November 19, 2017

Rachel Strella

Gratitude Starts with Human Beings


It’s unusual for me to feature someone on my blog, but every so often, someone inspires you. As my years in journalism have proved, we must capture those moments. My inspiration today comes from my friend, Jenifer Epstein. We met through a program facilitated by my executive coach and client, John Dame. As with many relationships that develop, it has taken on a life of its own. It’s rare to find someone who has the enthusiasm that can sustain humankind, but I think I’ve found it with this very special woman.  I’m honored to share some thoughts from her, which are fitting given this time of year. For anyone looking for something bigger than themselves, I hope you will find what you’re looking for – and all from one spectacular lady in this Q&A…

As we approach Thanksgiving, it seems like a good time to talk about gratitude. What are you grateful for – personally?

My family always comes first. The greatest gift I have ever been given is the opportunity to be a Mom. Providing for and taking care of my kid is the best thing in my entire life. It takes a lot of strength; you must be resilient because ultimately, it’s not just about you anymore. I have to be on my ‘A game’ for my son who needs me, and it’s forced me to think outside myself.

What about those who don’t have children? How would their gratitude be different?

There are millions of books on finding ‘your why.’ If you have a goal, the question to always ask is: are the things that I am doing in alignment with my goal? If it’s not, you have to re-direct it. You must find your tribe.

Tell me about a ‘tribe.’

A tribe is a team of five to seven people who you spend the most time with, and who are going to hold you accountable for the goals you’ve voiced. They serve as a reminder to stay on track. I always think of wood carvers when I am creating teams. With wood carving, you start with a log. Then, you carve that log into a beautiful piece of artwork. 

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you need another room. The worst person you can take advice from is someone holding you back. You need people who you can be accountable to and people you can trust. On your journey in life, you will grow out of your friendships, but that’s OK. The ultimate goal is to raise your leadership game.  

What are you grateful for – professionally?

I am grateful for the opportunities that have come into my life the last 18 months. I’ve been asked to move into a leadership position in New York Life, I’ve been a part of the 10 New Leaders Project, and I’m writing a book.  These opportunities make me realize how important relationships are in your professional life. It’s not just about doing business with somebody; it’s about people you can partner with personally and professionally. 


How do you express gratitude?

I put a note with a napkin in my son’s lunch. I say something different every day, but I want him to know how important it is that he shares his thoughts with me.  For example, ‘Thank you for the conversation about your day.’  

It’s important to vocalize your gratitude. I don’t think enough people are communicating how they feel. This goes for everyone, personally and professionally. For example, the people that I work with– staff, employees, specialists – I tell them I appreciate them; that their work is seen.

Would you agree that we are lacking our expression of gratitude as a society and why do you think this is?

There is this phenomenon of instant gratification and entitlement. I think we forget to express gratitude because we have it so easy. We lose sight of everything that has to fall into place to make our jobs easier.  If my staff or specialists weren’t a part of our company, I wouldn’t be able to serve the team the way that I do.

How would you define the relationship between gratitude and leadership?

If you can’t be grateful for what you have today, you will never be happy. You will never find joy. If you can’t find joy, you can’t inspire other people. You will constantly feel unhappy and will be unable to guide others. You have to be happy about what you have today and excited about the future. To be a leader, you must show people that where we are is great; you see opportunity vs. problem.

Part of the responsibility of being a leader is challenging people. This doesn’t mean you make them feel bad, but rather give them a different perspective. You disrupt the cycle. 

Negativity is a downward spiral and misery loves company. What advice would you give to someone dealing with negativity?

For people dealing with negativity, acknowledge how they feel, and suggest a different way of looking at it.  You can do an amazing job at disrupting that cycle, but you have people who will still be stuck in that yuck. We can only control our reaction. If you have someone like that, you can surround yourself with better people. Don’t expose yourself to that. You can’t change people, unless they are on that train with you – they have to be willing to make that change. It must be intentional. 

Are there any organizations or charities close to your heart?

I’m helping to plan the annual Estamos Unidos Children Christmas Party. This year, they are feeding 1500 people. There are a lot of families that need our help. I’m also passionate about helping victims of domestic violence. 

Is there anything else you would like to say about gratitude?

I think gratitude is so much more than being thankful for what you possess. If we were more grateful for human beings, in general, we would tolerate more - and have more acceptance. Embracing diversity in people could really solve a lot of the world’s problems.

What influences you? Any resources you follow consistently?

I do everything. I follow The Secret. I am constantly reading and listening to podcasts. I love Marie Forleo. Tony Robbins is fantastic. I don’t think we can get enough good messaging, especially with the media as it is right now.

Jenifer loves social media, which is probably another reason why I like her so much! Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram!


Happy Thanksgiving!

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