It’s funny, as this time of year rolls around, people go into thankfulness overdrive. All over Facebook people are participating in “30 Days of Thankfulness” where each day they list something they are thankful for. However, being constantly bombarded with tokens of appreciation can take its toll, turning even the most positive people (myself included) slightly cynical. But when you take a look back, you’ll find there really are some things to be truly thankful for, and these are just a few of them.

1.) Your family. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean your biological family. There are many other people from various walks of life that can be considered family. Maybe you have a group of coworkers that make your job more pleasant than it really should be, or perhaps you have a close-knit group of friends that have been with you through thick and thin. Either way, there is surely at least one person that you are grateful to know.

2.) Your health. If you’re in generally good health, be thankful for it. There are countless afflictions you could have. If you’re ailing, be thankful for modern medicine and all the advances modern science has made in the medical field. And if you’re confused about your health, be thankful that there are resources to help you get back on your feet. Counseling centers and rehab facilities are right at your fingertips.

3.) Technology. Just think back to a few years ago and you should find yourself deeply impressed with what you have now. Even if you don’t have the newest television or the latest iPhone, there are still some amazing things happening in the technological world. Be thankful you can have a face to face conversation with someone completely across the planet or that your phone has an app that will let you find your car keys should you ever lose them again. Now c’mon…that’s pretty amazing.

4.) Opportunity. No matter what your situation is, you have the opportunity to make it better. Maybe you’re unhappy with the current political climate; be thankful that you have the ability to vote and to run for a government position. Even if you feel you’ve missed opportunities in the past, chances will still come along to allow you to better yourself. Be thankful you live in a place with abundant opportunities.

5.) Holidays. Think about it, what other days are you allowed to hang out with your best friends and family members, eat way too much food all while skipping out on work and (probably) still getting paid? Not a lot. Definitely be thankful for the holidays.

 
 
With the ever expanding world of the internet, it can be quite easy to see how business relationships may fall to the wayside. After all, instead of calling customer care, people are directed to an online question and answer forum. Instead of turning in job applications directly to human resources, people are asked to submit theirs online. Even ordering business supplies over the phone is a thing of the past; sure, you can probably do it, but not without hearing about how convenient their new online ordering system is from the person on the other end of the line. Do they know a website has the potential to put them out of a job?

Nonetheless, with so many essential business moves being made over the internet, one might think we were living in a world where human to human interaction was not the preferable option. However, relationships in business are more important than ever. And no matter how much work is done online, there are a few things you need to know:

1.) Nothing can replace excellent customer service. Ever get to a website and find that you can’t find a phone number? Anywhere? It’s frustrating to have to sit at a computer and try to decipher what someone else has already deemed the appropriate response to your problem. Maybe that solution isn’t working, maybe that’s not your problem, and maybe you just have no idea what the words in front of you mean.

Having a relationship with your clients means being there for them in a time of need, and refusing to have a help number on your website is not being there (neither is requiring them to go through 46 steps to reach a human being on the other end, contrary to the opinion of Verizon, but who’s counting).

2.) Do what you say you are going to do. When a customer has contacted you with an issue, it is up to you to resolve it. Relying on them to remind you of the problem or giving them a list of things they should try and then call you back is lazy. Sure you can teach a man to fish, but in the business world it’s appreciated if you give that same man a fish or two while he is still learning. Don’t leave your customers out on a limb; once they’ve contacted you take the problem off their hands.

Oh yeah, and fix it.

3.) Facilitate connections. I work with a local photographer here in town, and one day I asked her how much money she spends on advertising for her business. Her answer: $0.00. All of her clients are from colleague recommendations, word of mouth, and social media. Folks all these client sources are facilitated through favorable relationships. If no other photographers in town respect her, if her clients aren’t happy with her work or she ignores the growing trend of social media, her business dies. It’s as simple as that. 

 
 
We’ve all been there; that moment when things have gotten so bad that it becomes difficult to see how they could ever get better again. Maybe you’ve lost your job and bills are piling up, maybe you’ve just ended a long term relationship and thoughts of eternal loneliness are flooding your mind; either way, there has to be something you can do to get back on track. And as a matter of fact, there is.

