I received an unexpected blessing today when a young woman cashier at a bakery called me “mom” and said, “And you are mom because you paved the way for young (African-American) women like me. Thank you.” I was blown away and humbled by her lovely sentiment, the graciousness and self-awareness she displayed and the simple, yet profound gratitude she showed to a complete stranger.
I am reminded of another young man (ok , young to me) who told me he got where he is because of the elderly folks on the job who showed him “where the sand traps were”; how to network before he even had a title, who to befriend and when to suck it up.
Looking at political races and business mega-giants today you’d think true gratitude went out of style. Everyone claims to be “self-made”. All I had to start with was the 10 million my daddy left me….
But I don’t believe you ever become truly great without it.
- Makes you humble
When you realize that you really didn’t just get there by your wits, but in part by the blood sweat and tears of those who came before you, it’s harder to have a swelled head and act with hubris. Were it not for the sweatshop laborers who died in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire , a tragedy which resulted in tougher occupational safety and labor laws; or suffragettes fighting for women’s right to vote; the Deaf students at Gallaudet University or Black Pullman porters suffering indignities so that everyone would have rights as workers and as human beings; or the first Italian American in Congress; or the first Asian immigrant to attend Yale; or the people who broke barriers in your organization long before you got your job, we’d all have a tougher way to go.
2. Makes you teachable
Thank God for the veteran at the job who told you that while it was fine to express your individuality through avant-garde personal fashion, to leave the zebra-striped leggings at home because no one on the Board will take you seriously. You realize that the person who pulls your coat to how your one-word answers come across as rude is only looking out for your future. It helps you see even the failures and rascals in our lives as our teachers
3. Makes you want to leave a legacy
I want people to be grateful they crossed paths with me one day because of something they learned or compassion I’ve shown or a door that I opened. This forces me to be circumspect in how I conduct my business, the shadow I cast and the emotional wake I leave behind.
Take a moment – regularly – and write down the people, circumstances and history that shaped you into the leader you are. And pay it forward.