How do I give thanks?

Nothing's more important than telling people they're important

Thank you to everyone who wrote to me about last week’s post on resumes. I’m glad so many of you found it valuable and helpful. The offer still stands—I’m happy to provide feedback on your resume… just send it my way.

This is a Thanksgiving week unlike any other. The CDC has recommended a very different type of Thanksgiving, one that's masked, distanced, and outside.

It’s not what any of us want to hear. The last eight months have been a real challenge. That said, there are other ways to celebrate Thanksgiving aside from the entire family on the couch, watching football, and stuffing your face with pecan pie.

Let’s get into it:


For me, Thanksgiving is family, friends, and loved ones. It’s the crisp autumn air. It’s leaves in red and orange and yellow. It’s flannel shirts and heavy sweaters. It’s pumpkin spiced lattes and pumpkin pie. It’s football. Lots of football. But, above all, it’s an opportunity to take stock of what we have and to stop thinking about what’s missing.

When we pause and reflect, the reality of our lives becomes clear.

Most of us already have what we need. We just forget.

Let this week not just be an opportunity to remember, but to exclaim it. Let this week be your opportunity to let the important people in your life know how much they mean to you. I’ve left important people intentionally vague. Spare no one who matters:

  • Family

  • Friends

  • Colleagues

  • Customers

  • Doormen

  • Mentors

  • Role Models

  • That person you’re friends with behind the deli counter

Give thanks to anyone and everyone who improves your life. This isn’t a controversial concept. Most people agree that telling people they matter is a worthwhile activity. Where people—myself included—get lost is how to give thanks. Sometimes heartfelt messages feel out of place. Surprise gifts are a challenge to think of and get.

Let today’s grid be a framework for tackling the how to give thanks.

On the x-axis, we have the format of how you give thanks. There are dozens of ways to show others you’re grateful for them. On one end, the simplest thing you can do is use your words—telling people they matter in text or to their face. On the other, you can give someone a meaningful and personal gift. The strength and nature of your relationship should the way to demonstrate to them that you care and they matter.

On the y-axis, we have the forum for how you give thanks. Not every expression of gratitude needs to be on display for everyone to see. Sometimes, however, sharing praise publicly is a simple way to demonstrate high praise.

Understanding the Grid

This grid is most powerful when used as a framework to power your thinking around how to demonstrate gratitude. All four categories below are worthy of your time. Different individuals in your life will fall into one (or multiple) categories. Use what you know about the person’s personality and the nature of your relationship to choose a quadrant that works best.

Awards & Surprises

You give someone a gift in public. Public displays of gift-giving, when done right, can create immeasurable amounts of goodwill and affection. For example, when I left LinkedIn a little more than eight months ago, my team surprised me with a going-away gift featuring a personalized Photoshopped cake, back-to-school supplies, and a marble notebook filled with heartfelt notes. It warmed my heart. The gift assured me I had made a difference as both a colleague and a friend to my coworkers. Because of that warm send-off, I have and will always have a special place in my heart for the Insights team at LinkedIn. Big, public, sentimental gifts are best used to show thanks in milestone moments: farewell parties, marquee birthdays, end-of-year awards ceremonies.

Something Special

You give someone a gift in private. Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries are perfect opportunities to demonstrate thanks with private, personalized gifts. It allows the person being recognized to know that you listen and care. Sometimes, however, no occasion is needed. This week, George Clooney was in the news for doing something special. In an interview, he explained why he had given each of his closest friends a million dollars.

While this is an extreme example, the sentiment is there. “Why wouldn’t you do that, you schmuck?” When people matter—when they really show up for you—show them you noticed. It’s in these moments, where people go above and beyond, that you should, too. It’s when a gift is worth more than just verbal or written pleasantries.

Digital Love

You share kind words about someone in public. Best reserved for projects with a set start and end date, sharing public words of thanks is a powerful way to quickly show people they matter. However, this format isn’t limited to just projects—any occasion will do. Often it’s easiest (or least awkward-feeling) to publicly share a sentimental message of love on people’s birthdays or relevant holidays. For example, here’s a post I shared about the important women in my life (I believe for International Women’s Day back in 2018):

Publicly expressing how much these women impacted my career trajectory was an easy way for me to demonstrate to them how important they all are to me.

Dwayne Johnson is an even better example of someone who’s mastered Digital Love. You don’t need to look hard to discover that The Rock understands the value of gratitude. It’s all over his Instagram, where he often gives thanks to crew members, co-stars, his team, his family, and ordinary people who are doing awesome things. Giving thanks and recognizing others is in The Rock’s DNA. See for yourself (both Instagram posts are videos, so you have to click on them… and remember to read the caption):

A post shared by therock (@therock)
A post shared by therock (@therock)

Personal Messages

You share kind words with someone in private. For me, this quadrant is my favorite. I’m always shocked and elated when someone writes me a personal note of gratitude. Email, text message, snail mail… it doesn’t matter. To me, what matters most is that someone took the time to share serious words of praise or thanks. George H. W. Bush did this often. In fact, he was known for it. Frank Blake, former CEO of The Home Depot and deputy counsel to Bush when he was Vice President, said this of Bush’s letter-writing habit:

“Vice President Bush started every day by typing notes to people. You knew they were typed by him because some of the letters were off line and there could be misspellings. I saw the power of taking the time to write a nice word to someone.”

Inspired, Blake took up the practice himself. He says he must have wrote at least 25,000 notes. Personal messages matter. I’m always quick to shoot someone a meaningful text message or email after a favor. While we can debate whether writing notes by hand and sending them over USPS is more meaningful than the immediacy of a sentimental digified note, what we can agree on is writing something is better than writing nothing at all.

Grid Shortcomings

  1. This grid doesn’t mention when you should give thanks in multiple quadrants. Oftentimes, both quadrants on the top or the bottom half go together. For example, when giving a personalized gift, it’s common that a sentimental note is also part of the package. Ultimately, there’s no science. Just use your judgment. Bigger, Herculean moments deserve all the thanks they can get.

So, while we all may not be with all of our loved ones this Thanksgiving—this is the first time I won’t be spending Thanksgiving at home with my parents—there are ample ways to show them that they matter and we care. Don’t lose the spirit of the holiday just because the holiday looks a little different.

Life’s only as confusing as you let it be,
Ross


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