Say Thank You — Because You Might End Up Thanking Yourself

Last Thursday started off as a typical day. I woke up. Went for a quick run. Got ready for work. Left my apartment. Then as I approached my bus stop the typical start to the day was uprooted as I caught the 5 bus in stride, which should have been a strong enough foreshadow in and of itself that today was going to be a good day.

I got off the bus a few blocks from my office and was about to make the final turn onto Bush Street as I caught a pair of waving arms through a tinted Starbucks window. Naturally, I had one of those “quick looks behind to see who they were waving at because they couldn’t possibly be waving at me” kind of reactions. As it turned out, I knew the guy waving his arms behind his computer and freshly poured coffee!

He happened to be a former student from a programming school where I used to mentor and teach. During that time spent teaching, I had given dozens and dozens of talks to hundreds of students on various software engineering concepts, along with countless late nights spent debugging (troubleshooting for those who are non-technical) students’ programs and pushing them to write the best software they possibly could. I loved it.

I then backtracked my steps around the corner and walked up to him inside the coffee shop. I was excited to say hi to him because even though it had been months since seeing him, I vividly remembered working with him on a project late into the night one time because he was so enthusiastic about learning the material. It was contagious. Being the enthusiastic kind of person he is, he proceeded to tell me all about the latest project he was working on. I asked him how he had been. He asked what I was up to. You know, the standard day-to-day quick catchup conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s always great catching up with someone you haven’t seen for months. However, today had a whole lot more in store than just “catching up with an old friend.” You have to remember, I caught the bus in stride today! I knew there was a much more significant lesson waiting just around the corner.

A few days prior to that morning, I read an inspiring article on giving thanks. Saying thank you is something I felt I had always done, or always tried to do when possible, but that particular day the idea of giving thanks more often than I usually do was on the top of my mind. As we finished up our conversation, I turned to continue on my way to work and after a few steps in the opposite direction, for some reason, I decided to pause. I turned to him and said,

“Thanks for making the effort to flag me down — it was great catching up!”

After I said thank you, the former student paused for a split second and replied,

“No, thank you. Ever since the night you stayed late to help me conceptualize AJAX during phase 2 of the program I’ve felt so much more comfortable and confident with the concept. Have a good day!”

Only then did I realize what this “catch the bus in stride” kind of day had in store for me.

I cracked a half smile and said, “Anytime man. I’m glad I could help.” It then took a few seconds for his comments to sink in as I walked away feeling lighter, shockingly inspired, and much more energized than any double shot espresso could have made me. As I finished up the last stretch of sidewalk leading up to my office, I was even more taken aback by the sequence of our exchanged thank yous than the thank yous themselves.

If I hadn’t stopped to say thank you while walking away, it would have never been reciprocated.

I don’t know about you, but I found this incredibly powerful.

Initially, it sounded a lot like a cliché Pinterest board title, or framed cookie cutter Target quote that read, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, but this concept can be taken so much further.

Want to start getting invited out with friends more often? Start inviting others first.

Wish you could get more help from others? Start helping others first.

Want to start feeling more appreciated? Start appreciating others first.

Only until you start taking the initiative to provide genuine, selfless value upfront will you give yourself the opportunity to come across it in new form sometime down the road. As the elevator doors closed and started moving up towards the 22nd floor, I couldn’t help but think how thankful I was for taking the extra couple hours to help him months ago because I would have never had the opportunity to experience the incredible start to the morning I had last Thursday.

So take some time now and then to stop and say thank you, because you might end up thanking yourself.

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