Have you ever written a letter to your future self? Trust me when I tell you it can be fun, and February 29th is the perfect day to pull out paper and pen. Write it today and open it on 2/29/28. Because even though we often forget, every single one of us is solely responsible for writing the next chapters of our own lives. Sure, life will throw us curve balls, but how we respond and where we place our daily focus will ultimately shape our journey.
Why do I think writing a letter to your future self can be both fun and helpful? Because I’ve tried it.
On the front end, as you decide what to write, you get to dust off your dreams. To really think about what you’d love your life to look like over the next four years. Then you can seal up the envelope, stick it on a shelf, and go about your day. When Leap Day rolls around next time, pulling out those handwritten sheets will feel like an intimate visit from your younger self.
An eight year old letter is even more fun to read through.
On the morning of February 29, 2016, I sat at a crowded conference table in the basement of a high-rise office building in downtown Denver, Colorado. I was working with yet another new team and it was my first time meeting most of them. With twenty-five years of experience in corporate America, I could play the part, but I didn’t want to be there. I braced myself for a long day of dry discussions.
But the executive running the show that day kicked us off with a surprising exercise. He gave each of us three sheets of paper and an envelope, along with a challenge to write our future selves a letter. After the allotted time, he’d collect our sealed envelopes, hold on to them for four years, then return them to each of us on February 29, 2020.
What a refreshing way to kick things off! At least I thought so, but I heard a few groans, too.
I took the assignment seriously, banging out three full pages of handwritten notes to myself. The only rule I broke was around turning in the letter. I’d been around tables like this for long enough to suspect our “world” would probably look very different after another four years, and the likelihood of that envelope finding its way back to me was slim. Instead, I slipped it in my briefcase and brought it home.
It’s always best to control our own destiny!
A Leap Day Letter is for your eyes only. But today I’m going to take a leap of faith (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and share with you the nine items I wrote on that long ago day, and how things are turning out, eight years later. Remember, I had to write these out quickly, without time to prepare, but I suspect most are quite relatable.
Today, my life bears little resemblance to the one I was living as I sat around that conference table in 2016. I’m now 57 instead of 49. Time has a funny way of slipping away. My work is so much more creative now than it was back then. My days are my own. Some old problems have fallen away, while new ones have cropped up. That is what it means to be alive. Overall, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made over the past eight years.
Did that letter I dashed off to myself on 2/29/16 make any difference? I like to think so. There is always a benefit to pausing and thinking about what you want next in your life.
Did I write a letter to myself on 2/29/20? I thought so, but I can’t find it. Maybe I wrote it while at my desk in my old office building. Things were getting a little scary right then, and within a couple of weeks, we were all sent home to work. Perhaps the letter got lost in the shuffle. I never went back to that desk. I worked from home until I quit in October 2021.
Maybe I’ll find the letter from 2020 someday, tucked away in a drawer. It doesn’t matter. What matters most is that today I’ll pull out three fresh pieces of paper and write myself a new letter to open on 2/29/28. I have so many more dreams to pursue and I never want to stop growing or learning.
I encourage you to find ten minutes today to do the same. Your future self will thank you!
Always cheering you on, Kim
Have you ever wanted to make a big life change but you couldn’t quite get yourself there? Maybe you wanted to move to a different city or go back to school. For me, I wanted a new career. Actually, I needed a new career. The old one wasn’t working for me anymore, and I refused to “ride it out”.
But starting something new in my fifties felt daunting. Work needed to look different this time. At the top of my list was freedom. Freedom to choose when and where I’d work, and what I’d work on. My best option was to work for myself, but what would it be like to be my own boss?
I almost quit my old gig a few different times, but to be frank, I always chickened out. Time continued to tick by, and suddenly I was no longer in my “early fifties”. I’d reached fifty-five. If this kept up, I’d turn sixty and still be unhappy at work. I could technically “retire” from my corporate job, although I knew I wanted to keep working.
What I really wanted to do was throw my entire self into writing books. As a banker and an accountant, I vacillated between the potential financial pitfalls along any author’s path and the sheer excitement over the prospect of finally pursuing the longings of my heart. I’d published my first book four years earlier and spent most of my free time learning about publishing and writing craft.
Did I dare give notice this time? Was I crazy to walk away from a paycheck and benefits? Probably, but the ultimate cost of staying loomed too high. I knew if I didn’t try, I’d always regret it, and I refuse to be one of those people with a heaping pile of regrets at the end of my days.
