Daily Gratitude: The Impact of Strong Mothers (Day 1,130)

In April 2017 I kicked off a gratitude challenge where I wrote a daily blog post for 30 days (more on my learnings here). When the challenge ended I decided to continue the habit but only occasionally share these gratitudes on my blog. 

In his book Standing for Something, Gordon B. Hinckley shares the impact that strong mothers can have on both their children and the world.

The story is told that in ancient Rome a group of women were, with vanity, showing their jewels to one another. Among them was Cornelia, the mother of two boys. One of the women said to her, “And where are your jewels?” Cornelia responded, pointing to her sons, “These are my jewels.”

Cornelia-Mother-of-the-Gracchi-cover
Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, 1785. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Under her tutelage, and walking after the virtues of her life, they grew to become Gaius and Tiberius Gracchus—the Gracchi, as they were called—two of the most persuasive and effective reformers in Roman history. For as long as they are remembered and spoken of, the mother who reared them after the manner of her own life will be remembered and spoken of with praise also.

Mother’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the wonderful women that have influenced our lives. I have been blessed to be surrounded by remarkable mothers.

The first mother I am thankful for is my Grandmother, Lenore Hobbs. My grandma stayed with my family for extended periods of time when I was in middle school. We’d watch basketball together and she loved cheering for her “Little Johnny” (John Stockton) and the Utah Jazz. She was a joy to be with. She always made me feel like I was the most important person alive. My grandma was one of the most loving people I’ve known. She gave and she gave and she gave, never expecting anything in return. While Grandma Hobbs passed away several years ago, the memory of her kindness lives on.

Second, I’m grateful for my mother. She taught me to read at a young age and instilled a love of books. My siblings attended a private school and the commute was 45 minutes each way. When she wasn’t driving them to school or dropping us off at soccer practice, or taking us to baseball games, she was helping us with homework or assisting in our classrooms. She devoted all of her adult life to raising me and my siblings. She is an example of selfless service.

Finally, I am thankful for my wife. I’ve written before of the many things I love about her, so I’ll be brief here. Motherhood is always hard, but COVID-19 has brought unique parenting challenges. With schools getting closed and sports seasons canceled, she’s taken on increased responsibilities. She teaches, cares, and serves with love and patience. She shows up every single day. She is relentless.

If service is the rent we pay for living in this world, these three women have more than paid their portion. I am grateful for strong women who, like Cornelia, have chosen to make their children their jewels. The world is a better place because of them.

Daily Gratitude: Marco Polo (Day 1,086)

In April 2017 I kicked off a gratitude challenge where I wrote a daily blog post for 30 days (more on my learnings here). When the challenge ended I decided to continue the habit but only occasionally share gratitudes on my blog.  

One of the challenges I’ve faced while physically isolating during COVID-19 is the lack of connection to the outside world. Marco Polo (no, not that one, or that one) is a video chat app that’s been a gamechanger for me.

There are countless ways to stay connected. Phone calls, Facetime, and Zoom/WebEx are great for real-time, synchronous communication. They’re great for talking with friends, family, and colleagues at the same time. Text messages work well for asynchronous communication and I love being able to respond at times that are convenient.

I love Marco Polo because it provides asynchronous video communication. I experience the joy of connecting face-to-face but don’t have to get everyone together at the same time. Through Marco Polo, I can watch video messages at my leisure, then create and send a video when convenient. It’s super easy to use and makes staying in touch fun.

Isolating physically has been a challenge for me and countless others. Meaningful connection is a basic need for everyone and I’m grateful we have technology in Marco Polo that can help fill that need.

The Powerful Lesson I Finally Learned from the Tenth Leper

At church a few weeks back, one of the speakers gave a talk on the subject of gratitude. She included the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers as found in Luke 17:

11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.

12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:

13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.

14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.

15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,

16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.

17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?

18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.

19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Throughout my life, I’ve probably heard this story dozens of times. The lesson I took each time was either, “It’s really important to show gratitude” or “You don’t want to be like the other nine lepers.”

For whatever reason, this time around I was solely focused on the tenth leper and what his life was like thereafter. I couldn’t help but think that his expression of gratitude wasn’t just a nice thing to do for Jesus, it was something that transformed the leper. He had already been cleansed. Expressing gratitude made him whole.

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time to reflect on what we’re grateful for. But the blessings of gratitude don’t need to be confined to the end of November. We can enjoy them year-round.

I challenge all of us to make a regular commitment to expressing thanks. As we do so we’ll have a greater appreciation for all we’ve been given. Our life will be more joyful and bounteous. Like the 10th leper, we will be whole.

