Gratitude: One Photo at a Time

13 11 22 Gratitude Collage

Frustration.  Toleration.  Acceptance.  Gratitude.  Love.  Freedom.

Traveling the journey to greater peace and gratitude one photo at a time.

These past 4 weeks Brene Brown’s Course “The Gifts of Imperfection” have been nothing short of life changing saving for me.  Thank you Oprah for having her create this course for me!

Being a perfectionist, by nature I presume, is not easy.  I have put a lot of pressure on myself, and others, to keep everything running smoothly, and neatly…and that’s not easy with three kids, a husband and a plethora of pets!

In 2010 I had the epiphany moment that it was okay if my house wasn’t perfect, which is part of the story of how Ride the Wave: Journey to Peaceful Living was born.  A constant source of tension was released, which was huge for me and my family.  That may seem like a simple realization, but for a perfectionist, being able to live without stressing while some dirty dishes lie dormant in the sink is nothing short of miraculous.

Well as all journeys begin with excitement and mystery it continues on to this day with revelation after revelation, setback after setback.  I’ve certainly had my highs and my lows.  But you see the honest truth is I’ve been struggling lately.  Even having accomplished so much and having launched my first big conference just 2 months ago, I had fallen into a slump. 

Have you ever felt that way?  Like, when is enough enough? How much more do I have to DO to prove to myself that I’ve done a good job?  It’s flat out exhausting!  So in my job as a life coach I wear the hat of a teacher most often, but I needed some time to be taught and I signed up for the course, not really expecting anything supernatural, but thank God for the unexpected.  The commitment to stick with it and keep going on this path to teaching moms how to be the best they can be has been renewed over these past few weeks.  As I sit here typing this now I feel a great sense of joy.

What happened?  How did this change come about?  It lies in the transformation of a mindset of tolerating to being grateful.  There is a difference between tolerating something and embracing it…you know what I mean?  Tolerating is equivalent to ignoring but ultimately zaps your energy.  It’s the things you are ‘putting up with that need to be fixed’.  Embracing something is knowing it’s not perfect and saying, “That’s just fine.”

Back to the story…my house had become a ‘toleration’ and so had my business.  They were both something that I put up with (albeit peacefully) but in the back of my mind there would come a point where I needed it fixed.  Whether that meant cleaning up messes at home or ramping up my programs online I had to jump into action to make it ‘right’ again.  Be the best in every area.  

So after completing the first 3 weeks of assignments which included making a list of things I am giving myself permission to do (or not do) during the class…for me one of them was permission to cry…finding a picture of me when I was at my most authentic, and also my most awkward and then recognizing my trigger points, how I numb myself when I’m triggered and what brings me true comfort, I thought I was home free.  They were fun and revealing exercises, but nothing too heart-wrenching.

Photo Nov 25, 8 49 48 AM

Enter week 4.  Gratitude.  Now to say this was orchestrated by the greater powers that be is an understatement.  Two months ago I was booked to speak to a group on the power of forgiveness and gratitude THIS WEEK and what is this week’s lesson?  Gratitude.

Assignment: Get behind your camera and take pictures of the everyday things you’re grateful for.  Easy enough…or not.  I was home one morning and decided to tackle the task.  I walked around the house with my iPhone and started snapping.  A pile of shoes in the closet brought a tear to my eye.  A sign taped to Sadie’s bedroom mirror “Disney Imagineer at Work” stuck out amongst her unmade bed and messy floor, Molly’s miniature drum set sat atop her neatly arranged desk overlook her trampoline, the one she begged us for last Christmas, and Amy’s self-portraits from kindergarten.  My how time flies.  Her progress shown right there hanging proudly on her magnetic dry erase board.

Photo Nov 25, 9 01 26 AMAs I sat down at my computer to review my photo shoot, I took one last shot.  This is my life.  Me.  My yoga pants.  Working.  My computer.  On the kitchen table.  With Monty at my foot.  How these moments slip by so quickly unnoticed.  I began crying.  I mean really crying.  It felt weird.  I wanted to stop it, but I remembered my permission slip, so I went there.

No one was home, the kids had gone off to school and Jim was at work.  I felt my heart that had been so productive and focused and goal-oriented for the past 3 years crack open to a new sensitivity.  The tears were running down my cheeks and I let it all out.  Recognizing that what really matters is the mess. 

My girls who are growing so quickly.  My husband who is so relaxed that a messy pile of shoes wouldn’t even register on his radar.  And my freedom to be able to work from home, pursue my passion to help moms live happy and fulfilling lives and still be present for my kids.

This is what I’m grateful for.  I’m not tolerating my life, the messes, the to-do list, I am grateful for it.  It means that there are people around me who need meals cooked for them, it means the girls have permission to be themselves without the pressure to perform to my preference of perfection, it means I can embrace my hubby without thinking about the pile of shoes that need straightening.  That is true freedom.

So I challenge you to look at what you are tolerating and see if you can embrace it.  Stop just accepting life as it comes, be grateful for each and every moment no matter how small.  Gratitude for the small things brings love, freedom and a new appreciation for whom and what surrounds you. 

With Thanksgiving just a few days away take a minute to snap a few of your own photos to mark this precious and fleeting time in your life and see how that brings new perspective on the ordinary, messy and often overlooked moments.  I bet a tear will come to your eye too.

Post a comment below to tell me about your Gratitude Photo Experiment.  I’d love to hear it!

April O’Leary, B.A. Ed. is a Certified Master Life Coach and founder of the University of Moms.   She is the author of two books: Ride the Wave: Journey To Peaceful Living and Focus on You: Your Needs Matter Too.  She happily resides in Southwest Florida with her husband and three daughters. 

April O'Leary

April O’Leary is a Certified Life Coach, Author and Founder of the University of Moms. She happily resides in Florida with her husband and three daughters. For more info visit and

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  • Thanks Colleen! Have you taken any pictures yet?

  • April,
    What a beautiful post and revelation! Gratitude is powerful. I often think of my “Tolerations” and try to work to eliminate them but this is a different way to look at life. Thanks for sharing your truth.
    I will have to try snapping pictures of my ordinary that are truly extraordinary!!

  • Thanks Leah. It’s a process of letting go I agree. And knowing what to let go of… 🙂 Love you too!

  • I’d love to see your snapshots!

  • Emily

    I’m grateful for this quiet moment to read your powerful insights. I’ll be pondering some snapshots. Thanks, April!

  • April this is so beautiful. I love how you embraced the moment and allowed yourself to let go and feel the emotions. So often we stop ourselves for fear of losing control and not being ‘perfect’ all the time. Your courage is inspirational, thank you for sharing. Love you!!