The Impact of a Simple Thank You Letter

Sandra Dillon: July 22, 2017


pen and paper 1In December 2011, I started an annual tradition to select at least three people who had the most influence on my life that year and to write them a hand-written thank-you letter explaining why they had such an impact.  That year, one of my chosen few was Anthony Spagnoletti, who is the owner of an auto body repair shop in The Woodlands, Texas, who brought me to Christ.  On a Friday afternoon, in June 2011, Anthony changed my life by shooing away his employees and handing off his customers to spend two hours talking to be about God and providing answers to my questions about unexplainable events that were happening in my life.  When I left his office that day, all Anthony knew for sure was that he had sacrificed several hours of his valuable time to have serious conversation about God with a woman whom he had just met hours before.

I never had any contact with Anthony after I left his body shop until he received my letter in December.  Actually, I assumed he received it and hoped that I would hear from him again, even if it was just a thank you for the thank you.  No word!  In April 2012 while driving back home from a weekend in Austin, an email appeared on my iPhone which began with “This letter is long overdue…”  Anthony wanted to let me know that my thank-you letter had made an incredible impact on him and come just at the right time.  He was questioning God and his purpose, and my letter affirmed everything he knew God to be and why he was put on this earth.  I changed Anthony’s life that day with my simple thank-you note.

Wow!  I assumed Anthony would enjoy hearing that his two hours spent with me was worth the investment.  That long-ago Friday night, I thought about everything that we had talked about.  I then slept on it, and the next morning while lying in bed, I prayed “The Prayer” and asked Jesus to be my personal savior.  The Holy Spirit came in a way I cannot explain, and my life was changed forever.  I wanted to thank Anthony for giving me that gift.  What I could not have imagined was that I gave him an almost equal gift in return through the simple gesture of writing a hand-written thank-you note.

I wanted to share this story and encourage you to think about those people in your life who have made a difference.  Next, take the time to write and express your gratitude.  If they left an edible mark on your life, do they not deserve that little bit of your time to put your thanks on paper?  You never know what impact you might make on them in return!

There is a post-script to this story which shows how the impact can live on!  In July 2017, my husband, Darin, returned to Anthony’s body shop to get his rear bumper replaced. Over the course of some chit-chat, Anthony told Darin that my letter sits safely tucked in the Bible he reads every day.  He shared that this letter is the best gift he ever received. My note of thanks is not a one-hit wonder but a lasting legacy for one Godly man. Knowing that my letter continues to have a daily impact inspires me to continue writing those annual thank-you letters and encourage others to do the same.


 

Will College Debt Affect Who You Decide to Date or Marry?

December 15, 2016

The flip side of that question is “Does your college debt make you less attractive to date or marry?”  Many want to believe the most important ingredient to a happy and fulfilled marriage is love, because true love can overcome the normal struggles endured by marriages over their lifetimes.   These same people would also like to believe that college debt should be immaterial to the decision with whom you spend the rest of your life—after all, the right person is the right person, no matter what the circumstances.  I would propose that love is a choice—a choice to fall in love with someone with whom you can create a successful life.  If this holds true, I would wager that most successful people are not necessarily looking for partners with money but for spouses who make sound financial decisions.  Why?  Because fiscal literacy and responsible financial stewardship are extremely helpful in developing a solid marriage foundation from which to move forward in individual life calling and marriage purpose.

