September 27, 2023

A Letter Written by You

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Seven years ago, almost to the day, I started a small tradition called, New Year's Letters. The challenge was simple:

Before October 1st, handwrite a letter to yourself that you will open on January 1st. The letter is due by the end of day on October 1st. Seal it in an envelope and keep it somewhere safe.

It was a way to pause and recalibrate before the quickening pace of the fall and holiday events.

I’ve continued that tradition every year since. The letters have created pinpoints on the map of my life and career — charting where I’ve been and where I keep returning. I just looked back at my very first letter. It was special to read (and a little tough). Here’s how it started:

Dear Victor,
You’re writing this letter while on the mend from the toughest year you’ve had in a long time. Your dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of your grand ideas didn’t work, and one of your closest relationships fell apart...

But I love reading how it ended:

Not only are you still standing, but you’re moving forward. You continue to ask meaningful questions, build solid communities, and creatively approach helping people take their next leaps in life and work.

The questions you have won’t be answered in the next three months. But keep doing the small things well. Exercise. Sleep. Eat well. Write. Read. Reflect. Ask for help when needed. Be surprisingly generous. And focus on only a couple of important things each day.

Your answers will come. And even if they don’’ll be healthy and well. It’s going to be ok, Vic. Keep going.

A Powerful Practice

I’ve become more aware of the benefits of this type of practice. What began as a simple personal tradition actually has roots in how the best leaders and teams grow. In this Harvard Business Review piece, they note that "the habit of reflection can separate extraordinary professionals from mediocre ones. We would go so far as to argue that it’s the foundation that all other soft skills grow from."

In other words, those who engage in regular reflection have heightened emotional intelligence and make more informed decisions. They’re leaders with vision, clarity, and purpose. All of this is why part of our core curriculum with teams is Leading Self.

So, I’m asking you to join me again, to pause long enough to check in with yourself before the hustle of the final weeks of the year.

Here’s been my approach:

1) Schedule time to write the letter between now and Sunday. 30-60 minutes should do.

2) Handwrite the letter. Get off your computer or phone. Grab a pen and piece of paper. Handwritten letters are always more fun, especially when it’s your own handwriting.

3) Place your letter in an envelope. On the front of the envelope, write Dear ____(your name). And the words “Do not open until January 1st, 2024.” Slide the letter onto a bookshelf, tack it to a board, or tuck it into a drawer. Make sure it’s easy enough to find in three months.

What to write about?

There are no limitations here. The audience is you. What do you want to remember about your year thus far? What have you seen? What did you accomplish in your work? Who have you met? How have you changed? What do you wish were different? What have you celebrated?

Special Edition Letter: 2024 Leap Year

Since 2024 is a Leap Year, I’m also inviting you to begin thinking about the changes you’re curious about in your life and work. What are small projects or changes you might want to pursue next year? Do you want to start your meditation practice, compete in a race, plan a special trip, facilitate your first team retreat, launch a new product, or service? Use your time of reflection to begin thinking about how 2024, a Leap Year, could be a season of learning and growth.

Compile all of those memories, thoughts, wisdom, and ideas before the year speeds to an end. Use the sunlight of the summer and the freshness of the fall to capture important words before the cold takes over and the noise of “resolutions” rises. Then, as you start 2024, you’ll have your own words as clues and guides for your next leaps.

Sign Up For a Reminder

If you choose to participate in this little tradition, can you leave your name/email address here: The team and I will send a quick reminder on Sunday, October 1st and again on January 1st. That’s all.

So go on, schedule those 30 minutes, turn everything off, and write that letter. We’ll be doing this with you.


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