvenirs.

Dick said his favorite part of this stein was a message that was etched in the bottom, only to be discovered when the drinker finished their beer. He encouraged me to open it up and tip it back, like I was taking a drink, to see what he was talking about. So, like a good person, I did…

…to find an illustration of a 1950s pin-up style naked lady illustrated in the bottom of the stein.

As my cheeks flushed with embarrassment, unsure if I should be shocked or not, Dick – and his sons and grandsons who had been watching me at this point – started rolling with laughter! Clearly, this was one of Dick’s favorite jokes to play on new friends and everyone but me was in on it. I started laughing along with the crowd, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

You see, Dick Coon was my husband’s grandfather. He was a man who loved and laughed fiercely – and who welcomed his grandson’s new girlfriend to the family by showing her a naked lady in a beer stein and thinking that was hilarious.

Last week, Dick Coon passed away.

I shared this story with my mother-in-law last night at the visitation and, once again, we rolled with laughter. We imagined Dick’s anticipation of my reaction to the risqué illustration, how he held in his laughter until the exact right moment when he knew I was finally in on the joke. We missed him dearly as we reminisced but found ourselves thankful for numerous stories like that one – rooted in love, laughter, and joy.

It’s Not About the Years in Your Life

Dick lived to the ripe old age of 87, so I’m pretty sure no one would claim that he didn’t have enough years in his life. After all, lots of folks don’t get that many. But what I have learned over the last decade of being a part of his family is the importance of making sure those years are filled with everything you want them to be and more.

Christmases and summers at the lake.

Golf cart rides.

Trips down south to see kids and grandkids.

Cheering on the Spartans and the Wolverines and the Tigers (oh, my!).

Pontoon rides for days.

Sipping margaritas.

Retirement and graduation and wedding celebrations.

There have been a lot of good times in the Coon family, and I’m sure these don’t even scratch the surface. Even as a relative newbie to this crew, though, I’ve noticed a few themes emerge in Dick’s life.

Dick had a sense of humor that was second to none. In his family, we call this “Coon Shit” – a sarcastic, witty, perfectly timed sense of snark that no one was immune to. The beer stein incident was a perfect example of this. “Was Dick picking on you? Oh, he’s just giving you Coon Shit – don’t take it personal!). I’ve come to love Coon Shit and I especially love that he’s passed it on to all of us who have come to know him – his kids, his grandkids (including my husband, no doubt!) and their spouses, his great grandkids. Life is nothing without laughter and Dick made sure his house was full of it.

Dick was so proud of his family. Whether it was his son Jack getting into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, his grandson Bill becoming a lawyer, or watching his southern-raised great grandkids Winston, Emma Grace and Ashlyn playing in the snow, Dick had an immense amount of pride in his family. That pride was unconditional – not based on accomplishments but rather on loving the wonderful people they inherently are. The Coon family is filled with people who work hard, love others, give of themselves relentlessly – and much of that can be contributed back to Dick.

Dick had one love to last a lifetime – his wife Sally. I’ve always told my husband that he was incredibly lucky to have reached his late 20s with all four of his grandparents, all of them still happily married. “Dick and Sal,” as they’re known among the family – a single unit, always connected in reference – modeled what a great marriage can be. Unwavering support for one another. Love that radiates when they’re together (especially when they dance together, which they loved to do). And a little sass to keep each other on their toes! I seek to demonstrate that love in my own marriage and I’m so thankful to have a reference of what that looks like in action.

A Good Person – Who Raised Good People

To be honest, I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write this. Maybe it’s to process my own sadness. Maybe it’s to have something to come back to later – most likely on a warm summer day on Lake George as we cruise around on the pontoon – when we miss Dick’s laughter. Maybe it’s to remind myself of the lessons of Dick’s life when I’m forgetting to incorporate them into my own.

I am thankful for the ten years I got to have with this man. I’m even more thankful for the years still to come that I get to have with the good men and women and children – including my husband – that Dick raised.

