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  • Rob Tillman

Practicing Gratitude is Powerful

How many of us look back with regret and sadness of what could have been? While the “power of positive thinking school” would cringe at this question, understanding the sources of our feelings of regret, sadness, guilt, and shame is an important part of making meaningful and lasting change in our lives and our careers.

As an executive recruiter and coach, my work with leaders focuses on making the right career decisions, effectively onboarding into a new company, and making meaningful changes to achieve success – and yes, happiness. Have I crossed the line between coaching and therapy by talking about “happiness”? In a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Executive Coach or Therapist? It’s Getting Harder to Tell the Difference”, the writer talks about the blurred lines, but the fact is coaching can feel like therapy.

I should know; I’m a coach and I have a great therapist. No shame there, and I can attest to the power of therapy as well as the importance of defining clear boundaries and agreements with my coaching clients. My coaching clients and I clearly understand these boundaries, but the fact is, working on change at the margin misses the point. I frequently tell my clients that if they want a performance coach or a cheerleader, I’m not their guy. At the core of making meaningful change, we have to understand what is holding us back.

In my own life and career, I’ve recently made a big career transition. As I’ve reflected on the transition and made the changes I’ve wanted to make, I needed to accept the feelings of regret and sadness before I could truly move on. For me, I needed to deal with the regret of shutting down my former executive search firm. My executive search and coaching practice continues to thrive, but the former firm is no more, and the sadness I felt held me back. Not now, but it did, and what I’ve learned can be best expressed by the following quote:

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – its right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” Brene’ Brown

So, what does gratitude have to do with regret, sadness, guilt, and shame? Those powerful feelings are the source of power for our “inner critic”. We all have one, and when we allow inner critic’s voice to dominate our thinking, we can feel stuck. Gratitude, and specifically practicing gratitude, quiets the inner critic and allows us to live in the present, and focus on positive strategies and actions.

At the core of executive coaching, raising self-awareness is the key. We’re all complicated people and making meaningful and lasting change is hard. As stated in the Wall Street Journal article, “It’s sort of like a badge of honor to have a coach.” I don’t know about that, but coaches can support us in making the changes we want to make, and practicing gratitude is a great way to silence the inner critic and approach life.


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