Make your Soul Grow – Inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut

One of the delightful things about being a parent of a curious child is that they keep asking the best questions of you and the other adults around them. There are many stories of that one teacher who inspired greatness and every kid ( and every adult) deserves to have those people in their lives.

On the obverse side though it does seem in the public arena there are also those who are blind to the smarter dimensions of curiosity and insight and they can try to pull us down to their level of darkness. No one deserves or need the negative feedback loop that is sometimes exposed, especially online. We all need to be more inspired and more resilient and true to our own calling – whatever that might be.

Now we are global the reasonance from an inspirational moment can travel much further. I particularly like this one from Kurt Vonnegut.

Back in 2006, a group of students at Xavier High School in New York City (one of whom, “JT,” submitted this letter) were given an assignment by their English teacher, Ms. Lockwood, that was to test their persuasive writing skills: they were asked to write to their favourite author and ask him or her to visit the school. Five of those pupils chose Kurt Vonnegut. His thoughtful reply, seen below, was the only response the class received.”

From Letters of Note which also has a screenshot of the letter.

Here are 2 excerpts from that letter – go to letters of note to read the full version

“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.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives….

You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.”

I thank Kurt for that letter and for the words of encouragement from teachers, business leaders and friends who speak truth and insight into our lives.

We all need to celebrate inspiration much more than we do.

Some years later, students at another school (in the UK) made that letter made it into a short video clip included below.

Make Your Soul Grow from Dogtooth Films on Vimeo.

It turns out that Kurt had a lot to say about story telling and here is a clip that came across my desk earlier this week. I recommend reading the full article called To Tell Your Story, Take a Page from Kurt Vonnegut


Vonnegut devoted his master’s thesis at the University of Chicago to studying the shapes of stories. The thesis was rejected (apparently, Vonnegut’s advisors were of the John Keating school of literary criticism). But his ideas are thriving online in various storytelling tutorials. Nieman offers up Vonnegut’s original presentation, now on YouTube, in which he graphs some of the most basic story structures and explains how they work.

“But watch the video (it’s less than five minutes long), and two things become apparent. The first is certainly that so many successful business stories follow patterns embedded in Western civilization’s most primal literary conventions. It’s easy to see why marshalling data to tell one of these kinds of stories – rags turning into riches, mistakes rectified, challenges overcome, the right resources and the right contacts saving the day — would be so compelling. And there’s probably an argument here for reading more fiction, to give John Keating his due.

The second is that Vonnegut’s delivery matters as much as his ideas. His timing is perfect. His language is concrete and unexpected. He’s showing you the simplicity that underlies apparent complexity – that’s what data are so good at doing. But he’s just as concerned with making sure you’re paying attention — since no one is persuaded by something they don’t remember.”

I’m all for simplicity and communication of complexity in ways that we can all action – in ways that will make our souls grow.