Overwhelming costudent-debt-ball-and-chain-2llege debt can sap energy and joy, as well as interfere with life calling, because significant resources are funneled to pay off those loans—making it feel like one is dragging around a ball and chain for ten years.  Not even personal bankruptcy can dissolve this financial burden—a lifetime sentence until it is repaid.   I am neither advocating for or against pursuing a college degree, and these words come from a chemical engineer with an MBA, who will also receive her second masters in life coaching in 2017.  I believe a college education can open more doors for career and job choices as well as develop new worldviews, critical thinking, discipline, commitment, friendships, and a sense of community.  However, I am recommending that before taking on any debt that everyone understand what they are called to do, how post-secondary education will support that purpose, and then using sound judgment to determine the best path forward.  Approaches can include community college, part-time vs. full-time, scholarships, employer incentives, military benefits, etc.  You may ask how did I pay for my education?   I focused on good grades, worked when not studying, saved, sacrificed, applied for scholarships and loans, and was rewarded with grants and reasonable loans to pair with my savings the first time.  The second time I worked full-time while going for my graduate degree part-time, taking advantage of my employer’s partial tuition reimbursement benefit in conjunction with my savings.   The third time around I worked and saved for my full tuition, hence my return to college at 53 years old.

Mentoring and coaching high schoolers and young adults, I often see them struggle with evaluating and deciding how to afford a college education.  Surprisingly, many of these students are encouraged by their parents to apply and attend universities above their collective financial means.  The parents and students alike are swept up in the hype that a college education is the gateway to a successful life—the more prestigious the school, the better, and whatever debt is required to achieve that dream is worth it.  With this momentum and the euphoria of acceptance letters, it becomes difficult to bring good judgment and reasonable thought in deciding whether to pursue a degree, what degree, its timing, and how to pay for it.

The sad reality—burdensome college debt has stalled many young degreed graduates who cannot turn back time.  They are drowning in debt that cannot be expunged.  Consumer Reports (2016) issued a report on the impact on student debt, and the survey statistics are sobering:

  • 45% of respondents said their student loan debt was not worth the cost of college
  • 47% said if they had the chance to do it all over again they would accept less financial aid and go to a less expensive school
  • 50% are having problems making student loan payments

With half of recent graduates wishing for a do-over or struggling with debt repayment, these statistics should be a wake-up call that the current approach in securing a diploma is broken.   What are the impacts to graduates overburdened with college debt?  Consumer Reports (2016) found:

  • 44% cut back on daily living expenses
  • 37% delayed saving for retirement or other financial goals
  • 28% delayed buying a house
  • 12% delayed marriage
  • 14% changed careers because of student debt

In many cases, these necessary life adjustments resulted from not understanding the impact of long-debt.   Although not specifically addressed in the survey, many young graduates reluctantly return home after college to live with their parents, resulting in a “failure to launch” not by personal choice.  Although subsidized room and board allow these graduates to pay off college debt, they struggle with financial independence and attracting financially independent mates.  Consumer Reports (2016) revealed that 44% of respondents wanted to know how much student debt a dating partner had before beginning a serious relationship with 36% and 20% of respondents saying “no” or “unsure”, respectively.

With these statistics as a wake-up call, the next question most students should ask is “How much college debt can I afford?”  The general rule of thumb is a graduate can afford college debt equivalent to the first year of salary.  For example, if you are pursuing a teaching degree and expect to be paid $50,000 per year as a teacher, you can commit to $50,000 of student debt.  A post-graduation balanced budget should be drafted to confirm you can re-pay this debt while ensuring you can put a roof over your head, food in your mouth, clothing on your back, and the means of getting to your job to earn that income.

When I student-loan-payback-schedule-10-yearscoach students and parents on personal finances, this simple matrix translates the amount of student debt into a monthly payment for 10 years at various interest levels.  Some students are financing teaching degrees at prestigious 4-year universities, taking on over $100,000 of debt for a job which will only pay $50,000 per year.  When asked “How will you put a roof over your head if you have to pay $1,000 a month towards school loans?” their facial expressions reflect confusion, surprise, and worry.  What I find more troublesome are students who are financing college under an “undecided” major.  These students usually take upwards of 5 to 7 years to graduate—incurring more debt than if they would have paused after high school, worked, figured out what degree fit their life plan, andstudent-debt then pursued their education over 4 years.   Powell (2016) reported that the average college graduate debt is $37,000 in 2016.  Many of the entry-level, non-science based jobs for these graduates do not pay that amount per year.  Many graduates have no idea when their loans will be paid off.