1.) Take one day. When it feels like your world is ending it can be tough to think about anything else, so do what you need to do to clear your mind. However, you need to put a time limit on your groveling or you could end up wallowing forever. If that means sleeping in bed for an entire day, do it. Maybe it means going for a run or watching your favorite movie on repeat. Whatever it is that you need to do, take a day to completely absorb yourself in whatever situation you’re in, then wake up tomorrow, and begin to move on.

2.) Comprehend your new reality. Constantly saying “If only this hadn’t happened…” to yourself won’t get you anywhere. This did happen. If you lost your job, you need to stop and look at your current situation without your mind getting carried away. So sit down and take a look at your finances. What are your necessities and what will it take to pay for them (and no, cable television is not a “necessity”)? Exactly how much money do you need to make to keep a roof over your head and food in your belly? 

3.) Make a plan, in writing. And don’t generalize. Saying, “I’ll find another job,” isn’t going to help you right now. Of course you will, but how? Writing down a serious of steps leading to a job would be much more constructive. Something like: 1.) Talk to everyone I know to see if they know if their current job is hiring, 2.) Search the want ads, 3.) Update my resume, 4.) Go down to the job center to check current openings, etc.

4.) Find the reason (if there is one) and learn from it. Sometimes things happen for no reason, and there really is no lesson involved. Some things, however, do have a reason for occurring. Is there a reason you were laid off instead of your coworker? It may be that you were simply at the company for less time. Finding the reason allows you to either prevent this situation from happening again or absolve yourself from feeling guilty over something you had no control over in the first place.

5.) Appreciate the things you do have. No matter what, you still have some things to be grateful for. A divorce is rough, of course, but you still have you children, right? Try to focus on other aspects of your life that are going well. Maybe this whole situation has made you realize that you have some seriously amazing friends who would do anything for you. 

 
 
It’s fairly common to be unsatisfied with your current situation in life. Maybe you are happy with your relationship but your job is making you miserable. Maybe you just keep going in circles and you can’t seem to break out of your rut. Either way, change often takes time. However, it all begins with that first step, and here are a few first steps that will show a little bit of improvement immediately.

1.) Let go of the past. As wise Rafiki says in The Lion King, “Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the from way I see it, you can either run from it, or... learn from it.” And even though our lives are not lived through animation, the lesson holds up just the same. The past is the past, and dwelling on it isn’t going to solve anything. Learn what you can from it and then let it go.  

2.) Cut out people that hurt you. If you have a relationship that is causing you grief, end it. Just because someone was your best friend in 4th grade or is related to you by blood does not mean you have to keep them in your life. The only people you should have time for are the ones that treat you with respect and dignity and support you when you need it.  

3.) Stand up for yourself. If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will? If you feel you are being disrespected in some way, say something. Allowing yourself to be a doormat certainly doesn’t feel good, and the second you stop being one you’ll realize how amazing it feels to be treated with respect.

4.) De-clutter your mind. Have something that’s weighing on your mind? Take care of it! Maybe it’s a huge presentation you feel unprepared for; stop putting it off and prepare for it! Maybe you are avoiding talking to your child’s math teacher for whatever reason; get over it and stop by the school after work! All of those tiny little to-do tasks add up, and it can cause you some serious stress. Bear down and take care of as many of them as you can and you’d be surprised at how amazing you feel knowing all of those little tasks are completed. 

5.) Appreciate how far you’ve come. Goals we set for ourselves often take a long time to achieve, so it’s completely understandable to feel frustrated about halfway through when you feel like you haven’t made any progress. Chances are though, you have made some progress, you just haven’t stopped to realize it yet. Do you have a goal to lose 20 pounds and you’ve lost 12 so far? Good for you, that’s a big deal! So take a second and think about what you’re trying to accomplish and how far you’ve come toward that particular goal

 
 
Ah yes, our passion. At times it can be so elusive, and vague comments from others (“Well, just pick something you like and do that.”) are virtually useless. So here are a few inspirational points that might help you get on the right path.

1.) Often people attempt to live their lives backwards.  They try to acquire more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier.  The way it actually works is the reverse.  You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.

2.) Don’t be normal.  Sadly, normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you financed, in order to get to the job that you don’t really like, but that you need, to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.

