One of Gary Vaynerchuk’s recent tweets struck a very strong chord with me.
A few days ago, I was laying on a beautiful empty beach in Vietnam at 5:08 in the morning, gazing at a gorgeous sun rising upon the horizon when suddenly here I was, browsing the latest stories on Instagram and flipping through the latest tweets from formidable people I personally admire and follow when this popped up:
Not thinking too much of it at first, I put my phone away, looked up at the sky and smiled. Like, genuinely smiled — almost laughed, really — at how ridiculously beautiful this scene was. In only a matter of a few seconds between the moment I had laid on the sand, pulled up my phone to check social media, read Gary’s quote and put my phone back inside my pocket, the sky’s colors had turned from a shy dark red to a stunning blend of orange, blue and yellow, allowing the day’s first crepuscular rays to shine through the dispersing clouds.
Then I thought about Gary’s tweet again… “When you’re grateful for what you have… When you’re grateful for…” That’s it! Grateful! Grateful was the operative word!
Surely, at that very moment, I felt immensely grateful for being in Vietnam, a wonderful place merely an hour and a half away from Hong Kong where I live and work. I’m also pretty grateful for actually living in Hong Kong (despite being ranked the most expensive city in the world to live in…. ahem, let’s move on). But being the overanalyzing self-proclaimed storyteller that I am, I wanted to dig deeper. To think beyond the obvious. I wanted to believe that this feeling of gratitude we (I hope) all have — this appreciation for the things we have in our lives — is actually misinterpreted. That, basically, we’ve been looking at this whole gratitude thing all wrong.
In our collective effort to redefine how we should feel grateful, let’s begin with a simple question:
Who (not what) are you most grateful for?
Your parents, for raising you the way they have and teaching you valuable life lessons? That’s fair. Your best friend, for providing a shoulder to cry on when things went horribly south and you felt your entire world came crashing down completely unannounced? Understandable. Your boss, for giving you that one chance you needed to prove yourself when no one else would? That’s a winner, for sure.
But what about everyone else?
If you try to list out the names of everyone you want to feel grateful for from, say, the past 8 years, like I tried to do on that beach in Vietnam, you’ll quickly realize how overwhelming and inefficient that approach is. So I tried a different approach; a mental exercise. I built a Memory Palace.
Also known as the “Method of Loci”, a memory palace is basically an imaginary location that you visualize in your mind where you can store a series of mnemonic images that you can use to build a story, helping you memorize pretty much anything you’re trying to remember. (If you want more detailed information on how memory palaces work, click this link). With that method in mind, I came up with a couple of questions:
How did I get here? How did I get to meet that person?
You can obviously be as detailed as you want once you’re inside your memory palace, but for the sake of this exercise and article, let’s use a rough timeline between 2019 and 2011 (remember, we’re going backwards) and a very short list of people — some of whom are my closest friends to this day, and some I remain inconsistently in touch with. Let’s call it:
I’m going to think about the latest moment I feel grateful for, and the person attached to that moment who made it happen. Once I have that person in mind, I’m going to ask myself: How did I meet that person? This will force me to think back to a different moment in time when that first encounter happened and think about another person attached to that specific moment who made that happen.
See where I’m going with this? Let’s give it a try.
I went to Vietnam for the first time with one of the closest friends I have in my life, Cory Arth, who had initially signed up for a half Iron Man race in Da Nang. We both knew this would be an amazing opportunity for us to kick it in Vietnam together. But how did I get to meet Cory?
I’ve been dealing with mild lower back pains since I was a child and eventually asked my friend Vy Vu while I was still living in Shanghai if she knew anyone I would be able to go see to have it checked out. This is when she recommended Cory. But how did I get to meet Vy?
My friend Ryan Kretch and I had decided to go grab dinner in a healthy restaurant somewhere in Shanghai on a Tuesday evening when, mid-way through our dinner, I began complaining about the lack of motivation I felt when going to the gym alone. Having overheard our conversation a couple of tables away from ours, a woman named Katie Arnold approached us to ask if we had heard of FitFam, a free fitness community that had originally started in Shanghai and has since then grown to 11 cities worldwide. Vy is one of the first members of the community, who I met when I decided to join their workouts in Shanghai and who I am now a board member of. But how did I even get to Shanghai?
After working for the digital creative agency Firstborn in New York on a one-year visa, the company and I decided to apply for the H-1B visa. While my petition was being processed (there’s a lottery system that randomly sorts through applications), that same friend Ryan who at the time was living in Shanghai sent me a PowerPoint with 10 slides on 10 reasons why I should come to visit him in China. Needless to say, that PPT was quite convincing as I bought my one-way ticket to go crash on his couch a month later. But how did Ryan and I meet in the first place?
Sometime in late 2011
During my one year abroad studying at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey (this will surely raise a few eyebrows…), myself along with a local friend named Felix Ortiz Cruz whom I had befriended during one of our early house parties that Fall semester randomly wandered around town one late night in search of a house party to crash. Once we had finally made up our minds, we sprinted through the front door hoping no one would start asking questions and demand we pay an atrocious $10 cover. As we made our way down to the basement, Felix suddenly said hello to someone he knew but I didn’t… Someone he had met previously without really remaining very close with. That someone was Ryan.
As Ryan and I had clicked and since he was the only friend I knew in town with a car, we began going grocery shopping together every week. That friendship blossomed quickly and led to a life-changing roadtrip across the U.S. for three weeks and, almost 4 years later, a reunion in Shanghai.
The rest is history.
And all of the above led to that:
Go ahead. Give it a try. Think back to some of the most impactful moments in your life and the people who have made these moments possible. The people who were there for you, from best friends to strangers, and send them a short message. Thank them for being there for you. Thank them for helping you get to where you are today.