Monday, January 21, 2008

Encouragement Letters

What I've decided to do this year, as a result of the thoughts I discussed in my last post, is send encouraging letters to people whenever it occurs to me or I have the opportunity.

It's actually something I've been thinking about for quite a long time. Early last year I went to collect mail from our PO Box and my spirits were pretty low. Very early on, my kids noticed, "Those letters with windows are usually boring," and I have to say I agree with them. Yet the letters with windows are usually our most common, including bills, receipts, statements etc. On this day I had a small pile to glance through. Beneath a real-estate advert, medicare cheque and a couple of bank statements was a cheerful looking envelope covered with stickers. The very sight of it was enough to ignite a flicker of interest in me. Even though I hadn't opened it I knew it was going to be good.

It turned out to be from a 16-year-old girl who'd written to tell me that she enjoyed my fantasy novels. It took just a moment to read but really transformed my day. It was better than a dose of medicine. I went to bed thinking how powerful a few words of sincere encouragement can be. And the idea of making a sort of hobby of written encouragement has been on my mind ever since. If one person would commit themselves to writing just one encouraging letter per week, 52 people would be positively affected. If the same person would increase their output to two, more than 100 people would benefit. And if 10 people would commit to doing this, the grand total would escalate to more than 1000 positive letters. It would be a simple commitment that would involve no group meetings or evenings out. It's stayed on my mind all that time. So this year I'm beginning, and have already written a couple, either email or land mail.

You might ask why I waited for so long to start something so simple. Well, some of the thoughts of resistance that came up in my mind have been quite amazing! It's shown up all sorts of emotions that I wouldn't have wanted to admit were there.

1) The "What Difference will it really make?" question. Over the years I think I must've got into the mistaken habit of thinking that only the big actions are the ones that really count. You know, like being a missionary or a surgeon or a social worker. But hey, getting written encouragement is a fairly rare event these days. Who's to say that this sort of action won't bless and encourage people enormously maybe just when they need it? I now think it's probably a bigger mistake to assume that just because the action is small, the result will also be small. A bit of simple kindness, written or otherwise, may make a HUGE impact in the life of a person who is just doing their best to battle on like the rest of us. (Maybe too many of us assume that small actions will yield small results and that's why we decide not to bother.)

2) The "What's in it for me?" question. I admit, this one surprised me even more than the last one. I never would have dreamed how often I automatically ask myself this question until I started toying with this idea. For example, I was reticent to accept the offer of a flight to Brisbane and accomodation last year because of fear, but I reasoned, "I'll get book publicity, maybe meet some influential people, maybe even sell some books, so I'd better go." You see, it was the "What's in it for me?" question. It's actually been quite disturbing, to see how often this question motivates me without my even knowing! And for this encouragement letter idea, as far as personal ambition is concerned, there seemed to be no personal benefits as far as looking good and improving my career prospects are. I hate to admit it but I think it made an important impact so there it is in black and white.

3) The "What if I look silly?" question. This was the easiest to squelch. The thing is, it doesn't really matter. I'd rather appear slightly odd while sticking out my neck and doing a positive action than staying in my narrow comfort zone, looking 'normal' and making no positive difference at all.

Now I have to say, having sent about six encouragement letters to different individuals recently, all but one of them were acknowledged very promptly and that's given me quite a buzz that I hadn't anticipated. It actually is more fun than I anticipated to know that I made people happy with a kind word. Now that I committed myself to this, it's going to be fun.


  1. You are so right about this! I have to say, my comics are a work of all my readers who have taken the time to comment and encourage me to continue! I appreciate it. And I try to pay it forward by commenting on other blogs that inspire yours!

    Peace and Laughter!

  2. wow, Paula, what a great idea. I love getting letters or emails. I prefer to type even though I love handwritten. My hands cramp up pretty bad, but it's so much fun to get a letter.

  3. I'm trying to send more personal letters this year rather than emails as I just love the buzz of getting of letter rather than a bill! I've only sent 2 so far, but that's about 2 more than last year lol. I also sent an email off to a local non-profit organisation before Xmas to let them know how much we appreciated the kid's activities they put on - they were thrilled to get some acknowledgement & I was thrilled that they were thrilled! I must keep doing it.

  4. What a wonderful idea!! I love visiting here as I often get great ideas and inspirations from you!

  5. This is the first time that I have read your site. I have enjoyed it. Thank you for the encouragement. I am also a home school mom. I am 39 and have two sons age 8 and 10. I live in Fredonia Kansas USA. I am thinking about blogging but I've never written in my life.