Regardless of whether or not you knew Dick Coon, I hope you can take some lessons from his life. Love those around you fiercely. Enjoy every moment. Welcome everyone with a hug.

And don’t forget to give those around you a little bit of Coon Shit – for laughter is one of the greatest gifts of all.

What a Grumpy Old Farmer Taught Me About Empathy

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“Hurt people hurt people.” – Lizzie Velasquez

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Michigan Farm Bureau state annual conference and serve as a delegate representative for my county. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Farm Bureau or organizations like it, members from across the state come together every year to discuss what type of policy they support or oppose. This helps lobbyists at the state and local level prioritize which issues to focus on. It really is a cool experience to be a part of and demonstrates how you can have a greater level of influence in government when lots of individuals come together.

Anyways, I was a delegate for my county and I decided to stand up and propose policy supporting the continuation of Net Neutrality. Now, it’s my personal belief that Net Neutrality should not be a partisan issue – through my view of the world, it’s a consumer protection issue – but I also know that everything is a partisan issue in today’s political landscape.

And farmers tend to be pretty conservative – not super conducive to a proposal supporting regulations.

It was probably going to be fighting an uphill battle, but I proceeded to step up to the microphone and state my desired policy language. I had researched the topic and wrote it out ahead of time so that I said it in an informed, coherent manner. Having put my idea forward, I stepped back from the microphone and took a deep breath – pretty proud of myself for working up the guts to speak out.

And then the debate began.

As expected, there were several people who disagreed with me. They cited past regulation and beliefs about whether or not the internet is a utility that everyone should have access to and the ideal of just letting the free market sort itself out. Not surprisingly, I didn’t agree with many of their counterpoints – but everyone was respectful and their arguments made sense.

Until this one man spoke up.

Young people just don’t think things through all the way, he said. ‘Free’ and ‘open’ and ‘fair’ are all well and good, but they just don’t understand how it really works.

And then I was mad.

Initial Reactions

I can deal with people disagreeing with me. In many cases, I actually enjoy it! Many of my favorite discussions in the past year have been with people I disagree with, where we debate our viewpoints. In all of those interactions, though, the people I debated with were respectful and kept our discussion focused on the ideas at hand – never making it about personal attacks. Not this guy though.

Young people just don’t think things through.

See, what made me so mad about this man was the fact that he wasn’t debating the merits of the argument like so many who had stepped up to the microphone before him. He was attacking me and my intelligence. And, if there’s one thing most people who know me would tell you, it’s never belittle my intellect. It’s the thing I value most about myself and it’s the thing I will take most personally if you doubt it. Sure, we may have disagreeing viewpoints – but don’t ever question that I haven’t done my homework. (I’m a perfectionist with a string of self-doubt – I always do my homework to avoid looking stupid!)

And so, once the delegate session finished, I proceeded to bitch and moan to everyone I could find.

Fine – go ahead and disagree with me, but don’t say I don’t understand the issue! Debate ideas, not people. We can look at the exact same situation and have different opinions – that doesn’t make me less intelligent.

And, yes, I was so offended that I even stooped to the low point of hurling personal attacks back (when talking to my friends, of course – not directly to the man in question).

Young people don’t understand things about the INTERNET? I can be pretty sure we know better than the 70-year-old dude with the flip phone! I know I lost on that policy – no surprise – but I got the votes of the young people in the room who really get it.

Yeah, I don’t claim to be proud of that rant.

In the moment, though, I was hurt. And, as the quote up above said, hurt people want to hurt people. So I bitched and moaned and complained to those I knew would back me up. Anything to make myself feel better.

Practicing Empathy

In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about that Lizzie Velasquez quote – which I heard in a recent interview she did on Marie Forleo’s podcast – a lot. And, it dawned on me:

In that situation on the delegate floor, I probably wasn’t the only hurt person hurling insults to make myself feel better.

