I originally posted this in October 2015, and it remains one of my top posts. Before releasing it again, I did some minor editing and updates. If you want to read it as I first posted it, click here.
One of the trends I hear all over the place that drives me crazy: People saying, “Thanks for everything!”
Now it may sound considerate. Polite even. After all, don’t we want to thank people for the ways they’ve served us? For how they worked on our behalf? Absolutely! I’m not advocating that we turn our backs on manners or refuse to acknowledge when someone does something for us.
But I see at least four big problems with the phrase that we need to consider.
Problem 1: Really? Thanks for Everything?
My thought when someone first said this to me was that the person was being disingenuous. After all, our relationship wasn’t on the best ground, and I had to fight to give him the benefit of the doubt. And he wanted to thank me for everything I did?
The bad attitude I had when he disappointed me? The harsh words that sprang to my lips when I felt he treated me unfairly? The desire to put his requests to the bottom of my To Do list no matter how time-critical they may be?
See the problem? When he thanked me for everything, he didn’t really mean everything. He meant whatever I had just done to help him. Or whatever I had done recently to help someone he cared about. But that’s not what he said, which leads to the second problem.
Problem 2: It Devalues the Person.
When you offer someone a generic compliment, it’s often because you didn’t put effort into pinning down precisely what you think.
Let’s say you are homebound after surgery and a friend drops by with milk and bread. You may be thankful for the food because you can’t get to the store. You may be thankful they took the time and exerted the energy to stop and fight the lines at the store or the traffic on the road.
Hopefully, you would not be thankful for a bad attitude toward the cashier for the long line they had to wait in. Or the road rage they displayed, cutting off other drivers to reach your house two minutes sooner.
It is easy, but it’s lazy. It shows you didn’t take a moment or two to put your thoughts together and actually praise them for what they did that caught your attention.
Value the person. Thank them specifically for how they helped you or impressed you.
Problem 3: Thanks for Everything Leads Nowhere.
I had already been stewing on this post for several weeks when I picked up John Townsend’s book The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way. Forty pages in, I ran across this gem:
“You are amazing!”
“You are just awesome!”
… Our culture is awash in these exaggerations that have roughly the same value as an empty calorie. Both yield insignificant benefits. Our brains have buckets where information goes. Praise should go in the right bucket: the bucket of hard work, of being kind, of being honest, of being vulnerable. But the brain has no appropriate bucket for such nonspecific, excessive statements, and therefore is unable to make constructive use of them.
In other words, you are wasting your breath and my time.
Not to mention it leads to perhaps the greatest danger and biggest problem.
Problem 4: The Person Could Run with It In Unhealthy Ways.
What if I grabbed hold of your statement and ran with it. Let’s say you owned a blog and asked me to write a post for you. I turned it in, and you sent an email that said, “This is great! Thanks for everything!”
Then I submit an article to a national magazine and it gets rejected. I could default back to your statement of appreciation and jump to the conclusion that the editor of the magazine is biased. Or unfair. Or an idiot.
Even if my writing skill is not up to the level the editor is seeking. Or the topic wasn’t suitable for his audience. Or I failed to follow the instructions posted on how to properly submit an article.
That sounds extreme, but it happens all the time. When I was growing up, parents were told that they should never be discouraging to their children so they wouldn’t damage their self-esteem. Have you ever watched the opening nights of any of the reality talent shows? How many times have you seen someone who believed they were great get slammed by the judges with the reality of their skill, or rather lack of skill?
And how many times did you see them or family members standing in a back room slam the judges for being biased? Or unfair? Or idiots?
The bottom line is that saying, “Thanks for everything!” is not all we mean it to be. Additionally, it doesn’t take much more from us to offer real appreciation. We all need acknowledgment from others that we are doing well, are on the right path, or are making progress, so don’t hold back!
Just be specific in your praise so it does the good you intend.
Since I mentioned it above, I’ll give you more information here. It’s been three years since I read this book, but at the time, I gave it 5-stars. My review on Goodreads says:
Wow! I have so many thoughts running through my head that I’m not sure where to start. Much of this book is helpful in understanding some of those around me clearly affected by the entitlement mindset, and even the rest of us who venture into (what the author calls pocket entitlement) without realizing it. It helped me think through my own mental processes and identify some areas I’d like to take charge of and change.
But more than that, the book began to challenge me where I falter in doing the next hard thing. It helped me to see where I was stumbling and encouraged me to take that step of faith forward–because God has great plans for me. It also helped me to see some places I was enabling others to remain stuck.
This book definitely helped me, challenged me, and gave me a lot to think about.
Today we live in a culture that says, “My life should be easy and work well for me.” This attitude, called entitlement, influences our most important institutions: family, business, church, and government. Its effects are devastating, contributing to relational problems, work ethic issues, and emotional struggles.
It comes down to this: People are not getting to where they want to go, because they don’t know how to do life the Hard Way. Their entitlement keeps them from tackling challenges and finding success.
This book provides principles and tools for change. It teaches people the skills of learning to tackle and resolve matters that are difficult, rather than avoiding them, giving up too quickly, or hoping someone else will do it for them. The habits gleaned from this book will lead to success in the listener’s relationships, finances, self-care, and work. When the reader faces what must be faced, he stands to meet his goals and resolve his struggles better and faster. In that sense, this book brings a great deal of hope and positivity to a tough arena of life.
The Hard Way is Simple.
it is facing any challenge required to accomplish what matters most. Anything worth doing will have a cost of being hard to do. But when we learn how to do the right things, and push through the pain that comes, we stand a much better chance of success.
Sometimes trials are put upon us, such as a troubled marriage, a failing business, or an illness. At other times they are opportunities where we need to take a risk, such as starting a part-time business, or simply being vulnerable with someone. At still other times they are problems that must be faced, such as a troubled teen, a conversation we have been avoiding, or a team at work that needs to be restructured. Whatever the context, the Hard Way is the first and best way to approach a good outcome.