Flex CEO Lauren Schulte Wang on gratitude

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“Gratitude has grown into more than a ritual – in many ways, it’s a forum for us to be ourselves and share our humanity with our colleagues.”

A behind-the-scenes look at a Flex weekly tradition

For those of us who’ve recently had a hard time keeping track of the days (our team included), here’s a quick reminder: It’s the fourth week of November. And whether you’re roasting a couple of turkey legs this year or skipping out on traditional Thanksgiving celebrations entirely, you’re definitely not alone. 

Despite the fact that this holiday season is shaping up to look and feel a little different than most, the sentiment behind Thanksgiving hasn’t been lost. In fact, we think it’s even more important than ever. When overwhelm strikes, as it often has this year, there’s no better remedy than taking a quiet moment to sit, reflect, and practice gratitude. It’s a lifeboat that pulls you out from under those wildly roaming thoughts that threaten to overtake your sanity – and it really works. 

Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough are responsible for much of the scientific research that exists on gratitude. In one recent study, they asked participants to write a few sentences in a journal each week: one group was to write about sources of daily aggravation, another group about events that had happened to them with no negative or positive connotation, and a third group about things they were grateful for.

As explained in an article by Harvard Health, “After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”1 The literature on positive psychology backs up these findings: Gratitude is consistently associated with greater happiness, resilience, and improved relationships. 

So, in the spirit of the season, we caught up with Flex CEO Lauren Schulte Wang – who started the Flex company-wide weekly gratitude practice – to explain what inspired the tradition, share some impactful memories, and look forward to what’s ahead. 

How the Flex gratitude tradition was born

First things first: How did the Flex weekly gratitude meeting begin? And how has it changed since the company’s inception in 2016

“When I first started the company, I had never worked at a startup. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I felt both excited and overwhelmed by all of the things there were to do. My best childhood friend – her name is also Lauren – had some sage advice,” Lauren explains. 

“She told me that, at a startup, you’re always focused on what’s going wrong and what you could be doing better. Every day is a fight to keep the company from dying. And so she encouraged me to pause and reflect on the small wins regularly, so we wouldn’t get too deflated by setbacks that naturally happen along the way.” 

During that same conversation, Lauren’s friend brought up the idea of practicing something at work that had already made a difference in her personal life. The answer was fairly obvious: It was the gratitude practice she had cultivated over the years. Each night, she would write down a few bullets – even after a bad day – of the things she was most thankful for. 

“I loved this advice, so I started a weekly ritual,” Lauren adds. “At the time, there were just three of us [at Flex] and we’d meet every Friday afternoon to talk about the wins that we’d accomplished that week, and name one thing in our lives that we were grateful for.” 

Today, this ritual has become a cornerstone of The Flex Company culture. Our team has expanded to over 50 employees, yet everyone still comes together once per week to celebrate accomplishments and to reflect on something we’re grateful for.

Focusing on authenticity: Memorable takeaways from Flex gratitude meetings

Gratitude as an internal state of being is all well and good, but it’s more meaningful when expressed out loud. So, our second question to Lauren was this: What’s the most meaningful or impactful moment you can remember from the past few years of Flex gratitude meetings – and how have moments like these impacted the company culture? 

“When I think back on gratitude meetings past, what I remember most is an overall vibe. Our gratitude meeting is one where a lot of folks on the team have openly wept. This ‘touchy-feely’ type of gathering in a workplace is not common, but it’s gotten us through some really difficult times together.”

While many organizations work hard to draw a line between “work self” and “home self,” at Flex, we feel that authenticity is more important. After all, our team members’ well-being has a direct and significant impact on the company’s well-being as a whole. By allowing genuine emotion to enter “corporate” spaces, our relationships are strengthened and we all work better together. This is especially important in a year when being together physically isn’t an option. 

“One summer a couple of years ago, we grew too quickly and unfortunately ran out of inventory of our products,” Lauren shares. 

“We were getting thousands of customer support tickets every day. For a few weeks that summer, we had everyone in the company sitting in a big conference room answering tickets, and we wrote handwritten cards to our customers apologizing for what had gone wrong. During that week’s gratitude meeting, our Customer Experience team shared how grateful they were that their teammates would step up and pitch in to support them.”

