Learning to accept a situation as it is, and choosing your attitude toward it, can help you gain a better perspective on your day explains Kemetia Foley

I love/hate the phrase, “Have an attitude of gratitude”.  Yet, this phrase plays such a vital role in each day of my life. The concept behind it comes from Twelve Step recovery programs in which a person learns how to shift perception of daily life by reviewing the things that go right, that are good, when their brain is running amok with all the anxieties of what is, or what could go wrong.

This phrase, which I keep on a tiny rectangle trinket at my desk, reminds me that I can choose my attitude at any time. It reminds me that there are many times during a work day that I am not in control of another person’s reaction, the outcome of a team project, my co-worker’s mood, the traffic during my commute. You get the idea.

Kemetia Foley – Attitude Desk Ornament

One key component of this approach is accepting the situation as it is. I don’t have to like the situation to accept it. I don’t like answering calls from unhappy or rude people, but that is part of the job I accepted. I’ve yet to see a job description for an EA that read,

“Answers calls from only HAPPY people and directs them to information regarding our services.”

So how would “Attitude of Gratitude” apply in this situation? I jot down the good in the situation:

  • I have a job
  • I can hear people speaking
  • I have an opportunity to be of service to others
  • It is just one call out of thirty in a day
  • I’m not an emergency operator (911 in the US), dealing with incredibly stressful calls.
  • I’m really quite good at what I do and receive many compliments on my patient phone manner.

Perhaps that seems a bit “Pollyanna” to you. I understand. I have been in the workforce for almost 30 years and I can promise you, there are days when I’m really stretching to find my attitude of gratitude. Sometimes that attitude of gratitude can only arrive after the fact, when in hindsight you can understand how something that went awry or not as hoped, really did serve to help you out.

I grew up in a fairly challenging household. Youngest of five kids born to Mom and Dad. Long before I arrived on the scene, Mom was struggling handling so many kids, being so far away from her family support and developing an unhealthy love of vodka. Dad was the sole breadwinner for the most part and was off working. By the time I was six, the family broke apart, the older kids went their own way and in short time my dad took over raising me from the time I was nine years old. Trust me, I know this is not just my childhood; this scene or a version of it has played out in many households across the globe.

But what I didn’t realize until many years into my career was just how this childhood prepared me to be incredibly successful in my field, a perspective delivered by the grace of the phrase, “Attitude of Gratitude”.

Growing up in a scary, unpredictable and financially strapped household provided me with three key soft skills:

  • Anticipating what could go wrong
  • Being hyperaware of people and surroundings
  • Developing and organizing routine procedures

Anticipating what could go wrong

As a kid with an unpredictable parent, I came up with many back-up plans for whose friend’s house I would stay at, to which teacher could lend me money, to joining many clubs after school to stay away from the house. I became incredibly resourceful!

Anticipating what could go wrong and having back-up plans, A|B|C in place, is a stalwart component for PAs. As a PA, we know flights are cancelled, passports lost, ATMs shut down, and we plan accordingly. Or in some cases, we plan more than one backup plan. This applies to board meetings, shipping exhibit booths and so many of our daily tasks. In HR speak, ‘Proactive’. So when a supervisor or recruiter asks you for an example of how you’ve been proactive as a PA, you’re certain to have plenty of examples to share.

Being Hyperaware of People and Surroundings

Have you heard this one?  “PAs are the eyes and ears of the organization”? “PAs always know what’s going on with the morale of the department or company?” The example I love is the movie Devil Wears Prada where the entire staff and their days are emotionally linked to the mood of their head honcho, Miranda.  PAs are more likely to tune into the mood and attitude of the staff, and especially the CEO’s demeanor.

Reading the emotional “tea leaves” of those that surround us and the energy of our working environment allows PAs to adjust the day accordingly and re-prioritize as needed. If you’re lucky enough to have developed a strong working rapport and respect with your executive, you may be able to reschedule that department manager’s one/one because you just encountered the emotional fallout from your executive’s morning briefing with the board. Or, you’re able to let the unaware executive know the additional and unplanned for budget costs if they decide to hold an emergency meeting on a Saturday, which requires air-conditioning, catering and other potential costs.

