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When Life Gives You Lemons, Say Thanks!

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

Become a better leader by developing a gratitude attitude.

We have all heard the proverb “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s a reminder to remain optimistic, even in times of adversity. This is a message that leaders can apply many times over. Business needs can—and do—change at a moment’s notice. Adapting to those changes requires agility, quick thinking and re-direction. The ability to recognize positives in unpredictable or difficult times can greatly impact how both you and your team show up and produce.

The most powerful example I have to demonstrate this is not one of traditional leadership, yet it’s an inspiring illustration of the power of gratitude. It’s a story about my dad. A few years ago, dad was diagnosed with leukemia. At the time, this strong, 68-year-old man was otherwise the picture of good health. It was shocking for him (and our whole family) to suddenly be faced with a severe illness.

Due to the nature of his treatments, he required almost full-time hospitalization. In an effort to make his room a little less sterile and his stay a little more enjoyable, we set out to the Indigo book store. While there, we found flag shaped sticky notes. We challenged dad to write on them one thing that he was grateful for each day—and he did. Some days they were very personal and reflected accomplishments in his medical progress. Other days, they were about his family, friends and memories. Sometimes, they were about life’s simple pleasures—he ate a homemade chocolate chip cookie. We hung each of these declarations of gratitude in a chain around his hospital room.

Dad’s positivity had a ripple effect on our entire family. His ability to find joy and happiness in this horrible situation afforded our family the chance to relax enough to enjoy our remaining time together. And 3-years later, it’s still impacting us. Just the other night, my daughter commented on her memories at dinner. She said, “Grandpa sure was able to bring his life to the hospital. He never seemed sick and he was always so happy and positive.” To be able to inspire our family like that in the end stages of life is remarkable. Dad was demonstrating leadership. As the patriarch of our family, he was role modeling how to turn a bad situation into a positive experience for everyone. That is his legacy. Don’t we all want to be a leader like that?

As leaders, we often find ourselves so rushed, or caught up in day to day tasks, that we forget to appreciate the everyday joys in our job. Psychologists warn that humans have an innate tendency to remember bad situations more than they do good. That makes it increasingly important for us to make a concerted effort to find, and recognize, the good in our lives. Discovering everyday ways to express your gratitude, regardless of the situation, will help you reframe your perspective. In fact, doing so may just bring you joy at unexpected times—like it did for my dad—and, as a leader, this positivity will permeate through to your team—just as it did for our family.


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