We Need Each Other
When I met Whitney over the phone a couple of weeks back, I immediately identified her as a kindred spirit. She is a Life Coach, Blogger, and as of about a year ago, the heart + life-spark behind Project To Love Ourselves. PTLO is made up by a network of women who are working to build each other up in love and truth in the name of Jesus. They do this by sending actual bundles of letters to women all over the world who are in need of a little extra love and support. Whitney had the idea and then organized a space for anyone to submit requests for letters, and for anyone to volunteer to write them. If you have colorful markers and some paper and kind words to share, then you, my friend, are a qualified letter-writer for the letter project. There’s more information about how you can sign up at the end of this post, after Whitney’s story.
Whitney was so gracious to talk about this project with me, even as she was right in the middle of a chaotic out-of-state move. I wanted to talk to her for so much longer than 30 minutes, buuut I didn’t feel great about asking to take over her entire afternoon ;) I am so grateful for the time that we did have to connect, and I am really excited to pass along a little piece of her story to you today.
First, I asked Whitney about what her life looked like before the idea for the Project entered the scene. “I was working in communications, and I was really happy doing that for the first three years,” she said with a small laugh. “And then for the last two, I could feel God calling me out of it, but I wasn’t brave enough to take the step right at first.” That’s okay though, because it takes time to grow bravery. Spoiler alert: in due season, the courage comes and finds her.
“I quit my job in August of 2016. At the time, I was blogging, and I had already started taking coaching clients. I was also trying to free-write a book! That season was the most still I’ve ever been -- though I was quite busy, because truthfully I’m not very good at being still.” I can certainly relate to that. Can you? “It was during that season, when one day, God gave me this idea to try the letter project. I wanted to reach women in a different, more tangible way, other than online or through social media.”
“At the time, I thought the need was just that women needed encouragement. Through my experience as a coach and as a blogger, I’ve observed that in every phase of life, women struggle with the same things...we just name them differently at different ages. For example, we received one letter request from a six-year-old who got a pixie haircut before kindergarten and was worried that no one would want to be her friend because of it. If you think about it, that really isn’t all that different from a twenty-six-year-old woman who feels she’s not thin enough to be valuable in the social circles she’s in, or a sixteen-year-old who worries that she’s the DUFF in her friend group...it’s the same, at the heart of it. Which is not a negative thing! This means we have the ability to speak into each others lives in a way that is meaningful and powerful.”
“So, I decided to tell a friend about it at lunch and she encouraged me to try it. I put it out there, I just said ‘hey, if anyone wants a letter of encouragement, send me an email!’ And then the next morning I woke up to a flood of letter requests. Within the first two weeks, two hundred women had signed up.”
Two hundred, you guys. TWO. HUNDRED.
“I had no writers. It was just me. The response was so overwhelming, and what that made me realize is that women are yearning to give back, but they don’t always have the time or the money. It’s been a year now, and we have gathered thirteen hundred writers and have written forty-five hundred letters. In short...it’s been an amazing year.” An incredibly amazing year, for sure! I was utterly blown away by those numbers, and the overwhelming response created (for both supply and demand) in as little as twelve months’ time, I think, demonstrates how hungry for community, encouragement, support, (the list goes on) many women are.
It encourages me to see this Project proving what I constantly hope to be true -- that people want to show support and offer words of kindness to each other in a world that often feels lonely and totally individualistic. While that’s true, if I’m being totally honest, I started out with a very moderate + gentle skepticism toward the, I guess you could say, effectiveness of the To Love Ourselves Project. I told Whitney about this in or conversation, and explained that I felt this way because I wondered how much a letter could really do to help someone in a time of deep sadness or loss.
I love what she had to say in response.
“I can understand that -- these letters can’t fix everything. But they might be just enough to give a woman pause in her thinking. They might be enough to get her through a hard week, or to make her feel a little less lonely for a little while. It can be really powerful just to know that so many women have been through something similar before -- and for them to be the ones writing and telling you so! That’s powerful. That’s the idea that has resonated with me so strongly from the very beginning; at least we can tell her that she’s not the only one.”
Needless to say, my skepticism evaporated in that moment. I have to remind myself that no act of kindness is “too small”. When you’re having a hard time, the smallest things someone else does for you are often times the most meaningful. I felt sorry I had every questioned the power of these small gestures, and I since have been able to think about them differently.
I asked Whitney how she finds the perseverance to continue in this project. She answered, “it’s two things; the first is when somebody lets me know how much it meant to them to receive our letters. And the second is, I now have campus and city chapter leaders -- which not only is extremely helpful in that it provides me and the Project with support, but it also gives me accountability and energy to be able to say, okay, there are all these girls out there who are working so hard toward this cause -- I can’t quit this!”
This brings to mind an African Proverb that I love, that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Isn’t it the truth that if we want to go anywhere worth going, it takes an awful long time and to get there, and it's crucial to have the help and support of other people?
Whitney affirmed this by saying “I think the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is it’s really lonely. You don’t always have someone to bounce ideas off of. Also, it can be a little thankless sometimes. I would say to anyone starting to walk this path, I think the first thing you have to do is write down what it looks like for you to take action: make a plan, and then pick one thing a day to get started on.” She’s right. Otherwise, before you know it, you’ll be drowning in to-do’s, your days totally at the mercy of the urgent tasks, while the truly important tasks sink into murky waters, out of sight, out of reach. “Give yourself the grace in the beginning,” she said lastly. So. Important. Because no one else is there to do it for you, remember!
I hope you've enjoyed reading some of Whitney's story as much as I enjoyed hearing from her! If you want to hear more from Whitney, check out her blog! If you'd like to check out Project to Love Ourselves, you can head over here -- you can also sign up to become a writer! You know the drill -- sign up for the mailing list and follow along on Instagram to stay connected. Lastly, I asked Whitney for a book recommendation, and she came back with this fantastic read. She also suggests this video, and this podcast episode.
Thanks for reading. I hope this leaves you encouraged + inspired to speak words of kindness to others when you have the opportunity.