As I stood on that confetti filled stage at the Owensboro Convention Center, the lights blinding my tear-filled eyes and the outpouring of love overwhelming me, I could only feel one thing: gratitude. Gratitude that we were able to host Owensboro’s Lip Sync Battle after postponing the event that was originally scheduled for January. Gratitude that my community showed up for the first large in-person event since COVID hit and helped us raise over $110,000 for Puzzle Pieces. Gratitude that the community I love supports the nonprofit I have dedicated my life to and the clients we serve.

But gratitude also can be a double edged sword. All of the gratitude I feel comes with an equal amount of guilt. As a nonprofit leader, I get to see firsthand the good that people do. The support from our community is what sustains Puzzle Pieces. But each time I receive a donation, check, or sponsorship I have this unshakable feeling of owing something in return. What way can I return the favor or recognize the contribution? I become in debt to my own gratitude. 

That’s no way to live and certainly no way to lead a nonprofit. I am reminded of a quote from Oprah.

“If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.”

What do you look for in your life? Are you the person that says, “when it rains it pours,” allowing yourself to drown in the rain instead of looking up in search of the sun? I have to fight this innate tendency everyday, both personally and professionally. Thankfully, I have people in my life who help me remember this important lesson.

As the Lip Sync Battle was winding down — the lights were on and my team was cleaning up from the aftermath of another epic event — I received a much needed reminder to be thankful and see the positive, rather than getting stuck in the negative, in debt to my own gratitude.

Lee Upton, a local insurance agent with Kentucky Farm Bureau, competed in this year’s event. In fact, he made Lip Sync Battle history by taking home all three trophies — winning his individual battle against State Farm, raising the most money for Puzzle Pieces and winning the best overall performance. Still on a high from seeing his team’s hard work pay off, he found me in the middle of clean-up.

“I get it now…” he said. “…why you get emotional. Because you are in awe of the good in people of wanting nothing in return. Words can’t describe how you feel when people give selflessly.”

He was right. The teams on stage and the people in the audience gave selflessly to Puzzle Pieces. They didn’t expect anything in return. They did it in support of our clients and our mission. 

The day after the Lip Sync Battle, I opened my phone to see I was tagged in a post from a dear friend. It was a photo of me on stage from the night before. The caption read, “She doesn’t do it for the spotlight. She does it because she was called to.”

Another reminder that my purpose is bigger than my self doubt. What I am trying to build for my community and for individuals with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be dampened because I am caught up in my own negativity and worry. 

Just a few weeks later, Puzzle Pieces was one of several nonprofits that received a Gratitude Grant from a group of local charitable foundations. It was a smaller grant, but it was given with the intent of making a big impact. We decided to recognize our Direct Support Professionals, the essential workers that allowed Puzzle Pieces to continue through COVID. We celebrated their dedication through free lunches, snacks, a shopping spree to a local boutique and heartfelt messages of thanks. 

A funny thing happened. We created a cycle of gratitude. Our DSPs began surprising our administrative team and clients with gifts of gratitude. Each day we saw more and more celebration of others and it changed the culture in our nonprofit. 

I tell you those three stories because they were very strategically timed lessons that I needed to learn. What cycle are you trying to develop? Are your actions empowering those around you? Are you allowing negative thoughts to prevent your purpose? In what ways are you showing your gratitude for others? And how are you looking at the blessings in your own life? 

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