Lean Into Quiet Thriving In Your Job

Oct 13 / Julie Jones

Do you remember the story, The Little Engine That Could, a classic American folktale written in 1930 by Watty Piper, the pen name of Arnold Munk. In the story, the long train must carry a heavy load over the mountain. The work was hard and mostly an independent function. Do you think the long train thought about quitting?

One day the long train broke down and couldn’t haul her load over the mountain. Other large and strong locomotives weren’t willing to help the long train. They were built for this function but, for a variety of reasons, felt this work was beneath them, didn’t need done by them, or, perhaps said, it’s not my problem. But enter the small engine, not built for the task, but who agrees to try. Despite overwhelming odds, the little engine states her intention, “I think I can; I think I can; I think I can” and successfully pulls the load over the mountain. And by the end of the story, the little engine changed her thinking to “I thought I could; I thought I could; I thought I could!”

Over the past few years at work, have you felt like the long train? Were you convinced your only path forward
was to quit (the great resignation) or did you disengage at work and perform your job at a basic level (quiet quitting)?  Lesley Alderman, a psychotherapist, provides other suggestions for reconnecting at work, closely linked to the moral of The Little Engine that Could story. Alderman coined a new term, quiet thriving, advocating for small changes at work that allow you to reset your mindset and regain some control. (Washington Post December 2022)

Can you see how the long train and little engine could use these actions as a means to quiet thriving at work?


Focus on what is going right instead of wrong. Find something that is good about today.

  • The long train could be disgusted that none of the strong trains will help. Imagine the talk the long train would share about the strong trains to anyone who would listen.
  • But, what if the long train focused on the generosity of the little engine and her willingness to help? How might this story be different than that for the strong trains? Generosity and gratitude are mood boosters and change your frame of reference.


Cultivate a best friend at work.  

  • The long train now has a best friend at work. She will never forget how the little engine agreed to try despite the challenge.
  • Friends at work support each other and offer a hand when needed. Imagine the difference in your satisfaction and engagement at work if someone has your back.  


Join a group or start a group.

  • Imagine the opportunities if a few locomotives formed a team or group to share their strengths and welcome each other. A sense of belonging is a powerful way to refuel both individually and together as a team.


Set intentions instead of goals. Intentions are focused on the present while goals are focused on the future.

  • Take small steps today in your journey.  I think I can, the little engine’s intention, provided her the confidence to try harder and move the long train. Positive self-talk can be the difference in success or failure, satisfaction or discontent, and engagement or detachment.
  • With intentions, you can establish what you might do today or this week to shift your mindset or jump-start your career plan.
  • Intentions are also gentler than goals. They are not “judged” as met or not met. They allow you a bit more freedom to explore.

Are you ready to take the little engine’s intention — I think I can? What steps might you take to reengage and refuel moving towards quiet thriving while you intentionally explore your job and/or career pathway?
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Are you ready to take the little engine’s intention — I think I can?

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