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Heartbreaking secrets. Affectionate secrets. Embarrassing secrets. Family secrets. Frank Warren, creator of the website Postsecret, has seen them all.
Postsecret is an online platform where individuals are invited to anonymously share their secrets on a postcard and send it in.
Warren describes secrets as, “something we feel afraid to tell others and sometimes admit to ourselves.”
While secrets tend to come with a general rule of thumb—keep them sealed tight–this can cause anxiety. In a 2012 study conducted by Michael Slepian, a professor at Columbia University, results demonstrated that those who keep secrets are physically weighed down. In Slepian’s experiment, he asked homosexual men to assist him with moving some boxes. Those who were not “out of the closet” yet elected to move fewer boxes. The findings from this study denote that keeping secrets can be alienating.
Postsecret is predicated on the premise that even when you feel isolated and tied down by your deepest secrets, there is someone else out there who has had a similar experience. This shared discovery is comforting.
The concept for Postsecret emerged from an art project Warren curated in November 2004. Warren printed 3,000 blank postcards asking strangers in Washington D.C. to mail in a secret they had never revealed before. Warren handed the postcards out to pedestrians, placed them in between book pages at bookstores, and placed them on park benches. He received 100 secrets back and posted them on his blog. The blog post went viral.
Warren’s world has been turned upside down as a result of Postsecret.
“At the end of the day we all share common emotions and fears which form the fabric for connecting individuals on a more empathetic level.”
Since then, Warren has received over a million secrets, has a TEDX talk with 2.5 million views, has a PostSecret display containing over 500 secrets at The Smithsonian Museum, and has published six NY Times Best-Selling books. Moreover, his website is the most visited advertisement-free blog in the world.
Before his development of the website, Warren was a business owner for 20 years. He reflects that while he had a rich interior life, he has always felt that humans share similar fears and thoughts. When asked what he thought made the platform a success, Frank explains that this very deep connectivity has brought strangers together in seemingly unlikely ways.
“I think it is the deep compelling nature of secrets in a secure, non-judgmental place, whether it is a laugh-out-loud secret, romantic secret, or a heartbreaking secret, they remind us that secrets are the currency of intimacy.”
The general theme that the website is rooted in was further demonstrated as Warren began receiving postcards from different continents around the globe.
“As I began to translate these postcards that were in different languages, many of them spoke to the same feelings that we all share. It’s like I have a special microscope that I can peek into and connect with others.”
An act of desperation. Love letters. Funny anecdotes. These are some of the reasons Warren believes people across the globe are prompted to send in their secrets.
On average, Warren receives about 100 secrets a week. Every Sunday, he selects 30 to run on his platform.
Warren selects the secrets in a systematic way. He says that he tries to pick ones that touch on every human emotion. He then determines the order in which they are displayed, in a way where they can all connect together.
“There is an artistic technique to connecting the secrets. I almost feel like a movie editor, editing together different scenes to tell people a story,” he comments.
“The PostSecret community as a whole has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for suicide prevention, raised awareness, created resources that didn’t exist before. It’s an issue I’m extremely passionate about.” – Frank Warren
Postsecret not only connects humans across the globe, it also serves as a platform for raising awareness regarding mental illness. Warren consistently receives secrets addressing pain, suffering, thoughts of suicide, and other struggles. Warren, who has struggled with mental illness in the past, encourages fans to seek help if they find themselves in need.
In an interview with The Washington Post, he comments, “I’ve struggled with mental illness. I’ve had to ask for help. I feel like suicide is America’s secret, it’s the secret we keep from ourselves, and I think that ultimately just exacerbates the problem.”
As PostSecret continued to generate more traffic, Warren saw the platform as an opportunity to break the stigma surrounding the topic of mental illness. He shares mental wellness resources on the web and has also paired with suicide prevention nonprofits.
He comments to The Washington Post, “The PostSecret community as a whole has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for suicide prevention, raised awareness, created resources that didn’t exist before. It’s an issue I’m extremely passionate about.”
For example, in 2006 The Kristin Brooks Hope Center, a non-profit organization (1-800-SUICIDE hotline), reached out to Warren asking him to post on PostSecret about raising funds in order to keep the hotline running. On April 16, 2006 Warren posted on PostSecret about donations for KBHC. In just a few hours, donors had contributed enough to keep the company running for 30 days. The response rate continued–resulting in 30,000 dollars being raised for KBHC in just over a week.
In 2011, Warren was awarded the Hopeline Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on suicide prevention and was invited to the White House to work on issues of mental wellness.
In the future, Warren says he plans to continue running PostSecret. He also plans to continue his fall college campus speaker tour.
The secrets expressed by individuals around the globe on Postsecret is reflective of Warren’s initial concept for his project; at the end of the day we all share common emotions and fears which form the fabric for connecting individuals on a more empathetic level.