In 2012, three years into my professional basketball career, I retired. Burned out from the game, I thought I was ready to move on. I quit cold-turkey and didn’t even pick up a ball for months! I eventually found myself back on the court training local kids, which slowly grew my passion to continue playing. About five months after ‘retiring’, I gave pro basketball another go and signed with the French club, Nanterre. The team was already a few games into the season, and my skills and conditioning were far from midseason form. I’d only been seriously training for two weeks. I was unnerved having not physically prepared myself as normal, but when I stepped off the plane in Paris, I possessed something that was missing in prior seasons — gratitude.
Gratitude. It may sound elementary. But that season my game went to another level, and it had nothing to do with how I trained. The growth was from my mindset; primarily it came by appreciating the opportunity and everything that came with it. That year, I helped lead the team to the French Championship! Remarkably, it was only the second season Nanterre had even competed in the top division. Prior to the season starting, our #1 goal was just avoiding relegation (bottom two teams in standings move down to a lower division) — but we ended with the title!
Appreciation is powerful! Here are three levels of gratitude to consider as we approach Thanksgiving:
1. Thankful “for the…” This most basic level of gratitude is after-the-fact. It’s a habit Theresa and I are trying to instill in our toddlers. They’re learning to say “thanks” when they receive a gift, get a treat or do something fun. This type of interaction is good, important and expected in our culture. However, it’s situationally dependent and only a baseline. Our role is reactive, and unfortunately, my gratefulness doesn’t often go beyond that of what I’m teaching my toddlers. In 2012, I returned to the court more grateful to play than ever and (for the first time) thankful for the experiences of living abroad. Having thanks ‘for the’ moments infused me with energy and joy.
2. Thankful “even though…” This type of gratitude presents itself in difficult moments. It is appreciation even though there are challenges. David Steindl-Rast says, “What we’re really thankful for is the opportunity… We can’t be grateful for everything, but we can be grateful in every moment.” Finding appreciation in these moments isn’t merely looking for the positives; it is re-framing our minds to see the benefit of the bump. Adversity allows for overcoming. Challenges enable creativity. I was grateful even though I wasn’t physically prepared for the season; it forced me to become mentally tougher. Having thanks ‘even though’ transformed my challenges into opportunities.
3. Thankful “because of…” This is gratitude despite the bad things that have happened to us. It doesn’t mean we’re thankful for everything that happens — but can we still find things to be thankful for in the trial? Is there purpose to gain from the pain? Is there an inspiring testimony in a season of life that tests our faith? I learned to appreciate my weaknesses. Because I often found myself slower or smaller than opponents, I embraced the intangibles of leadership, poise and decision-making as my areas of impact. The power of thanksgiving doesn’t come from being thankful for a blessing; it comes from being thankful through the burden and ‘because of’ the opportunities the adversity provides.
Quote: “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In Practice: Growth takes intentional training. Here’s a doable daily practice which has helped me cultivate gratitude in my own life.
In the morning:
– Write three things you are thankful for: Be descriptive. It doesn’t matter how “big” or “small” they may seem.
– Finish this sentence: “I have an opportunity to grow today when…” hint: Look for the challenges you foresee in the coming day.
– Write three things you are thankful for from that day.