If I was finally going to summon the courage to change careers, I needed reinforcements. A dear friend offered endless encouragement. My spouse supported my decision. Even the arbitrary early-retirement age at my company felt like “permission”. But I still worried I’d chicken out. Again.
I celebrated turning fifty-five in late July 2021. August flew by, and though I thought about quitting my job nearly every day, I didn’t give notice. What was I waiting for? Another few paychecks? Don’t misunderstand. I knew I was blessed to have a job at all. But reminders were popping up all around. It was time, and I knew I couldn’t wait any longer.
I didn’t even want to wait until the end of the year. I decided to pick the day and it would feel magical when I reached it. That random date I selected was October 15, 2021. I’d give a one-month notice. But how could I stay true to myself? It would be too easy to put it off again. After all, delaying had become a habit.
I needed a new plan. I’ve always loved encouraging quotes. If I kept reinforcing my commitment every day to this self-devised timeline, would I actually do it this time? The date was September 9, 2021, and it would have been my mom’s seventy-eighth birthday if she’d still been alive. Because I knew she’d want this for me, I decided, once and for all, that I was doing this. I’d give notice the following week, on September 15th, and be done in a month. That meant there were thirty-six days until I was free to pursue my new career.
I spent that September 9th combing through copies of quotes I’d saved in various places: screen shots on my phone, boards I’d put together over the years on Pinterest, and even highlighting in some of my favorite books. I found thirty-six favorites, wrote them down on pretty paper, and headed to the backyard to take a picture of every single one.
I hoped those words of encouragement that I’d collected over the years would ultimately help see me through this time. Each day, I’d study that day’s quote and then tack it up on a fresh posterboard. I wouldn’t break the chain, no matter what. I saved my very favorite quote for what would be my last day at the place I’d worked since I was twenty-four years old. Maybe you think this all sounds silly, but it worked. It had taken me years to figure out what would keep my commitment and courage strong.
I'll do what makes me happy and be done with all the rest.
Embrace uncertainty, some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.
The trouble is, you think you have time. Buddha
They say your life can change in an instant, and that’s true. But when we have to intentionally summon the courage to make a change that rockets us out of our comfort zone, especially when it’s a change that many people won’t understand, it takes something extra. In my case, it was the combination of an accountability buddy and a series of random quotes, written on dated slips of paper, that saw me through from dissatisfaction to a new way of life.
As I’m writing this blog post, it’s exactly two years since I chose to finally stay true to myself. It should have been Mom’s eightieth birthday, and although I couldn’t celebrate with her, I know she’d approve of the changes I’ve made.
I’ve decided it will be fun to share those actual quotes and images with you, once a day, until I reach my two-year anniversary in my new career. Come find me on Facebook or Instagram under "kimberlydiedeauthor" to follow along. Be sure to let me know if any of them resonate with you, too.
I’ll ask again: is there a big decision you’re tired of putting off? If so, what kind of encouragement could you give yourself to follow through this time? Maybe some of my favorite quotes will ignite a fire for you, too.
Cheering you on, Kim
Look at what we found!
If you’ve read my Celia’s Gifts series, you might already know a little about my Aunt Mary. Her life inspired that series. I always like to say she was a “woman before her time,” and she helped pave the way for other women in business.
Mary K. Nierling was my grandmother’s oldest sister, and our real life “Celia.” She was the matriarch of our family on my mother’s side. I have snippets of memories of time spent at Aunt Mary’s house, eating fancy hors d’oeuvres off individual silver trays and sipping 7-Up from gold embossed glasses before a nice dinner out with her at a fancy restaurant.
We lived a few blocks from Mary’s pink, two-story home. I remember her third-floor attic, the mural on the wall flanking the stairs, the hushed atmosphere and unique smell of the house, and the way the floor squeaked in the hallway leading to her kitchen. It was a large, stately home for a single woman.
I wish I’d taken the time to get to know her better, but I was young and intimidated by her forceful presence. She died a few years after I graduated from college. I’m left with countless questions I’ll never have the chance to ask. I wish I could sit down with her now to hear a firsthand account of the full life she lived. Or at least however much of it she’d be willing to share!
