All You Need is Love (Notes!)

Every year or two when I go through boxes in my attic, I stumble across some notes that bring a smile to my face. A quarter of a century ago(!) I worked for a summer camp organization, as a team leader and facilitator for camps on college campuses across the US and in Southeast Asia. If you’ve ever worked at – or attended – a summer camp, you’ll know that each camp has its own unique culture and traditions; in-jokes that are completely impenetrable to the world back home, and that appear cheesy and cringe-worthy out of context. For those summer months, it’s like entering, and collaboratively creating, a whole new sub-culture. One of the traditions in our camp – SuperCamp – was “Love Notes.” Each staff member had their own ‘inbox’ (an envelope) on the “Love Notes wall,” and there were baskets with scraps of colored paper and colored pens to write notes of gratitude or affirmation for anyone they chose: if you were writing a note, it could be a specific story of the difference they’ve made for you with your name signed, some positive and affirming feedback about something they do well, or a simple and anonymous “You’re awesome!” (One year the tradition every time we mentioned the topic, the whole group of 120 teenagers and 20 staff would sing The Beatles’ classic with a twist – “All You Need is Love… Notes!”) I know many SuperCamp staff who kept dozens of these notes, and in speaking to them all theses years later, they too stumble across them every few years and smile.

Your workplace may not have a culture of love notes, but more than likely you occasionally receive an email along the same lines – praising your work in specific or general ways, expressing gratitude for how you’ve helped someone or made a difference in their lives, or some other form of the simple “You’re awesome!” Therapist Jackie Fitzgerald suggests to clients that they keep a file of kind emails and messages (digital or hard copy), and that as a new one comes in and you’ve replied, you resist the urge to archive or delete it, and instead file it there to look back at later. (Think of it like the KonMari method of house cleaning – it brings you joy, so keep it!) In particular, you may want to dip into this folder and look back at some of these messages when you need a boost to remind you that: 1) You’re good at your job; 2) Things aren’t all bad; and 3) Other people appreciate you, even if you’re beating yourself up and noticing your failures. (Similarly, I was once gifted a “Good at stuff” pin – something I wore with pride during a time of micromanagment in a toxic work environment, and still keep on my desk to this day.)

As Jackie Fitzgerald writes, “we’re biologically programmed to watch out for threats and danger so we stay safe. Threats and danger can include other people’s reactions to us, be they funny looks, comments or unpleasant feedback. Many of us experience a constant stream of negative thoughts so when somebody says something nice it interrupts that flow of negativity and it helps rebalance what we think of ourselves. Also, what other people think of us matters. We need to feel part of a group or community, and that we not only belong but are contributing to the success of that community. Someone taking the time to tell us we’re great proves that we are making a valid contribution and we are appreciated.”

And of course, just as it makes a difference for you to look back at positive things people have said to/about you, it can also make a huge difference for someone else when you write them a personal note of gratitude too; doing so can also help train you to ‘notice the good’ in your life, both in and out of the workplace.

This Week’s Tips:

  1. Start a “Love Notes” folder for emails, WhatsApp messages, texts, or other notes of gratitude and affirmation that people send you. Pick a name for your folder that might be meaningful and personal to you; this isn’t for anyone else, after all! When you receive a note, file it away when you’ve replied.
  2. Peek back into your “Love Notes” whenever you need a pick-me-up. This can be especially reaffirming if you’ve received some criticism or judgment, or if you’re just having a bad day. Reminding yourself of the difference you make for other people can help you become ‘unstuck’ and not let the negative feedback carry more weight than it needs to.
  3. Take some time this week to write a personal note (or two) to show gratitude to a colleague, teammate, client or vendor. Start small with one note, and if you enjoy it, write another one! Read our post about Notes of Gratitude from 2022 for more thoughts on this.

Try these out this week, and let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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