When I started my career 21 years ago, I worked at a corporate recruiting firm in a high stress make-it or break-it 100% commission position. I was motivated by the unlimited opportunity, and the risk/reward mindset is how I’ve navigated my entire career.
In those early months filled with cold-calling blitzes, my sales manager inspired us to start a “smile file.” The concept was to keep a file of our achievements, words of encouragement, and meaningful notes to reference in times when things felt rough and we needed a positive reminder of the path we’ve taken and the impact we’ve had. Since then I’ve always had a smile file, even though I haven’t been as diligent with maintaining it like I did in those early days of my career.
A while ago, I found a file filled with thank you notes from preschools and elementary schools dating back to when I originally launched Kathryn the Grape in 2010. There among the notes was a letter from Patricia Paul, the mother of my boyfriend when I was a teenager. Seeing her name on the envelope and then re-reading her handwritten note that’s dated October 2010 felt so loving. Patricia and her husband Charles had always been so welcoming and kind to me when I was a teenager, and to send me a thoughtful note after seeing a newspaper article about me in the local paper felt amazing to me when I received it then and when reading it again all these years later.
A few months after originally receiving the letter, they both surprised me by showing up at the first Kathryn the Grape public event. I recall their huge smiles and hearing them say how proud they were of me. I was happy to see them. I felt their genuine support. It meant the world to me.
Patricia was a career high school English teacher. She was always sitting in the family room grading papers and reading essays. I remember that clearly. There was a time during my first year of college when I wanted to be a teacher. Then a bit later during college, I desired to be a journalist and Patricia helped edit most of the articles I wrote. Fast forward a few decades and my path navigated me back to my original desire of being a writer, writing books and songs for youth and adults. It’s fair to say that Patricia had a positive impact on my life.
Patricia and Charles have since passed on from this realm, but their legacy remains and ripples on.
I recall Patricia as a friendly and kindhearted woman. She greeted everyone with a huge smile and a heartwarming hug. Notably Patricia was an amazing cook! I enjoyed eating meals with the Paul family. Patricia’s not-so-secret ingredient was pepper. She put loads of pepper in everything, and to this day pepper is my favorite seasoning.
Patricia Paul peppered my life with her seasonings of love and support, and I know she did the same for so many other people. I’m thankful I mattered to her enough to feel led to send me a letter that’s cherished and saved — filed with a smile — because she mattered to me, too.
Perhaps this smile file concept is something we could all benefit from to remind ourselves in trying times — when we’re feeling down or defeated — that there are people who see us, know us, get us, and want us to know that we matter to them.
I wrote a song back in January 2020 for my upcoming Kathryn the Grape album called “You Matter to Me,” and the lyrics share a message of connection and understanding of being seen, heard, and known. The song will be releasing in a few months. I hope the song and album help people feel good, and makes people smile.