There aren’t that many new things in the world and often the “new things” are a revisit from the old things. Gratitude seems to be one of those new things that people have been talking more about the last few years. Leading up to this writing, I skimmed some articles and watched a few TedX videos and although it’s an old notion, most of the stuff I found was released between 2017 and today. Have gratitude, and find your why, those are the biggies - and get your hustle on!
Gratitude is the antidote for fear and anger they say, or the key to releasing anxiety or to moving through depression. Want to be happy, they say - be grateful! - which is good because it sounds so much easier to be grateful than it does to be happy.
But it’s a super-old concept of course - we’re approaching Thanksgiving as I write this piece, so...duh. And Thanksgiving Day sounds so much better than Happiness Day - if they ever decide to rebrand or create a new holiday called Happiness Day you can bet you’re living in an Orwellian nightmare. But Thanksgiving - it’s my favorite holiday - carries a theme you can carry around with you all year long and feel good about. This past year, I’ve been writing in a Gratitude Journal, most Monday and Friday mornings at 7 am I write a page of content, including three things I’m grateful for. Gratitudes mostly from the workweek on Friday, and gratitudes from the weekend on Monday mornings. It might be that I’m a little happier from it, but I’m definitely more mindful as a consequence. I’ve always had an optimistic mindset though, and probably the best outcome from gratitude journaling for me is that it serves up reminders to thank those to whom I’m grateful, and share the why.
My amazing wife Jill Bear gets a mention almost every episode, but for different reasons. By prompting me to consider and document the specifics it has richened my appreciation for her, and I think her awareness of just how much she means to me - at least when I make mention and don’t just write it down. :) My teammates of course get mentioned quite often - Rory and Deb - and it’s helped me to recognize their specific efforts and impacts. Those who interact with Team LoCo know how many hats they both wear well, and I’m grateful every day. Regularly a LoCo member or facilitator gets a mention, and my friends outside of LoCo circles. My amazing parents and family in ND, my extended family here in Colorado, my home, the community and nation in which I live, all deserve an expression of gratitude from time to time. That I get to generally control my own destiny as a small business owner, and serve a cause that I deeply believe in - these all make the list!.
I live a fairly blessed existence, to be sure, and I’m privileged to have a solid foundation in family and community connections to support me even when I stumble. Not everyone has this foundation, and over the years I’ve been often blessed to share time and treasure and voice for organizations that serve those who are starting from a tougher spot. Perhaps a reason why we’ll likely never “fix” poverty, is that poverty is both a financial challenge (rooted in an education challenge), and also an attitude challenge. I don’t mean that people in/from poverty have a bad attitude, or a chip on their shoulder. It’s more about the belief that one can indeed succeed - that the playing field is balanced, that one’s own efforts to work hard and be responsible will result in forward progress in the game of life.
One big problem with this - the playing field is not balanced! We’re complicated critters, and we grow up in highly diverse environments, so the luck of the draw on who your parents are and the environment where you were raised has a lot to do with your prospects for success in life. And, perhaps worse! - we’re all born with different natural giftings and tendencies and capabilities. I was talking a blue streak (mostly questions!) way before I was two years old, reading 10 books a month in elementary school, and digesting nearly every newsmagazine in our library from cover to cover every week throughout high school. Among other things, I was perhaps most blessed with curiosity!
But I was cursed by a belief (from where, I don’t really know - but we mostly all had it where I grew up) that I was among the “country folk” who wouldn’t likely make it through college, or if they did they’d be back home soon enough. When I visited home for the holidays some 20+ years ago and announced that I’d moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, to work for a bank - the general reception was “You’ll be back with your tail between your legs . . everybody comes back . . how do they deal with the cost of living out there?”
Well, I dealt with it by keeping with my strengths, staying curious, and trying to learn enough about banking and finance that I could be useful to my employer and my clients. I kept getting promoted, and finding some success at acquiring new bank clients, and I worked hard! I continued learning business best practices, and connecting people, and eventually all this curiosity and connection (and a lot of hard work!) turned into LoCo Think Tank. A lot of that success was related to carrying around a positive attitude. To help unfold this topic even more I’m going to get a little personal on a case study that I think shows so much about the power of attitude despite circumstance.
In October, my father sent me a poster of a farm auction poster from 50 years before - to the day - his father’s farm auction. About 4 years before I was born, my dad’s dad went broke in farming - sold out. This was a few years after he and dad’s mum had divorced, leaving my dad and his siblings living with their mother in a single parent environment with inconsistent child support way before such things were popular. My dad had an older sister, two younger brothers, and a younger sister, and then later came a stepsister and a stepbrother from a 2nd marriage - to the older brother of my dad’s dad no less...it’s all a big long story and I’ll share it another time over a cocktail.
