New Graduates: Practice Gratitude As You Embark On Your Career

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This week, convocation took place at our Huron University College at Western University and many other campuses across Canada.

I spent the day watching our lovely students with faces bright and full of pride parade around in their black gowns.  As I stood at the back of the room witnessing the closure of their years of study, I wondered what was running through their minds.

Do they feel full of hope? Do they feel full of potential?  I sure hope they do, and not just in that moment, but in the days, weeks, months and years that follow.

As I searched for further inspiration for this post, I Googled the top convocation speeches of all time.  As I listened to the seemingly endless words of wisdom and optimism that flood convocation halls at this time of year, I became a little cynical.

So many of them focus on the idea that you can do anything, don’t let anything stand in your way, follow your dreams…

Although I too want students to be determined and persevere, it was in a much humbler act that I found my insight for this post.

When I was gathered on the lawn with our graduates, drinking lemonade and eating sandwiches, I ran into a particularly lovely and successful student.  She had a handful of thank-you cards that she had carefully prepared and thoughtfully written for the occasion. She handed me a card and the message inside was so full of honest and generous gratitude that I felt a rush of warmth.

On a day that is all about her accomplishments, she had likely spent hours thinking about others and the parts that they have played in her success.

To experience persistent and overwhelming gratitude, that is my hope for our graduates.

Numerous studies have begun to focus on the impact of gratitude on our well-being.  “These studies support the theory that gratitude is an affective trait important to subjective well being.” (Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal)

Furthermore, in the Journal of Business Ethics, gratitude is conceptualized as “a moral affect that serves to motivate individuals to engage in pro-social behaviour and acts as a moral barometer” (Emmons, 2003).  Furthermore, “grateful persons not only demonstrate more positive mental states (e.g., enthusiastic, determined, and attentive), but also are more generous, caring, and helpful to others” (McCullough et al., 2002).

In North America, we focus so much on individualism.  We believe that individual liberties and success is the key to prosperity and happiness;  hence, all of the inspirational statements at graduation ceremonies that focus on each graduate pursuing his or her individual goals, striving for personal success, not giving up on himself or herself.

But does such a thing exist?  Can any of us achieve anything all on our own?  Even if we can, why would we want to?  There is something much more rewarding in letting others in to share in our achievements.  Acknowledging the contributions of those who love and care for us in our accomplishments.

What good is it scoring a goal if you have no one to high-five afterwards?  Where is the value in winning an award if there is no one there tearing up with pride and taking your photo?  What better way to celebrate than by thanking those who have helped you along your path.  That act of love and gratitude will make you happier; it will ensure that, as you move through life, you are more determined and attentive.

You lose nothing by acknowledging the contributions of others.  In fact, the greatest leaders I have known are the ones who happily admit that they could not have done it alone.  So when you walk across that stage or look at your diploma hanging on the wall, think about those who believed in you, taught you, picked you up and pulled you through, and be grateful.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

What resonates with me in this statement is that it allows us to take our failures into account as well.  We can even be grateful for the lessons that we learned when things did not go well.

So go out into the world, persevere, work hard and follow your dreams.  But, do it with gratitude and you will find that you are happier and more resilient.

Congratulations graduates!

What are you grateful for? Who has helped you achieve success in  your academic or professional career?

Photo credit: University of Saskatchewan

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About the author

Clare Tattersall is the Manager of Career Development and Community Based Learning at Huron University College at Western University in London, Ont. She oversees the international exchange and internship programs, offers career counseling and development appointments and workshops, and has developed and implemented a co-curricular certificate in Leadership and Professional Development. Clare holds a Master’s degree in English Language and Literature and has over 10 years of experience in the communications sector and post-secondary administration.