Feedback Can Be A Long Time Coming

Even though NaBloPoMo is over, I plan to continue my pre-November posting schedule of 5 days/week. I like this posting cadence but realize – especially after the recent volume of content – it might seem like a lot. To anyone feeling a bit weary of consuming and commenting, just pop by when you feel like it. Let’s imagine this space has a big front door, left ajar for you to stop by whenever you’ve got the time. I’ll leave the kettle on…no need to knock.

I was a rather…introverted child. Between living in a rural area, being the baby of the family (by almost a decade), and attending a very small church-based school, I didn’t have many friends – or opportunities to make them.

But through a series of fortunate circumstances, I befriended a girl named Mary – and her two brothers – when I was 8 or 9. We spent countless hours playing together, and I have nothing but fond memories of that time. I moved away when I was in my early teens, but we communicated via letters for years – all the way into my undergraduate degree, when we eventually lost contact.

Ironically enough, Mary connected with me again (I ditched Facebook over 15 years ago!) via this blog. We’ve exchanged a number of wonderful e-mails and it turns out she now lives just a few minutes from my father-in-law; it’s a small world!

In one of her e-mails, Mary told me that she had been going through a box of childhood memorabilia and found old letters from me. I have to admit I have almost no recollection of writing to her, but it certainly fits with my modus operandi. I did write a lengthy Mother’s Day post about letter-writing, after all.

Here’s what she said:

I came across this red duo tang and inside are all the letters, cards, postcards you had written to me. Last night, I went down and dug it out and was reading them. Some from when you were…living in Quebec. I was sitting on the couch just smiling and had so much fun reading through them. Looking at all of the letters and things you wrote to me, I can’t remember if I had written as many to you, but I hope I did! You have such beautiful handwriting (one of those things you appreciate as an adult!) There was nothing more exciting than checking the mailbox and finding a handwritten letter. It makes me miss taking the time to sit down and write a letter to someone in hopes you’ll receive one back.

It has been over 20 years since I sent my last postcard to this friend, yet now – decades later – I’m hearing about their impact. It’s not like they changed her life, but they allowed us to maintain a connection for years after I moved away (in an era before e-mail and texting) and were a catalyst for our reconnection.

Quite regularly John and I end up reflecting on particular people that made an impression on us in our formative years. At the time we weren’t able to provide any tangible feedback, because we couldn’t predict the long-term impacts of their actions and advice. But, looking back, certain people altered the trajectory of our lives.

I suspect we all realize – theoretically at least – that we can be planting seeds now that will bear fruit later. A kind word said in passing to a stranger. The extra help we provide a new colleague so they can flourish in a daunting role. Parenting, of course, is often full of either little (or negative) feedback, but then don’t we all hope that someday our kids come back to us full of positive reflections on their childhood, highlighting specific moments – perhaps long forgotten in our own memories – that helped them grow and mature into capable adults?

We live our lives and we interact and, hopefully, bring joy and light to others. While we don’t typically operate with the expectation we’re making a long-term impact, we very well could be – and the feedback on that impact could be a long time coming.

Your turn. Can you think of a situation when someone has provided you with positive feedback years – maybe even decades – after it took place? Or can you think of someone that has impacted your life in positive ways that might not be aware of just how deeply they influenced your thinking or decisions (if so, you could try writing them a note)?

Header photo by kevin Xue on Unsplash

24 thoughts on “Feedback Can Be A Long Time Coming”

  1. I wish I had done a better job of keeping information as time has me forgetting things. I had a few different penpals growing up. I remember one from Germany that lasted for a year or two and then another from Ontario for several years. I cannot remember the one from Ontario. I remember her first name but not last and I don’t have the letters anymore. When I moved to the city I moved nine times over twelve years. I pared down significantly during that time. I’m going to do some searching and see if I can find a trace of a name to get me started!

    1. That is a lot of moves!
      I don’t have much correspondence; I used to keep old letters in a box but eventually got rid of them all; I did keep all the letters and notes John and I exchanged when we were dating, though.

  2. I knew you’d be posting today! I’m enjoying a day off but will be back tomorrow on my usual schedule.
    I can think of two specific teachers who have altered the trajectory of my kids’ lives. I did write them notes at the time (at the end of the year) but sometimes you don’t realize these things till years later. When my husband is feeling burned out at his job (as a teacher) I try to remind him that he might be altering the trajectory of someone’s life right now- even if he doesn’t get the immediate feedback. It’s a good thing to keep in mind- a kind word or extra help can at least alter the trajectory of someone’s day, and possibly more than that.

    1. Teachers have a HUGE influence; I’m sure it must be frustrating to put in so much time and energy without much tangible feedback…but I can’t imagine there are many people who haven’t been tremendously impacted with some teacher along the way.
      And I love how you take things from the macro (life change) to micro (daily change). A kind word, a smile – that can dramatically influence the trajectory of someone’s day (which could trickle down to the people they engage with etc; isn’t that called the Butterfly Effect?).

  3. That is so lovely that you’ve reconnected with a childhood friend! How did she find your blog?!?! I know it has your name in the title but did she just google you one day and discover you started a blog?

    I can’t think of any feedback like this that I have received. But there are people in my life that I am very very grateful for. My colleague/mentor at work is one person that really stands out to me. We are very good about telling each other how thankful we are to work together!

    1. I can’t remember exactly how she found the blog, to be honest. Or what triggered her memory to go looking for me. She had an old e-mail address we had used for correspondance years ago. It was such a fun “blast from the past.”