If you think colleges are educating you on prudent decision-making and the harsh realities of debt repayment, they are not.  Universities are businesses, trying to make enough money to keep their doors open.  If they sign you up, the colleges will receive income through your financial aid and tuition payments.  They are not incentivized to explain what debt you can and cannot afford.  By default, they are operating on the concept of Caveat Emptor, translated Let the Buyer Beware!

Pursuing a college degree can be one of life’s most significant and costly decisions, because the debt you take on can have a lasting impact on your quality of life.  The debt you carry can also impact your ability to attract a life partner.  Many students never stop to consider all the long-term ramifications of debt choices.   I encourage you to pause, think through this decision, reach out for help, and make wise choices!  Your future depends on it!

References

Consumer Reports National Research Center (2016). College Financing Survey: 2016 Nationally Representative Online Survey. Retrieved from: http://www.consumerreports.org/student-loan-debt-crisis/degrees-of-debt-and-regret/

Powell, F. (2016). Ten Student Loan Facts College Grads Need to Know. U.S. News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/slideshows/10-student-loan-facts-college-grads-need-to-know


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a business, life, and marital coach with an extensive background in business development and leadership.  She coaches others in how to develop and execute life plans, develop successful businesses, and build better relationships by identifying and living their personal values, enhancing skills and competencies, and being held accountable for executing their defined goals.

To Judge or Not to Judge?

cropped-shinecrossings_mainlogo.pngWho likes to judge or be the judge?  How often do you find yourself judging?  To whatever frequency you just admitted, I bet if you thoughtfully played back those daily rituals in your mind, you would surprise yourself in how much more judging you do than first thought.  You probably judge the taste of your cup of java (“ah, so good” or “ugh, that’s bitter”), your reflection back in the morning mirror (“yikes, look at those bags and dark circles under my eyes”), and those other drivers on the road (“pay attention, what an idiot”).  What are some of your thoughts when you arrive at work?  How about the casual assessment of your colleague’s work (“that sucks, he should have been fired a long time ago”), the choice of your coworker’s attire (“what was she thinking”), and how about the leadership of your boss (“I could do better with half a brain”).   Some of these judgments may be extreme, but you have to admit not uncommon.  As humans we are so quick to judge without much thought, as if our judgment is fed from our five senses fueling our emotions which override our thinking brain, and in some cases, just barely stops at the tip of our tongues.  How did it hear, look, taste, smell and feel?  Did our ability to make quick judgment stem from our humanistic need for survival—the ability to make a quick threat assessment and spring into action to protect ourselves and ensure our safety.  God made humans with this beautiful part of the brain called the “pre-frontal cortex” which gives us some incredible abilities that surpass all other living creatures on earth.  Our pre-frontal cortex gifts us with the ability not to act on impulse or innate reflexes but to use reason and logic in assessing our living situations.  So why don’t we seem use it more?  Why is it so easy for us to pass judgment with hardly giving it a second thought?  Could it be that we have not been burned badly enough by our quick conclusions to exert more cortex capacity?  Humans can be conditioned!

So what does it feel like to be judged?  When I ask this question, I am sure you can immediately conjure up a few examples that bring a twinge of pain even today after many years.  Are you having a bit of an emotional rise?  Unpleasant at best, maybe a bit angry at worst.   As you dwell on some of these painful memories, some thoughts you may have are “but I just didn’t have a choice,” “I was young, stupid and didn’t get any slack,” and “if only they could walk in my shoes they would understand why I did what I did.”  You may be right.  If I walked in your shoes at that moment, I may have done exactly what you did and have more compassion for you today.   You were judged, convicted and sentenced!  Welcome to prison!  You may not be incarcerated, but you are still a prisoner in your own mind.  You cannot erase that memory or pain of how you were judged.  Perhaps you feel you served your sentence by making amends, but why does it feel like the punishment is still life imprisonment?   Being on the receiving end of judgment can be painful and leave scars for a lifetime.  So if we can agree that being judged is unpleasant at best, why do we continue to give out what we hate to receive?

