dear reader, be authentic
By todd nordstrom in Culture and Work We Love
“He’s dead,” she said.
“Oh,” I responded. And this begins the story of the man who has inspired me the most.
Inspiration often arrives at your doorstep when you least expect it. Maybe you hear a story about someone who achieved a level of greatness amidst trying situations. Maybe an unexpected person steps forward to say they admire something you’re doing. Or maybe someone calls out your marginal efforts and tells you they expect more.
I’ve been inspired by many people in my life—and for various reasons. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to stand next to and work with a great number of the most successful business leaders in the world. But the person who actually inspired me the most in my writing career did none of the above. He never achieved much. He wasn’t successful. He didn’t have a grand impact on many people, an industry, a product, or a business whatsoever.
“He left me as the executor of his will,” said my mother, the day he died. “Your dad went to his house today to clean out his refrigerator.”
“Oh,” I responded.
“It’s strange,” said my mother. “We were there for just minutes and we’ve already found handfuls of letters.”
My mother was speaking about her cousin Stanley—a man our family knew, but by no stretch of the imagination had a close relationship with. Stanley Pera was a nice guy. I knew him during my teenage years. He never had a career—just some odd jobs as a handy man. He also never shared too much personal information with anyone. Basically, he surrendered his entire adult life caring for his mentally challenged mother and brother.
“Letters to whom?” I asked.
“That’s the strange part,” my Mom replied. “Every letter begins with the salutation Dear Reader… Maybe that means he left them to whoever would take the time to read them.”
I asked my Mom to send me Stanley’s letters. Of course, I expected to receive an envelope—maybe a handful of them. But a few days later my doorbell rang and outside my front door were two huge boxes containing thousands of Dear Reader letters spanning a 20-year time period.
Some of the letters talk about serious family issues. Others talk about guests on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, or the score of the baseball game. Some of the letters tell jokes. Some are very dark. None are very well written. However, regardless of the content—the spilling of his everyday life onto pieces of paper—there’s a bigger meaning to all of Stanley’s letters. And that meaning, makes Stanley my biggest inspiration.
I write for a career—choosing the most enticing words to share a concept. Stanley, on the other hand, simply wrote to share his true thoughts. And even though I’ve collected awards and credentials for my words, it was Stanley who made me realize something profound—that no matter what my credentials had become as a writer, and no matter how many people I had reached, I had yet to be 100% authentic.
We all have something to offer—ideas, experience, advice, and perspective. And although it may often feel like our thoughts aren’t important unless the whole world is paying attention, Stanley teaches us that the only thing that matters is that we share our thoughts (and our words) with the people who need us the most.
What I’ve learned from Stanley’s writings is this:
1) We’re all Stanley, but we shouldn’t be. Each of us wants to share our authentic selves with someone who will listen and care. And many of us might hide our thoughts because we think no one is listening. Stanley never assumed his letters would inspire me. And he surely never assumed they might inspire one of my readers.
2) We all have limited beliefs about the value of our ideas and thoughts. It can be terrifying to be authentic—because what if someone doesn’t like the real you? Just for a second, realize your fear isn’t unusual. So often we assume we’re the only people at work with silent thoughts like; “I know a better way to do this, if someone would listen.” Be the first to speak your opinion. You could walk away with accolades.
3) We all have an audience waiting to hear us. Sure, you may not be a blogger. You might not use social media. You might think no one is pining to hear your thoughts. But look around. You have a team, and a boss, and group of friends. You have a community and neighborhood. These are the audiences we often overlook. For me, I realized my real audience when my, then 6-year-old daughter, climbed up on my lap one night as I frantically punched keys to meet a deadline and said, “Daddy, are you ever going to write a story for me?”
With so much information being pumped into our subconscious minds on a daily basis, it’s no wonder we think our thoughts and ideas won’t be heard amongst the noise. Still, realize the last time someone caught your attention. Most likely it struck a nerve because of one simple ingredient—authenticity.
It came to me today—4:30 p.m.—that I did my mission in life. Or, I remained alive long enough so my mother and brother left before I did.
So, now I can end with the century that is about to end.
I’ll try to last until 2000 arrives, since my grandma told me that I had a chance to see 2000.
Our U.S. Olympic Athletes are also sharing their stories about who inspired them to become Olympians. We’re gathering the stories now and you’ll be able to read and vote for your favorite starting Friday, February 7th, the day of Opening Ceremonies. You can find inspiring stories from the last Winter Olympic Games on our Facebook page.