Rachel A. Brown
Assistant Provost for University Career Services
George Washington University
If I had to name two “secrets to my success” – they are being present and being grateful. While there is plenty of research to support the benefits of mindfulness and gratitude (here’s a great article in the Harvard Business Review) I’d like to speak from my personal experience.
A million years ago (aka the 80s) when I was in college, I was clueless about what I wanted to study, and certainly about what I wanted to do after graduation. Career services, as we know it today, was in its infancy and I found myself on a path that was far from linear and with plenty of bumps in the road.
My journey eventually led me to higher education and eventually the light bulb went off – perhaps my journey didn’t have to be that difficult and perhaps I could help other students so their path might be easier. That is the short version of how and why I got into career services.
As I reflect on my career, I can say with confidence that the moments in time when I’ve had the most success and the most satisfaction, were the moments that I’ve been totally present and when I’ve been grateful for whatever is in front of me. Ironically, some of the best examples of this are the seemingly insignificant ones.
Some mornings I am going about my morning routine, getting ready for work, and I can’t remember if I brushed my teeth. I have to feel the toothbrush to see if it is wet – seriously. Those days typically are not banner days for me. However, on the days that I am paying attention to what I am actually doing – when my mind is where my body is – I can get filled up with gratitude for things like…. clean running water …. toothpaste that takes away the yucky taste in my mouth… having teeth to begin with! Once I start down the mindful path of gratitude, my day is already better. My perspective has changed and I am filled with abundance rather than worry about whatever it was that was distracting me in the first place.
And here’s another bonus. Being grateful is contagious. I share a daily gratitude list with my dad who just turned 85. Every day we email each other with 3 things we’re grateful for. No “hi dad”, no “love from Rachel” just the date and our three things – every day. My dad confessed that in the beginning it was hard for him to come up with the 3rd thing (and between us, sometimes his third thing was kind of out there) but guess what? Now there are some days in which he has *more* than three things. It just works that way.
As I reflect on my career, I truly believe that my success hasn’t been based so much on what I was doing, or where I was doing it, but how I was doing it. When I am present, I can really listen to what others are saying; I can see possibilities; I don’t feel as stressed or stretched and can be and share my best self. Sometimes this is hard to do – especially when I’m caught up in the business of being busy – but I urge you to try. Take a breath – think about where you are – right now. Be present. Think of something you’re grateful for and soak it in. If it works, keep doing it; if it doesn’t work, keeping trying. This is a powerful tool you can use at any time and in any situation – especially when you’re feeling stressed – and even when you’re brushing your teeth.