It’s fun to ask questions of those who knew her, but she died in 1992. Thirty-plus years dims memories. One thing my dad mentioned during our talks about the woman was a wall hanging of some sort in a local car dealership. He remembered it related to an exceptionally large equipment order that involved our very own Aunt Mary.
According to their website, the R.M. Stoudt, Inc. dealership of Jamestown, ND was founded in 1941. But they’d moved their offices in the years since Dad last saw the wall hanging, so we had no idea if it still existed.
Fast forward to last week, when we swung by the dealership’s newer showroom to check if someone might remember anything about a framed invoice. You can imagine our delight when the first person we asked marched us right over to a beautifully framed shadow box, hanging prominently on their showroom wall.
I did my best to minimize the glare on the glass.
The salesman laughed as he told us how they often reference the invoice in the center of the display. Why? Look at some details of the order and you’ll understand.
I’ll summarize the high points as the glare makes it a little difficult to read:
I have no idea what a Ford 1½ ton truck sells for these days, but I know ½ ton pickups cost wayyyyy more than $1,033 each!
The final tally after 29 various older pickups and trucks were traded in came in at $32,981.39. That probably wouldn’t even buy you one half of a brand-new pickup these days, but that would have been a large sum of money in 1946. All these years later, the prices are fascinating, but I find the bottom portion of the invoice to be the best part of all:
W.H. Noel Co by M. Nierling
“M. Nierling” was none other than our very own Aunt Mary. I recognize her signature. When I showed this to my son, he said it looked like my handwriting.
A woman’s signature on the bottom of a sizable invoice in 2023 wouldn’t be remarkable, but this evolution didn’t happen by accident. Brave women like Mary K. Nierling, aka Aunt Mary, defied the odds and carved a path through what was very much a man’s world in the mid 1900’s. For me, this invoice is evidence that Mary really was a force in the business world.
Since I didn’t ask the questions of her while she was still alive, I’m attempting to pull together bits and pieces of her career through old documents. An afternoon spent at the Jamestown Public Library revealed a few things, but I’ll dig deeper. I knew Mary rose to the level of partner during her career at the road construction company. According to her obituary, she retired in 1956 at 53 years old. Her death certificate lists her as “owner / operator / partner in a road construction company”. I’ve even uncovered some answers as to what became of W.H. Noel Construction, but I have more research to do.
Another fascinating piece of information a distant cousin shared with me about Aunt Mary is a brief article from our hometown paper, The Jamestown Sun.
Mary was only 34 years old in 1937; the date penciled onto the clipping. It’s doubtful that many women held the title of President of their state’s Highway Contractors Association back then. I love the quote that she “feels no qualms about stepping into roles usually reserved for men.”
I can’t allow Aunt Mary’s story to die with her. The tidbits I know about her inspired my fictional Celia, but the more I learn of Mary’s actual story, the hungrier I become for more details. I shared some of this history in the back of my book “Celia’s Legacy,” but discovering the Stoudt invoice has reignited my curiosity.
My work continues, but if you haven’t yet read my Celia’s Gifts series, I invite you to take a look. Start with Whispering Pines, Book 1, and enjoy Celia’s tight knit family through all seven books.
Many of our family’s real-life traditions pop up in these books, keeping Mary’s legacy alive.
Thank you, Aunt Mary, for living such an inspiring, generous life. And thank you, Dad, for remembering an old framed document. I suspect those at the dealership would thank Mary, too, for the sizeable chunk of business they received during their early years. After all, the invoice still holds a place of honor in their showroom after seventy-seven years.
Have you ever thought about how your reading habits and preferences have evolved over time? I was reminded of this yesterday while dusting a couple of shelves at the cabin that house some old paperbacks.
Maybe you enjoyed reading lots of romance or sci-fi books years ago, but now you prefer a good mystery. Or instead of the small, thick paperbacks like these that you used to pick up in stores years ago, you’ve come to prefer the convenience of e-books. Or the slightly larger paperbacks available now with easier to read fonts.
E-books are handy. I purchase plenty of them because I like to read on my phone or tablet, especially while traveling or before I go to sleep at night. But my favorite versions will always be physical copies. I don’t think you can beat the enjoyment of holding an actual book in your hands. My problem is space. While there are still piles of books throughout the house, I have to cull my collection occasionally. But I haven’t touched this small selection in years. Some of these books even transitioned from our camper to our cabin twelve years ago.
