A 25,000 mile wish

Earlier this year, I had blogged about my grandparents celebrating their 47th wedding anniversary. I find such longevity very inspiring especially in today’s age of the instant where relationships don’t seem to last anywhere as long as they used to.

A few months ago, I stumbled on the fact that Fred and Joanne Wilson would be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary today. Regulars here know that both of them have played a big part in the evolution of this blog and in my increased understanding of this blogging ‘thing’. Fred’s school of blogging resulted in a complete revamp of the way I blogged around this time last year while Joanne was among the first to agree to interview for the ‘Real Leader’ interviews initiative that has now taken on a life of it’s own.

I’ve also been a regular on their blogs, learning lots and making many friends along the way and felt it would be really cool to do something special for their 25th anniversary. So, the initial impulse was to float an idea for a letter that would travel from regular to regular on their blog communities and include close friends along the way. This letter would be signed by each of these people and would make for a really really cool gift. As we move to an age where digital and instant is the norm, my belief that the ‘old fashioned’ ways would only become more special has never wavered.

But, this initiative would of course involve massive logistical effort and just in case the postal system failed us, we would have a video that would hopefully provide the necessary ‘voice’ over to the letter. Why video? Well, the logistics of getting the chain letter done wouldn’t be in an area of my strength so I thought I’d at least be able to execute on this with no problem.

The idea was initially received luke warm response and I wasn’t all that sure of going ahead myself as I didn’t know too many of Fred and Joanne’s friends or blog community members beyond the interaction on Disqus. Besides, I didn’t know them all that well either. We hadn’t met in person as yet. So, like any good hen would, I sat on it and kept the idea warm. (that’s how I justified sitting on it..)

It was after I interviewed Aaron on Real Leaders that I ended up re-opening the topic. When I confessed my hesitation, he replied with a nice line ‘Don’t ask for permission to do great work. I think it’s a great idea and I would be happy to help. You don’t have to be all collaborative. Just go out there and do it.’

Still, I wasn’t convinced. This period coincided with a personal spring cleaning of sorts, a ‘quiet’ period where I spent more time thinking than doing. Before I knew it, March was here and time was running out. So, in a fit of inspiration one night, I emailed everyone I knew from the AVC community and a few of Fred and Joanne’s friends wondering if they might be interested. I still remember waiting nervously for their responses…

And I clearly remember the moment the next morning when I peered into my email with half open eyes lying in bed looking at some very enthusiastic responses. That’s that then. Decision made. I had no idea how I would manage the logistics but it was time to take the plunge. Besides, a(nother) quote that I love came to mind..

‘When you are at the beginning, don’t obsess about the middle for the middle will look different when you get there.’

Everything after that went at blistering speed. Cut up a nice thick sheet of paper, write a nice wish, sign, plot an initial route, go to the post office and send. (Due thanks to the guy at the Ryman’s Stationery on Edgware Road who was very very helpful!)


This is what the letter looked like before it made it’s way to Milan on March 17th. I still remember the tension – Would it make it okay? Would I have to redo it? Would the British/Italian post fail me?

It did make it eventually. Next stop Canada where a friend, Leigh, popped up with a cool idea – send her the letter and she would round up everyone in Toronto and close by for the signing. Thus, the idea of ‘hubs’ came up. Toronto and NYC were big hubs and we needed people to get together to do this. Mark Essel raised his hand and thus became the go to for New York city. What of the rest of the US though?

Enter Wonder Woman. I had the first of many conversations with Donna around the time the letter (or as we called it, the ‘package’) was on it’s way to Milan. I clearly remember getting out of that phone call and heaving a big sigh of relief as I knew right then that Donna was the best person we’d find to take charge of getting the letter across the US.

The next 2 and a half months were a bit of a blur. Initially, we all reached out to everyone we knew – I used to try and reach out to 3-5 people a day and let them know about the idea. Many came forward to participate. A few weeks in, we had to now focus on figuring out a realistic route. We couldn’t reach everybody so we began asking for e-signatures that we could print and paste onto the note for those who were out of route. We hit a few roadblocks every now and then, no surprises there but we were all determined to see it through. None more so than Donna, of course – who took charge, tracked and ensured the letter’s travels were smooth.

It was quite a sight. Every 2-3 days, we would have a new picture of the letter with an additional signature (this was our back up system in case the postal system lost the letter) and the last few signatures came through while I was off the grid. This is the last photo I have of the package.


Concurrently, I got to work on the video. Collecting short videos from everyone meant giving them atleast 6 ‘FINAL deadlines’. :-) Eventually, they all came through and I vividly remember putting them together on Prezi late in the night before I left on vacation. As with videos like this, it was a painful process and after many hours of editing, recording, re-recording, I sent Mark and Donna a link with the following note  –

Guys, the video is done and is on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKRV7_DXbDQ

I saw it before uploading and it looked fine. It’s taken many many many hours.. and I’m glad to see the end of it. So, unless there’s some massive glaring error, I will choose to ignore all feedback – I hope that’s okay! :-)

Would appreciate if you guys could look at it and give me a thumbs up if all is well.

Thanks – a very sleepy.. Rohan

It’s a hilarious note when I look back now and I couldn’t help but laugh when I received an email from Donna week later saying – ‘I’ve sent the letter to NYC and as much as this has been a labor of love, I’m glad to see it go!’. I could totally relate.

I could go on and on with the many stories from the experience of putting this gift together. Today, however, this little journey comes to an end. There are many things that come to mind as I write this.

Firstly, it’s amazing how a little side project can be a source of great joy. On a rough count, Mark, Donna and I exchanged in excess of 300 emails getting this project together and it was difficult at times since each of us went through difficult periods at work but we stuck to it and had tons of fun.

Secondly, in many ways, this project/initiative was special significance for me. My year seems to have mirrored it’s progress. The first two months were quiet and spent in thought, the next two involved action but had many road blocks and gradually, things have been coming together in the past two months. Coincidence? :-)

Thirdly, we are well and truly in an age where the internet is a place to build relationships. All of this was done to celebrate the anniversary of 2 people we had gotten to know online. And probably most amazingly, while I speak of Donna and Mark like they are lifelong friends, I’ve known them for less than a year and of course, we have never met.

We live in a truly amazing time.

Finally, our biggest concern from the start of the project was if this would be ‘okay’ as a gift to Fred and Joanne. We would be putting in a lot of effort – would they appreciate it? All these questions dogged the early days. Some chose not to take part as a result and I remember us wondering if we were right going ahead with this.

Over time, though, such thoughts disappeared and we have barely been able to wait for ‘d-day’ as we’ve seen things progress. So many ‘very excited and I will miss this’ emails have been flying around as we’ve been inching closer to the finish line.

For me personally, a key moment was meeting Fred and Joanne in person when they were in London last month. I spent a wonderful hour in conversation with them and I remember walking out nodding to myself and saying – ‘Worth every ounce of effort!’

So, that said, I will wrap up this very long post. Today is their day and they should be looking at the note and the video any time now. The letter (fittingly) travelled in excess of 25,000 miles and was filled one signature at a time. The video was a similar story, but different all the same. I’d never have thought this was possible and that this would be this much fun.

Thanks Fred and Joanne, for all the inspiration. And Happy 25th Anniversary!

photo 1

PS: I chanced on Donna’s tweet as I was about to hit the publish button. As I wrote a large part of this on flight, I thought I’d add it to the post.

‘To truly give a gift is to relinquish any hold on the recipient. That is true giving.’

Message received, Donna. Time to start the day.