Reframing your life in terms of generations

By: Adam G Fleming in accomplishments, 3 years ago


In Western culture, and especially in North America, we don’t often think about how our lives are impacting future generations, nor do we give much thought as to how past generations have set us up for success. We tend to think in terms of our own lifetime: what can I accomplish before I kick the bucket? We make bucket lists, as though whatever we do has to be accomplished by our very own selves, within our own lifetimes. I’ve been reading a book called “3G: The art of living beyond your life” By Curtis Clewett. Clewett’s wife, Patti, is a coaching colleague of mine, and she wrote the end-of-chapter questions for him, questions that really get you thinking.

Now my father is still living, and I’m very glad for that, as he turned 70 about a month ago. He was born on Easter Sunday in 1948 and he hopes to see his birthday again on Easter for the first time, when he turns 79. But this story is about 1963. My dad was a stamp collector as a boy. This is a dying hobby, for some obvious reasons… who puts a stamp on an email? And don’t get me started on Snap… the postcard of the next generation!

Recently, Dad started thinking about getting rid of stuff. What could he do with all these old stamps? He went to a buyer of collectibles, and found that his stamps might bring him face value, or a little less. So much for appreciation… nobody cares about stamps anymore, so there’s not a hot market for common stamps from the 1960’s. I’m sure if you had some truly rare stuff, it’s still got value, but most of what Dad had doesn’t fit that category.

In fact, the best thing you can do with these stamps today, Dad decided, is to put them on envelopes and send people letters. What a novel concept! It’s sort of an Ockham’s Razor of stamp collecting: the best use for the item is the use that item was designed for in the first place. The amazing thing is that the USPS still accepts these stamps. (They aren’t happy about it, because they have to be hand-checked — they don’t play nicely with the scanning machines.)

So Dad decided to stamp a bunch of envelopes and donate them to the nonprofit organization I run. He gets a tax write off for the face value of all these old stamps. I’m doing a mailing right now to a small list of 150 people, fundraising for a project to help with coach training in Egypt. Since he stamped the envelopes last December, and the postage went up a bit, we actually had to go to the post office and buy a bunch of one-cent stamps to add to the envelopes. But there’s a cool thing about this. When people get these envelopes in the mail, they take notice. Look at all these cool stamps! (We did a mailing last year with some of these, and I got emails and texts, saying, “Hey, I really took notice of your letter because of those stamps!”) In fact, a traditional snail mail campaign has benefits. Email inboxes are jammed. Who needs another appeal in their inbox? And we basically got a free mailing campaign ($22 for printing, plus $2 for one-cent stamps to augment Dad’s old postage).

So what are the takeaways? Going back to the top, I was thinking about how stamps that Dad bought circa 1963, 55 years ago, are now playing a part in the doings of the next generation. What happened in your life, even before you were born, that set you up for success? Who invested in something that benefits you now? (I know, not everyone has a lineage that gave them lots of bonuses, but you can think of something — even if something seemed bad, it may have taught you something.) Second, what are you doing now that will make a positive benefit in the world 55 years from now — whether you’re still living or not? Where are you collecting stamps, and where can you take what you’ve collected and use it for it’s most obvious purpose, something that adds to humanity, that benefits the world beyond your lifetime?

Now here’s something fun: I have a few letters left. If you email me at [email protected] and send me your snail mail address, (USA only please) I will send you one of these letters with very cool old stamps on it. No obligation to send me any money (but hey, a few bucks would be welcome, and we are a 501-c-3 organization!) We are working on a project to go to Egypt and help get a coach training academy started, and we need to make a trip over this summer. And, you can put this letter with the cool stamps up somewhere, on your fridge or whatever, to remind you that what you do really does last beyond the end of your life; that you can be part of setting up future generations for success!


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