Besides our preferences of genres and books forms, most readers also have a list of their favorite authors. This lineup grows and expands. Unless an author keeps putting out new books, they risk fading from a reader’s radar, replaced by the writers publishing current bestsellers. Even though we might not actively search for new releases or backlist books written by our once favorite authors anymore, their works have undoubtedly shaped both our reading preferences and our personal lives.
Yesterday, as my gaze skipped along the faded and creased covers on the shelves, certain author names jumped out at me and made me wonder. I know some are still writing and publishing, but I wasn’t sure about others, so I did a brief search of each of them. Curious?
Here is what I found:
Barbara Delinsky–She has over twenty New York Times bestsellers to her credit. Her latest book, A Week at the Shore, came out in 2020. A paragraph within her website’s bio captures why I have always loved her books: she writes relatable characters about everyday people facing emotional crises and challenges.
Julie Garwood–Her stories encompass both historical and contemporary timeframes. According to her website, her themes focused on family, loyalty, and honor. She published her first novel, Gentle Warrior, back in 1985. The book on my shelf, The Secret, came out in 1992 (over 30 years ago). She was an incredibly prolific author with many bestsellers. Sadly, Julie Garwood passed away on June 8, 2023. She leaves behind a legacy of beautiful stories that readers will enjoy for years to come.
Kristin Hannah–If you are a reader, you are already familiar with this amazing author. Her list of amazing books goes on and on. I found her latest novel, The Four Winds, to be a gut-wrenching account of the dusty days of the Great Depression. I splurged on a beautiful hard copy version of that book when it first came out. They adapted another of her books, Firefly Lane, into a #1 Netflix series. A few weeks ago, I sat alone in front of the television, wiping away tears as I watched the show’s conclusion. This heartwarming story ended with Katherine Heigl swaying and reminiscing on the gift of her beautiful friend to the iconic song “Dancing Queen” by ABBA.
Books are so much more than simply a compilation of words.
Mary Alice Monroe–This award-winning author continues to put out incredible books, including her latest instant bestseller, The Summer of Lost and Found. I follow her on social media and admire her dedication to the environment. When I think of Mary Alice Monroe, I think of sea turtles and monarch butterflies.
Fern Michaels–No wonder I can’t remember a world without books by Fern Michaels. According to her website (which is a delight and includes personal, current updates), she is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of over 161 published works! Fern Michaels is the pen name of Mary Ruth Kuszkir. If you enjoy Fern’s books, you’ll likely enjoy her website, too, for more insight into the person behind the pen name.
Nora Roberts–Johanna Lindsey may have kept me reading past my bedtime, but I’ve read (and loved) more books by Nora Roberts than any other author. She is a queen as far as I’m concerned. One report I found stated she has published more than 225 romance novels and has held the number-one spot on the New York Times Best Seller list for a crazy number of weeks throughout the years. She also writes as J.D. Robb. Unfortunately, her popularity isn’t without its shadows, including the plagiarism of her work and book bans. I appreciate that she isn’t afraid to push back against these atrocities. I’ve heard that she also maintains a rigorous writing schedule to this day, despite the incredible success she’s already enjoyed.
LaVyrle Spencer–While I don’t have any of her books on my shelves at the cabin, this trip down memory lane brought her to mind, too. I was an avid reader of her books when I was younger. Her romances extended beyond the primary couple to include families and intriguing plots. This Minnesota author had massive success, but retired from writing years ago. Her books helped shape me as a reader, and probably as a person, as all good stories can.
It’s doubtful I’ll go back and reread any of these books. Maybe I’ll box them up someday and donate them. But having them near is a bit like having old friends around. All we need to do is crack them open again, and we can travel back in time.
While researching these authors, I saw lots of instances where their older books now have updated covers. This makes sense. If a book looks like it’s thirty years old, because cover styles do change, few people will pick them up today. But a modern cover is a smart way to reach more readers when the stories inside are practically timeless.
Books stuck in electronic form in our phones and tablets can be like all those photographs we take but never look at again. Sure, they don’t take up space or add potential clutter to our homes, but a physical copy on your shelves is harder to forget and easier to appreciate over time. A dusty old novel may even spur us down a trip on memory lane, reminding us of how certain stories quietly weave themselves into our memories, and perhaps even our souls.
Are you a fan of any of these authors or does your list of favorites look completely different? Who would top your list?
Kimberly Diede Author
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!