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One of my favorite workshop activities is when I ask participants to think of someone special who changed their life. I want to know whom they would thank who was truly inspirational and motivational to them, from any point in their lives, and most of them immediately tell me about a teacher or coach they had.

What is it about teachers that make them so unforgettable? I think it’s because they were the first people outside of our immediate families that we looked up to. They opened our minds to a bigger world, by introducing us to so many different topics, facts, and worldviews. The best teachers really enjoyed sparking our interests and in doing so, they nudged us toward our ultimate career path by praising our natural abilities.

Encouragement

Remember the teacher who first said to you: “That’s great work! You have such a talent with words.” Or creating art. Or playing sports. Or with people. Or with public speaking! Their thoughtful words of praise and recognition set into motion a life where we could excel further at those things and go farther than we could have possibly imagined. All because of their early encouragement and wisdom.

And yes, I realize that there were also times when teachers might have been tough on us, and we might have pushed back against them as teenagers do. But looking back as adults now, we can often see that the concern and love they showed us made us stronger and wiser, more confident in our skin, and more successful overall. Even the hard-earned praise, the times we pushed harder just to prove them wrong about them thinking we were lazy, we grew from those experiences too.

Development

Other times, I find that participants in those same workshops will point out that they owe a debt of gratitude to a grandparent or parent as being most influential and I believe it’s for the same reason. Those loved ones who changed our lives for the best were actually our first “teachers”. They modeled to us a way to act, a way to get things done, a way to “be” that was so crucial for our developing minds and hearts. They stood behind us and cheered us on, ready to offer correction or encouragement when needed.

I believe that our first teachers, coaches and mentors impacted our lives in far-reaching and unpredictable ways, as did that special parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle. When you think about it, where would we be without them?

Gratitude

Within my gratitude workshops, I invite people to think about how to thank these influential people. It could be through a handwritten note of thanks or a visit to see them and tell them in person. Sharing your gratitude for the incredible gift they gave you, even if it was decades ago, will fill you both with joy! Even if you have lost touch or they have passed on, you can still thank them in your heart or in your journal and I believe they will get your message wherever they are.

It’s fun for me to look back on my own teachers and mentors and realize that after all these years, I have become a teacher and guide myself. My practice is called Spread Thanks! and it introduces the fact that gratitude is a universal gift that you can share with anyone and it has magic! Thank you notes are not just for teachers, mentors and parents — but for anyone who has helped you, encouraged you, or made your life just a little brighter because of their presence.

Maybe it’s time for you to honor your early influencers and become a daily example of goodness yourself. Find a way to pass along the wisdom they taught you. Maybe you could volunteer to help young people learn a new hands-on skill. Maybe you could join a community choir that shares the gift of music very inexpensively with everyone. Or maybe you could join the Spread Thanks! movement and write a note of encouragement and gratitude every morning to a deserving soul.

I would love to hear how you give back to the world and what your experiences have taught you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts below and thank you for sharing goodness and gratitude in your corner of the world.

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