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Gratitude: What Does My Career Have to Do with It?

January 22, 2014

Today’s blog post comes from our “Ask the Career Coach” Column by Denise Riebman (AmeriCorps ’94), Director of Career Development and Alumni Services for the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University. Each month Denise takes questions from our LinkedIn Group and responds in our “Ask the Career Coach” column.  If you have a question for the AmeriCorps Alums “Ask the Career Coach” column, you can submit it here.

Those of us in the national service world seem to have an easier time thanking others – our community, nonprofits, funders, legislators – than expressing gratitude for ourselves and how our careers are changing this world.  So, I challenge you to make your 2014 New Year’s Resolution to focus appreciation on yourself and the impact of your career and I promise that not only will you shift the way you see yourself professionally but your career will thank you for it.      

Gratitude for your STRENGTHS

2014.01.17.GratitudeWhat are you GREAT at?”  The common response when I ask this question is, “Well, I’m GOOD at xx and xx.”  When I ask the question again, reemphasizing the word, “GREAT,” I am usually greeted by a long awkward silence.  If I had asked instead, “What are you BAD at,” instead of silence I’m sure I’d get a long litany of answers.  Evolution and society has driven us to focus on our weaknesses despite overwhelming research proving that if we find work that allows us to BUILD and BROADEN our strengths, we are not only more productive and more likely to find “flow” in our careers, we are also happier overall in our lives.

If you have your own long silent pause going on in your head right now thinking about what you are great at, here are some quick tips for identifying and being grateful for your strengths:  

Review performance evaluations; Talk to your current supervisors/colleagues; Ask fellow AmeriCorps members/alums; Read old report cards; Post a message on Facebook asking others what they see as your top three strengths; Take the FREE VIA Assessment to assess your character strengths:

Gratitude for What You LOVE

Another question I like to ask in advising sessions is “What do you LOVE to do?” and the initial response is typically, “Well, I LIKE to do xx and xx.”  And no surprise that when I ask the question again about what the person LOVES to do, my office is filled with silence.  Appreciating those things that we love to do is another big key to figuring out what type of work and organizations would enable us to thrive professionally.

I once asked a student who was struggling with her job search to list 25 things she loved to do, both in and out of the workplace.  A week later when we reviewed her list which included things like foreign travel, baking pies, creative writing and painting, she realized that she thrived in innovative organizations where she could tap into her creative side that she had forgotten about while in graduate school.  As a result, she shifted her search towards international NGOs which were using creative arts as a way to engage young people.  Try this quick and fun activity to create your own list of things you love to do and see what themes you start to uncover about where you’d thrive professionally.

Gratitude for your COMMUNITY

You’ve worked hard to build a community that supports your professional development so take time at the start of the new year to be grateful for this network.  First, find all those contacts from the past year (or years!) that are lying around in random business card piles or on smart phone reminders and put them into one coordinated system so you can be grateful for the community you’ve created.   And now that you can appreciate the full scope of your network, this is a perfect time of year for “light touch” messages to your network through short “Happy New Year” emails that express gratitude for their support.

Another easy, yet often overlooked, way to express gratitude is to thank someone who connected you to another person in their network.  Send them a note before meeting with their contact and then again afterward to express your appreciation for the connection.  (Example:

I once connected a self-professed “Master Networker” to my super busy boss for an informational interview and was floored that not only did this “Master Networker” not let me know that he had connected with my boss before the meeting but never even thanked me.  No surprise that the next time he asked for an introduction to one of my contacts, I told him that person was unavailable.  Worry less about becoming a “Master Networker” and instead become a “Master Thanker.”

Gratitude for Your FAILURES

2014.01.17.Failure.ChurchillDid you forget about a job application deadline?  Freeze up during an interview?  Misspell something in your cover letter?  Overlook a chance to network with someone important for your career?  Be grateful for your failures for they teach us resilience, enlighten us to what we are missing, and show us where our true strengths lie.   Look back at what didn’t work in 2013 and assess what was or wasn’t within your control.  Now, plan for how you will approach things differently in 2014.

Walt Disney was once fired from a newspaper job for “lacking imagination,” Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was turned down 12 times.  People who have changed the world have not done so despite their failures but rather because they have grown from failure.  As Thomas Edison said, “I failed my way to success.”


In keeping with the theme of this month’s AmeriCorps Alums Career Coach Column, I want to express my gratitude to everyone who has contributed professional development questions and career concerns since we launched this blog in 2013.  Please keep your inquiries and requests coming as this career column is all about supporting you and your career aspirations!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Pres Winslow permalink
    January 22, 2014 6:06 pm

    As you reflect deeply on what you are great at and what great things you have accomplished, take it another step and see if your resume measures up to this description: “My resume is a short document that defines my magnificence.”

  2. January 23, 2014 1:38 pm

    These are important life lessons. Thank you for sharing.


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