While everyone else’s “new year” starts in January, at Ciena we get a head start at the beginning of November. As we began our new fiscal year and are in the holiday season, it seems only fitting to share some thoughts and reflections on our journey this year and a few key concepts that I relied on as a leader: thankfulness and gratitude. While those are certainly common words and familiar topics, here’s what this year taught me about being thankful and grateful: there’s a difference, both replace fear, both require discipline, and you need both to be a great leader.

There’s a Difference

While subtle, there’s a difference between gratitude and thankfulness. Like many, I’ve used the words interchangeably, but what I’ve realized is that there is a small but important distinction that I’ve learned in order to harness the power of both.

Thankfulness is a feeling. It’s defined as “pleased and relieved.” As I take in this past year, I’m struck by the Ciena team and their resilience. I’m thankful they were so poised and ready to support our partners, customers and each other despite the uncertainty. It would have been easy to worry about the future, but recognizing the efforts of the team was my way of focusing on a tangible, positive aspect of our circumstances.

Though based in a similar emotion, gratitude is more aptly described as an action. It’s defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” What I have learned about gratitude is that it puts thankfulness in motion

Both Replace Fear

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year is to focus on thankfulness and gratitude because fear cannot occupy the same space. In fact, the more I dug into the research on the practice of gratitude, the more I learned that it cannot coexist with almost any negative emotion, including anxiety, anger and irritation. Whether we’re experiencing thankfulness or showing gratitude – either can replace fear and a host of other negative emotions to help us move forward through uncertainty, doubt and even chaos.

Alfred North Whitehead once wrote, “No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.” As a leader, I take that as a reminder that thankfulness is useful in helping us focus on our successes while gratitude allows us to share our appreciation with others on how we achieved them. Gratitude also breeds resilience—something all leaders need, especially this past year. It keeps us grounded, enabling us to pivot quickly when faced with stressful situations.

Both Require Discipline

I believe feeling hopeful and thankful is a choice we can make. At Ciena, we chose to look at the circumstances this year in a way that sparked belief and positivity. We pressed into our customers and their needs. We invested in our partners – so much so our team was awarded for their support and innovative approach to partnerships.

And we devoted time and effort to our communities through the “Americas Volunteer Challenge” challenge, where our Americas’ team served their communities in any way that was meaningful to them.  With only the parameters of “Go Do Good,” hundreds of team members across 36 countries, from the tips of Argentina to the northernmost of Canada, found ways to support the United Nations sustainable development goals of Zero Hunger, No Poverty, Quality Education, Good Health & Wellbeing, Climate Action, Life on Land, and Clean Water & Sanitation. 

Over 100 different projects were completed by the team in the last month and a half of our fiscal year. But we aren’t stopping there, at Ciena we are aiming to contribute together, as a company, a total of 20,000 hours of volunteer service this coming fiscal year as part of our continuing goal to “Go Do Good”.

Enjoy this short glimpse into some of the amazing projects– and I hope that it will inspire you to join us to “Go Do Good.”

Embracing Thankfulness

Our success this year wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the incredible Ciena team and their tireless efforts to continually serve our clients and innovate leaps and bounds. The way they go above and beyond, whole-heartedly embracing the spirit of partnership, is truly inspiring and fuels me every day. I’m especially thankful for our team’s strong performance this year—truly a gift in the face of all the turmoil and uncertainty.

Grateful for Our Partners and Customers

I would be remiss if I didn’t also reflect on our partners and customers and the many opportunities we’ve had throughout the year for collaboration. It’s exciting to think what these partnerships might yield for the future of AR, VR, 5G, 800G and so much more.

Grateful and Thankful

Recently, I ran across this sentiment from author Melody Beattie and was struck by it.

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

It’s easy to feel paralyzed or helpless in the face of something unprecedented like a global pandemic. It gives me great comfort to know that I can choose to show acts of gratitude and use my mind as an ally to focus on being thankful.

To that end, I’ll conclude by expressing how thankful I am for my family. My beautiful wife and 5 children sure do make life interesting, and I’m blessed to enjoy them each day. When I look back on this tumultuous year, it’s moments with them that calm the noise of 2020 and help me refocus.

Lastly, I’m thankful for the promise of an amazing 2021, which stems from my appreciation for the whole team here at Ciena. I am so proud of this team, the fact that Ciena Cares and I look forward to seeing the impact our team makes over the next year.

I wish for all of you to find those moments every day that help you relive what you’re grateful for.

Follow Bruce on LinkedIn to learn more about his leadership philosophies.