3.) If you are passionate about it, pursue it, no matter what anyone else thinks.  That’s how dreams are achieved.

4.) Live by choice, not by chance.  Make changes, not excuses.  Be motivated, not manipulated.  Work to excel, not compete.  Choose to listen to your inner voice, not the jumbled opinions of everyone else.

5.) When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin.  It works not because it settles the question for you, but because in that brief moment when the coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you are hoping for.

6.) It’s not about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance.  You’ll rarely be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.  Sometimes you just have to go for it 

7.) Nothing you have that much passion for is ever a waste of time, no matter how it turns out in the long-term.

8.) Life is short.  If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.

9.) A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.  This concept can be universally applied.

10.) There are people who live in a dream world and there are people who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.

11.) If you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.

12.) When we focus on leading a passionate, meaningful life, we are also inadvertently creating a spectacular ripple effect of inspiration in the lives around us.  When one person follows a dream, tries something new, or takes a daring leap, everyone nearby feels their passionate energy; and before too long, they are making their own daring leaps while simultaneously inspiring others.

 
 
How many times during the day do you think something to yourself? Probably more than you think. The truth is, you (yes, that person in the mirror) are the biggest influence on how your life turns out. And if we can’t change our thoughts, we very well can’t change our actions, now can we? So let’s make sure the following thoughts get shut down before they even start.

1.) I can’t/it’s too late/I’m not good enough/it doesn’t matter anyway/what’s the point. Yes, all of these excuses fall under the same category and all of them are collectively number one on this list for a reason. Don’t sell yourself short because your mental guestimate of your abilities is inaccurate. You are just as capable and deserving as anyone else, and it does matter or you wouldn’t be having this conversation with yourself right now. Your body is an amazing thing; if you want it to stand up, walk across the street and talk to the cute guy in the coffee shop it will do it. The only thing stopping you is your mind. 

2.) I don’t have time. Everyone thinks they don’t have time, but then something comes up and they end up making time. So make time now! Research has shown that the average person can find an extra six hours (six hours!!) in their day if they were to prioritize their tasks and work more efficiently.

3.) I’ll do it someday. Why someday? Putting it off until “someday” conveys the idea that you aren’t able to do it now, and why? Is there really something standing in your way? Right now, at this very moment, you are the oldest and wisest you have ever been, while at the same time being as young and able as you have ever been. Don’t waste time dedicating part of your life to “someday.” Do what makes you happy now.

4.) I could make a fool of myself. Yes, you could. You could also trip and fall walking through the grocery store, so do you stop going to the store? No! And the reason: because you’ve been to the store and not tripped and fell enough times that your mind doesn’t recognize it as a realistic threat. There are many opportunities to make a fool of yourself (many of them you are enormously overthinking), but if you avoided all of them you would be a hermit. Live a little bit and let yourself make mistakes. The fear of being a fool is not keeping you from being one; it’s keeping you from living, period.

5.) It didn’t work out the last time. Circumstances change and people learn, including you. If you let your past determine your future, your future is going to be an exact replica of your past.

6.) Well if so-and-so thinks it’s a good idea… Honestly, it doesn’t matter what so-and-so thinks! It matters what you think! Granted, everyone needs a little advice from someone else once in a while, but constantly needing someone else’s opinion causes you to forget to have one of your own. After all, if so-and-so has a different opinion than you, and you always go with their opinion, what’s the point in even having your own? Do what you want to do, regardless of what others may think. 

 
 
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a bad relationship, a new venture or just a lifestyle, there are some things in life that just aren’t working anymore. Now it can be difficult to know when the time is right to walk away and try something new, so we’ve made it a bit easier on you. Here are five signs that it’s time to stop what you’re doing and move on.

1.) You’re going in circles. Have you ever heard Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? Well here it is: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you’ve already tried everything you can think of to make it work and are now trying things you’ve already tried, you need to stop. You’re going in circles and it’s time to move on. 

2.) You’ve already learned the lesson. Let’s say you’ve been in a horrible relationship for 2 years. Now let’s say you break up and move on to date an amazing person and you’re happy. You’ve learned your lesson about the bad relationship, right? Now if you had been in that bad relationship for four years instead of two would you have gained anymore wisdom? Probably not. Once you’ve learned the lesson there’s no point in hanging on. Now you’re just wasting time.

