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Gratitude, Wonder, and Lessons from Elliot


This is the time of year when every post, article, and email blast centers around the concept of gratitude.

We all love encouraging and hopeful stories that highlight humility, appreciation, and generosity of time, money, and spirit. Being grateful for acts of kindness and generosity is compelling and healing, but rather than focus on this concept directly, I want to take this time to spotlight another side of gratitude … wonder.

Introducing Elliot

Five months ago I lost my dog, Daisy. She had been my office buddy and one of my best friends and co-workers, and when she passed away, my space felt empty.

A couple of months ago, my husband and I decided the time was right for us to welcome a new dog into our family. We began the journey of visiting animal shelters in our area, leaving a little piece of our heart with all the dogs we met as we searched for the ‘one’ that connected to us both. It took a while, but finally, three weeks ago we met Elliot.

Elliot is an 8 month old mix of what we think is a German shepherd and a yellow lab, but quite honestly we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that he is a bundle of love.

Elliot (the name the shelter gave him and we decided to keep) was found abandoned in an open desert field. When we saw him, he was skinny, wild, and scared, but somehow his past hadn’t disturbed his spirit for love and trust.

We connected with him immediately, and even though we had no intention of adopting a puppy, Elliot happily joined our family the next day. 

Transitioning to domestic life was a shock to Elliot. 

First, he had never been in a house, and we believe the indoors symbolized entrapment to him, so getting him to come inside our home took a lot of patience, cajoling, and treats. 

The next big hurdle was the stairs. He was absolutely terrified of the stairs when we brought him inside, and for the first few nights, we carried him up and down to show him it was safe.

The last big hurdle for him has been walking on a leash. Being a wild puppy meant no restraint, so the first day we took him on a walk, he was a bit of a banshee. Thankfully, patience and treats, once again, played (and continue to play) a big part in our progress with his training.

My Training Begins

Having a puppy, and even more so – a wild puppy with no predispositions to all the trappings of domesticated life, has been an amazing eye opener for me.

I’ve been taking Elliot on numerous walks (he has a lot of energy to burn), and he is, thankfully, beginning to become more comfortable on a leash. It’s work, though, and I miss the easy days of walks with my senior dog who didn’t have energy enough to pull or wander.

While on my walks, I have a hard time staying in the moment and find myself thinking about work, and even more, the work I should be doing rather than going on yet another walk.

A few days ago, when I leashed Elliot up and headed out the door, I intended to be mindful and let my brain rest from work while we walked. Instead, however, I started going through the lists in my mind of all the things I needed to accomplish when I got home.

With each step, I grew ever more stressed by my to-do list and that unsettled feeling was exasperated by Elliot’s excitement and distraction as he pulled and crisscrossed on the path, nearly tripping me at every turn.

At one point, he suddenly lunged ahead and off to the side. As I tripped and caught my balance, I pulled back on the leash to reign him in. To no avail, he happily lunged and lurched from one direction to another. The zoomies had set in. He went one way to watch a bunny race into a bush and another to spy three squirrels chasing each other around the upper branches of a tall tree.

It took a good 10 minutes to get back on our way, but the world had opened for Elliot and his curiosity kept leading him in new directions. Each equally important and fascinating to him. From bunnies to crows, squirrels, lizards, blowing leaves, and so many pinecones … he was full of wonder.

After 20 minutes trying to keep him to my schedule, I decided to relent. I attempted to understand his perspective and the incredible change and newness his world had taken on since joining our family and moving to this new place.

I tried to imagine the view he saw through his fresh unobstructed eyes, and it was an epiphany for me.

Comfort Zones vs. Wonder and Curiosity

On that walk, I quickly realized that I have been stuck in a comfort zone of my own definition for productivity, creativity, and wonder. I’ve had blinders on that limit the full expansion of ideas available to me.

I am a creative person, but running my own business has made me build walls and barriers around some of my more dreamy thoughts and ideas I had in the past. I notice what is comfortable and safe to me, but what I haven’t seen or paid attention to are the other things along the path. The things that lie outside my comfort zone and space of knowledge.

This made me think about how I approach my business and work.

As an entrepreneur, the direction of my work depends on the direction and vision I steer it in.