If you’ve ever “known” that a staff member was leaving way before they announced it, and you know it every time, you’ve got a future in reading the company tea leaves.

Developing and organizing routine procedures

I have to give credit to my Dad for this gift. Each morning, my Dad established a set routine for us. Coffee (now you know where I got started with that!), breakfast and just as we’re standing at the door to leave for the day, my father ran through his verbal checklist for me.

“Red, Do you have your lunch? Your keys? Your Metro tokens? Your homework? Your ID? Okay. Now, what’s your plan for after school today?”

Each and every weekday for years and years, my Dad ran through this checklist with me. Why? Because I was a young kid and he worked until 6pm every evening. He might be home later than that. This was long before cell phones! He knew he would not be able to assist me with anything until he got home. And woe was my day, any day that I locked myself out of the apartment!

Overwhelm happens at some point of every person’s life. I learned very quickly and at a young age to develop routines to deal with emotional overwhelm because I tend to let things fall through the cracks when I am dealing with emotional overwhelm. You know how I know that I’m dealing with emotional overwhelm? I can’t find my car keys in the morning and wind up being late for work. Now if I follow my routine when I get home and place them in the exact same place, or make certain they are there before I go to bed, I won’t lose precious time (and my marbles) looking for them!

One of the first things I do when training anyone in our office is to insist that they have a pen and pad, and nudge them throughout the training to write down notes about the tasks they are learning.

I bet many of you keep some form of a to-do list. Or have multiple reminders built into your Outlook calendar for really important, can’t miss items. I do, as well. I’m a list FREAK! Does that mean I never miss anything? Ha. I wish. I am human. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that I wouldn’t forget to do something and not writing it down. I’m pleased to report that those occur less frequently these days.

Attitude of Gratitude – Part II

The most important thing I’ve learned in my life is that every person has had something unpleasant happen in their life, and sometime many unpleasant and tragic events. Each and every single one of us has had that in some form. I am not the only person that has faced challenges. Let me repeat: I’m not the only person that’s faced tremendous emotional loss, had parents chased by bill collectors, moved eighteen times in twenty-one years. I’m on the other side of those things now and I‘m grateful to understand where other people are coming from. I’ve grown-up and the ability to empathize with others grew as I got older, and when I became a parent and when I became a trainer.

At the end of the day, most days, I try to do a mini-gratitude list for the little and not-so-little things that are good in my day. I simply must do a list when I have a rotten day so I can get my perspective straight. So you might just want to keep that phrase handy. It won’t change the world, but it just might change you.

Kemetia MK Foley is a storyteller, stand-up comic, writer, and trainer. She is fierce, funny, and phenomenal – energetically delivering outstanding professional development courses since 2007. Kemetia has presented more than 200 training sessions and has ... (Read More)

3 comments on “Have an Attitude of Gratitude

  1. Michelle Mixon on

    I love this article. It is so true. I try to find the positive in the negative situations. Happiness and a positive attitude is a choice. I choose to have a good day. It’s not an option. Regardless of what comes, I’m determined to turn it around, if for nothing else, so that I can feel better.

  2. Joyce Hawkins on

    Thanks to Lucy for leading me to this article and to Kem for writing it. I was one of those who worried about everything and had a high school teacher tell me it was a practice I needed to stop. I did find that the older I got the more “tolerant” I became. It has led me to the gratitude part of life that I certainly need these days. I may have read this article late but I love it. Again, thanks Kem.

  3. Joanie Nel on

    An amazing article with so many breadcrumbs of valuable information to share. It is not the unknown that always surprises me about these articles, it is the little things that we tend to forget when we need them the most. Thank you for reminding your readers about the little things in a hectic sphere.


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