I’d been meaning to round off my first chapter in Thriving, Decoded by not simply talking about Adverse Childhood Experiences and the things that may have shaped the lens we see the world through, but to take a look at how wonderful things that happened to us in our, the people in our early lives who nurtured and cared, who bore witness to our struggles and added positivity to help us survive.
But I couldn’t figure out how exactly. While creating a course and book simultaneously that is meant to help others, my own life has felt overwhelming and deserving of jaw-clenching these days.
Between wrapping up a non-traditional career in which the gender divide seems to have grown as I’ve supervised probation for the past decade plus, in which the constant change of state government, the opioid addiction crisis, the stark lack of funding for good mental health services in the community have raised the intensity of what has always been serious yet important work. The volume of conflict required to fight the good fight has become a lot, lot, lot. And it doesn’t bring out my best qualities. Nor does the cumulative darkness, cold, and piles of gorgeous winter snow.
Saturday, I listened to an interview with author Nancy Davis Kho, who talked about her process of writing fifty letters to people who had helped her at different segments of her life as her fiftieth birthday approached. She spoke about the transformational process that began, ultimately leading to a book called The Thank You Project, Cultivating Happiness, One Letter of Gratitude at a Time.
My mind immediately began thinking about this exercise. As I went out to shovel the snow off my roof and balcony, I found my neighbor already getting his snow blower ready to clear my driveway. He told me his daughter died last week, and his pipes froze solid just afterward, leading to much damage in his home.
Before I could say anything, he yelled out to another neighbor whose life has recently fallen apart, saying, “Don’t worry. I got you next.”
I headed out an hour later to run some errands but got a call from someone I dated for several years, whom I haven’t enjoyed a real conversation with in the ten years following our ending.
It was so unexpected. My mind immediately went to the times when he patiently listened as I dealt with one daughter’s then-serious health problems that have thankfully resolved, and the other’s foray into a deep mental health crisis that never fully will. How fortunate I was to have had him then. How beautiful it was to end with positive regard, knowing that his perfect partner that he would (and did) eventually meet was out there, but we’d both grown and changed during our time together.
We had tea after the call. It was my chance to try out the thank you project. It was wonderful and cathartic and bittersweet.
As I go through this challenging time of transition, leaving a career, creating another, and stepping out of my comfort zone, this is a discipline I intend to carry forward. I have many yet to thank. Neighbors, coworkers, teachers, friends, strangers, and family.
I encourage you to consider it also. Think about a time in the past when someone, a teacher, a neighbor, or a family member who didn’t need to, reached out to make a difference. Then, consider letting them know, or journaling about it if they’re unable to be contacted.
Science confirms that positive childhood experiences can counterbalance the adverse ones, leading to lessened depression or poor mental health outcomes for their recipient.
It’s amazing when you think about who has helped you in life’s journey. It’s equally engaging to think about how you can be that agent of support for someone who would never expect it.
I can’t wait to hear about what you come up with.