The Unanticipated Benefit of Having a Small House (Day 728)

My wife and I have mostly lived in Silicon Valley the last 11 years. I say mostly because there was a two-year stretch where we lived outside of California. The desire to change careers took us out of state for grad school. We ultimately found ourselves with a big decision: Should we move back to the Bay Area, where the high cost of living would limit our housing options, or should we find a new place to call home?

Most of my classmates chose the latter, moving to lower cost areas where they purchased large homes on large plots of land. The career opportunities, weather, and friendships we’d built over the years were enough for us to select the Bay Area. Our home would be much smaller than the one we lived in during grad school, but that was a sacrifice we had to make, or so I thought.  

We quickly noticed a few benefits of having a smaller home. Less square footage = lower utility bill. Smaller yard = less yard work. Smaller home = less space clean. (Fun fact: you can almost vacuum our entire house without having to change electrical outlets.)  

But there was one blessing we didn’t expect. Being close physically helped us grow closer in other ways. Let me explain.

Family prayer and scripture study has always been important and our goal is to do both daily. In grad school, we had a two-story home. Corralling kids was always a challenge and we often missed our goal. The seemingly small change of living on a single floor reduced a minor barrier and made it easier to gather as a family. We are now much more consistent at reaching our daily goal and it’s made a difference.

Living in close proximity has also strengthened our kids’ relationships. Our 8-year-old and 6-year-old share a room and are in constant interaction. They butt heads all the time, but there’s little space for them to be separated. While in the moment this can be painful for all involved (especially mom and dad). Our kids can’t run to their separate rooms or ignore the other. They are forced to work things out.

That constant interaction has fostered a special relationship. One recent night, after putting them to bed, we noticed it was unusually quiet in their room. One had climbed from the top bunk into the other’s bed and they were found laughing and sharing stories. A treasured moment for all.  

To be clear, I’m not arguing that small homes are somehow better than larger ones, and the day will come (I hope) when we have more space. But this experience has served as a reminder that sometimes those things in our lives that look or feel inferior turn out to be unanticipated blessings.  

Living in a smaller home has brought us closer. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

In April 2017 I kicked off a gratitude challenge where I wrote a daily blog post for 30 days (more on my learnings here). When the challenge ended I decided to continue the habit. Today is day 728.

7 Lessons I Learned From This 30-Day Gratitude Experiment

It all started on a Friday. I came home in kind of a funk. I’m still not sure why. Things at work were great, and everyone in my family was doing well. There was nothing tangibly wrong, but something was nagging at me.

The next day, I continued reading The Happiness Equation, a book I’d started a few months earlier. The author, Neil Pasricha, discussed how expressing gratitude consistently leads to greater happiness. Later that day I listened to several talks centered on finding greater peace and happiness, and the practice of giving thanks was referenced in each. The message hit me loud and clear—I need to be more grateful for all I have.

A few days later I kicked off what I dubbed the 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. Every single day, for 30 days, I would write a blog post sharing something I was grateful for. I gave myself only two rules: I couldn’t repeat topics, and I had to come up with something new each day.

Here are seven lessons I learned while completing the challenge.

1. Consistently giving thanks leads to increased happiness

Yes, the experiment worked. The simple act of writing down something I was grateful for each day made me happier. But honestly, this wasn’t all that surprising. What did surprise me was that making a commitment to give thanks on a daily basis left me constantly reflecting on the good in my life, even when I’d already written my blog post for the day.

2. Writing about gratitude made me more likely to thank others

Halfway through the experiment, I did something I probably don’t do enough. I sent an email to a colleague, outlining why I thought she was great at her job and how I appreciated her work. My email couldn’t have been more than five sentences in total. She followed up with a much longer message, explaining some challenges she was facing and how my note was the highlight of her week. Writing down what I was grateful for helped me be happier, which made me more likely to express gratitude to others.

3. Relationships are most important

When I kicked off this gratitude experiment, I didn’t have a set list of topics I’d cover. Rather, at the end of each day, I’d take a moment to reflect before writing about one thing I was grateful for. Of my 30 posts, 15 were focused on people. Some were specific individuals, while others were groups of people. Personal relationships are the most important thing in our lives.

4. Little things make a big difference

I found myself writing about seemingly trivial things, including long walksStar Warsbookscampfires and S’mores, and April baseball. While they may seem small or silly, each made a sizable impact on my well-being during the 30-day stretch.

5. There’s a silver lining in almost everything

In my circle of friends, I probably have the longest commute. It comes up a lot in conversation as people want to know how I’m handling it. While reflecting one night, I thought about the positive aspects of my long commute. Commuting by train gives me time to read, reflect, and get a head start on the day’s work. By the time I walk into the office, I’m in a better mindset and prepared to face challenges head on.

