The life-changing power of small things: A final say

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series The life-changing power of small things

On May 21, James Citrin, the author of The Career Playbook who is also the leader and CEO Practice at Spencer Stuart delivered the Wesleyan University Phi Beta Kappa Commencement Address. This post has been adapted and condensed from that speech by the man himself and reproduced here without any alterations whatsoever.

Letters to My Kids

When my first son was born in May 1990, little did I know that he would grow up one day to attend and graduate from Wesleyan in 2012. Nor when my second son was born did I know that he would grow up to graduate from here in 2014. Like most new parents, friends and family told me, “It goes so fast. You’ll blink, and your kids will be grown up.” I’m sure many of your parents sitting here heard the same thing when you were small. But I’m equally sure that while they were staying up all night, before you slept through the night as babies, or when they stayed up all night while you were learning to drive as teenagers, the idea that it goes so fast seemed far-fetched. But sitting here today, I’m sure that most of your parents would agree that it has gone fast!

well, when my kids were little, it was in the era of young parents capturing every moment of their precious ones’ activities on a video camera. At birthday parties, school plays, and soccer games, all the parents would be watching the action through the small window of their cameras. Sure, they would watch the home videos from time to time, but as the kids grew and technology changed, the videos became less and less a part of their lives. I decided to do something a little different. And this is the very last small thing that I will share with you. I started writing letters to each of my kids when they were born. And I did it regularly, at each birthday; on New Year’s Day; and at random times over the course of each year. I did it without telling them. It was actually quite easy, almost like a diary, noting what they were up to, who their friends were, what they were experiencing, what they had achieved. I included my own reflections on important world events like 9/11 and insights that I wanted them to know about at some point in the future.

I decided that college graduation was the right time to give it to them. So sitting over lunch at a restaurant down the hill on Main Street, four years ago today, I showed my son his book. He was blown away. I had it self-published and gave it to him, 330 pages strong of memories. It said just as much about me as a dad and how the world around us felt over time, as it did about him. This is the kind of thing that you cannot go back and do later. You have to do it at the moment. But if you do, it’s another one of those small things, which applied over time, can have a dramatic effect. I gave my second son his book of letters after he graduated from Wesleyan in 2014. And I have my daughter’s to finish and give her when she graduates from college next year.


Finally, as you sit here on the cusp of your own Wesleyan graduation, with your Phi Beta Kappa keys about to be in hand, your families and friends surrounding you with love and support, and the world unfolding in front of you, remember the life-changing power of small things. Remember to save a few dollars each month and invest wisely.

Remember to download the 7 Minute Workout app, and do it every day. Remember to get into the habit of assessing what went well and what you could have done better each week. Remember to set concrete short-term goals and write a vision of what you want your life to look like in 20 years. Remember to focus on the success of others as much as your success. And be on the lookout for other things that will be meaningful and impactful to you if you do them consistently and over long periods of time.


Series Navigation<< The life-changing power of small things: Leadership

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