      I’m so glad that your mentor knows how you feel (and vice versa) and that it is regularly communicated! It can be so easy to take those impactful relationships for granted and think that the words that go unsaid are assumed. Vocalizing them makes a world of difference…

  4. Someday all the letters and cards I send will matter to someone other than me! This post is validation for my snail mail habit. LOL. Honestly, I do remember getting letters and cards from my Aunt Jean when I was a child and I loved that she spent time to just write to ME. And when she was older and was less able to leave her apartment, I took joy in sending her cards and letters because I hoped she would see the parallels from when I was a child. I HOPE someday my nieces and nephews tell stories about Aunt NGS and how she always wrote silly jokes and puns to them, but even if they don’t, I’ll know.

    1. What a great point – it’s not JUST the words that are spoken, but the investment of time which shows love/respect.

  5. I love snail mail communication. I remember when I was in college, writing letters to my friends, and getting letters from them. I miss that, how we would keep each other up to date with what was going on. I think I fell out of the habit after I graduated from college. I’m not sure exactly why, except I do remember writing letters when I should have been taking notes sometimes.

    1. I think that the onset of texting and e-mail has a LOT to do with this.
      I have friends now that I would never think of sending snail mail to…because we text/e-mail?
      My big exception now is Christmas cards. I love sending those out, but feel like many people of my generation have never done this?!

  6. A couple of years ago, I took this free online course – The Science of Well Being, which gave you assignments based on scientifically proven things that made people happy. (the professor Laurie Santos has a podcast now of the same name…) One of the exercises was to write letters of gratitude and then (this was the best part) calling up your recipient and reading the letter to them- she called it practicing extreme gratitude. I never worked up the courage to do it, but I definitely made a list in my head of people that I would have written letters to – teachers, work mentors, that random neighbor who watched my kid when I couldn’t find a babysitter…
    I’ve received once or twice emails or texts from past colleagues where they reflected on positive things from our time together, and it was kind of awesome. Usually it’s when they have gone on to work other gigs with colleagues who are not as congenial or competent and they feel nostalgic for the times we’ve had. Or sometimes I hear things secondhand – for example when I work with someone new and we have common acquaintances. It’s not exactly feedback, but it’s nice when they say, “So and so said to say hi. They adore working with you!.” That always is nice because it makes me feel like I’m doing an okay job.

    1. I can’t think of the book title now, but I know there was a whole book about someone who spent an entire year writing thank-you notes to people from his past and sending them out. It completely changed this person’s life. Extreme gratitude, indeed!
      I think I’d run out of thank-you ideas in less than a year, but appreciate the sentiment!
      It’s funny you mention the person who watched your child when you couldn’t find a babysitter. Many years ago I had an unexpected work emergency late one evening and had no childcare. I called our go-to babysitter, but she wasn’t home. Her mother, who I didn’t know overly well, offered to come. I didn’t get home until 1 AM, and to this day I think of that evening with so much appreciation! My kids were already asleep, I think, when she arrived, but that she was willing to drop everything and spend her whole evening at my home touched me so deeply.

  7. I still remember very clearly a letter I received from an older cousin I just idolized. We lived in the us and he lived in the UK. I don’t remember what the letter said, but it had some stickers and maybe a drawing on it? I would have been about 8 and he was a teenager. I don’t remember getting any other letters from him, although he is still a kind (but distant) presence in my life.

    1. That is so sweet! I had an aunt who always sent our Christmas parcel COVERED in stickers; it’s such a happy memory from my childhood. I try to decorate parcels to this day when I send them out because of her…

        1. Yay. Sometimes I wonder if the recipient will think it’s juvenile, but it still makes me smile and so I try to do it for others and hope it elicits the same response <3

  8. This was so lovely, Elisabeth. And I am so glad you reconnected with your childhood friend… and here it comes full-circle because what started with letter-writing ended in reconnecting 20 years later OVER THE INTERNET. It’s amazing. (Did she tell you if she randomly found your blog?)

    I can actually think of a few people who have left a lasting impression (and probably don’t know)… e.g. my geography teacher in high school who was so passionate about science and made me want to study geography. My piano teacher, who died at the old age of 99 a few years ago, who I think about often. I don’t think she knew how much my time with her meant to me.)

    I hope that other people think of me in that capacity too… you’re right, you often don’t get that kind of feedback (and I am glad Mary was able to provide it to you!).

    1. We had connected a few years ago with a brief e-mail exchange (I went looking for her and happened to find contact information for one of her parents…who were able to direct me to her), but then we lost touch. So technically, we’ve been in touch twice in the last 20 years. Still…pretty cool. She did not find the blog completely randomly; she knew my married name because of that e-mail exchange (I changed my last name when I got married, so the name she knew me with from childhood wouldn’t have led her to my blog!).

  9. What a lovely tribute to your friendship.

    It really makes me think hard. And I can’t – at the top of my head – can’t come up with anything comparable.
    However I do believe I that my letterset my godchild are somewhat of such a connection we build. I know in coming years when she will be a teenage those will fizzle out but by then we hopefully have a close connection so we can pick it up when she is older again. I also write annual christmas letters – not just a card and a merry christmas – but a written account of my year. I am hope that a few of my friends enjoy them. I rarely get replies or feedback but maybe when I am old and alone someone will think of me.

    ps as you can see I don’t manage to keep up with all the posts you write. I am trying and they are all interesting so I try staying on top.

  10. Oh, this is so interesting. And I love that your friend reached out to you – so many times, I think that overtures like that won’t be welcomed. In reality? I suspect (unless it was a toxic relationship) that the other party would be happy to hear from a long-lost friend.
    I think often about how I can show gratitude to those who mean the most to me. I’ve had an ongoing list of “lessons learned from my parents” for a couple of years. Have I ever shared the list? Um, no. Which does beg the question – what on earth am I waiting for? Life is short – share the love. <3

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