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How Has Gratitude Helped You Overcome Life's Challenges?

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Next week, we will find a flood of articles focused on gratitude as Thanksgiving rounds the corner. I decided to get a head start and write this piece early. In a very real way, this is a personal note of gratitude to Arianna Huffington.

If you have been following these articles over the past few weeks, you will have noticed that I have been encouraging us to engage in a real discourse around moving past the vitriol, blame and frustration that characterize so much of our interaction these days. Of course, that's easier said than done when you consider just how difficult these times have become.

A month ago I suggested that we move past griping and complaining, and shortly thereafter I asked who we should blame for this mess; Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's call to return to sanity provided a wonderful opportunity to engage even more deeply.

These articles, along with many others I have written over the past two years, have all focused on how we can take more personal responsibility for moving forward, for creating a better world of our own making. Each article seemed to elicit a delightful range of comments. Some sought to apply the principle being discussed, while others seized on yet another opportunity to jump on the blame game and criticize the usual suspects for what ails us.

Last week, as I was flying back from a week on the road complete with the usual assortment of late flights, weather and mechanical delays, grumpy people, and various other bumps in the road, I found myself experiencing a profound state of gratitude.

Over the past few years, I have lost clients, lost jobs, lost income, and lost some wonderful friends. As I was sitting around the airport waiting for yet another mechanical problem to be fixed, I found myself aware of the numerous blessings that have arisen in the midst of the apparent loss, and that sense of gratitude filled me.

A couple of years ago, Arianna and I were attending a conference when I bumped into her. Now, I have known Arianna for years, and she had previously asked me if I wanted to blog for The Huffington Post. I always thanked her and declined for any number of curious reasons. This time, however, I found myself saying "yes," and it was almost as though I had no idea who had said "yes."

Arianna then said, "Great. Can you have something ready for Tuesday?" Now, this was Saturday, so Tuesday seemed like 30 minutes away. And, again, "yes" came popping out of my mouth. I was pretty busy with client work and travel at the time, and getting something ready for Tuesday seemed impossible, and yet there I was saying "yes."

What a blessing that turned out to be! Indeed, I did get that first article up and something began unfolding that has propelled me into several completely unexpected outcomes.

You may have noticed that shortly on the heels of that July 2008 introduction to The Huffington Post, the economy began to fall off the cliff. As my client work began disappearing, along with my income, I found that I had more time on my hands. A lot more time. I certainly had my own fears rising as my income plummeted and lots of time to think about what was happening and how I was responding. That combination of fear, experience and time on my hands provided me the opportunity to think about everything that I had been teaching over the years and apply those lessons to my own experience. Indeed, many of those articles from the fall of 2008 through the spring of 2009 were inspired by my own challenges.

Arianna had provided me an opportunity to both contribute to others who were struggling and discover an ability that I did not know I had, the ability to write about the subject of personal and professional improvement in a way that wound up engaging others in their own improvement.

Many people had been encouraging me over the years to write a book based on the work I have been doing with people throughout my career. Despite the encouragement, I kept avoiding the request, mired in various forms of self-doubt.

However, as my client work slipped away, my HuffPost articles provided me with an opportunity to explore multiple themes and receive virtually instantaneous feedback. Along the way, I had a conversation with one of my mentors lamenting my lost income and the perilous slide my bank account was taking toward the abyss. He suggested that I look for the opportunity, for the blessing, that might be present in the apparent loss of work and income.

Part of me struggled with the notion of finding the "silver lining" as my work continued to fall away, even though I would have counseled others to do just that. However, something became increasingly apparent as I began looking for the blessing: I now had the time necessary to not only write these weekly articles, but to also write that book that people kept asking me for. The more I wrote, the more people began asking me for my thoughts on how to translate these ideas into a range of personal and professional improvement opportunities that they could apply in their lives.

As it turned out, the "lost" work turned into found opportunity. By letting go of what I had been doing prior to the meltdown, I was able to discover business and career opportunities that I might otherwise have missed. One of those opportunities turns out to be my first book, which will be released in January. I'll write something about how that book actually came about in a subsequent piece.

For now, I felt inspired to write this post as a kind of "thank-you" note to Arianna for her support, her encouragement and her own courage to keep finding the opportunity amidst the ashes.

I would love to hear from you about your ideas, about what you have done to work around the challenges you are facing, or about what you have seen a friend or neighbor do that has been effective. What do you have to be grateful for amidst the turmoil of the past few years?

Please leave a comment here or drop me an e-mail to let me know your experience.

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Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, California. Watch for his new book, "Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work," which will be released Jan. 10, 2011. You can find out more about Russell at workaroundsthatwork.com. Contact Russell by e-mail at Russell.Bishop@workaroundsthatwork.com.

Download a free chapter of his new book by going to workaroundsthatwork.com and clicking "Download a free chapter."

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