It’s this kind of outreach and support that keeps us all forging ahead, even when the going gets especially tough. 

Gratitude on a personal level: Staying positive through the pandemic

Beyond practicing gratitude in the workplace, we wanted to know how Lauren’s personal practice has impacted her day-to-day during a year full of unexpected (and unprecedented) obstacles. 

“This year was certainly a challenging one, both personally and professionally,” Lauren notes. “As a business, we’ve had to navigate through major challenges with the pandemic, which has disrupted our supply chain and completely changed how we work.”

“On a personal level, this summer’s protests around social justice have forced me to look inward to reflect on my responsibility for how I can be a better ally and take concrete steps in my daily life to dismantle systemic racism. Being pregnant and having a baby in the middle of a pandemic was also something I hadn’t anticipated. I felt a lot of stress and responsibility to my company, but also to other people in the world, and I wondered how I could make a difference when I felt so stressed and overwhelmed in my own life.” 

The gratitude practice was a way to reframe those difficult emotions and turn them into actions. Lauren sums up its benefits, which were particularly critical in coping with all of 2020’s surprises, in three parts: 

“The first way in which gratitude helped me was that it allowed me to focus on all the good that was happening in the world. The second was reflecting on how much good I had in my life. And the third was focusing on taking actionable steps – and then doing them – no matter how small.”

Thanksgiving plans during an unprecedented year

Like many of us, Lauren’s Thanksgiving plans are playing out a little differently this year – but she’s taking it all in stride.

Lauren Schulte Wang & Panpan Wang, Flex Co-Founders

“I gave birth to a baby girl earlier this year, so this Thanksgiving feels extra special because we’ll be spending it together for the first time as a family of three. We had planned to take a road trip to Big Sur, California to visit with some very dear friends. It would have been a small gathering of six people. But with COVID-19 cases rising, we have shelved our plans and decided to stay home. So, this year is an opportunity for us to start our own family traditions.”

While she’s limiting in-person festivities to her immediate family, Lauren isn’t sidelining other Thanksgiving Day rituals – including a dose of fresh air on the morning of (followed, of course, by plenty of wine and good food). 

“On Thanksgiving last year, I was pregnant, and we ran a 5k Turkey Trot with a couple of Flex team members in Oakland, California. This year, we wanted to continue the tradition of starting our day with some exercise and fresh air, so we’ll take a family hike in the mountains near our home. Then we’ll cook a nice meal (I love to cook) and drink some wine. We’ve been eating a lot of vegetarian food since the baby was born, so turkey probably won’t be on the menu, but I haven’t quite gotten that far yet.” 

Bringing gratitude beyond Thanksgiving

Expressing gratitude, whether to ourselves during a journaling session or out loud to others, has a cyclical effect. It breeds positivity, puts a damper on fear and uncertainty, and strengthens relationships. Kind of like coronavirus, it spreads quickly from person to person – but in a good way. 

Try sharing your gratitude practice with your own friends, family, or coworkers. Don’t be afraid to open up and express what you’re really feeling. This has been so important for the Flex team: 

“In the weeks surrounding the horrific murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, we had a place where we could talk about how we were feeling about racism in America and what social justice meant to us as humans, not just as colleagues. Gratitude has grown into more than a ritual – in many ways, it’s a forum for us to be ourselves and share our humanity with our colleagues,” Lauren adds. 

Despite all that we’ve gone through in 2020, we can harness the energy channeled during protests and demonstrations – and even during tough conversations with family members – and use it to create positive change in the new year. If you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, try coming back to the three steps Lauren outlined: 

  1. Remember to acknowledge the good things happening in the world
  2. Reflect on and practice gratitude for the good things you have in your life 
  3. Think about, and then carry out, actionable steps towards change (even tiny ones)

Even when we’re uncertain about what the future has in store, we can, at least, control our actions. We hope you’ll join us in practicing gratitude for all the good things that have happened, are happening, and those that are still to come. 

Now, mask up and get to the grocery store! It’s not too late to find some turkey (or tofurkey) legs to roast.