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Thursday
Nov222012

Unexpected Gratitude

Perhaps it's the season, but lately I've been feeling pretty sentimental about the many things I have in my life to be thankful for.

I'm not a believer that gratitude is something to be bottled-up, stashed away, and shared only once per year -- but, at the same time, I think any opportunity to express words of thanks is an opportunity that should be seized. 

This past year has brought many challenges, along with many opportunities.  In fact, my thoughts have been taking be back even further to the period of the last five years of my life.  It might be strange to say, but for some reason I honestly feel that everything over the past five years has been leading me to this very moment in my life.

Corny, I know.  But it's true.

Recently, I was asked to explain what I felt was my biggest accomplishment up to this point in my life. The question was directed in a way that encouraged me to look at each chapter of my life individually and identify which had been the most influential.

It seemed like a simple enough question, but I couldn't pick one.

That was my answer.  Over the past several years there hasn't been one-single accomplishment that stands out above the rest.  Instead, there has been a series of accomplishments ... and, let's be honest ... a series of failures that combined together into an incredible learning experience.

The result of that learning experience has been my greatest accomplishment.

It's all packaged up with one lovely bow.  The ups and downs. The highs and lows. The successes and failures.  The seized opportunities, and the missed opportunities.  Everything has led me down the path that brought me here -- right where I am today.

Something that really surprised me is that over the years I have evolved to have no regrets. 

Don't get me wrong ... there were many times along this road that I stopped to kick myself for being so foolish, immature, unaware, or even oblivious (remember my several months of self-wallowing this past summer?) ... but now that I look back at the situations I can clearly see how even the most challenging times brought me closer to the place I always hoped to end up.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I'd use a few of my Instagram photos (@ahappyplacecalledhome) to describe some things I became unexpectedly thankful for this year.  I give you fair warning ... this post is very long ... but, since you can't edit gratitude, I've broken it up into several different sections so you'll have stopping points along the way.  Enjoy!

1--I'm thankful for detours ...

Rewind the clock back to 2008.  This starry-eyed girl was graduating from college, fully trained in the latest-and-greatest the interior design world had to offer.  I had high-hopes of landing an amazing job at an architectural firm, designing hotels, restaurants, and the like.

But, we're in 2008, remember?  Right at the peak (or shall I say plummet) of the worst American economy seen in years.  Sadly, one of the industry that was hit hard happened to be the home & construction industry.  At the time I really felt that I was left up the creek, but without a paddle.  I knew exactly where I wanted to be, but I had no possible way of getting there.

To add to my disappointment, I had made a promise to my husband that our roles would reverse, and I would provide for the family while he completed his own degree.  Not only did I feel like my personal dreams were being let down, I felt like I was holding back my husband's dreams as well.

As a solution, my life took a major detour.  I "gave up" my dreams of working within the design industry, and "settled" for an extremely corporate job that could pay the bills.  For a while, cashing-in the drafting table for a cubicle was an emotional tug-of-war ... but five years later, I realize the many people I've encountered along this detour have brought so much good into my life.  

Through this experience I have built lasting friendships, been mentored by amazing talent, received support when I needed it most, and even seized an opportunity to further my education.  So yes, I am grateful for detours, because once they've been traveled they make you wonder if you would have enjoyed the trip without them.

2.  I'm thankful for feeling frustrated ...

Don't let the title of this blog deceive you -- my life is not all butterflies and roses!  In fact, this blog is more about finding happiness in the everyday life, and that includes the times when happiness seems unattainable. 

When I discovered my love for blogging I immediately knew I wanted this blog to be a resource for everyone who reads it.  Whether you're just stopping in for a quick visit, or whether you stick around for a while, I've always hoped that readers would leave feeling inspired in one way, or another.

Deep down inside, I hoped that inspiration would start a movement of sorts.  Perhaps, small ... but a movement nonetheless.

I hoped that each of you would leave with a sense of confidence in yourself; particularly, in your ability to make your life happy.  Whether it was through doing things you love to do, like decorating for the holidays, making artwork, hunting down a great deal for an item in your home (win or lose), or through learning to accept the person you've become -- I dreamed that this blog could be a happy little retreat.

During my first year of blogging I was fortunate to see many months of steady growth in readership. I didn't care about my site statistics in the way one might think -- to me, watching the growth of my blog was watching the growth of a happier world.

Very utopian, I know.  But seriously, it made me feel like I wasn't just talking to myself, or just throwing words out into cyber space.  It made me feel like maybe this site was creating a community of people who would rather have a smile on their face than a frown.

So needless to say, when I saw my statistics start heading back down the other side of the bell-curve (just a little MBA terminology for you to prove that I'm a smart cookie), it made me wonder if I was really cut out for everything this blog represented.  It was difficult to maintain a regular posting routine, manage social media accounts, and complete projects in a timely manner; and, I felt like such a small fish in a great-big ocean of talented bloggers.

After several months of struggling with this, you can imagine I started to feel pretty frustrated.  I'd sit behind my laptop to write about my latest project, but no words would come.  My inspiration had suddenly been replaced by self-doubt and wonder about the likelihood of this blog ever offering value to anyone but myself.

