Been looking for a good gift lately? Some people like cash. Some people prefer a personal, more thoughtful present. But let me challenge you a moment. Instead of letting your next gift be something that you can buy, think about giving something far more potent: A thank-you.
Sounds so trite, it's almost silly, right? But hear me out. Right now, think of the first person who told you you were good at something: An old teacher. A mentor. The person who gave you your first real job. Think of someone who helped you during your life. And I want you to thank them.
That's my goal. It's all I ask of you. When you leave here, when you're done reading this article -- email them, call them, find them on Facebook -- I don't care how. But find them. And say thank you.
The first time I tried it was after my first novel was published. I went back to see my 9th grade English teacher, Ms. Sheila Spicer, who was the very first person who told me I could write.
"Can I help you?" she asked when I knocked on the door. (Of course she didn't recognize me; the last time she saw me, I had a full head of hair.)
"My name is Brad Meltzer," I told her, handing her a copy of my first novel, The Tenth Justice. "And I wrote this book for you."
Within seconds, she was crying. When I asked her why, she told me she was thinking about retiring because she didn't feel she was having an impact anymore.
"Are you kidding?" I asked. "You have thirty students. We have only one teacher."
Looking back, Ms. Spicer was the first person who ever told me I could write. One of the most important interactions in my life and the most amazing part was: she had no concept of her impact. It was as if she didn't know she deserved that thank-you.
So what's the real power of saying thanks?
Recently, my college magazine interviewed Carolyn Balducci, one of my old professors at the University of Michigan. Twenty years ago, she was a professor whose classes I took multiple times; she had a huge impact on me. They wanted to ask her about my writing career and what I was like as a student.
My narcissistic self couldn't wait. I was dying to hear all the incredible praise she'd hoist upon me. She'd tell them what a great writer I was. She'd tell them of my potential. My genius! But when I finally read the article, y'know what she said about me?
"He would write thank you notes to me at the end of each semester. Being that thoughtful, that's what sticks in my mind."
When I read her words, I had no memory of writing even one thank-you note, much less many of them. Part of me even thought, "Was I really that much of a suck up?" (Yes.) But over twenty years later, of all the things my professor could've recalled, the one thing that had the biggest impact on her? A simple thank-you.
I'm telling you, you won't believe the power of it. Try it right now. Think again of my English teacher, Ms. Spicer. Or better yet, think of your Ms. Spicer. Think of the first person who told you you were good at something. Think of the role they played in your life...
You are now that person. Your old teacher. A camp counselor. A mentor. Those people were giants, right? That is YOU, now. You are on the mountaintop every single day. And your words -- encouraging, thankful words -- to a family member, to a work colleague, to a stranger -- those words are your power. Good job! I love how you did this! Thank you for doing that! Those words are power. They are your power. And if you don't use that power, time disappears and so does the power too.
But the very best part of that is that every one of us can use that power. You don't have to track down every old teacher you had to change the world. But find one. Be kind to one. That's the answer.
A few summers ago, I heard that my high school teacher, Ms. Spicer, was finally retiring. She kept teaching 13 more years after I first went back to visit her. You better believe I was at that retirement party. That woman changed my life. She was a giant in my life. She deserved my thank-you. And in that thank-you, I became a giant to her. You are on the mountaintop every day. Use your power. Go say thank you. You will never believe what will come from it.
Brad Meltzer is the #1 bestselling thriller writer of The Inner Circle as well as the host of Brad Meltzer's Decoded on the History Channel. His newest thriller is The Fifth Assassin. His newest children's books are I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln. You can find him at BradMeltzer.com, facebook.com/BradMeltzer, and @bradmeltzer on Twitter. He will be speaking about the power of legacy -- and saying thank-you -- at THRIVE: A Third Metric Live Event in New York City, Friday, April 25th.
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