With that quote floating around in my brain – “hurt people hurt people” – I’ve been attempting to put on my empathy glasses and look at it from the man’s point of view. Yes, the man who shortchanged my knowledge by chalking it up to being a simplistic, idealistic young person. What could he have been thinking and feeling at the time?

Maybe he feels as though he’s becoming irrelevant as more and more young people step forward to take the place of influence that used to be his.

Maybe he’s uncomfortable with his level of understanding around technology, and attacking young people is easier than admitting he’s not sure what Net Neutrality is.

Maybe he’s been burned by government regulations so many times that he can’t see a world in which regulations might protect him, instead of hurt him.

Maybe he’s worked with young people in the past who haven’t valued his experience or knowledge, so assumes we’re all like that.

Maybe he’s just forgotten what it’s like to be young and idealistic, after too many hard years of tough times and untrustworthy people.

Sure, he could just be a jerk. But maybe, like me, he feels as though the world doesn’t value what he brings to the table and was looking for any opportunity to gain the higher ground – to feel important and to feel heard.

Letting Go

I stewed on that man’s words for a very long time. Longer than I should have. And the only person that stewing hurt?

Me.

By attempting to empathize with his experience, though – whether I’m making it all up to make myself feel better or not – I’ve begun to feel a willingness to forgive. His words don’t feel so offensive. It doesn’t hurt my feelings near as much.

Do I like what he said? Not at all. But it doesn’t have the resonance it had when I was under the notion that I was the only one feeling hurt.

Hurt people hurt people.

Ironically, by seeing the hurt in others, it minimizes the hurt we feel ourselves. I can’t guarantee that I won’t have to learn that lesson over and over again. But, for right now, I feel better.

And I’m letting it go.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

The power of a name

the power of a name

One of the many lessons I learned early on from my father was the importance of learning and pronouncing people’s names correctly. My dad, who was also my FFA advisor, made sure to teach the lesson every year as we prepared for our annual FFA chapter banquet. See, during our banquet, we awarded every student in the program at least once and the awards were presented by fellow members of the chapter. For many students, this was the first time they’d ever been recognized for anything. And, for most, their parents would be in the audience.

It was a moment to be proud of.

Now, think how hard it would be to have your name mispronounced in front of a crowd of people as you’re getting an award (maybe your first one ever). Tough, right?

Now, I won’t say that names weren’t ever mispronounced. After all, we were high schoolers and because of how our program was structured – students from seven different schools came to my dad’s agriscience class for half of their day; some in the morning, some in the afternoon – there was always the possibility that the student giving an award had never met the person receiving the award. It wasn’t a perfect system.

But the lesson was taught to each student, year in and year out, that we should all do our best to learn everyone’s name and how to pronounce it. The parents in the room worked hard to pick that name. As we’re honoring their child, they should be proud to hear that child’s name announced – and announced correctly.

I’m currently reading the famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, and I recently finished the chapter on this same idea. As he says “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” To remember someone’s name is to show them respect; it demonstrates that you care and understand the important part they play in the world.

Here’s some tips we can all use to better remember and pronounce names. Do you have any others to add to the list?

How a Jeep taught me to loosen up

The last couple of months have revolved around an ongoing debate at my house. My fiance Mitch wanted to trade in his truck (which he had just purchased in November) and get a Jeep. My list of arguments as to why this was a bad idea was long:

  • You just bought this truck. If you didn’t want it, you shouldn’t have bought it.
  • We are saving up for a wedding. You don’t need to be spending money on toys.
  • How are you going to haul things without a truck?
  • Yes, I know it seems fun, but do we really need it?
  • I don’t know why you have to change vehicles so often; this is the fifth vehicle you’ve owned in the seven years we’ve been together.

And so on and so forth. I was dead set against this purchase. But, as I thought about it more, my arguments really it didn’t have to do with any of the above points. It had everything to do with a difference in two philosophies:

Philosophy #1: Lifetime of a vehicle

Amanda: A vehicle should be driven until it dies, paid off so you can save money for something new.

