Note To Self

October 6th, 2011

"I'm going to sit right down and write myself a letter."

Fats Waller first made it a hit in 1935. Since then, it's been covered by everybody from Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole to Bill Haley and the Comets and Scatman Cruthers to Willie Nelson and, alas, Barry Manilow.

It's a very popular song. And it's a very good idea.

Feel free to hum along as you read this week's column.

As published in The Daily News, October 7, 2011, and in The Memphis News, October 8-15, 2011

Academy Letter


About 25 years ago, I closed up my parents’ home at the end of their lives. Wandering through the empty house and the memories, I found myself in my old room, going through my desk drawers one more time. In the back of one, way back there, I found something I’d missed – a magnifying glass with a loose handle. Curious, I pulled the handle off and saw a piece of a paper inside. Unrolling it, I instantly recognized the note and laughed out loud, returning that sound to a place once filled with it, replacing a sense of loss with a sense of perspective.

The note said, “Curious son of a bitch aren’t you?” Written by me in the eighth grade, planted in a loose handle to catch somebody, and catching only me all those years later.

Thirteen years ago, I took part in The Academy Leadership Intensive, a four-day, heavy lifting exercise of turning yourself inside out in front of 30 or so other folks, and then spotting them while they do the same. At the end, you know a great deal more about yourself and others, and a great deal more about observing, understanding, and the capacity to lead. As part of the process, you’re asked to write yourself a letter, telling yourself a thing or two about what matters, to be sent to you months later to check your progress against your own standards.

The other day, Nora and I were cleaning out closet crypts, and – along with the present you didn’t give somebody last year or ten years ago and that shirt/suit/coat/blouse/box you know you have but can’t find – we found that letter.

I think it still stands up, and I’m still trying to stand up to it. See what you think.

“Dear Dan,

Remember, always, true vision is not possible with blinders, progress cannot be achieved without motion and that even a little change requires a little chaos. Create it from time to time.

You are not in charge of the process or of another single living creature. You are part of the process, and you have considerable impact on others and they on you. Study each other.

No one and nothing is irrelevant along the way. Learn from everything.

Laughter is free but the cost of not using it is immeasurable. Humor yourself and others.

If you’re always busy being heard you never hear. For God’s sake, Dan, listen.

No love is unconditional, nor respect unearned, no result guaranteed. Give back gladly, gleefully, to those who give to you, and be glad for them.

The condition for love is to give it back. To earn respect, invest in some for others. To achieve results, look for and employ your strengths and the strengths of others.

People are, thank God, different. Celebrate the differences, challenge sameness.

Most of all, enjoy the trip without hurting any of the other passengers.

Did I mention listen?”

I’m a Memphian, and somebody just reminded me of things that matter.


Steve Fracchia: Dan - thanks very much for sharing this!

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