A former student of mine decided he needed to send a thank you letter to a man who fired him.

The purpose was to tell the supervisor that the dismissal was an important experience that made him reflect on what he was doing wrong and how he could improve himself.

I decided to eliminate the names of the individuals and the company for privacy reasons, but my former student gave me permission to use the letter.

“It has been more than 12 months since my final day at [the company]. In the time in-between I realized I needed to contact you. I needed to contact you to thank you. By firing me, you gave me the most effective coaching lesson I ever received during my five-year tenure with the company: In order to be a successful leader, I needed to improve my work-life balance so I could be a better son, brother, cousin, nephew, uncle, friend, neighbor, community leader, volunteer and employee.

“My recovery from losing my job took longer than I wanted. But eventually I discovered running, and I lost more than 30 pounds from mid-September to late November. Next, I began to exercise my mind. I researched and thought long and hard about delegation, prioritization, boundary-setting and multi-tiered goal setting. I revised my resume and practiced job interviewing skills.

“The memory of what happened to me over a year ago still haunts me today. When I recall that day, however, I will always think positively about your closing words, ‘It’s time to start caring about yourself more.’ That sentiment provided me with a glimmer of light as I began my year-long journey inside the dark tunnel that my life subsequently became.

“I respect your ability to lead. Within the short amount of time that I was able to interact with you, I learned a few valuable lessons. When you gave me your personal phone number, I should’ve kept it in a safe place. Instead, I lost it. And it is truly a shame because a year later, I realized that you were reaching out to me then.

“Today a new job awaits me, and I have entertained serious thoughts of returning to college to obtain my Journalism degree and also to pursue a degree in Education. My confidence has soared in the past few weeks, and I feel like anything is possible. The lows, however, still remain. The juxtaposition of the extreme high of obtaining a new job has contrasted with the extreme low of how my tenure at the company ended. This internal conflict has presented me with a tough mental challenge I’ve had to face daily.

“Am I confident that I can deal with these up-and-down feelings? Yes, I am.

“Again, I want to thank you for setting a plan in motion that helped me to discover who I truly am.”

The letter underscores the need to reflect on failure—not to dwell on it. But the evaluation of failures–as well as successes–is a worthwhile resolution for the New Year. It’s an analysis that helped my former student and may help all of us. Happy New Year!


Christopher Harper is a longtime journalist who teaches media law.

By Pastor George Kelly

At the beginning of each year, Americans are poised to enter the new season armed with the determination to improve upon their quality of life from the previous year.  Some people wishing to make firm their new commitments even issue forth personal decrees that are often referred to as “resolutions.”

Resolutions are quite diverse and they can take on different modes of expression.  Some Americans in an effort to obtain maximum physical fitness decide to shape and sculpt their bodies into rigorous physical health.  Their resolution may read as follows:  In an effort to greatly improve my physical and mental capacity, I endeavor to exercise so many minutes a day and lose so many pounds per month in the up and coming year.

Still others seek to increase their grip on financial peace and prosperity by enlarging their portfolio.  Perhaps their resolution for the New Year might be phrased as such:  I desire to live rich and happy today for tomorrow I may die.

We could all agree that over the last two centuries one of the distinct features of the American Dream has been that each successive generation grows and expands in its educational, economic, social, – and hopefully spiritual attainments.  The thought is that success is failure without a successor or successors to receive the fruit of one’s labors.

Nevertheless, might this writer suggest that there is a resolution that is often overlooked that might be embraced for the year of 2014?  Let us endeavor to “forgive and to extend forgiveness ahead of time.”    

Why is forgiveness a concept worth valuing and savoring?

Forgiveness is vitally important if we are going to live at peace with ourselves and with one another.  Human beings are social creatures.  Very few of us conduct our lives in complete solitary confinement.  Many of us are part of families; families celebrate, laugh, cry and commiserate together.  Many of us are in marital or in interpersonal relationships of various degrees.  Human beings will make mistakes and invariably harm one another.

The poet Alexander Pope stated with great accuracy that, “To Err is Human and To Forgive is Divine.”

Before this month is over it might be helpful for us to make a list of people who hurt us in 2013 and then add to that list people whom we suspect/fear or realize we may have offended… 

A good practice is to forgive ahead of time and ask others to do the same.

At the doorpost of the entrance to our home there is a plaque that contains the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life

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By Linda Szugyi

I’ve never done the New Year’s resolution thing.

The way I always figured, why start the new year by setting yourself up for failure?  I mean, if you haven’t reached a particular goal in your life already, how is a new digit going to make it happen?  I can’t even remember to write the new year on my checks until April or so.  It is highly doubtful that I will have remembered to keep a resolution in the meantime.

Besides, resolutions are just one more way to stress ourselves out.  If there is one thing we all need less of, it is stress.  Perhaps the best resolution one could ever make would be to worry less.  But how, exactly, does a person worry less when he has just given himself a new resolution to worry about?  Now there’s some pretty inescapable logic right there.

Still.  The ‘worry less’ resolution is mercifully non-quantifiable.  Without a clear-cut division between success (size 8!) and failure (size 14?!?), failure isn’t even an option.

So there you go.  The fail-proof resolution for 2014:  worry less.  Easier said than done, but at least you can’t fail.  I think I’ve even figured out a shortcut to the goal:  ignore the experts.

Experts are a major source of worry in today’s society.  They specialize in every conceivable topic, so let’s pick just one to discuss:  food.

Experts told us to stop eating fat.  Then they told us it’s okay to eat fat as long as it’s the good fat.  They explained how animal fat is the bad fat, until they decided that trans fats are the bad fat.  Then they explained that sugar is the real bad guy.  And also the processed foods.  Unless it is milk, and then unprocessed is very, very bad.  Speaking of milk, aren’t the processed ones suspect unless the word “organic” is prominently displayed, and the price jacked up accordingly?  And wasn’t soy milk is a better alternative, until it wasn’t?

They told us that salt is really bad, until it wasn’t anymore.  They warned us against caffeine almost a whole century ago.  For the sake of variety, they took a rest from finger-wagging about fat, sugar, and salt, and explained how wheat is bad, especially the part called gluten.  Some of them focused on artificial colors and high fructose corn syrup.  For some experts, meat is the culprit.

Basically, unless you are eating an apple or a carrot grown in your own back yard, somebody out there disapproves.  No wonder we are all stressed out.

The technological advances of our society are wonderful, but they have given us the impression that life is too complex to figure out on our own.  Modern society has decided that only the experts know best.

But that’s not true.  Even experts lack key information, and risk is an inherent part of life.  Think about Christopher Columbus.  He may have been a great sailor and explorer, but it’s not like he had a GPS when he set out across the Atlantic.

We don’t need GPS precision for every aspect of life.  Instead, we need to rely on our common sense and natural skepticism.  We need to trust our own instincts instead of the latest expert opinion.  Our society’s quest for protection against unknown dangers–its obsession with safety–is part and parcel of the madness that elected a planet-healing president.  Unfortunately, even conservatives fall prey to this mentality.

So let’s all do our part to bring rugged individualism back to our culture, by ignoring the experts and worrying less.  Do what your own conscience–guided by God if you are so inclined–tells you.  And have a great 2014.

happy new year