Interview: The Seven Letter Project

As you may have noticed, I never really identify anyone by his or her full name at my blog. But today I’ll make an exception because I think you should know this name. Ennis Howard, Jr. is my brother from another mother. And father. That is to say he’s like a family member first to my parents and now to me. Though I’d like to keep E as my secret fountain of wisdom, he’s gone global on me with his new website, and there’s no way to contain him. So today I’m doing my part to share him with the universe because if I may show any of you even just a glimpse of his big heart, I will have done the world a very good thing.

Interview: The Seven Letter Project

Hi E, I think we first met officially at my little sister’s wedding in NYC. But I didn’t really get to know you as a true Renaissance man until just a couple of years ago when we bonded over TexMex and jewelry making. We talked about your 7 Letter Project (7LP) one day last year when it was just a seed and since then I’ve been waiting to interview you about it at my blog. So can you tell us what it’s about in 7 sentences?
It is an experiential writing program. Each person writes letters in 7 different categories by hand. The letters aren’t to be corrected, edited, or revised. Some letters are meant to be shared , but they don’t have to be. The major point is for people to discover things about themselves and share that new, more complete person with others. There is plenty of technology related communication and interaction but very, very, little of it is authentic and powerful.

Do you remember the Eureka moment you had for this brain-whale?
During the Christmas holidays in 2010, I was visiting with friends in Houston. I was thinking about something my parents had instilled in me. The idea that you can make a difference if you put your mind to it. I wondered what would happen if I actually tried. I thought about so many things that I couldn’t do well, before I stumbled across what had been a success for me. I have always been pretty good about telling stories, creating examples, and getting people to feel. I’m me wherever I go, so I think that is what people connect with.

When I thought about which feelings were absent, the Christmas holidays were the perfect catalyst. The season had become so empty and artificial, that I began thinking about the times in my life when I forged or discovered an authentic connection with someone. For years, I’d called those memories treasures. I began to get excited thinking about how many people go through life and never seem to notice all of the treasures that were and are around them all the time. I was going to change that.

How did you go from Eureka to execution?
That night I went online and secured the domain name 7letterproject.com. I was completely on fire until I came back to Dallas. I thought I would run out of things to say and that nobody would be interested, so I didn’t do anything with it. I talked to a few people whom I admired and trusted. Even the response was universally encouraging and positive, I sat on it until June 1st 2012. Between December of 2010 and June of 2012, I had a lot of things happen. I was let go from the school district where I had worked for 20 years. Instead of scrambling around trying to get back in, I took some time to really think about things. I turned my intense focus inward and beat myself up pretty good. I made it my mission to rediscover the person I hadn’t been in a while. I decided to be the way that I used to be as a kid. I was unshakeable and relentless when I was going after my dreams. Obstacles were only an irritation because they slowed me down. I decided to craft a life where I was getting up early and staying up late. June 1st was going to be my launch date and that was that.

Did you build the website yourself? If so, what are the pitfalls of doing it on your own? Would you do the same thing over again in hindsight?
I did the website myself using WordPress. The pitfalls are all of the things that I don’t know how to do, but that is also the greatest benefit, because I am learning more and am not dependent on someone else. Another added benefit is that I care more about it. I want things the way that I want them and am not willing to settle. The only thing that I would do differently in hindsight is start sooner.

What is your work background, and how do you think your professional experience will impact this new path?
I have taught English as a Second Language for almost 20 years. I worked as a specialist in various capacities for the Dallas Independent School District for 14 years. With the exception of maybe a year or two I never stopped teaching. I got used to working two jobs and I have pretty much done that my entire working life. I am trying to pursue a career as a speaker and trainer. I do wedding and event photography on the side. The 7LP will expose potential clients to some of the qualities that I think will make a me a speaker to watch.

I guess what I’m really trying to ask you is your advice for people who are trying to think outside of their professional box. How do you make the leap outside of your comfort zone if you’ve been pigeonholing your own career for so long?
Do whatever you have to do to develop conviction. Dreaming, visualizing, planning, taking action, learning, overcoming fear, looking for support are all important steps, but conviction is the king. When you have conviction all the steps to success follow in conviction’s wake. Pick any of the important steps and you can come up with dozens of reasons and examples of why you can’t or won’t or might not. Which reason or example has any effect on conviction? I deliberately chose ‘conviction’ because unlike ‘belief’ there is no room for ‘doubt’. When you have conviction you eventually know what to do and the sequence of success steps align in the most effective order given the circumstance.

What are the three things you’d like to achieve a year from now with the 7LP?
1. I want to be the person of my imagination – a published author, an esteemed speaker, and excellent teacher.
2. I want people from all over the world to write and improve their lives.
3. I want to see what parts of me have changed and which have stayed the same.

Why 7?
I would love to say that it’s because of the seven stages of man from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but that would be a lie. I had 5 categories fairly quickly but I wanted 7 because it sounds better. The categories are:
1. A letter to your young self
2. A letter to your current self
3. A letter to your future self
4. A letter to family
5. A letter to someone who has passed away
6. A letter to someone you haven’t met yet
7. A letter to someone who has had an impact on your life

Do you know if your kids have participated in this project? Or would they even tell you!
I don’t know. My son keeps things pretty close to the vest, so I would be surprised if he did and told me. I think my daughter would probably tell me. I know they check in on the blog from time to time.

You know, in light of recent events in my life, I have really appreciated all the mails you’ve sent me. One of the favorite things you told me was that you learned fire-breathing from your mom. That’s such a cool thing to say about a parent. What is the single coolest thing you’ve ever taught your children?
I hope the coolest thing my kids have learned from me is to believe in themselves. Until you discover who you are for yourself, you look to others who might know for clues. My kids have seen unconditional love, relentless support, pride, and respect. I want them to discover for themselves what I’ve always known is there.

So Prometheus (and that’s a reference to another favorite thing from one of your mails), what’s the ETA for the 7LP world domination train? And how do I get a ticket for that ride?
The train has definitely left the station. The ETA for everyone who consciously takes part is the same – never. Your young self, current self, and future self changes as you get older. The more you write and reflect and discover, the more people will have an impact on your life. How will it be possible to write all of the letters of your life? That thought shouldn’t frightened anyone. It should make you want to have so many treasures to write about that you never stop growing, discovering, and sharing. Everyone who participates has to know that they have something to say, something that needs to be said. Once they realize that, they can literally write their own ticket.

You know I have to end our interview with this. What shoes are you wearing today?
The only shoes that I have worn today are my cowboy boots. I put them on just now so that I can say that.

I’ve had them for 30 years. I can relate when women say that an article of clothing makes them feel a certain way. When I wear my boots, I feel confident, tough, and powerful.

Thank you so much for helping my dreams come true.

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