Let me clarify one point that typically comes into the discussion on judgment.  Many people use discernment and judgment interchangeably, especially in the Christian world.  Aren’t those the same?  Not exactly.  Discernment assesses value and typically leads to action whereas judgment just labels.  Discernment is wisdom and understanding whereas judgment is an assessment of right or wrong, good versus bad.  You can have discernment that a situation is unsafe, then take appropriate action to ensure your safety.  Judgment would describe a situation as unsafe but not necessarily imply action.  As humans we need discernment, but judgment does not serve ourselves or others as well.  Remember that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  Not true!  Hurtful, judgmental words cut deeper than any knife could, and many of those internal wounds may never heal.  How many kids on the playground may have shouted those words in return to judgmental statements such as “You can’t hit the ball.  I don’t want you on my team,” or  “You’re wearing flood pants, did you borrow them from your baby brother?” Yes, I was a victim then.  I now know that those cruel words left the mouth of babes because their immature pre-frontal cortex, yet you know, as  a teacher supervising that playground, you might have thought those same words.  Of course, you kept your mouth shut. If everyone understood the eternal, faithful love that God has for us, no one would be able to hurt us with words or actions, because we would understand that our identity and self-worth only reside in our loving God.  Unfortunately, we do not live in this perfect world; therefore, work, possessions and human relationships have a heavy influence on people’s sense of self-worth and ability to feel loved and valued.

I will stipulate that judgment and subsequent consequences are completely appropriate and necessary in our law system.  However, I will be honest that my heart breaks for those who have made mistakes, served their prison sentence, but have walls to climb in order to integrate back into community despite their deep desire to contribute to society.  In the best of circumstances, think about those adults who have been convicted of a minor “F”elony, never harmed another individual, and only served probation.  I have one of those friends who was convicted of drug possession, sentenced to probation for his first offense, but has to wear the “F” on his shirt like a scarlet letter.  With his felony status he cannot live in any apartment complex, has few job opportunities, and is constantly judged unworthy.  He is trying to do better but the system and community are both intentionally and unintentionally working against him.  Sometimes the difference between a felony is only one person getting caught and the other not.   We are all human, have weakness and possible addictions.  Maybe he had too much dependence on marijuana which got him into trouble. Addiction is addiction and can manifest itself differently with each individual.  Hoarding, alcohol, food, spending money, exercise and pornography can all become addictions if the behavior is taken to extreme, yet we typically judge people who have these additions differently.  Why?  Because those addictions happen to be legal, whereas in most states marijuana is still illegal.

Can we not have more compassion for those who are trying to help themselves in the moment?  Can we stop labeling people as good or bad and start labeling people as hurt and in need or healthy and blessed?  My heart hurts for those who are suffering under the heavy weight of judgment.  I cannot change the world, but I can call it out with the hope that people will have greater pause and hopefully more awareness of their judgment.  Instead of judging, why not lend a helping hand, or extend a kind word or gesture.  Lift a human brother or sister up with words of affirmation versus tearing them down.  But you may say, “I don’t say anything.  I keep my thoughts to myself.  My thoughts can’t hurt anyone.”  I would disagree; those negative thoughts are carried in your body language and manifest themselves in choices of behavior towards others whether you are conscious of it or not.

And for those of you who made it to this point and thought, “Isn’t she judging?”  My reply is, “Yes I am! I admit it. I’m judging with a purpose.”   Am I suggesting that as humans we will suspend all judgment?  Of course not, we all fall short of perfection.  As sinners we can only challenge ourselves to do better!  We should take the plank out of our own eye, before trying to remove the speck out of our brother’s, as our own sin blinds us to the truth of the situation.  My hope is you will be more thoughtful every time you catch yourself judging.   Might this be one of those times where you make a different assessment or choice and change a life with words of encouragement or actions of a loving hand up?  I pray that you do!  I leave you with this final thought:  Your judgment may say more about you than it does about the person you judge!