Though Caitlyn Stafford was grateful to hold a marketing position directly out of college, she still felt “unfulfilled and frustrated” more than a year into that job. Then a letter came in the mail … from herself.
Dear Caitlyn in the future, “What kind of family or family life would you like to have?” “Where would you like to be living or to have lived?” “What kind of education will you like to have accomplished?” “What kind of person would you like to be?” “What kind of job would you like to have?” Signed, Caitlyn in the past.
Marketing professor Danny Butler assigns students in his Personal Selling classes to write letters to themselves based on their hopes and aspirations 10 years into the future – with formatted, identical questions, which they answer individually. Butler holds on to the letters and mails them to his former students two- to three years later.
Stafford, a 2010 graduate in international business, received that letter penned in a Lowder Hall classroom and opened the envelope. “Not to over-dramatize it, but it really did change the course of my life,” she said. “It felt like a time-warp experience. It took me back to the moment I wrote it – all of the hopes, dreams, ambitions, and plans that I had for my life. I felt like I had let down past Caitlyn and wasn’t living up to what I knew I could do or what I had wanted to achieve.”
She immediately began looking for new jobs, took the position of Operations Coordinator at Techstar in Denver, earned her MBA, and met her future husband. “I feel like now I’ve become the person that I wanted to be back when I wrote myself that letter,” she said. “I’m so grateful that I got a little reminder of that dream at just the right time.”
Butler, the Harbert College Thomas Walter Center Professor in Marketing, said the assignment emphasizes goal-planning and the steps required to achieve them. It not only comes with goal-setting questions, but a chart asking about action plans to reach said goals and a proposed timeline for achieving them. Objectives include family, location, spiritual life, organizations, travel, education, lifestyle, and employment.
“What I want them to do is look and see if they are on track for their 10 years,” he said. “It’s basically a benchmark. Begin with the end – the dream accomplishment – and 10 years from now tell me what you’ve done and let’s work backward. Business professionals ask, ‘What are your goals? What are the goals of our corporation or what are the goals of our unit? What are your activities that you are getting paid to do? How will you accomplish those?’ Corporations have goals for you. This gets the students used to that activity. How are you going to be evaluated?”
Lauren Higgins, a 2014 marketing graduate, was intrigued by a question regarding her career. “What kind of job would you like to have by then (10 years)?” the question asked.
“My answer was, “I would love to either work for Auburn or any NFL team,” she said. “I would love to be on salary, but also commission. I would love to have the role of manager.”
Though Higgins, the regional human resources coordinator at Enterprise Holdings, isn’t employed at Auburn or the NFL, she is happy to have accomplished some of these wishes – achieving the role of manager and gaining salary plus commission before she turned 23.
“After graduating, I had honestly forgotten about the assignment and was surprised when it came back in the mail,” she said. “Dr. Butler does a great job for his current and former students.”
Aside from typical sales and marketing-related projects or assignments, Butler enjoys providing unique assignments from time to time.
“The university is a chance to learn and grow,” he said. “I try to provide applied assignments that will apply the content area of the courses I teach to something that they can use ideally within the first year of work, hopefully within the first month. Hopefully, it will come back to them and say, ‘This is a life lesson’ or ‘This is a business lesson.’ Students who do these assignments usually fare better in the marketplace, according to students, than the ones that don’t do these kinds of assignments.
“It’s hard as you grow up and leave college to remember all of the plans you had for your future. You take that job that you get offered. You work hard to pay the bills and get through your day-to-day. Having a little nudge from an optimistic, if somewhat idealistic, past version of yourself can remind you of the aspirations you had and encourage you to believe in yourself now as much as you did then. The Auburn ‘spirit that is not afraid’ is what I heard in that letter and it’s what pushed me to become someone I’m proud of as I work to fulfill those dreams.”