Friends, two years ago at Thanksgiving I sent out Coaching Letter #14 about the science of gratitude. People still bring it up to me as a message that meant a lot to them; I am glad for that. Interestingly, my life got a lot more difficult and complicated after I wrote it, but I feel the same way, and I am grateful for all the people who have been encouraging and supportive. So here’s what I’ve been thinking this November.
I just came back from the UCEA conference in New Orleans, and a stand-out theme to me was how many people talked about their gratitude for the encouragement of others. Then when I was waiting for my first flight on the way home, I was sitting typing away on my laptop and the woman sitting next to me asked if I was a writer. I told her no, but I write a lot for my job. She said she always wanted to be a writer and did I know how she should get started. I told her to start a blog, and gave her a couple of suggestions for how to do that. Then my boarding group was called ahead of hers, and I got up and got on the plane. But I thought about her on the flight, and when we changed planes in Charlotte, I waited for her, gave her my card and told her if she needed any help to email me. She was so grateful it was embarrassing. We walked together through the terminal and she told me about the cruise she’d been on, her job as a surgical nurse in a labor and delivery unit (!), and her boss, and her kids asking when she would be home, and how she writes all the time and really wants to be a writer.
Here are the lessons I draw from this encounter. First, it means a lot to be the subject of gratitude, and it doesn’t take much to earn it. All I did was tell this person that I would help, and this tiny little bit of encouragement clearly mattered a lot to her. Second, I hear all the time that you have to build a relationship before you can [fill in the blank], and I think that all it takes is to encourage and listen and you will be amazed what people will tell you. Trust is based on integrity, competence and benevolence, and sometimes that can materialize in a couple of encounters lasting less than 5 minutes combined with a stranger I will probably never meet again. I never even learned her name.
Here’s what else I’ve been thinking. I was fascinated by the prominent role immigrants played in the impeachment hearings last week. I was particularly struck by Fiona Hill, because I hadn’t realized she was English until I watched the coverage of the hearings on TV. So of course I googled her. She and I are close in age, and we both earned our undergraduate degrees in England and then masters and doctorates and citizenship in the US. I would love to find more parallels between her and me, as I found her incredibly impressive—knowledgeable, articulate, fearless. And Lieutenant Colonel Vindman’s message to his dad just gutted me. So much of the time the narrative about immigrants questions whether or not they embrace American values—I think we are talking about honesty, integrity, freedom of speech, and putting good of community, society, and country over personal gain, yes? Here’s Wolf Blitzer on the topic.
And here’s what else, also related to the impeachment hearings: I have written before about how bureaucrats and bureaucracy are so often maligned—I could link here to a bunch of HBR articles juxtaposing bureaucracy and innovation, as if the two are mutually exclusive, but I’d rather you read CL # 69, or Michael Lewis’ Fifth Risk, or Michael Lewis’s shorter piece in The Atlantic, or James Q. Wilson’s Bureaucracy. However you feel about the politics, the impeachment hearings have been a love song to bureaucrats—the professionals who know their stuff, take pride in their work, take good notes, and above all just want to do their jobs as well as they know how to do. They are the unsung heroes that protect our way of life. I am grateful for bureaucrats.
Finally, I just want to repeat that I am grateful more than ever for the wonderful people in my life and for all the encouragement I receive. I am doing my best to pay it forward, so if there is anything I can do to encourage you, please let me know. Happy Thanksgiving.
Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Ave
Hartford, CT 06106
Coaching Letter: StevensonCoachingLetter.org