On being ... a note to self

By Ingrid Sapona

Writing a letter to your “teenage self” is quite popular these days. The idea is to write from where you are now to the person you were as a teen, offering advice based on insights you’ve learned from living your life.

Such letters have also become a popular way of dispensing wisdom and advice. CBS Morning News occasionally features “Note to Self” pieces by well-known people. The theory, I guess, is that these famous folks have insights into their own lives that the rest of us can learn from. The CBS pieces are usually interesting, though not necessarily because of what you might learn from the person featured but because of what you might learn about them and their life. But, ultimately, I think the true value of the “note to self” letter comes from actually sitting down and writing one. It seems like a great way to take stock of your life and the lessons you’ve learned from various experiences.

But that’s not the only kind of “note to self” I’ve been thinking about lately. A resignation letter that appeared in the newsletter of an organization I belong to got me thinking about what can happen when someone “takes note” of a dream or vision they have – even if the notice they take is fleeting or seemingly inconsequential.

The resignation was written by Juliette (not her real name), the manager of the organization. After saying how much she enjoyed the work and the people – and how much she’ll miss it – she explained her reason for leaving. Seems she and her husband have bought a boat that they’ll be sailing south on and living aboard in the Caribbean. Other than the fact that Juliette is 20+ years shy of what most people think of as retirement age (her husband is closer to the traditional retirement age), the story isn’t particularly unusual – at least not in my social circles.   

But, what really got me thinking was a story she closed the letter with. She mentioned that in her university yearbook – in response to the question of what she saw in her future – she wrote: “buy a boat, sail into the sunset, and return to shore only for supplies and Jimmy Buffett concerts”.

Given the reference to Jimmy Buffett and the hackneyed “sailing into the sunset” comment, I thought she was probably joking. But, the next time I saw her, I couldn’t resist asking if that story was true. Laughing about how many folks have asked her about it, she confirmed that, in fact, that’s what she wrote in the yearbook. In talking with her, it was clear that even she seemed surprised at the turn of events that have led her to this next chapter of her life, as she put it.

One of the reasons I like that story is because it speaks to the power of putting visions – dreams – into words. My guess is that what she wrote in the yearbook she meant more as a humorous response than as a comment on her life goals. And yet, the future she wrote about has come to pass. Though I don’t know her too well, I certainly don’t think she single-mindedly pursued that “dream”. Instead, she probably simply went on with her life. But, by putting the idea out there – even rather lightheartedly – on some level her subconscious acknowledged it and led her to choices that have resulted in her sailing off into the sunset.

The story also resonated with me because it reminded me of a vision I had when I was 17 about where I would end up. It happened one day when my parents and I were visiting Toronto from Buffalo. I was standing in the square in front of Toronto city hall and all of a sudden I thought: “this would be a good city for me to live in some day – a place I’d be happy”. Talk about a note to self!

Though the thought definitely registered, it seemed a far-fetched idea and so I ignored it and got on with life. I went to university and grad school and then started my career. But, looking back, I can see a lot of little steps and choices I made along the way that created the pathway that brought me to Toronto – a place I am, indeed, happy.

What about you? Any notes to self that your subconscious might be quietly working on? Don’t know? Well, maybe you should dig out your year book…

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


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