I Started Writing Down What I Was Grateful For and It Changed My Career

A simple black notebook has changed my career. It doesn’t have inspirational quotes or self-help advice, or even lines on a page. The magic comes from what I write inside it. On its pages, I list what I’m grateful for each day. This simple exercise reminds me of all the beautiful, wonderful things in my life.

I started back when I was having a challenging time at work. This practice changed my outlook; and, in turn, how I experienced each day. I believe all professionals can benefit from adopting this practice.

Why I Started

I still remember walking into work one day and being told my job had changed. After all I had done for the organization, I felt demoralized. I dug my nails into my leg in an effort to stop crying during the meeting. I started to withdraw, and worse, chat behind closed doors.

I know this was not ideal. As the leader of a team, I had even more responsibility to help my staff members navigate this transition, especially those who also had their jobs changed unexpectedly. I felt like a failure for not protecting them, and for not protecting myself. 

I realized I needed to do something to help regain my own sense of control of the situation.

In reading articles and books on facing change at work, I came across many suggestions and concepts to try. One that stuck with me was the idea of a “gratitude list.” When my work life turned upside down, the last thing I felt was grateful. I had, however, always liked writing notes. On a whim, I bought a notebook and sat down one evening. 

How It Works

It took me a while to get started. I had trouble noticing the good things that happened each day. (In the quiet moments of reflection, I often found myself replaying offhand comments someone said and thinking about what I should have done differently.) I got stuck editing my thoughts before they made it on the page, because they didn’t seem good enough to be recorded.

Confession: I never went back to look at the notebook until I wrote this piece. One of my earliest notes included appreciation for rain boots. Another day I was grateful for the conversation at family dinner. As I practiced gratitude with more intention, my notes changed to the beauty of individual moments spent with family and friends, speaking up in meetings, raising my hand for new projects, and more. 

Flipping forward through the notebook, tears filled my eyes when I read one entry: “I can feel gratitude changing me.” It’s tough for negative emotions to flourish when you’re consciously keeping track of things that bring you happiness.

Start writing down three things each morning or night that you are grateful for. No judgment if your list includes the latte from your favorite coffee shop. Gratitude comes in all forms and sizes.

If you’re thinking this all sounds a little too whimsical, research shows that gratitude increases resilience, happiness, and self-awareness. It also has been found to lead to physical health benefits, including better sleep. To grow in your career, these are all qualities you will need, so think of it as an investment in your professional success. 

If the list still isn’t quite your thing, practicing gratitude can happen in other ways. Instead of spending time to write out your personal list, try sharing gratitude daily with others in written or verbal forms. Be specific about why you are thankful.

What I Learned

In cultivating gratitude in my daily life, over time I have grown more optimistic, resilient, and open to learning (and failure). It has helped me overcome challenges in handling change on many occasions.

In fact, at a later point in my career, I once again found myself in a meeting where I unexpectedly learned my responsibilities would change. I still dug my nails into my leg as I processed the news. But this time, it didn’t break me. I already had the tools I needed to rise to the challenge—and help my team navigate the news more successfully, as well.

Today, I lead change for organizations, and I still feel my gratitude list is the most important list I keep each day. No matter how busy or long the days get, I find time to focus on what I am grateful for. Your to-do list won’t necessarily help you advance your career, but your gratitude list can.