A little over a year ago, I was struggling with the emotional state of my team at work. We were getting work done, but not necessarily meshing as a group of people and I wasn’t actively spending time cultivating our relationship as a team. I wasn’t sure where to turn as a manager, I felt like I was failing them, and ultimately, myself.
In an effort to not spend everyday in the office in misery, I sought out inspiration on the internet. I watched YouTube videos, searched endlessly on Pinterest, and read books on how to break bad team dynamics. Slowly, I became inspired and started to devise a plan that I would implement as soon as I returned from a vacation. I started a Pinterest board called “Moving Forward –>” (Yes, the arrow is included). The board had developed into a place where I would keep pictures, quotes, and motivation that later would be sent to my team in the form of a “Motivational Monday” e-mail. It was a little high on the cheese-o-meter for my personal taste, but I figured a little cheese never hurt anyone.
Together, we decided that one consistent aspect of our weekly e-mails would be listing three things that we are grateful for. I start with my Monday e-mail and, when they feel like sharing, the team hits “reply all” to share their three things as well. Ultimately, starting our week by focusing on what we’re grateful for.
Over a year later and, for the most part, those e-mails go out every Monday morning. It isn’t always easy, I’ve run out of stuff to fill up the space with, sometimes I’m not in the motivational mood, I run out of time in the morning, or just felt like it didn’t matter anyway, but with the exception of a few weeks, I have been very diligent with making sure that e-mail goes out. Whether it actually motivates anyone is not for me to say. No one has complained yet – at least not to me.
Personally, by starting my week with listing out three things that I am grateful for, it has forced me to be more intentional with reflecting on gratitude, I now have a more natural inclination to recognize my sparked gratitude. So, when I read the focus of Week 5 of the Kindness Challenge, I knew I was equipped to accomplish my goals.
Usually, when I am listing out the three things I am grateful for each week they are relatively simple things, I don’t go too deep with them, I try to remain professional, but I tend to keep a balance between little, silly things (coffee), and personal, important things (family). I tried to focus more on the latter last week. There were numerous points in the last eight days when I said to myself “Grateful!” – there were so many moments that felt special and I was appreciative to be a part of them. As I ran down the list of “Gratefuls” I started noticing a pattern, most of them fit into one of two categories:
- Moments between other people that I witnessed from afar
One of the aspects of the Kindness Challenge that I have appreciated over the last five weeks is that our challenge was not structured to just focus on ourselves. It wasn’t just about the kindness that I put out into the world, but also about observing kindness around me. That experience seemed be the most influential, it forced me to observe the people around me in a meaningful way, to think about kindness outside of the four walls that I tend to put everything in. Now, several weeks later, I have noticed that I have clung to that concept, only now I tend to notice them without making a conscious effort.
The one moment I was grateful to witness that stuck with me the most happened on Friday. I, for the first time ever, was responsible for facilitating a parent-child interaction group. I have managed to go six years and three promotions without having to facilitate this particular kind of activity. I volunteered to be the lead staff member on-site so that my team could have a couple of extra days off after traveling. I was happy to do it, but not necessarily excited about it, it just isn’t in my wheelhouse. I had a room full of parents and young children swirling around me, I was aimlessly walking throughout the room just making sure that I was engaging with each family. At one point I felt comfortable taking a step back and just observing the room as a whole. I slowly paned the clumps of people, ending my sights on a mom and her three year old son. He was sitting in a little kid chair, mom was crouched down beside him. From what I could gather, he was asking her when it would be time to go home and what they would be doing for the rest of the day. They had a calm and loving conversation about their agenda, kissed and she rested her head on his. At that moment he wrapped his arm around her face just embracing their moment together. They sat there, still, for a few moments before the graham cracker he was munching on fell apart to the floor. Mom and little man just laughed and broke apart to continue with the group. In those few minutes that I was able to observe their quick interaction, I felt so grateful to bear witness to their love and kindness toward each other. It’s comical that something that has nothing to do with me, and quite honestly borders on me looking like a creeper, had an emotional impact for a bystander across the room.
I suppose that’s the point of all of this though: putting kindness out into the universe can spread to other people, eventually coming back to you. Imagine what we could accomplish if we all took a little more time to absorb the kindness that is out in the world and less time absorbing the negativity that seems to be so readily available.
Early on in the week I started to pick up on the fact that I was racking up a list of moments with Justin that I was grateful for and that gratitude kept building throughout the week. Justin and I have been together for over thirteen years, and we were friends for about four years before that. At this point there is very little mystery in our relationship, we understand each other more than we understand ourselves on occasion. I found that Justin surprised me a few times last week, which is something to be grateful for in itself. Since moving into our new home, we have made it a point to try and eat dinner together, at the dining room table every night. No dinners in front of the television, just us, our meal, and conversation. One night we ended up talking about marriage, and the kind of work that goes into deciding to fight for your partnership, every single day. We laughed, and poked fun at each other a couple of times, but the conversation was real, we were saying real things that we probably hadn’t said to each other in a while. He said things that I so desperately needed to hear, and I said things that I so desperately needed to say to him. We took the opportunity to build each other up instead of focusing on the mundane, frustrating, and difficult aspects of keeping a marriage alive. I was so proud of who we have become, as a team.
Through the last five weeks I have learned a lot about myself and what kindness means to me in a practical sense. It takes courage to be kind, to be open and vulnerable. I have developed a greater appreciation for the people in my life that are genuinely kind, those are the people that I have gravitated toward as I have pushed forward with this challenge. I have found a confidence and sense of calm as I know my words and actions are rooted in kindness, I don’t second guess my intentions. I have become more selective with the qualities that I look for in the people I surround myself with, and I have started, organically, initiating kindness that never would have crossed my mind previously. I had no idea what to expect when I took this journey, I figured, at the very least, it gave me a weekly blog post to keep up with. What I’ve gotten is so much more valuable than seven blog posts, and there’s still two weeks to go.