I just received an email from someone who started getting my newsletter about a decade ago, and still reads it every week. In the email, she mentioned her favorite posts, one of which I had completely forgotten about.
I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude to her for reaching out, and for allowing me to be a part of her life for so long. It had me reflecting on what we create, and how over the years, it helps us learn more about who we are, and how we shape the lives of others.
I want to share three things today. The first is a reposting of one of the emails she referenced — the one I had forgotten writing. Then I want to share a story she shared that blew me away, and then end on something very special to me.
“We Take The Songs Of Old, And We Sing Them Into The Future.”
What is the song you will leave behind?
A song that others will sing long after you are gone?
I don’t mean this from just your entire life, but even a single interaction you have with another. What do you leave behind that inspires them, grows in them, affects them in a positive way, and helps shape their actions?
Perhaps it is a story, or an attitude, an experience, or knowledge. Something about you that lives on in others, that they embrace, come to embody, and in doing so, a small part of you lives on far into the future. Not as merely a memory, but an action. That the actions and attitudes of others are shaped by you, long after your time here and now is gone.
This has been a theme that I have been obsessed with this year.
I work with writers and creative professionals, focusing on how they can craft their work, engage an audience, and have their ideas shape the lives of others.
This is something that is sometimes hard for a writer, an artist, a musician to fully understand or embrace. Their work will essentially be remixed, and evolve without them. You can write a song from your heart, but you can’t control what others hear in it; what it means to them. Same with a book and most forms of creative work. You write it from the context of your life, but it is read in the context of someone else’s life.
One of my favorite singers, Glen Hansard, performed a medley of songs back in 2010 that I often listen to. It includes “Parting Glass,” which he describes this way:
“That’s an old Irish song from the 16th century, made famous by The Clancy Brothers. All the Clancy brothers have passed. I guess in oral tradition, you take the songs of old, and you sing them and you sing them and you sing them and you sing them into the future.”
Glen sings another song in this medley, “Heyday” – a hopeful song by his friend Mic Christopher who passed away after an accident in 2001. As Glen travels the world, he sings Mic’s songs to new people he meets. In a tiny way, Mic’s attitude and ideas live on. His music lives on.
Recently I read something that moved me in the deepest ways, and I can’t think of anything more appropriate to share as we end this year, and enter a new one. This was written by someone I used to work with, Jeff DeBalko. We stay connected on social media and via email, but seeing this written on his Tumblr really gave me so much to consider:
“On Father’s Day in 1996, my son Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia… his treatment was 2 1/2 years. During that time there were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of rushed drives to the hospital, and the incredible anxiety and fear of every test to see if the cancer had returned. Ryan, unfortunately has been left with severe developmental disabilities. At 20 years old, he struggles to read and write, struggles to tell time or do any kind of math, is unable to tie his shoes, and has a hard time walking down stairs without help. When he was 16, he was diagnosed with Epilepsy, likely caused by brain damage from the chemo, and now takes daily medication to reduce seizures.”
But what Jeff takes from this, and how it affects his daily life is inspiring to me:
“Despite all his challenges, Ryan is truly the happiest and most appreciative person I have ever known… It’s amazing how your child getting cancer can straighten out your priorities very quickly and make you realize that there are very few things in life worth arguing about.”
“Even with what has happened to Ryan, our family realizes how lucky we are. Many of the friends we met in those early days in the hospital lost their son or daughter. Out of this tragedy came many great things and great lessons… We cherish every single day together and enjoy every vacation and holiday together. All because of Ryan.”
All of this is not to say that daily life cannot be a big challenge for Ryan, Jeff, and their family. But the perspective that they take from their experiences helps create more special moments than bad days.
As I look forward to next year, I am keeping this in mind. How fortunate we are to have the opportunity to create. To not just create books or songs or art, but to create moments for others. That these experiences become the building blocks for their lives, as they are inspired and informed by the work that you shared with them.
That it is not about living up to expectations, but honoring who we are, and the magic and beauty in that.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned a woman who reached out to me; she is a writer named Rebecca Nimerfroh, and she shared a piece about how a photo that her husband took went viral, and how it affected his life and career.
You can read the full piece here. What jumped out at me was how going viral was at the intersection of doing what came natural — his instinct to create — and sheer luck. It wasn’t about trying to find a shortcut, following “best practices,” or reverse-engineering it.
She ends the piece with this advice: “Someone once said that luck is simply preparedness meets opportunity. Be prepared. And dream away.”
That advice resonates — that we can’t expect success, but we can prepare for it. That the process should be one of honoring who we are, not rejecting it in the search for fame — the quest to “fit in.”
Be More Like Yourself
I want to leave you with my favorite thing on the internet, ever. I have watched this video countless times, and to me it speaks to where the ability to create great work comes from, as well as a sense of personal fulfillment. It encourages you to be more like yourself, instead of trying to fit into what others expect of you: