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Kurt Vonnegut’s Letter To High Schoolers Adapted To Midlife Women

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Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to high schoolers applies to women in midlife, too. 

Women over 50 should practice art, find time for themselves, get in touch with their inner child, and do things that make them happy.  You never know, this could be the start of a new journey that enhances their life immensely.

In case you were wondering, Kurt Vonnegut did write an advice letter to high school kids. The message was extraordinary.

Here’s the back story:

In 2006, a high school teacher in New York started an author project with her high school students.  The assignment was to write to their favorite author and invite him or her to visit their school.  While Vonnegut never made the trip, he touched the student’s lives for ever by penning and sending a poignant letter.  (Click here to read the entire letter.) 

What was Kurt Vonnegut’s advice?

The letter said,

“What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit:

Practice any art—music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage—no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Find out what’s inside you. 

In Kurt Vonnegut’s words, “However well or badly,” he gives us permission to try new things, to enjoy them like a child without worrying about the outcome. Once you have become an adult, sometimes it’s hard to let go of the outcome and just “create.”  

“Practice art – however badly – to learn what’s inside you.”

Kurt Vonnegut

My friend became an artist this unexpected way.

Dianne was a businessperson – a saleswoman – who ran a computer store in the 90’s when PCs were becoming popular. Experiencing success, she went on to become a sales representative for the prestigious Xerox company to sell large scale copiers to businesses and government.  This lady was a hard driver.  

One day she was forced to “find out what was inside her” as Kurt Vonnegut encouraged the high school students to do.  On a Christmas eve, she slipped on black ice in her driveway and broke her hip.  Her choices of treatment were limited to surgery, or sit upright in a chair with limited movement for six weeks. 

The surgery sounded very scary and not entirely promising. While sitting still sounded like torture for this active woman, she chose to let her body heal naturally. With choosing stillness, she gained something unexpected.

Her soul grew. 

Try New Things

Even while confined to a chair, she tried new things. She started something new – painting watercolor cards – to keep her busy.  Turns out, though she wasn’t trying to become an artist, she already was one and just didn’t know it. Being still helped her to embrace her inner artist.

As you probably guessed, Dianne never went back to sales.  She became a popular artist in Northern California. Her art hung in galleries on their main streets, and in the famous Crocker Art Gallery.  Collectors commissioned her work and her life changed as her mix of friends expanded to included artists of all ages and styles.

I found love of writing in midlife.

Since you are reading this, it’s obvious, writing is something I love to do.  In the mornings before work, as I am doing right now, I write for about 45 minutes.  And like Dianne, I didn’t know I was a writer until I was in my late 40’s and was asked to ghost write a column for my boss on Forbes.com

Some decent writing came out and with feedback from my boss and my team, I kept learning and improving my articles.  When I left that company, Forbes asked me to stay on with my own column and I’ve been writing ever since.  Last I checked that column has 6 million page views  – which blows me away.  I am so honored to have made an impact on people. 

Clear and effective communication helps me with my job every day not just with clients but with colleagues and on company projects.  Sometimes my morning writing will be a work related email that just flows out of me. 

I’d say my soul has grown from writing. 

Practice art for art’s sake.

Not all midlife women who try water color become professional artists, some just create art for fun.  I am one of those people.  Since I challenged myself to try something new every week since I turned 50, you can probably imagine, I started painting watercolors. 

My work resembles a 2nd grade child’s drawings stuck on a refrigerator and I don’t care. My family receives hand painted cards from me for their various celebrations. Unexpectedly, my adult children are displaying my work on their refrigerators!

Up Your Game Girl Nancy L. Anderson
Artist: Nancy Anderson

The first ones were pretty darn basic and yet I love them the most.  While I don’t think I “found my soul” in watercolor like Dianne, I had fun!  Painting is relaxing.  And when you are finished, you have a little piece of art to enjoy or give away to brighten someone’s day.

Follow Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to high schoolers to expand your life in midlife.

How can you tap into creativity? Think about what you’ve always wanted to try and do it. While it is enjoyable, according to Harvard Health, it’s also good for your brain to try new things.

1.    Be open to new experiences and let go of expectations.

2.    Try new things intentionally.

3.    Remember what you liked to do as a 10 year old and do that.

4.    Take a class in something you haven’t tried before or in many years.

5.    Write in your journal every morning when you wake up (and are still a little sleepy) and let your thoughts flow without censoring or editing them. 

6.    Bake bread.

7.     Dance when no one is watching.

8.    Meditate.

9.    Learn a new sport.

10.    Pick three friends and invite them to do fun things with you.

Others will join you.

Since I started trying new things regularly since I turned 50, people invite me to things. If someone is taking a cooking class, painting, fly fishing or whatever, they call me since they know I am game.  Many times I am just plain terrible at it but I have expanded my life in some way.

Since vowing to try new things, I’ve been invited to:

  • ski
  • spa
  • hike
  • cook
  • bake
  • fish
  • photograph
  • paint
  • listen to music
  • attend interesting lectures
  • play music

and more.

Kurt Vonnegut suggests high school students write a poem and rip it up just to enjoy the feeling of creating. 

For midlife women, I’d say, “Display your creation in your living room.”  

Instead of ripping up your creation, share it prominently. Remind yourself that the beauty is in the little bud of creation, not the result. 

Love the person in you that made it …

especially if it resembles a second grader’s drawing on the refrigerator. 

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13 thoughts on “Kurt Vonnegut’s Letter To High Schoolers Adapted To Midlife Women”

  1. It’s never too late! My mom took up pressed flower art when she was in her late 50’s…she always had the soul of an artist, but was too busy to explore it until she was an empty nester. She never gained fame for her art, but her cards and framed pieces were well known in our little town. And she was happy.
    This post warmed my heart as I thought of her pursuing something new. Thanks for sharing!

    1. How awesome that your Mom took up a hobby in her second half of life AND brought joy to people in her hometown. She must have loved that. Thank you for your sweet comment.

  2. Ive always felt there is no right or wrong in art. Its therapeutic and slows you down in this crazy hectic world we live in. Do I think I’m good….not really but it makes me smile.

    wonderful article,

    1. Art is definitely therapeutic! I have gotten better at letting my watercolor paintings be what they are. It was fun to send my first ones that resembled elementary school drawings to my grown kids. When I went to visit my middle son, I saw two of the cards on his refrigerator. Is that funny?

  3. Great post. I started my blog at 65 without knowing a thing but didn’t let that deter me. I started power lifting at 50. As I approach 70 I need to start something new. We are never too old to try something new!

  4. Absolutely loved this post. I never knew this letter existed and I have read Kurt Vonnegut. You certainly are a writer, and an excellent one! Great read.

  5. I love this post, Nancy! I’ve always had a deep need to be creative that battles my inner perfectionist, often thwarting my efforts to, as you note, “let go of the outcome and just create.” Interestingly, the best time I’ve had with watercolors lately was doing a project with my cousin’s 11-year-old daughter … just hanging out drawing and painting, with no objective to create any masterpieces. It felt so good to see and create like a child again, and I need to keep tapping into that!

    1. Karen,

      You are spot on! When you are trying new things for enjoyment’s sake, the inner critic needs to take a day off.

  6. Nancy, you are right on, I am honored and touched by your reminder of what’s possible when we try something, any thing just for the sake of getting to know ourselves…. a few minutes everyday. God is the master Creator, He has no limits.

    We get to tell our inner critic: ” thanks for sharing” or “Stay” and continue on….. don’t even need to show anyone,, just “do” for yourself.

    Thank you again for your uplifting writings, you and David were my biggest encourages.

    Love ❤️ Dianne

    1. I’d never thought of art as getting to know ourselves. Now the concept of creating to bring out what is inside of me is so obvious!

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