January 3, Penny Rue

My Six Word Story

Have you ever participated in the ice breaker My Six Word Story? A few years ago, I was leading a two-day Institute for my peers, senior leaders within student affairs in higher education, and I had chosen this opening activity as a way to set the stage for deep engagement. It’s a surprisingly tough task to reduce your story to merely six words, yet it is powerful as well. Here is my six-word story: Now, I practice gratitude every day.

It’s the “now” that intrigues, right? Many mindfulness practitioners and people with a deep faith have long integrated gratitude into their daily lives. But “now” signals that it wasn’t always thus. I have always had much to be grateful for, though. I’m a child of the 1950s peace and prosperity era who grew up in a safe and secure suburb in a family that prized education. I had plenty of opportunities to learn and grow and stretch and explore. My dad believed I could be anything I set my mind to become.

But I’m also the product of a family tree littered with alcoholics. Alcohol abuse was so normalized that it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized my upbringing had been affected by others’ drinking. Then I found Al-Anon, the self-help group for people whose lives have been influenced by the alcohol use of important others. Al-Anon members differ in every possible way, yet there also are telling similarities. Perfectionism, externalizing blame, hyper-critical behavior, and glass-half-empty thinking are common.

I also soon encountered Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism. That book, plus the inspiring essays about gratitude in the tiny Al-Anon resource The Courage to Change, helped me to commit to becoming a glass-half-full person.  Now, I practice gratitude every day.

–Penny Rue

Winston-Salem, North Carolina


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