Mitch: A vehicle should be driven until I find something better (and not lose any money).

Philosophy #2: Large purchases

Amanda: High dollar purchases give me anxiety.

Mitch: Can I afford it? Awesome. Moving on.

It’s not uncommon to have differing philosophies in a relationship, especially about money. But, at the end of the day, we have one overriding policy between the two of us: if it doesn’t affect our joint finances, I don’t tell him how to spend his money and vice versa. We’re too independent to like being told what we can and can’t do with our respective incomes and so we’re good with this compromise. Which is why, last Tuesday night, Mitch became the owner of a 2008 Jeep Rubicon.

And I couldn’t be happier.

As we’ve been having this argument, all of my points centered around fear. Fear of spending too much money. Fear of not having enough money for the wedding. Fear of getting into the habit of frivolous spending. But those are my fears, not Mitch’s. He knows he can afford it and he’s better than me at looking at the bigger picture. He saw how driving a Jeep could allow us to have better experiences than his former vehicle. Not just for him, but for us as a family.

And he was right.

We spent the 4th of July weekend in northern Michigan, and here’s just a glimpse of the blast we had thanks to the Jeep:

Jeep ride with Mitch and my dog

Our first family ride in the Jeep with the top off, feeling the wind in our hair (or fur).

Dog eating ice cream

Nothing like taking the Jeep to get some ice cream – even Leo got his “pup cup”!

My sister and her boyfriend joined us to do a little off-roading in the Jeep. When you're flying at 60 mph down bumpy 2-lane seasonal roads, your hair's going to get a bit crazy!

My sister and her boyfriend joined us to do a little off-roading in the Jeep. When you’re flying at 60 mph down bumpy 2-lane seasonal roads, your hair’s going to get a bit crazy!

 

I have a bad habit of getting a little too uptight, and not enjoying the moment for what it is. But Mitch’s “frivolous” purchase was one more example of how he consistently shows me how to loosen up a little, chill out and have fun.

So here’s to many more off-roading, wind in our hair, singing to the music moments in the Jeep!

 

My new favorite thing about Wednesdays

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When I joined Twitter in college, one of the first communities I joined was #agchat. Here was an online group of people in agriculture, coming together once a week to talk about different topics related to food and farming. Out of that experience, I made some amazing friends, got to travel to new places, and had one of my first event planning gigs.

After I graduated, I became less and less involved with #agchat – mostly because, when I moved to Minneapolis for work, I felt less and less connected to the agricultural world that I grew up in. It was a community I was familiar with, but really no longer felt a part of. When I stopped participating, though, my Twitter activity overall became almost non-existent.

About six months ago, I found myself wanting to find that bond of community online again. I started posting on Twitter. I started following people. I started reading and sharing interesting articles. But I was still flying solo in a world that thrives on making connections.

Then, I found #bufferchat.

#bufferchat is run by (not surprisingly) Buffer — a start-up company that creates software for scheduling social media posts. I stumbled upon them in a Fast Company article and was intrigued by what they are trying to do as a transparent company with no managers and positions like “Happiness Heroes.” I set up an account and gave them a follow on Twitter. I figured that’s where it would end. However, #bufferchat turned a random follow into full-fledged engagement.

Similar to #agchat, #bufferchat is a weekly discussion on Twitter where thousands of people from around the world come together to talk about the week’s topic. Last week it was about building your reputation online. The week before that it was about using digital tools to stay organized. It’s always facilitated by the Buffer team (and sometimes there’s a special guest), but it’s not marketing spin. It’s a true discussion. It’s fast-paced. It’s engaging.

And it’s my favorite part of Wednesdays.

Just like I’d felt with #agchat, #bufferchat has helped me re-discovered the purpose of a social media tool like Twitter. It’s there to facilitate conversations, to help make connections with others, and – just maybe – create a community where you can build true relationships.

Hope you stop by for #bufferchat some time. There’s a great group just waiting to say ‘hi’.