3.) You’re crossing lines you originally set for yourself. Whenever you start a new endeavor, there are always lines that are set. Maybe you don’t necessarily write them down, but they’re definitely there. Something like, “Well as long as he doesn’t cheat on me we can still work on things,” or “I’m going to run this business for six years, and if it isn’t gaining a profit by then I’ll be done.” These are good boundaries to have, but as soon as they are crossed, you’re just kidding yourself. If he cheats on you or it’s been seven years and the business still isn’t turning a profit, it’s time to cut your losses.

4.) You’re missing out on other opportunities. Here’s an easy way to look at it. If a chance for something comes along and you consider it a missed opportunity, than it probably is! Let’s say you’re a chef running your own restaurant. It’s not exactly pulling in a huge profit, but you’ve only been in business for a year. A café down the street offers you a great job and you turn it down. You’re happy with your decision. Now let’s say you’ve been a chef for five years at a failing restaurant and you’re offered the same café job. You turn it down again, but this time you wonder if you made the right decision.

In the first scenario, taking the job at the café would have meant you missed out on the opportunity to own your own restaurant. So you turned it down and continued on your path. But in the second scenario, you see turning down the job at the café was a missed opportunity to have a decent income, and you missed it. If you think you’re missing opportunities, it probably means you know longer see what you’re doing as the right choice.

5.) You’re unhappy. It’s as simple as that. If you’re unhappy in your situation (with your current job or a relationship) and you’ve tried everything to improve it (talked to your boss, been to relationship counseling) but nothing has worked and you’re still unhappy, you need to get out of that situation. 

 
 
No matter what group of people you’re working with (your family, your coworkers, your intramural teammates, your church group), an open and effective line of communication is key. But that phrase, “effective communication”, tends to get thrown around a lot doesn’t it. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot to effective communication. There’s listening, using the appropriate tone and hand gestures, and various other things we do while talking. However, in most groups of people there are bound to be one or two shy folks, so how exactly do you get them talking? Well here you go; three ways to get someone engaged in a conversation:

1.) Say statements instead of questions. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Asking someone a question demands a response. And not just any response, but one that is on subject and within a socially acceptable time frame. You’re putting pressure on someone without even knowing it. Statements, on the other hand, demand no response, allowing the other person to answer when and if they feel comfortable or not. A question also provides you the opportunity to judge them depending on their answer, while a statement simply says something about yourself.

For example, say you sit down next to a co-worker during lunch break and they are eating something that looks very spicy. The question, “Wow, what is that? Is it really spicy?” can seem innocent, but it’s more difficult that you might think. The statement, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy!” is much easier to handle. The listener is required to do nothing, you were simply making a statement that their food looks spicy.

2.) Compliment them. Just as the above example indicates, the listener appeared to be “brave” when eating spicy food, not “crazy”. In addition, a compliment can open the door to letting them feel comfortable in their own skin. A simple, “Wow, you have beautiful handwriting!” can give someone that tiny boost of self-confidence they need to open up a bit more.

3.) Say something about yourself. People don’t, in general, willingly open up to strangers. Therefore, if you want someone to open up to you, you’ve got to make yourself seem a little less like a stranger, and a great way to do that is to say a little bit about yourself.

Take the above example in the break room. You can continue the conversation to say something like, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy! I never could eat spicy food, though I do keep trying!” In just one sentence, you have gone from “Stacy, the lady who sits at the west desk,” to “Stacy who wants to like spicy food.” It’s a small change, but a significant one

 
 
In a perfect world, all teams would work perfectly together; meetings would run smoothly, problems would be easily ironed out and everyone would be happy. However, as we all probably already know, we don’t live in a perfect world. And while one person may believe a team is functioning as well as it could be, another member may have a different opinion. The fact is, just as every other aspect of a business needs to be evaluated, and so does the collaboration process of the actual team.

So gather your team members together, provide a few snacks (a few cookies work wonders for cutting tension) and explain that a simple evaluation needs to be done. Make sure all evaluations are anonymous, and have each member rate the team against the following criteria:

1.) Clarity of team goals. Is it clear what the team is actually trying to accomplish? Is it clear who exactly is benefitting the most from the accomplishment of the team’s goals? If a member from one department feels accomplishing the stated goals only benefits members from another department, it could mean that some of the team’s goals are too narrow or that they aren’t being explained properly.

