I’ve followed the PostSecret blog for a long time, and a friend gave me one of the books a few years ago. So, when I heard the author (for lack of a better word to describe him) was speaking at the university 16 miles from my house, I was intrigued. But there was competition for tickets, and I don’t like dealing with that, and I figured I didn’t need to spend $10 on it. Then I got a last-minute offer of a free ticket, so I jumped at the opportunity and attended the event Saturday night.
If you don’t know about PostSecret, it started five years ago when a guy named Frank Warren got an idea for an art project. He printed up 3,000 postcards with his home address on them, then began asking random Washington D.C. strangers to write a secret on the card and mail it to him. It became an Internet sensation, and now he gets 1,000 postcards a week from around the globe. He’s also received secrets written on a potato, a bag of coffee, an In-N-Out bag (which he showed Saturday), and others. He just published his fifth book, a best-seller.
Warren is a great public speaker, and he had the right balance of humor and serious thought-provoking matters. For him, the biggest purpose of collecting secrets is to encourage people to let go of them. Plenty of the secrets are funny — he said “I pee in the shower” is the most common secret he receives — but many are from people who are dealing with awful things in life. If they can tell their awful secret, even anonymously, then maybe they will feel relief and be able to move on.
Of course, some people will probably move on for other reasons: At the end of Warren’s talk, he asked people to step forward to one of several microphones and share their own secrets. One girl brought down the house by admitting that, for revenge, she uses her roommate’s pasta strainer to sift poop out of her reptile’s cage. I have a feeling she’ll be moving on to another roommate because a confession like that won’t remain secret in today’s world full of social networking. But that’s probably best for both roommates, anyway.
Others shared about depression, and some started crying as they shared their dark secrets; audience members then started crying, too.
“The children almost broken by the world become the adults who will change it,” Warren said in his speech, and it stuck with me.
Much of the audience was made up of college students, and the first one who spoke publicly said that he makes it a point to say hi to as many people as possible, because when he was in high school he was the outcast nobody talked to. That young man didn’t let his experiences break him; instead he’s trying to change the world simply through kindness.
One PostSecret blog reader was inspired by a postcard to start a website that would reunite lost cameras with their owners. Now, dozens of people have found the pictures they thought were gone forever, thanks to I Found Your Camera. As I write this, the site has received 5.2 million hits.
The camera site and PostSecret started simply: Someone got an idea and decided to act on it. On the screen behind Warren, he displayed a simple question: “What’s Your Crazy Idea?” His own mother doesn’t like PostSecret (she called it “diabolical”) and, after glancing at his books in a bookstore, said she doesn’t want her own copies. But that didn’t stop Warren, and his idea has become a phenomenon. He has found something he truly enjoys doing, and he’s been rewarded: Warren has heard from people who, after seeing a secret on the website or sharing their own, decided to get help rather than committing suicide.
We all need to cling to our dreams, and take a chance by pursuing the ideas that come to us. After all, we might just stumble upon a way to help others.