6. Expressing gratitude can help, even when you feel you have nothing to be grateful for

A few weeks into the experiment I had a pretty bad day. I didn’t want to write about anything. It took a little time to find something I was genuinely grateful for, but I did it anyway. My day didn’t instantly turn around, but I did notice a difference.

7. Even writing a quick gratitude is worth the effort

I completed the gratitude challenge a few weeks back, successfully writing a blog post each day for 30 days (you can read them here). But the benefits of this daily practice were so valuable I’ve continued doing it in a spreadsheet. I’m currently on Day 54. It takes only a minute or so each day and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

If you’re not as happy as you’d like to be, consider taking the 30-day gratitude challenge yourself. You too may find that the simple act of giving thanks can change your outlook on life. Sometimes it’s the small things that have the biggest impact.

Day 30: My Kids (30 Days of Gratitude)

It’s now been exactly 30 days since I started writing these daily posts. In a future post I’m going to write more about how this has impacted me. In short, writing daily gratitude posts has helped me appreciate all that I have, even the simple things I normally take for granted. I’ve learned that if you seek out the good in your life, you’ll find it. 

I’ve written about my kids several times over the last month, but with today being day 30, I’ve been thinking about what’s most important in my life.

This afternoon my wife took our two older kids to run some errands while I stayed home with our one-year-old. I loved having 1:1 time with her. She is the most precious thing in the world and always has a smile on her face. I don’t know if babies come any sweeter.

Later in the day I took the older kids out to dinner. We had a dance contest and a funny face contest while we waited for our food. They were so much fun to be with.

Raising children is not easy—And I’m not with them nearly as much as my wife is. Sometimes they frustrate me. Sometimes they drive me crazy. But they are great kids and I am lucky to be their dad.

I’m grateful for my kids.

#30daysofgratitude

 

Day 29: Books (30 Days of Gratitude)

“I cannot live without books.”   –Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams

We regularly hear about the importance of reading actual books. Despite the many benefits, for years I read very little, always making the excuse that I didn’t have time.

But three years ago, I decided to make this a priority, and I’m proud to say that I’ve read at least one book a month since setting that goal. I’ve found it’s not only given me a competitive advantage in my career, but I’m also learning a lot more than ever before.

Here are the best books I’ve read during that period:

I am grateful for books.

#30daysofgratitude

Day 28: Star Wars (30 Days of Gratitude)

I’m a pretty big Star Wars fan. Though I’ve never dressed up as Chewbacca for Halloween, nor slept outside a movie theater the night before a release, I know my fair share about Wampas and Wookies.

I don’t remember when I first watched the trilogy, but my true fandom started in middle school. Of course I loved the movies, but my friends and I took it to the next level. We started playing the Star Wars Customizable Card Gameor Star Wars cards for short. Though I’ve never played Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon, I think there are some similarities.

Each pack of cards cost a few bucks and I remember begging my mom, my dad, and my friend Mike’s older sister to take us to the comic book shop so we could buy them. I remember the car ride, anxiously anticipating that moment when I’d open a pack, hoping I’d get a Darth Vader, or a Han Solo, or maybe even an Imperial-class Star Destroyer.

We loved playing this game, but Mike and I were embarrassed by our obsession. Remember, we were in middle school and wanted to be cool. There was nothing cool about playing Star Wars cards.

My favorite story came on a weekend night at my house. After swimming in my pool, Mike and I sat down for a mean game of Star Wars cards. If I remember correctly Mike used his Rebel deck, and I must have been the Imperials. (I say this because a few weeks before I had spent $35 of my hard-won babysitting money to buy the Grand Moff Tarkin card.)

Anyway, so Mike and I are playing Star Wars cards at the kitchen table and my older brother walks through the front door. He’s with a group of friends, and two of them are among the most popular girls at El Rancho Middle School. (I bet you didn’t know I went to the same school as her, did you?)

Ok, back to the story. So, the two popular girls walk into the house and start heading toward the kitchen. Mike and I look at each other in panic. What if they find out we’re playing Star Wars cards? What if they tell everyone at school how lame we are?  

Mike and I scramble to put the cards away, but it’s too late. They come say hi and ask what we’re up to. Busted. That night ended any chance I had of being one of the cool kids, but it didn’t end my love of Star Wars.

High school eventually came and life got busy with sports, school, and everything in between. Unfortunately, or you could argue, fortunately, there was no time for Mike and I to play cards.

