Acknowledging that You Matter
Towards the end of 2015 I decided that 2016 would simply be better. There were no rules, no expectations, and no resolutions. I owe many of the decisions I made, trips I took, family I visited, courses I purchased, adventures I got myself into, people I connected with, paintings I created, and retreats I attended, to it.
I also committed myself to sending a hand written card a day for the first 100 days of the year, to people who had impacted my life in small or big ways. I’d like to share the details of this journey with you, in case you’d like to commit to acknowledging others in your life, and to spread joy in a similar way or in your own unique way.
I kept going until the 120th day of the year, and then I slowed it down. As I write this post I can share that, since January 1st 2016, I mailed “approximately” (I’ll explain it later) 202 hand written and hand-made cards. After sending the first ten greeting cards, I started hand drawing something on cardstock paper with words that represented the person I was sending the card too. They were personalized, and it brought me great joy to hear that one person had framed the card, while a few others told me they placed it on their fridge, or sent me pictures of it on their walls or altars.
To make it more feasible, during the week I’d decide who I’d like to send cards to, and try to get people’s addresses. On Sundays I’d write six or seven cards and mail them on Monday.
The main logistical challenge was indeed getting people’s addresses. About seven or eight people I intended to send cards to never responded to my request. Two of them I had created the card before asking their address, and I managed to give one of the cards in person, and I took a picture of the other one and sent via Facebook messenger. Another issue was learning that international stamps were twice more expensive because I was using a 6”x9” envelope (which I had bought a box of with 100 units), so after they were done, I started folding the cards in three to fit in a smaller envelope.
The main emotional challenge was to let go of any attachment that the recipient would thank me, would show appreciation, or would respond in any particular way if at all. It was a good thing that I kept releasing it, as about 30% of them never said anything. When the project first started, I would count how many days it would take for people to receive it, and be in anticipation mode wondering how they felt about it. Then, I learned to keep practicing releasing and letting go. Especially when people very close to me wouldn’t say anything and I would start wondering why for a moment, but then I would choose to reinforce the intention to release my expectations. Some of those did end up sending me a message several weeks later saying that they loved the card, and had meant to send a card back but never got around to it.
In addition, there were several people who never said anything until they saw me in person even a couple of months later. At that point I had counted it as either the card didn’t mean anything to them, or they thought it was odd that I sent them such a card, (sounds like the inner critic was alive and well, doesn’t it?) or perhaps it had been lost in the mail… and to have them still remember to thank me months later, it felt special and nurturing.
About 5% of them responded with beautiful, heartfelt cards that I treasure deeply. A couple of people told me that they got motivated to start their own tradition of sending hand written cards, and that was inspiring.
The most touching responses came from two people who had recently lost loved ones (I didn’t know about it), and they felt that the card had a deeper meaning to them.
One of my favorite experiences was sending a card to a person I knew only virtually through the Sunday mornings tweet chat #Spiritchat. After I sent her the card, she responded with a card, and an invite for us to meet in NY the next time she would be in the city. We met for lunch and it was wonderful to move our virtual relationship into the real world, as it certainly deepened our connection.
Two of the cards were actually never mailed or delivered – I wrote one to a friend who passed away in 2012, and one to another who passed away last year, on their birthdays. I figured the post office wouldn’t be able to reach them, and trusted that they would somehow receive it. And on my birthday I made a card to myself (the front of it is pictured in this post).
While some cards were hand delivered, most were mailed to several cities in the United States, and a few to other countries including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Spain, and Turkey.
About eight cards were simple thank you notes, but the majority had more personal messages of how they impacted my life or how they inspired me either recently or years earlier, with a reminder that the person receiving the card matters. A few people commented on how receiving a card with the message – “know that you matter”, made a difference for them, several saying that the card and message arrived in perfect timing.
I sent three cards to people who have impacted my life through their email newsletters or Facebook posts, even though we never met. Although they responded when I requested their addresses, none of them acknowledged receiving it. Several “friends” on social media whom I never met in person or even over the phone, but inspired me through their posts, also received cards. And I hand delivered one to a Rite Aid worker. One evening I was coming back from work stressed out and sad, and when I went to pay for my purchase, she talked to me and somehow my mood shifted. A few weeks later I gave her a card.
I probably ended up writing cards to 195 people as at least three people received more than one card.
What I gained and learned from it?
- Writing the cards and having a creative outlet to draw and write kept me sane through a stressful period.
- Learning that the process of creating was already a gift to me, even when it wasn’t recognized in some way, was more than enough.
- Not having any expectations gave space to being overwhelmingly surprised by the sweet and thoughtful responses I did get, via Twitter, Facebook, text messages, emails, in person, even some phone calls and actual cards. Every single one of them touched my heart.
- Staying focused on the positive difference people were making in my life, or had made over the years, certainly helped me have a better year all together.
- Knowing that I lightened someone’s day, sometimes in a big way, with a simple act, touched my heart.
- Acknowledging and reminding others that they matter had a deeper impact than I could have ever imagined.
- Being able to send and receive kindness and love expanded my heart in a meaningful way.
- Growing appreciation for others, and receiving appreciation back somehow helped me to grow my own self-appreciation, and that perhaps has been the biggest gift of all.
- You Matter.
- I matter too.
I invite you to consider if you’d like to commit to a daily practice that could impact you and others. Would you choose to send cards? Would you need to call people more and text less? Would you commit to inviting people you don’t normally see, for coffee/tea once a week? (I did it too, and it was wonderful to keep connecting with people in person – I recommend it).
As the project comes to an end, I keep thinking of other people who impacted my life and I could have sent cards to, but haven’t done so yet. And in case you are wondering, know that you do indeed matter (no matter what your inner critic may say).
Feel free to share how you plan to impact yourself and others in the new year.
May 2017 be the year that you expand your capacity to practice self-love, self-acceptance, self-appreciation, self-expression, and that you inspire others to do the same for themselves.
Happy New Year!
PS. I got inspiration to do this project when I read on Kindspring.org about someone who sent 365 thank you notes in one year, and then wrote a book about it.