On its site, PostSecret is described as an “ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.” Warren’s first step with the continually growing project was handing out blank postcards to strangers asking them to decorate the card and share a secret they had never shared before. Choosing to ask them to write a secret was influenced by Warren’s childhood, where he became aware that there were many secrets being kept in his family that he wanted to discover. “I just kind of had this crazy idea and believed in it, and it caught fire,” Warren says.
Now, the site that originally began with Warren posting his favorite postcards and secrets of the week, has a complementary site, the PostSecret Community, where users can chat with each other and comment on each other’s secrets.
So what is it about PostSecret that makes visitors willing to open up to one another? “I believe that eventually if you read through a PostSecret book or visit the website or come to a PostSecret event, you discover that one secret that might be a burden that you’re carrying in your own life that you’ve never articulated to yourself, but you see it there staring at you from a stranger’s post card, and that can be an epiphany,” Warren says.
These kinds of realizations may be even more significant for the site’s younger audience. “I feel like young people especially are at that point in their life where they’re truly searching and experimenting with what’s authentic and kind of trying to identify what’s bullshit,” he adds.
Warren has experienced his fair share of success because of PostSecret’s wide appeal. He has published four PostSecret books and released a fifth, PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death and God, last month. Warren also spends a lot of time traveling to college campuses, and will visit over 20 campuses this year.
While Warren’s job may sound like one that people only dream of, it’s not without its challenges. “It’s difficult to convey the challenge of reading all the postcards everyday and not missing a Sunday with these secrets,” says the author and entrepreneur. “So as a father, as somebody who gets sick once in a while, as somebody who likes
to travel, there are a lot of challenges that make it difficult to stay consistent with PostSecret. But I feel very connected to it, and it’s very important that I do, so I sacrifice quite a bit to be there.”
This dedication is what pushes Warren to keep growing PostSecret. “I always try to grow PostSecret in a way that’s organic,” Warren says. “I try and explore different ways of sharing our secrets so that we can maybe understand or appreciate different parts of their nature. And social networks like Twitter and blogs and also Facebook have allowed it to really spread virally around the Internet.”
While the Internet has been important for PostSecret, Warren thinks the decorated postcards are just as significant and can be “extraordinary.”
The artistic cards have made a great impact in other ways, once rallying enough support from its members to raise over $31,000 to keep the National Suicide Prevention hotline running. Promoting the hotline is important to Warren, who was volunteering at Hopeline, a suicide prevention hotline, when PostSecret came to him.
“I think the training and experience that I had, talking to strangers about their secrets on Hopeline, really allowed me to grow the project in a way that I think is very positive and meaningful for me and hopefully for others as well,” Warren says. He hopes the act of physically letting the secret go gives those considering suicide a sense of relief, or at the very least, helps them take the first step in dealing with the secret in a way that’s “appropriate” for them.
Currently, Warren is working on putting together a film about the stories behind PostSecret, though nothing has been set in stone. And while PostSecret continues to grow, Warren stays faithful to its original purpose. “I would say that one of the things I’ve learned through the project is that there’s two kinds of secrets - the ones we keep from others and the secrets we keep from ourselves,” Warren says. “And I hope through PostSecret, we’re able to face some of those more difficult secrets that we hide from ourselves in our everyday lives.”
By Lorraine K. Lee