Columnists
Let's Reminisce: The value of writing notes to yourself
By Jerry Lincecum
Jan 2, 2019
Print this page
Email this article

Here's a fresh approach to making New Year's Resolutions. The morning news program I watch has come up with an interesting idea for those of us who are looking for a way to do a little constructive self assessment. Itís called "Note to Myself," and they have enlisted a number of prominent Americans to illustrate the concept.  Judging from the ones Iíve seen so far, these notes make interesting and insightful reading.

Since Iím a proud alumnus of Duke University, Iíll illustrate with their famed basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski.  Coach Kís note to himself reflects on the importance of schoolyard games in shaping his life and career: ďThose games you play . . . are laying a foundation for your future as a member and leader of teams.Ē  He goes on to acknowledge the importance of his motherís influence, telling his adolescent self ďIt won't be long before you realize that she is your first hero. Your passion for creating opportunities for the next generation begins with her, as does your sense of humor. . . . She is selfless and courageous.Ē  How many of us as adolescents felt that at times our mom or dad was maybe pushing us too hard?

A different kind of note came from astronaut Peggy Whitson, who wrote to her younger self from space: ďYou just watched on TV as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon. Although at the time, it was an unbelievable moment in history, seeing it with your own eyes made it real and believable and achievable.Ē  She admonished herself to think of these moments as planting a seed of inspiration which it was up to her to nourish and grow into reality.  Obviously her words and example are meant to encourage other young women and men not to underestimate their potential abilities.  As children many of us needed to be told that we could become more capable than we thought possible at the time.

Another notable example begins this way: ďI am writing to a 12-year-old Jimmy Carter, although I am now 90. As you now live and work on a farm in south Georgia and have just reached your highest goal of learning to plow a field with two mules, I hope you will not limit the other ambitions of your life.Ē  He goes on to suggest to his younger self that he should remember the advice from one of his schoolteachers: to adapt to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.
President Carterís note and other examples have inspired me to write a note to my own teenage self.  Maybe it will lead you to think back over some of your youthful experiences that turned out to be important to your later life.

Dear Jerry:

Growing up on a farm, youíve had to learn some basic skills that you donít expect to prepare you for a future career: milking a cow, planting corn, stacking bales of hay.  And you donít see a role model in your schoolteacher grandfather, whom all the neighbors address as Mr. Prof or Professor Jones, but you need to pay more attention to Granddaddy and listen to his life stories.  The sense of humor and love of history he personifies will become assets to you.

A career in education will become your chosen path, and incredibly, you will become a college professor who succeeds because of the curiosity and love of learning you observed in your parents and grandparents. Take advantage of the spirit of openness to new ideas and experiences that your extended family encourages, because it will make your life meaningful long after you have retired from the classroom.

Your knowledge of books and writers will be the means, but not the goal in your teaching.  The end is always the interaction with others in ways that promote their learning and growth.  So even as a teenager, you need to reach out and empathize with others.  The attitudes you cultivate early in life will shape your personality and profile as a teacher and member of society.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired English professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: jlincecum@me.com