From the day I started GiveLiveExplore in June 2012, I decided to send a handwritten postcard to anyone who signed up for my email list. I anticipated sending several handfuls of postcards or so.
But as my email list kept growing, so did my postcard writing. Three years later, I’ve kept up with the practice and have written hundreds of postcards to readers all over the world. And I’m still writing.
It all seems a bit silly. If you add up all the hours I’ve spent searching for, writing, and sending the postcards; the standing in line at post offices, trying to cobble together enough Greek or Lithuanian or Portuguese to ask for the right kind of stamps; and the money I’ve spent buying the damn stamps (especially from the UK…), you’d think I’m crazy.
Maybe I am. I’ve now sent hundreds of postcards to strangers. I’ve probably spent….I don’t even want to calculate it because it’s an embarrassing amount of money. Especially as it was being spent by someone who often needed that money for food and bed.
Why did I start this practice? And why am I crazy enough to continue with it?
Why I Started Writing Postcards
I started writing postcards for two reasons.
The first: absolute gratitude. I’m the first to get annoyed and overwhelmed with the constant influx of irrelevant emails, so I feel humbled that someone (like you) would permit one more person (like me) to enter their inbox from time to time. I do not take this lightly. Taking a few minutes to write a simple postcard that says “Thank You” helps remind me of that.
The second reason is a bit more opportunistic if I’m honest. One of my primary motivations for experimenting with blogging was that I was attempting to build an audience and a platform for myself. I no longer wanted to work as an IT and management consultant. The problem was, I had no clue what I wanted to do in lieu of that.
Rather than waiting for my one true path to magically emerge, I decided instead to just start walking in hope that a truer path would bud and blossom before me. I didn’t know what my ideal vocation was, so I thought I’d try my hand at cultivating it from the ground up.
As I said in Why I Started GiveLiveExplore: Reflections on the Past 2 Years, I also saw the working world changing:
I saw how the Internet was challenging the norms of work and life, time and location, employment and self-employment, art and business, human connection and global collaboration. I’d seen many people create blogs around travel, building a niche life, starting businesses, and the like. I saw people building portfolio-like careers instead of following straight-lined ladder paths. I saw how the Internet was cutting out the fat middle men in music, publishing, and other industries, allowing creators and consumers to interact directly with each other. I saw the Internet becoming a giant systematic, efficient middle man. A middle man that cared about truth and connection above anything else…
…Up until that point I was a passive participant on the Internet. And if I wanted to be an active part of this global connected pseudo-nation that is the Internet, I needed to apply for my own citizenship. I needed to invest in my own online real estate. I needed to create my own website, design my own business card, craft my own story. I needed to try my hand at being part of the 1% creating the Internet.
And I thought that building a real relationship with people who believed what I believed might be a good place to start. Hence, GiveLiveExplore emerged.
In attempting to grow my own audience, I studied other successful bloggers and platform-builders I admired and took notice that almost all grew their own following by giving something of value away to people who subscribed to their email lists:
- Chris Guillebeau and Charlie Hoehn give subscribers a free ebook.
- Escape the City gives new subscribers weekly digests of incredible new job opportunities around the world.
- Gary Vaynerchuk tends to give, give, give (or Jab, Jab, Jab) with his videos and articles before he asks for a sale (AKA lands a right hook).
For the people I respected, give always seemed to come first. And seeing as though give would be 1/3 of the namesake of my new venture GiveLiveExplore, I thought it best to follow suit.
But I wanted to be different. I wanted give a dash of something extra that might set myself apart. I wanted to be remarkable.
Enter: The Handwritten Postcard.
Why I Continue To Write Postcards
While I started this practice as a way to thank readers while simultaneously growing my own platform — one that would hopefully aid me in building a life and career on my own terms — I continue writing postcards for other reasons.
The act of sitting down to write a simple thank you note to a stranger serves as a tiny reminder for me to remain grateful. In an age where most of our mail arrives electronically and many of our interactions are constrained to 140 characters, taking a moment to handwrite a little note of gratitude in the midst of our busy travels has become a lost art. In thanking someone else, I feel gratitude, and usually, a little bit happier.
The second reason I continue writing postcards because it feeds into my personal mission.
Over the past year, I’ve taught a course in London at The Escape School called Do Work You Love (which we’ve discontinued in favor of focusing on our Tribes, but we may relaunch it again one day).One of the habits of people who discover work they love is that they have a “Mission” or a “Why” behind it all. We’ve learned that having this “Why” backing everything you do is so so SO important in finding and continuing to do work that matters.
In a heated moment hours before a Do Work You Love workshop in January, Escape co-founder Rob asks me “Can you email me your Mission?”
While we stress the importance of having a mission, the ironic thing is that neither of us had taken a moment to fully articulate ours. But because we had a deadline, we forced ourselves to come up with something. Here’s what I wrote down in that moment:
Which brings me back to postcards.
The act of sitting down and writing a postcard to someone (usually a stranger) allows me to experience a moment of human connection, if only for a minute. Even if that person never reaches out to tell me that they’ve received my postcard, I can still feel it.
Fortunately, I occasionally do hear back from someone. Here are some examples from the past couple weeks:
“It cheered me up a lot! So thank you for the perfect timing :)”
“Wow, Matt – thank you for your lovely postcard. I just found it in my letter box, coming home after quite a long time of traveling. What a nice surprise, I have to admit that I’m kind of touched to get a personal message from somebody who doesn’t even know me.”
“I still have the postcard you sent me. I have [it] right on my desk and every time I look at Terminal Tower in Cleveland it pushes me a little more to be who I am meant to be, even if I don’t know who that is yet. Thanks again!”
And occasionally I’ll get a note Tweet:
People seem to be touched when they receive a personal, handwritten note from somebody who doesn’t really know them. A small, genuine, deliberate expression of gratitude tends to go a long way.
In writing that postcard, I extract a piece of something that helps fuel me. Something that fits into the bigger picture of why I’m here. It’s this human connection, fostering a real sense of belonging that has become increasingly important to me. And the fuel that keeps me writing — postcards, blog posts, and everything in between.
And hopefully, when you receive yours, it reminds you that you’re not alone in this world. That you’re not crazy in your ambitions to pursue something that matters to you. You’re not insane for trying to realize an unrealized dream. You’re not wrong for wanting your life to read like an interesting story.
So long as this is the case, I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep sharing. And hopefully you’ll pay it forward and continue to do the same.
Hey! Where’s my postcard?!?
If you haven’t received a postcard from me yet, chances are you haven’t signed up or given me your mailing address (do it here!), you’re a recent subscriber and I have a backlog (I’ll get to you soon!), or your postcard got lost somewhere between where I am and where you are (sorry!).
(By the way, this is free. A gift from me to you. Nothing funny. Just a postcard.)
Happy travels, ya’ll. See you from my next destination.