As an adult, I am so grateful for this habit my mom passed along to me. It's a wonderful thing to receive a special gift just for you, picked out and given so lovingly from someone you love who loves you right back, and maybe even more wonderful to get to send them a personal note of gratitude afterwards. When I receive a thank you note, it makes my heart glow. It feels so good to create a small but mighty memento of thanks and put it out into the world.
Many of us probably write thank yous to people we know, but what about thank yous to the creative people in your life you admire and have learned loads from that you have never met? Do you ever include them in your thank you habit? I never used to, because I feared being perceived as too mushy, emotional, intense, weird, or stalker-ish (yup, that's a word now). But I slowly realized that gratitude and enthusiasm are not things to be feared, but expressed. If I never said thank you to a wonderful teacher or mentor or artist I admire, they would never have an idea of the extent of their magical powers to affect others and the world with their gifts. I've seen too many wonderful humans rightfully praised at their memorial services, and all I can think is "Did they have any idea about these expressions of thanks while they were alive? Did they know how much they meant to other people?" Why do we wait? Why not share it NOW, when the person is still alive to hear it?
Nowadays? I am a Gratitude Queen. I still try to keep up with my holiday and birthday thank yous, but have also sent thank you notes and cards to anyone and everyone whose words, actions, or work move me in some way, regardless of whether they are a stranger or not.
High school music teachers.
Professors from undergrad.
Theatre teacher mentors.
Graduate school professors.
Authors whose work I love.
Musicians whose work I love.
Actors whose work I love.
Politicians whose efforts to support human rights I admire.
Podcasts that I listen to and that have helped me immensely.
I once gave Elizabeth Gilbert a homemade card at a book signing she hosted in Portland, Maine. When I gave her the card, I said "I'm such a dork, I made you a card." I was so nervous. Would she call security? Nope. She looked at me and smiled and said "Oh my gosh. You made me a CARD?" and later gave me a huge hug and told me I was lovely. I nearly melted. I was so glad I went for it and let her know how much her work and life has truly affected the way I live my life. The butterflies I had in advance were worth it.
I also got to shake the hand of Matthew Caws, the lead singer for Nada Surf, one of my all time favorite bands once after a show in Boston. I didn't bear hug him or freak out too much, but I let myself grin pretty big and tell him that their album Let Go really helped me during a dark time in my life. "Thank you." I said. He smiled back and said "Thanks. It helped me, too." Is there anything cooler than connection?
When I was thirteen, I *may* have also sent a fan letter to Leonardo DiCaprio letting him know I knew we were meant for each other, and if he could just get over the geographic divide and age different, I know he'd be convinced, too. I imagined him reading it and taking a long walk on the beach to think through how our first date would go. In reality, as an adult, I am guessing it was probably an unpaid intern who sat in an un-air conditioned office in Burbank, CA who saw this truly creepy letter I wrote, and tossed it into a giant garbage can of other creepy letters from other star struck teenagers (they may not have recycled in those days). Oh well. It was cathartic for me at the time.
Push aside the fear that your high school chemistry teacher will think you are strange for tracking down their email or that your favorite actor will have you hauled away for sending a short and sweet expression of thanks for being so awesome via Twitter. Think of the last time you made something and someone actually contacted you to tell you thanks, that is helped them in some way. How did it feel? Most likely, if they were were polite and succinct, you savored the moment of connection. So why not give that gift to someone who has given so much to you?
Note: It's also wonderful to send a note of thanks to someone who is just starting out with their world changing, to let them know you're really enjoying the podcast, blog, music, or whatever it is that they are making. Let them know that you look forward to following along! Support early in your artistic adventures goes a LONG way, and I suspect that your note might just make their day.
The way I see it, life is about sharing stories and experiences to let other people know that they are not alone and that what they are doing every day matters to someone. Go ahead. Embrace the vulnerable part of yourself and choose someone (or three or four people!) today to send a short thank you to. Heck, with technology being the way it is in 2017, you can choose from snail mail, email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram...the list goes on. Whether they write back or not, I promise you that you will feel good about it.