It took the encouragement and support of my many friends and mentors (whom I happened to meet at my "detour" job) to finally pull me out of this mess.  From their support, I was able to draw strength and brainstorm ideas for how to make it all work.

One of those ideas was to join up with someone who shared the same passion for finding the good in life.  Though a part of me was afraid of the change, the other part of me knew that bringing someone else on board would only make the site better -- and it would allow me to find the balance I had desperately been looking for.

So yes, I'm thankful for feeling frustrated ... because it helped me open the doors of my blog-home and explore what is to come with my new partner-in-crime craft, Jana Randall.  I'm already loving the posts she has written thus far!  If you missed them, you can catch them, here.

3--I'm thankful for support...

Anyone who has pieced together an Ikea product should be well-aware of their language-less assembly instructions.  Well, one of my favorite illustrations from the instruction manual is this one here ...

Image Source

This illustration represents Ikea Life Lesson # 2 ... Don't do it alone!

I cannot even begin to describe the gratitude I feel for all of the support I have received from everyone I seem to come in contact with.  There are too many names to name, and too many words to write to fully describe the way I feel about this topic.

From the bottom of my heart, I am thankful for EVERYONE who has encouraged me throughout the challenges of this journey.  I have been lifted up, held accountable, reassured, coached, mentored, and guided through the rough waters that seemed too fierce to navigate.

So thank you to the many family members, friends, peers, supervisors, and readers ... yes, each of you ... who have refueled my fire just when I needed it the most!

4--I'm thankful for small reminders...

Every now-and-then, I've stumbled across small reminders that feel like messages from the good of the Universe.  Sometimes they come in the form of an inspiring fortune cookie prediction.  Sometimes they come in the form of a pin on Pinterest that inspires your next project.  And sometimes they come in a random conversation you participate in throughout the day.

One of the most influential reminders I've had lately was a quote that showed up on one day within my Facebook feed.  It went something like this ...

Image Source

I still remember the day that I read this quote for the very first time, and I remember it so well because it struck me like a two-ton truck.  It was exactly what I needed to hear that day in order to pick myself up and move forward.

There are many different beliefs out there about what causes phenomenon like this.  Some call it fate, some call it God, and others call it nothing but chance.  As for me, I don't spend much time wondering about what force is behind it ... I simply bask in the moment of reassurance that comes from these ironic occurrences.  That's powerful enough for me, and I'm thankful for it.

5--I'm thankful for random ideas...

One of the many things I love about my life is the fact that my crazy ideas seem to be welcome more often than I feel they should be.  As much as I'm a planner, I'm equally a spontaneous person who needs to act on inspiration when it comes.

This becomes extremely evident here on the blog.  I'll have every intention of starting a particular project, then something comes up on a whim that pushes that project to the back of the line.  

I blame this on the fact that I don't have the luxury of whimsical thinking in many other aspects of my life.  At work, I have non-negotiable deadlines, messages to return, and meetings to report to. Because of this, I think I've designated this blog as the one place I can really let my hair down.

So, maybe it takes me a while to get through the never-ending to-do list ... I don't think I could operate in any other way!  I'm thankful for the feeling that comes from acting solely on a spark of inspiration. 

6--I'm thankful for being bored...

Much like frustration forces change, I think that boredom eventually leads to exploration.  That's how it feels to me, at least.

A few years ago I found myself in a position where I was feeling a bit bored.  I had reached the point within my MBA program where the classes focused on finance, accounting and statistics, which left my head in a state of constant haze.

Perhaps bored is not the right word ... but whatever I was feeling, I certainly knew that I had absolutely no interest in negotiating a corporate merger anytime soon (surprising?).  

Looking back, I realize that while other students in the program may have been priming themselves to become the CEO of the next big thing, I was actually priming myself to enter the world of media.  It happened, and I didn't even know it was happening.  

Under these conditions, all it took was a simple suggestion about starting a blog, and I soon found myself heading down the unexplored, and exciting path that led to A Happy Place Called Home.

7--I'm thankful for optimism...

None of us know what tomorrow will bring, but each of us can hope for brighter futures.  Quite frankly, the past five years of my life did not go as I'd planned.  I mean, seriously, who would have thought the phrase, "in this economy," would still be so commonly used this far down the road?

I certainly didn't.

Five years ago, I planned my happiness around outside conditions that were beyond my control.  I told myself, "after I get my MBA degree the economy will be better, and then I can get back into the design field."  That was my goal ... but as you can see, that didn't happen.

I'm not sad about it (in fact, it's quite the opposite), but it did teach me that it's pointless to tell yourself what "will" make you happy in the future.  So now, instead of thinking about what "will" make me happy, I try to focus on what "does" make me happy. 

It's an interesting thing ... changing the way I looked at this actually increased the optimism I have about the future, because I know that no matter what, I'll find a way to be happy ... even when the skies are gray.

What are you thankful for?  

Are any of these unexpected items on your list too?  Leave us a comment and tell us all about it. Happy Thanksgiving!

PS...find more of our Instagram photos (@ahappyplacecalledhome)

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