Where I’m going with this, is that despite the same parents, the same socioeconomic environment, and arguably quite similar intelligence and raw talents - these siblings lived lives as different as can be. My dad’s older sister died young, after marrying early and moving away, and tragically being killed by her husband. She effectively escaped her family environment, faced difficult decisions in life, no doubt impacted by the trauma of her family dynamic. To hear my father talk she was the smartest and most capable of them all, and should have lived the best life. He always tears up when he talks about her - which is almost never.
My dad took a job at the local Honda shop at 14, and he was officially the head mechanic once he got out of high school. He didn’t have the grades or money or inclination for college, and married my mom at 20 with a bun in the oven (that’s me!). He saved up some money and bought a lot across the street from their humble starter home, and built a garage on it - with a pit for working on cars, and he fixed cars many evenings and weekends during the early years of marriage. After some years, he saved up a bit of money, (and finally found a willing banker to ) and make him a loan!) and started a farm by renting 160 acres from cousins, again working the farm on evenings and weekends. He still wrenched on cars in the wintertime, and the farm grew while he worked another 10+ years at the Honda shop. He believed in his ability to become a farmer and strived toward it, though his father had gone broke trying the same thing. He re-invested every penny of profit the farm made while our family was on free school lunch and wearing hand-me-downs. Dad was grateful for the chance to start a farm, always had an attitude that he could succeed at it - and he proved it with his actions. He’s been among the most successful farmers in our county, and he built his farm on relationships and integrity - just like almost every business. He and mom raised four pretty great kids too, all with strong careers and businesses and families of their own.
My dad’s next younger brother died last spring, liver cancer at 64. He was one of the smartest and strongest men I ever knew - not a big guy, but a tightly wound spring that could whip almost anyone in arm wrestling probably up until he was days from death. Whereas my dad used the circumstances of his early years as incentive to shape a different life than his father’s - his brother used the same circumstances as an excuse to mirror his father’s path the best he could. He never really prospered in his whole life, if I think about it. He enjoyed (not really) a short-lived marriage and does have a great kid - hi Cuz! - but was mostly a lifelong bachelor. He abandoned a promising career path in robotics for a local manufacturing company because he got pissed at some random policy. He rode motorcycles when he had enough money to keep one on the road, and worked as a jack-of-all-trades for much of his life. He accumulated only a few assets and only a few close friends. But he was so smart, and kind, and a really capable guy - but he always sabotaged his own chances at success it seemed. He didn’t have gratitude, it seems to me, for all the things he was blessed with, and just kind of drifted through life without much direction or purpose.
The next younger brother has had numerous health challenges in recent years, and seems the most likely next to pass - again with little fanfare, no estate and only a few close friends. He was my first boss that wasn’t my dad, when I worked at his motorcycle shop in the next town north the summer of my 17th year. He was smart too, clever especially, and was a great storyteller. He didn’t work nearly as hard as he made sure I did though, and it was almost always beer:30 for him, and we seldom worked past 3:30 as that would cut into the proper beer-drinking and storytelling time at the nearby auto body shop - which I was heartily invited to indulge in. The cycle shop eventually failed, and this brother also became a jack-of-all-trades, and has lived a largely subsistence existence since his mid-40’s. He mostly chose bitterness over gratitude in his life, and my heart breaks for the pit he’s dug for himself. And the truth is - no one can pull him out of that pit unless he changes his attitude.
The youngest of dad’s full siblings had a career as a schoolteacher, mostly to underprivileged kids - and is perhaps the smilingest person I know. I believe the first time I wore a necktie was at her wedding, which means it was a darn long time ago. She and her hubby recently retired to the lakehouse in MN that they saved for and finally purchased 8 years ago, and they raised three great girls all with young marriages of their own, and one with twin girls! This sibling was created to serve, and has always served best those who need the most help - and she’s always had a great attitude of gratitude. Her family has become a strong branch in our tree, and will continue to bear much fruit I believe.
I can hear your thoughts now - “Nice Story, but where you going with this Curt Bear?”
Well, there’s a few things I’d perhaps call your attention to, and ask you to consider those along your own pathway who have achieved more or less in life with similar foundations of opportunity.
If you’re one of those people who’ve been blessed with more gifts than most from your start in life - or if you’ve achieved more success than most even though you started with less - one of best things you can do is to help others cultivate a positive outlook and find their own path to success in life. Help them to see the gifts they do have and expand on them, help them to face the real barriers that most have, help them see that indeed - though the playing field is not balanced, there is much joy to be found in this game of life. Many of the outcomes of life boil down to attitude - but it must be combined with a willingness to take action to do anyone any good.
I’m grateful for so many things this day, not least of which was you taking the time to read my blog all the way to the end. Make it a great day, and may you and yours be blessed to share a wonderful Christmas season together in the month ahead.