Chapter 41 Summary

The Lost Art of Thank-You Notes

One of the most powerful things one person can do for another is also one of the simplest things—showing gratitude. Despite Pausch’s commitment to efficiency in most areas of his life, he believes thank-you notes are best when they are done the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.

People who read a lot of applications, such as job interviewers and college admissions officers, read a significant number of resumes from students who would all be considered successful because they have stellar grades and impressive lists of accomplishments. What these professionals do not see many of is handwritten thank-you notes.

For students with a B+ average, that kind of thank-you note will raise them to the “A” level in the eyes of most admissions counselors or bosses. Just as importantly, because the practice of writing anything by hand is so rare, students who do so are certainly going to make themselves memorable to these kinds of professionals.

Pausch does not advise his students to write these kinds of notes for purely manipulative or mercenary reasons, though surely there are those who see the practice merely as a way to get their next job. What he hopes to help them recognize is that there are respectful, considerate things they can do in the course of their professional lives which will be appreciated by their recipients. And, when they do such a considerate act, good things will necessarily follow.

One young woman applied to Pausch’s Entertainment Technology Center, and she was about to be denied admittance. Her dreams were big: she wanted to be a Disney Imagineer. Everything she submitted—her grades, her portfolio, her exams—was good, but it was not quite good enough for such an elite program. Before he put her file in the rejection pile, Pausch flipped through its contents one last time. He discovered a handwritten thank-you note slipped between several pages.

The note had been written to the non-faculty support staffer who helped make her arrangements when she came to visit, not to the directors or others who might be influenced by the gesture. She simply wrote a few words of thanks to someone whose help she appreciated, not knowing that person would place it in her file or that Pausch would see it several weeks later.

Since she thanked someone just because it was a nice thing to do, Pausch gave her extra consideration as he re-examined her file. After some reflection, he was impressed enough by her to take a chance on letting her into the program. She earned her master’s degree and is now a Disney Imagineer.

Pausch told her this story, and now she tells it to others. Despite his having so little time left to live, Pausch always writes handwritten thank-you notes when they are warranted. He does it simply because it is a nice thing to do, and one may never know the magic that might happen after someone receives it.