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Gratitude is a complicated word dressed up in a simple disguise.

We like to think that it just means saying ‘thank you’ more and holding doors open for people with full cups of coffee.

But 'thank you' can sometimes be forced, like you're a robot just spitting out the good manners your parents taught you.

We’ve all experienced those ‘thank yous.’ We know when it is genuine or just a knee-jerk reaction.

And expressing thanks is extremely important, not only because it spreads goodwill through the world, but because it helps strengthen relationships.

As freelance entrepreneurs, we’re told over and over again that the best way to build our business is through relationships.

Great relationships lead to better referrals, more speaking gigs, and less isolation.

But how does one build and sustain those relationships? It’s a lot of work and can honestly be pretty exhausting.

Too often the advice for freelancers is to put your head down, focus, and forge ahead to meet your goals at all costs.

You know...grit.

While yes, this is (somewhat) true, I challenge you to look up every once in a while around you and notice who helped you get to where you are today.

Adam Grant wrote a great book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, challenging the idea of that you can rely just on grit and passion to get ahead.

The takers might find short-term success, but the people who give back are the ones who truly get ahead.

What am I getting at is this:

real gratitude takes intention.

Rise & Design, a local Columbus meet up for creative professionals, spent their entire November 2018 discussion figuring out ways to express gratitude. I wrote the blog recap - give it a read.

It got me thinking: what ways can I give back more?

Gratitude takes practice, so I made some workouts for myself to help make gratitude a habit.

Ready to work out with me?


Workout 1: Letters

This year I'm adding a new tradition to my list: thank you letters. I've never been one to send holiday cards because let's be real- they just get thrown out almost immediately anyway and seems a bit of waste.

Instead, why not take the time to write thoughtful thank you letters to people who have been an influence in your life?

There is really nothing better than getting a letter in the mail from someone you mentored, worked with, or just a really good friend. Just think how great you would feel if someone wrote you a letter thanking you for all you’ve done?

Yeah, it’s a pretty great feeling. Give that gift to someone else.

Make a list of your movers and shakers and write 2-3 a week to make it a bit easier.

Be sure to include:

  • Mentors and teachers - who helped shape you?

  • Family - who had your back through thick and thin?

  • Friends - who bought a drink when you were drowning in stress?

  • Partners - How did your partner support you?

  • That random barista that keeps you happily caffeinated

  • Bosses - What bosses, current and past, inspired you to grow?

  • Colleagues - Who do you collaborate with now that taught you something? Who in your community do you look to for inspiration?

  • Clients -  Don’t forget them. Without them, you wouldn’t be in business.

Workout 2: 'Sorry'

This workout is really hard. Like, my muscles are sore from it and it doesn’t even require body movement. Sean Gorant, a regular at Rise & Design, challenged all of us to start replacing our 'sorrys' with 'thank you's.'

It's brilliant. Think about it.

Not only does it empower YOU, it empowers the other person.

You walk into a conversation not scraping on your knees but standing tall. The people in the room don’t have to do the customary “Oh, no, it’s ok, don’t worry about it” crap and be truly grateful.

You’ve even given them the option to respond with a “You’re welcome,” which is just always great to say out loud.


Here are some examples:

"Sorry, I'm late!" = "Thank you for waiting for me."

You acknowledge their time and aren't starting the conversation kowtowing.

"Sorry I made such a mess!" = "Thank you for your patience- I'll clean this up right away."

You nod to the fact you spilled gravy all over the floor and then laugh at the hilarity of it all

"Sorry for the misunderstanding!" = "Thank you for taking the time to figure this out, together."

Misunderstandings require more than you to solve it, own up to it and thank them

Now sure, there are going to be times were “sorry” is DEFINITELY the right response, but what places can you replace it?

Workout 3: Inward, not outward

Gratitude starts with yourself.

If you’re not gracious towards yourself, you’ll find giving back even harder.

On top of writing letters and saying thank you's, take a moment today and thank yourself.

As a freelancer and private contractor we struggle daily, nay I say hourly, with imposter syndrome. It’s all too easy to never feel like enough - like we’re stepping out of bounds or can’t deliver as great of work as our idols.

Well, we’re not our idols and never will be. They built their own path and we have to build our own. It’s really really hard work and grit certainly comes into play. But it’s also really easy to fall into pits of despair if we keep comparing ourselves to people who have a different process, outlook, and client base than us.

It’s important we forgive ourselves when we just can’t focus, understand what our true goals are, and practice gratitude for our own sake.

Knock those haters out - you’re awesome

Knock those haters out - you’re awesome

Here’s the workout:

Open up a new spreadsheet or pull out a piece of paper.

Put the heading as “I’m enough” or “Wins” or “Why I’m worth it” or...whatever phrase gets you motivated.

Yes, it will sound cheesy. Yes, do it anyway.

Start filling out a list of your wins and accomplishments.

They don’t have to be big wins- they can be the fact that you were able to save $100 this month.

Or you wrote a website and got a fantastic testimonial from it.

Or you made it to 100 visitors to your website.

Wins can be big or small - it takes many small steps to walk a path, and we all too easily forget that.

Let me know what other ways you practice intentional gratitude.

How do you give back to your community?