Star Wars was largely absent from my life until late 2015. Anticipating the release of The Force Awakens, I bought the original trilogy. I watched A New Hope with my kids and they immediately fell in love with Star Wars. Over the Christmas break we made them lightsabers using pool noodles, duct tape and flash lights.

We did “Star Wars fighting” every night for the next three months. Literally, the first thing they would ask when I got home from work was whether we could have lightsaber fights.

I’ve since purchased two pairs of Star Wars socks and wear them regularly to work.

FORCE

While the first pair is quite obvious (Vader and Luke), I wear the second when I want to be more subtle (the twin suns of Tatooine, in case you were wondering).

Needless to say, Star Wars has brought a lot of joy into my life. It’s also brought joy into my kids life. I still don’t have plans to get a Chewbacca costume, but I may buy another pair of socks soon. (I think the Cloud City ones would be a nice addition.)

I am grateful for Star Wars.

#30daysofgratitude

Day 27: My Dad (30 Days of Gratitude)

My dad is a great man. He knows what’s important to him and he lives his life accordingly. He loves my mom, he loves his kids, and he always took care of us.

I’ll share two stories about him.

Camping trip
When I was about 9 years old my mom came home from the grocery store with Pringles, Pop Tarts, and a lot of other food she normally didn’t buy. She told me they were all for my older brother who was heading off to go camping that night. I later learned that my brother, who didn’t like camping all that much, had refused to go on the camp out. My mom purchased all the goodies to encourage his participation.

I remember the excitement I felt when my first camp out arrived. Sure, I was excited to spend time with my dad, who was our scoutmaster, and I looked forward to being with my friends. But the real reason I was excited was that my mom had agreed to buy me the same snacks she bought my brother a few years before. That night I ate Pringles, Pop Tarts, Starbursts, and a bunch of other junk food.

As you can imagine, I felt awful. I woke up sick in the middle of the night. I think I even spewed in another scout leader’s shoe. (Sorry, TMI.)

The next morning we were set to hike for several miles, but I had no strength. My dad ended up hauling my pack for me. He carried the burden that I was unable to carry myself. It may have taken a year off his life, but he didn’t complain once.

MBA Decision
The second story took place a few years back. My dad was in town for the holiday weekend, and we were riding through the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I planned on a peaceful, scenic ride, but we’d spent the past 30 minutes discussing the frustrations I’d been experiencing in my career. I shared my concerns about my job and the future, and my dad offered several nuggets of advice. He finally said, “Nate, I think you should strongly consider getting an MBA.”

I thanked him for his input and reminded him that getting an MBA would be a waste of time and money. We got home from the ride and moved onto other activities, but I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. Maybe my dad is right, I thought. Maybe it’s time to reconsider an MBA.

After the bike ride with my dad, I thought more about getting an MBA. The more I considered it as an option, the better it felt. Before talking to my dad I had felt trapped—none of my options looked appealing. But when I thought about getting an MBA, feelings of opportunity and hope came back. Eventually I reached the point when I felt ready to move forward. I decided to get an MBA, a decision that has blessed my life in many ways. My dad helped me when I was at a crossroads in my career. He provided guidance when I needed it most.

My dad has always been there for me. Whether it’s carrying my backpack, offering career advice, or countless other situations when I need his help. He’s always been there.

My dad is a great example. I want to be more like him.

I’m grateful for my dad.

#30daysofgratitude

 

Day 26: My Mentors (30 Days of Gratitude)

I’ve been blessed with great mentors.

Colin Cropper was an early mentor of mine. He helped me learn the ropes of Wall Street and land my dream internship. I wrote about him in a previous post, How Informal Mentoring Can Change Your Career.

David White is another. He was my first manager at LinkedIn and helped me both transition to the world of HR and flex a creative muscle I didn’t know I had. Countless others have provided me with kind gestures or timely advice that has nudged me in the right direction.

But many of my mentors I’ve never met or spoken with. Odd as that may sound, these individuals have still managed to have a significant impact on my career.

Keith Ferrazzi. I wrote about him and the impact his book had on me in a previous post.

Seth Godin. My first “interaction” with Seth was when he was a guest on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. I’ve since read several of his books. Small is the New Big inspired me to start my blog, one of the better decisions I’ve made. His writing constantly reminds me of the need to create art this is meaningful.

Kobe Bryant. He is so relentlessly focused on success that he doesn’t let anything get in the way of his goals. He doesn’t care what people think.

John Tanner. My great, great, great (three greats) grandfather. He sacrificed everything he had (money, status in society, etc.) to do what he knew was right.

I am grateful for mentors—even the ones I haven’t met.

#30daysofgratitude