I am tired, emotionally drained, and personally fulfilled after spending the last 30 days handwriting a letter to someone everyday. Here are 10 things I’ve learned from the experience for those who may consider trying it too (and a little about how/why I arrived on this goal).
Do it…today – During my sophomore year in college I received the unfortunate news that one of my good friends from high school, Beth, had passed away in a car accident. My friends and I were all heartbroken and even now there are moments of that year and that news that seem like a blur. As a result of this tragedy, I heard a life changing message along the way. At the funeral service a microphone was made available for anyone who wanted to share their thoughts, feelings, or memories. I was still in shock during the time so the details of this memory have always been fuzzy in my mind, but what I do remember is someone who I believe to have been Beth’s aunt or family member stood up and shared a story that has stuck with me for the last 13 years. She told a story about a Christmas gift exchange where she ended up receiving Beth’s gift which I believe were slippers. There was some humor weaved in there because she had forgotten the gift, or she opened it late, or there was some mishap that seemed very Beth-like. She shared how she kept meaning to call Beth afterwards and thank her for the gift. I honestly can’t remember if she shared that she did call her or if she intended to and never got the chance, but what I do know was that her message was to not wait to tell the people closest to you how you feel. I have thought of this nearly everyday since then. So if you’re thinking of writing a letter to someone….do it. Do it today. Don’t let the busyness of life distract you from delivering your message in whatever format you’re sending it in. It was in no way convenient to write 30 letters – but I wasn’t going to waste one more day not telling these 30 people the things I love and admire about them most.
Don’t Wait for Perfect – Along the same lines as above, it’s so easy to wait for things to be perfect before acting. This has applied to all the goals I’ve done this year for this blog, but applies here too. In 30 days, I can’t tell you how many letters I wrote where my handwriting was slanted, the ink smeared because I’m left handed, or I made a spelling error 3/4 of the way down the page and had to scratch it out. Not to mention the times I was having to wake up at 5am to have time to write them, or staying up until 11:30pm, or toting stationary around with me in my bag in case I had a few extra minutes between plans. None of it was perfect and all of it was messy. But I did it anyway. Trust me when I say, people would rather receive your imperfect message over no message at all. The best card I’ve ever received from my Grandma Dona was the one where she randomly added too many letters on the end of the word “Grandma” and simply circled it, drew a line to it, and put a question mark beside it. Those imperfections give it character.
What’s in a Middle Name? – I was very intentional about using the first and middle name of every letter recipient this month. There were a few reasons for this, some more serious than others. First, I’ve spent so much time chatting with pregnant friends about what they will name their babies. Typically, the middle name is established first and has some sort of family meaning, tradition, or special reason behind it. I figure, if your parents put so much into picking out your middle name, the least I can do is put it in a handwritten letter. Second, it’s almost like a special bond friends have when you know each others middle name. Third, I’ve had this realization in the last few years that when I receive a wedding invitation, graduation invitation, or attend a funeral – those are the only times middle names are used. They are formal events for people you feel you know so well, yet, you read their middle name on the piece of paper and if you didn’t know it before then you feel in that moment you didn’t know them at all. I thought using middle names added a personal touch which was my indirect way of saying ‘you’re important to me, I know you well, I acknowledge the name your mother gave you with such meaning.’
Write to Those on the Periphery – The expected thing for me to do this month would be to write a letter to my husband, my parents, and my best friends. That would’ve taken up a quarter of the letter writing days and would’ve been speedy for me to whip up. The reality is, those people know I think of them often. They know I love them. They know the role they play in my life and I tell them or show them on a constant and daily basis – I make this a priority in my life. My intention this month was to reach grandparents (because grandparents love hearing from their grandkids), family who are so important to me but don’t hear the daily affirmation from me, and those friends who I loosely refer to as living on the periphery. The friends who played a strong role for a season of my life but are a constant presence in my thoughts. The friends who you claim you’ll make plans with and then never do. The friends who, from afar, you carry empathy for when you see they’ve lost someone, or you feel joy when you see they got married or had a baby even if you never end up meeting their spouse or child. The friends that you care so much about but for some odd reason you just don’t tell them. So…I decided to tell them.
Become a Spy – When I started this goal I got a lot of “how are you going to get the addresses of all those people?” “how will you figure out everyone’s middle name if you don’t already know it?” Google. Give me 5 seconds and I could tell you your middle name, your mom’s maiden name, and how much you paid for your house. Saying you don’t have someone’s address is no longer a valid excuse for not writing someone these days.
When in Doubt, List Ten Things – The hardest part of writing a letter to someone is what to say. With social media, half of my letter recipients already know what’s going on in my life at a surface level and vice versa. My recommendation is to just send someone a list of 10 things you love about them. Nearly all of my letters were 10 things that come to mind when I think of that person. You may think they know this stuff already, but chances are they don’t….and if they do…who doesn’t love to read it on paper?! Heck, jot it on a napkin and throw a stamp on it and send it. Write. Share.
Bring Tissues – If you sit down and turn on some good music, get out stationary and a new favorite pen, and then start writing 10 things you love about someone….you will cry. I cried through most of my letters. I cried because I cared so much. I cried because I can’t believe I waited so long to say some of these things to people. I cried because I was tired. I cried because I actually had 30 people to write letters to. I cried because I was laughing so hard. I cried because I was crying.
Say Cheese – Take pictures. Be in pictures. Forget about bad hair days and planned weight loss that hasn’t happened yet and no make up and weird lighting. Just take pictures with people. One of the most time consuming parts of my goal this month was blogging, and even more so because I was adding a photo of everyone along the way. I was bummed to know that there were a handful of people I didn’t have a picture with in the last 20 years. I would’ve even taken an imperfect picture over no picture.
Trends in Your Friends – After I had written a handful of letters and blog posts detailing some of my favorite things about my letter recipients, I started to notice a trend in the type of company I keep. Some of the words I would use to describe them started to feel similar. My friends are well educated, they’re loyal, and they’re fearless. From the 4 year old I wrote to, to the neighbor who lives in an RV and travels the US, to the wife of my husbands best friend….a diverse group with core similarities. As a lover of psychology and someone who is fascinated by social behaviors, I found it interesting to compare the types of people who show up in my life.
Stay the Course – Probably not the first time I’ve mentioned this sentiment. I wanted to quit on this goal here and there. By day 22 I was drained. Chris reminded me of how happy this goal was probably making people and how I was almost done. If you’ve set your mind on something, especially if you know your end date, stay the course. It will pay off.
Bonus info: you can buy stamps at any grocery store at the service desk.
I did it!