I don’t have a lot of outside influences telling me what I should or shouldn’t do in my business, so I move in the direction that feels most comfortable to me. I trust my instincts and intuition, but as I get older and more experienced in my business, I find that also means that I tend to move in the direction that feels the most safe. That can be prudent, but sometimes stifling.

It occurred to me while watching Elliot happily leap from one exciting new thing to another not knowing what response or reaction those things would have back, that I need to re-open my curiosity to the world that’s not familiar to me.

I need to remove the blinders and renew my wonder.

How Fresh Eyes and Being Full of Wonder is Good for Business

In Francesca Gino’s article in Harvard Business Review, The Business Case for Curiosity, she discusses the benefits of curiosity in the workplace and how leaders can avoid quelling productivity when they fall prey to stifling inquisitiveness and wonder.

Noted in her article there are three primary benefits to curiosity:

  • Fewer decision-making errors

    We are less likely to succumb to “confirmation bias” (looking for information that supports our beliefs rather than for evidence suggesting we are wrong) and less likely to stereotype people or make broad judgements of others.

  • More innovation and positive changes in both creative and noncreative jobs

    In studies conducted by Ms. Gino, her research showed that encouraging people to be curious generated workplace improvements. By engaging with controlled groups of workers, she was able to conclude that curiosity increased creative thinking and solutions with less defensive responses and stress provocations. Performance also increased resulting in positive evaluations by direct bosses.

  • Reduced group conflict

    Empathy increases with curiosity and encourages people to put themselves in each other’s shoes, shifting away from a myopic perspective and allowing for a more positive collaborative effort with better results.

For me,  I would add three additional benefits to introducing a proactive and healthy curiosity to business:

  • Gained confidence in the work produced

    Curiosity encourages a broader perspective to the work you do and the products you create. This wider vision allows space for a larger range of influence, leaving less room for doubt by the time you submit your work to the world.

  • Greater sense of freedom and liberty to create

    Reaching wider and opening up to a larger perspective when approaching the product you create and the work you do gives a sense of liberty and expansion. Being confined by what is comfortable and safe, or what has always been done, limits you.

  • Strengthened resiliency

    As I learned watching Elliot overcome obstacles, hurdles, and fear, his curiosity made him stronger and more resilient to change. I saw his ability to pivot quickly and advance in his responses to new experiences. Curiosity and wonder in the world around him introduced him to new ways of thinking and doing, as well as invited greater adventure.

Prioritizing Wonder

Elliot is onto something that I was missing or had lost a while back when I became encased in my own way of doing things.

Sometimes it takes a simple thing like a walk with your dog to make you pause and re-evaluate the way you think, see, and do.

As a businesswoman, I believe it’s a big part of my job to keep wonder for life and curiosity for what the world has to offer in the forefront of my efforts. We have an opportunity in business to introduce great things and goodness to the world. That is a gift.

Wonder and curiosity is a blessing and also a tool we can use to grow.

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”  — Walt Disney

Like Walt Disney and many other inspirational innovators, leaders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, educators, tradespeople, inventors, and more, learning to embrace and continuously live with a mind and heart that is filled with wonder seems to be the magic pill to a rich and full life both at home and in the workplace.

This week, I encourage you to take a moment and go for a walk.

Whether it’s in a city, a suburban neighborhood, a park, beach, or forest, remove the ear buds, be like Elliot, and take a few moments to study a leaf on the ground or flower in bloom. Watch a bird as it flies overhead. Notice if there are any new smells. Check out some fun cloud formations in the sky, or listen to the sounds around you. Feel the wind on your face and the sun on your shoulders.

Take note of the feelings these experiences give you, and see if they spur any new thoughts, curiosities, or directives. You just might find yourself inspired in a new direction.

Gratitude and wonder are the same.  Let them expand you.

Kate Pitner

Kate Pitner is a designer and illustrator and the ‘poppy’ behind the poppynotes e-greetings mobile app. She founded the poppynotes app with one mission in mind: to help others stay connected to the important people in their lives in an easy, fun, and meaningful way.
Kate has worked as a creative for 25+ years with experience in arts education, corporate graphic design, product manufacturing, branding, textile and wall-covering design for national hotel chains, art licensing for the gift industry, and now, app developer.

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