Last week, we talked about the ways our words could propel new graduates into their bright and shiny futures. Today, we take a minute to think about the people whose words brought life to us. Remember your teacher, mentor, coach, or parent who said the right thing at the right time, who wrote the letter, who sent the care package, who bought the book for you, and it made all the difference?

There were dozens of people in my own life whose words (and the actions to back them up) gave me courage to succeed: my middle school track coach and English teacher Keith Puckett, whose mantra, “Don’t count the minutes; make the minutes count,” still rings through my head; my seventh grade English teacher Kurt Bullock who loaned me a book, which I never returned, and fanned the flame of my writerly desires; my high school English teachers Martha Craver and Harriett Dobson who solidified my love of reading; my college journalism professor, Marilyn Walker, who gave me a C on my first assignment because that’s what she did, and then hired me to be a lab assistant and drove two hours to my graduation open house to eat sheet cake and endure my uncle’s teasing; my first graduate school professor, Dr. Richard Turner, who gae me an A because of my work ethic and told me to go be a writer. And there are so many others: my parents, stepparents, grandparents, siblings, bosses, pastors … should I go on? How do we say thank you to those whose words were life to us?


Here are five ideas.

  1. Write them a letter. Seriously. They’d probably be creeped out to realize it, but if you are persistent enough with a Google search, you can probably find the addresses of the people from your past. And if the person you are thanking happens to have been one of your teachers, she’ll be thrilled to see how much your handwriting has improved since second grade.
  2. Forget the letter; go visit them and tell them in person how much they mean to you. Don’t wait until they’re sick or dying to visit, a la Tuesdays with Morrie, though that’s as a good a reason as any. But do go. You won’t regret the effort, and you’ll likely make their day.
  3. Honor them with a public tribute. Whether it’s a simple blog post (like this one!), a retirement roast, or even a eulogy, never pass up the opportunity to publicly recognize others’ commitment to your success. When my stepdad passed away nearly two years ago, I knew I wouldn’t be composed enough to stand up and speak during his Celebration of Life service. But since I am a writer, the best way I knew to honor his years of love and sacrifice for me was to write a eulogy. The pastor officiating the service read it aloud for me.
  4. Send them a note when something great happens to you. I know, this one sounds like bragging. But guess what? It’s not bragging when you are telling the person who helped you what a difference they made in your life. Last December at one of our On Being a Writer* book signing events, both Ann and I had sent invitations to our former high school teachers and two of them came to celebrate with us! And neither one scolded us for being too full of ourselves; instead, they said, “We always knew you would do this!” I told Mrs. Dobson: “I blame you for this!” We both laughed.
  5. Pass it on. Most people who invest in the lives of others aren’t looking for a thank you or a pat on the back. They are looking to make a difference. And their influence continues every time you pass their wisdom on to others, every time your words bring life to the people around you.

Come up with a plan today to say thank you.

Photo by The Shopping Sherpa, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

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