How full is your bucket

As a mom I often catch myself reminding my children all the things they need to do. Pick up your shoes, put your dishes in the dishwasher, put your laundry in the hamper, pick up the toys you are not playing with. Do your reading. Practice your spelling.  I see what needs to be done and ask them to take care of it.  

One morning, my son said to me, “Mom, all you do is tell us what needs to be done. Do you not see all that we did already?” His innocent question stopped me in my tracks. Of course I appreciated their work! How had I missed the simple opportunity to acknowledge their efforts and express gratitude for their contribution to keeping our home in order?  While unintentional, my actions were making them feel like they weren’t seen or appreciated.

Appreciation and emotional buckets

Tom Rath and Donald Clifton explain in their book, How Full is Your Bucket, that each person has an invisible emotional bucket. When it is full, we feel positive, hopeful, optimistic and when it is empty we feel awful, tired, and negative. Every interaction we have can fill or empty our buckets, and in turn, our response towards others can fill or empty their buckets.  Many of us don’t realize where our bucket level is at or the importance of having a full bucket.  In my story, the infrequent recognition of my children’s efforts was emptying their buckets.

Every interaction we have can fill or empty our buckets, and in turn, our response towards others can fill or empty their buckets.

I think we can all agree the last couple of years have taken a toll on us. We are asked to do more with less resources. We are asked to approach things in new ways. We have new challenges to overcome. All the while we have more on our plates outside of work, new stressors and uncertainties to maneuver.  Many people are running on empty buckets. 

Be a bucket filler

Are we doing enough as employers, leaders and a society to fill each other’s buckets?  Imagine the difference it would make if we were intentional about expressing genuine gratitude and acknowledgement of each individual’s contribution on a daily basis.  Through the simple act of gratitude, we can help our people feel seen and heard. In a world where we are short supplied and short staffed, imagine the impact of helping people feel like they’re enough.  Imagine the impact of a full bucket.

Through the simple act of gratitude, we can help our people feel seen and heard.

For my family, being intentional about acknowledging the work my kids did helped them feel appreciated and, in some cases, even caused them to do their work without reminders. Their sense of pride and the smiles on their faces is evidence of their full buckets and seeing this helps fill my bucket too.  

So, how full is your bucket today? How can you fill the bucket of those you interact with today?


The MPO tool is all about getting to the core of how you’re authentically wired. By understanding and spending more time in your areas of strength, you’ll be stronger for the activities that are a weakness. It’s important to not stay in the area of weakness for too long or it will make one physically, mentally, and emotionally weak.

Often the paradox is in knowing when something is a weakness or a challenge.

What has been the biggest challenge of your life? For me, the year was 2011 and at 45, I decided to tackle RAGBRAI; a 7-day bike ride across Iowa, with 15k other riders. Two things to know about RAGBRAI; Iowa is NOT flat, and the route is not a direct route from the west to the east border. This is ~500 miles across rolling hills during the hottest and most humid week of the year.

So, with my mind set, I bought a great bike, trained for six months and on the third Saturday in July my husband drove me to the west side of the state to join my team for our adventure. For the next seven days/nights, I would live out of a tote, sleep in a tent and focus on staying right and upright.

I’ll always remember climbing onto my bike the first day as the sun was rising, the air was still, and my teammates were like dogs at the gate of a big race. Everyone was excited to embark on our 70-mile day, which started with the traditional dip of the back tire in the Missouri River. Three miles into the ride my legs started to cramp, my back started to ache, and I thought to myself, “what the heck was I thinking?” The negative narrative began to spiral, and I wondered if I could convince my husband to make the four-hour trek back to pick me up.

Pride took over and I decided to focus on one rotation of the pedals at a time. Just make it over the next hill, to the next town, to the end of the day. Whew – one day down, six more to go! I was promised that the next day would be easier. However, two hours into the next day, I realized that “easier” didn’t mean “easy”. Again, I focused on one rotation of the pedals at a time, yet there were times that tears were rolling down my face from sheer exhaustion.

By the third day, I was more comfortable with the pain and the sweat pouring down my face and back. On day five, I actually smiled and began to enjoy the scenery and camaraderie. And, by day seven, the last hill no longer seemed like a mountain. The 90-degree humid air on my face was a sign of progress. And the final stretch was an easy coast to the Mississippi River, where I dipped my front tire into the water to symbolize the final leg of the journey!

There were many things I learned over those seven days that translate to everyday life:

  • Great equipment and tools are key (like MPO in the business world)
  • Amazing colleagues/friends and support crew make every journey easier (though maybe not “easy”)
  • The common denominator for all who accomplished their goal was the belief and determination to do it!

For thousands of people, this experience provides an adrenaline rush that propels them to ride RAGBRAI year after year.

Not me.

It was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the thought of doing it again makes me a little nauseous.

From a work perspective, I could take on the “challenge” of mastering my analytical skills. However, I have learned that a challenge worth pursuing lights a fire in my gut. It makes me uncomfortable, but I’m drawn to it. It is harder to NOT do it than to do it. It’s something I know I’ll regret if I don’t try. The thought of mastering my analytical skills makes my stomach hurt. My body repels against it and no amount of encouragement, training classes or someone showing me how they do it, will flip that switch. I have achieved a level of basic competence and that’s where I’ll stay.

What great challenge do you dream about? Something that seems harder and harder to not do, than to do. That is the challenge you should pursue. Please listen closely to others to understand their dreams, which are likely different than yours. This will help you to understand and encourage their dream that lights a fire in their gut, and not focus on their weaknesses.

Congratulations to those who are on their final stretch of RAGBRAI; either literally or figuratively. Enjoy the accomplishment of an incredible challenge!