It’s important to reflect on where you are and how you got here from time to time. It’s pretty unlikely that you accomplished everything in your life without help or a source of inspiration. Perhaps you have a few people that come to mind — whether they were family members, mentors, friends, or any combination of these things. Did you have any idea how to thank them when they helped you most, if at all?
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If you’re thinking a mentor of yours deserves some thanks but aren’t quite sure how to go about it, we’re here to help. Whether your mentor is from your youth or is a more recent professional contact, we’ll give you some ideas for writing a thank you letter and what to say. You may also be interested in thank you note tips for short, heartfelt messages, too.
Writing a Thank You Letter to a Mentor
Depending on your current relationship, reaching out to a mentor after some time may be intimidating. Or, it may cause you to put pressure on yourself. But that’s silly. This person witnessed you grow and change, and it’s likely they’re incredibly proud of your progress and who you’ve become. Surely, they’d love to hear from you regardless.
Step 1: Plan to follow through
Writing a personal letter to someone can feel like a vulnerable thing, even if you keep the overall tone professional. Don’t let your pride get in the way. It takes bravery to tell others how you feel and to humble yourself enough to let them know.
One of the most critical steps about tasks such as this is to plan to follow through. What’s the worst that could happen? You could express gratitude for someone who may or may not feel they deserve it. So what?
Life is far too short not to take the time to reflect on things and people to be grateful for and express these sentiments. It’s far more likely you’ll reveal something to them about themselves that they needed to hear. It’ll likely make their day, if not their week, month, or even year.
Step 2: Jot down your ideas
Once you’ve decided on the recipient — or recipients if you think it’s time for a few letters — start jotting down ideas of what you’re going to say. It may help you to bring out any photographs or materials from the time you two spent together so you can include details to make the letter even more personalized and special.
It may also help to ask yourself the following questions and answer them briefly to help plan:
- Who is this person to you?
- Why are they special?
- What are some key things he or she taught you?
- How do these teachings apply to your life?
- What were you like before you met this person?
- How did they help you improve?
Step 3: Schedule a time to draft
Schedule a time for yourself to write your letter and stick to it. Obviously, you’ll probably want some privacy, especially if you still work or interact with your mentor.
The letter won’t have quite the same impact if he or she witnesses you writing it — especially if you should be working on other things. Be mindful of the time you do choose, too, as you probably won’t focus very well if you set aside time in the middle of a busy workday.
If you’re a morning person, get up a little earlier on a weekday or weekend and work on your letter then. On the other hand, writing your letter after a full day of work may be cathartic. It all comes down to your schedule and personal preference.
Step 4: Write, then walk away
This step is pretty self-explanatory. It’s time to write your letter. Collect your notes, find a comfortable spot, and get to writing. You can also decide how you want to send your letter. Personalized stationery or hand-written thank you notes can be impactful and are less likely to be “deleted,” if you care about that sort of thing. On the other hand, you may know that your mentor hates clutter and would rather hold onto an email for a rainy day than a card.
Once you’ve written a good bit of your letter — or even feel it’s complete — it’s time to walk away. Yes, walk away. Maybe it’s against your nature to not push through a project until it’s totally complete. Or, perhaps you have a bad habit of quitting projects before they’re finished. Either way, giving some time for your words to rest and for you to breathe is important.
Once you revisit your letter — or any project, for that matter — you’ll be much more likely to find holes, errors, or just general areas that aren’t good.
Step 5: Edit and re-read
After walking away from your letter, of course, you have to come back to it. Now you’re more able to edit it with a fresh perspective and fresh eyes. Unless your mentor wasn’t from the professional space, it’s absolutely crucial to avoid spelling and grammatical errors.
But, you should really do this as a best practice anyway. It’s not so much that he or she will question your intelligence if there are errors, but it’ll appear a bit rushed or lazy and will detract from the significance of the letter.
It may also help you to read your writing from the end to the beginning, too, so you don’t glaze over words as easily. You likely have a pretty good idea of what the letter is supposed to say, and it may be even verbatim in your mind. If you have it memorized, it’ll be harder to see errors or missing ideas and phrases.
Step 6: Send or deliver your letter
Finally, it’s time to send or deliver your letter. It’s important to get your mentor’s address correct if you haven’t corresponded through that platform before. If you’re particularly wary of it being incorrect, it won’t hurt to reach out to them prior to sending your letter just to confirm their address.
You can send a message that says something like the following:
I hope you’re doing well! I wanted to send something your way, and I was wondering if this is the best address to reach you.
I hope to catch up more soon.
If they don’t respond from that address, that gives you a good answer about that method of contact. You may also choose to leave your current home or work number if they would prefer to reach you that way.
If one iffy address is all you have for that person, consider reaching out to one of his or her colleagues or family members, if appropriate. If not, you can always send your letter to this address anyway and hope for the best.
Sample Emails or Letters to a Mentor
Many times, the hardest part of a project is starting it. We hope the following samples can give you momentum if you’re unsure how to begin your letter or get stuck.
Feel free to adjust the following accordingly to better fit your writing style or situation. You may also consider these alternatives to “sincerely” to end your letter, too.
It has been a while since we last saw each other. However, I’ve been thinking more and more lately about everything I learned from you and how much it’s transformed my life.
You always reminded me to look at the big picture and to not sweat the small stuff. For that, I gained so much perspective about how little my problems really were at the time. Instead, I pivoted to focus on what I could do for others, following your example. You always put others first.
Since I started doing so, my life has had so much more meaning and has been all the more rich. All of the good things that have come my way began with simply making the right, selfless choice. They seem minor at the time, of course, but as you also always had to remind me — be patient.
Thank you is an understatement.
Six years later, and I have no idea where I would be without your guidance. I am writing this long overdue letter to attempt to begin to express gratitude you’re owed but will probably flag down all the same.
I started out under your wing hot-headed, directionless, and just kind of a jerk. When I left [place] for the next chapter, I experienced a pure, newfound confidence and patience that I thought I could never grasp.
I never would have imagined being where I am now. I am on an entirely new career path, I have a beautiful family, and I am excited to wake up each morning. I am wholeheartedly happy and a better person, all because of you.
You never gave up on me, even when you should have. I didn’t deserve to have someone like you in my life, but I am eternally grateful that I did. Thank you for all you have done.
I wanted to say thank you for all you’ve done for me over the past few years. If I were to truly list everything that you’ve done, though, that’d be a really, really long letter. I’ll spare us both from that!
You saw something in me I never would have seen in myself. You pushed me beyond the limits I thought I had. You helped me learn how to pick myself up when I failed — and boy, did I fail.
Most of all, I’d like to thank you for believing in me from the start. I often questioned whether or not I “could,” but you always helped me reframe my perspective to “just do it, just try.” Nike should pay you, honestly.
Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you! I know you’d never want me to repay you in any way other than always doing my best. So, I will keep doing the best I can, and then some. It’s easy to try now, all because of you.
'Thank You' Cannot Be Overstated
Saying “thank you” to those in your life that deserve it — people you run into on the street, mentors, loved ones, etc. — can never be overstated. Expressing gratitude to others is an important part of living positively, even when things are tough.