2.) Clarity of individual roles and responsibilities. A friend of mine works as a coach for a university softball team. When the university was hiring new athletic trainers, they informed her she had been nominated as the chair of the committee. However, no one explained her responsibilities. People would just call her office asking if she turned in “that review” or had completed her “recommendation rundown” and she had no idea what they were talking about. Encourage your team members to describe times they have felt like this.

3.) Efficiency of time and resources. Ever been to a meeting that was a complete waste of time? One that was simply a gathering of people so your supervisor could hear herself talk? Hopefully your team meetings aren’t like this, but if they are it’s an incredible waste of resources. Have team members list ideas to make meetings more efficient. Maybe a memo could be sent out before hand with a list of required paperwork or the itinerary could be emailed out letting people know exactly what part of the meeting will be relevant to them.

4.) Facilitation of ideas. Do your team members have a voice? If they suggest something, do you get defensive or hear their ideas? Are they constantly interrupted by other teammates? Is the environment conducive to a productive meeting or is it absolutely freezing and they can’t wait to get out of there (don’t scoff; a comfortable room temperature is actually very relevant to productivity)?

5.) Rewards and general concerns. While accomplishing a specific goal sounds like it should be enough, more often than not, it isn’t. Encourage team members to list possible incentives or ways productivity could be increased. In addition, have them list any general concerns they may have about how the meetings are run. This could be scheduling or even fairness. I worked nightshifts at a previous job, and until someone mentioned it all meetings were held at 3:00 in the afternoon. That’s great if you work day shift, but it’s an awful time for nightshift. Everyone was much happier when meetings were changed to 8:00 in the morning, right between shift changes. 

 
 
For many people, art is considered just a hobby. Painting is something you do on a lazy Sunday afternoon while drinking a delicious cup of espresso and calmly looking back on your workweek (which is almost a myth in itself, as very few people have ever had the time to do this). The fact is though, art is so much more than previously thought, and here are just a few examples why:

1.) Art facilitates communication. Art is not a math problem, meaning there is no right or wrong answer. No one argues with you if you prefer one painting to another. Sure, they may ask why, and then voice their own opinion, but yours is not discounted in the process. Because of this, people are naturally more apt to openly communicate in an artistic forum.

What’s more, the act of communicating itself is like a flood gate, meaning open communication about one thing often leads to open communication about another.

2.) Art facilitates self-expression. Ever heard the phrase, “A picture is worth 1,000 words,”? Of course you have, and for good reason. Some things are just too difficult to explain, but a picture can make it all seem clear. Here’s a great example:

If you’ve ever seen the music video for Foo Fighter’s song “Best of You”, you can see there is an incredible mashup of emotion. The video shows pictures and words symbolizing such emotions and concepts as fear, anger, hopelessness, sorrow, innocence, regret and beauty. What you might not know, however, is that the director, Mark Pellington, was allowed complete creative freedom by the band as a way of coping with his wife’s death. The resulting video is basically a blueprint of his grief, set to the soundtrack of the band’s song “Best of You.” It’s riveting, and you can see it here.

3.) Art encourages tolerance. It is impossible to judge in a roomful of art. You may not like a particular sculpture, but you have no idea as to who made it. A beautiful painting can be made by anyone, whether they are black, white, gay, straight, developmentally impaired, old, young, republican, or democrat. In the world of art, we are all equals.

4.) Art facilitates team building. Working on a group project at work can often be deceptive. If each member of the group breaks off into individual jobs, they may not actually feel like they are part of a collaborative effort. A group painting, however, is instantly collaborative. Just by looking at it, you can see the individual brush strokes, and if the people in the group had been changed, the brush strokes (and the entire painting itself) would be a different final result. Collaborative art projects team members to work together in an environment where their contribution is noticeable and immediate.  

5.) Art is fun. Not often enough are we able to do something that we actually enjoy, and especially something that is crucial to the development of specific skill sets. Add a little art in your life and see how it will most certainly change you for the better