Did you ever come to an important realization about yourself, only to smack yourself in the head and say, “Well, that was obvious! Why did it take me so long to figure this out?” If your answer is YES, then you are in good company, because that is totally me right now!
I have been lately working every day on what I call TJP, short for “The Journal Project.” Essentially, TJP is a life review, using my 20+ years of journals, in an effort to better understand who I have been and how I have come to be the man I am today. But it’s also much more than that. It’s a book in the making. I am attempting to construct a readable story using only journal entries. It was originally intended just for me, but then I thought I might make it for my kids so they would understood who their old man really was. Finally, I decided to see if maybe my thoughts could be helpful to a wider audience. So, that’s how I am reading the entries now, with an eye toward a real book. I won’t know until I finish the project if it has value for anyone besides me, but I hope that it works out that way. If not, just going through the process will have at least taught me one important thing that I didn’t know before: that I am a writer.
You see, it was around the time I was starting The Journal Project that I was coming up on my 40th birthday. Somehow, whether it was the approaching milestone or just coincidence, I began to obsess about finding my true purpose in life and doggedly pursuing my dreams. As I read through my first few volumes from around 15 years before, all sorts of references to my desire to write books jumped off the pages at me. Examples:
October 20, 1997: “…but I just want to write all the time. I stop myself so many times in the day from pulling out the pen because I know I haven’t really anything to say. It’s all I want, though, it seems.”
December 10, 1997: “When I think of the concept of writing a book, it just seems so big and daunting. But the thing is, I know I can. I have no doubt that it will be a ton of work, but that aspect excites me to no end. I want to be up to my ears in it. I love the image of writing through the night on some incendiary ideas which evolve into world-changing passages.”
May 3, 1998: “Perhaps I should begin to organize my first book.”
August 23, 1998: “I was just thinking, I think I should write for a living.”
July 3, 1999: “I wonder how many of these things (journals) I will fill up before I finally write a book and publish it. Thirty? Fifty? I think this is the fourteenth one. Shoot, maybe that number will be 100. It is coming to me, though.”
September 27, 1999: “I really want to write books one day. I want to be an author and a lecturer, a teacher to all.”
October 4, 1999: “Wow! I cannot wait to start writing. The time is approaching when I explode onto this world with love and hope for all. I feel it in me.”
These passages seemed to stand out in bold to me as I read them. Why? Because I had almost completely forgotten how badly I had wanted to write books. I mean it. I fell into a long phase of life during which I was focused on my “realistic” career and marriage and parenting, and the thing I was most passionate about doing faded out of my mind. I took my eye off the ball, fell asleep at the wheel.
Fast forward all those years later, from my mid-twenties to almost 40, and the search for my passion, my true calling, finally woke me from that phase that I now call “Sleepwalking.” Suddenly, my journal entries began to be littered with thoughts that had disappeared those many years ago:
September 14, 2012: “I will write a book. I will. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. I am excited.”
September 19, 2012: “I am fairly clear now that I will not be a novelist. My books will be non-fiction, most likely involving self-help/confidence, spirituality, or tennis, or perhaps all three together.”
September 27, 2012: “…I have often thought of writing an autobiography, or trying to piece together an interesting story of a man—me—told only through journal entries. Probably it would only be interesting to me, but it may be very satisfying to work on anyway. Who knows? There may be something there. I will keep this in my head.”
October 3, 2012: “So I will be a writer instead. I am going to keep telling myself that—I have just recently giving myself permission to announce my dreams, at least to myself—at least until it comes true. The more I say it, the more it pushes me to start doing something about it. That is, to start writing, or at least researching, brainstorming, and jotting notes about what I want to write. It is a first step in the right direction. This is going to work.”
October 13, 2012: “With this ‘announcing’ thing on my mind lately, and me making my ‘Write, William. WRITE!!!” sign for my desk, I thought it fortuitous when I received this quote on Thursday from one of my greatest idols/inspirations, Henry David Thoreau: ‘A single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we must walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.’ I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I share myself with the world in order to educate the world. By giving of myself, I can make the world better. My thoughts are worth sharing. I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer.”
Even though those entries were almost four years ago now and you still don’t have a book of mine in your hands, I am pleased to report that this time, I have not forgotten. The book has sometimes had to be put on the back burner for long stretches as Life intervened, but it has never left the stove. And lately, I have been pushing hard on it. It is far from complete—probably there are years of work left—but there is no longer any doubt that I will complete it. And if my first one isn’t worth publishing, I will write another one. And another.
My bucket list—you know, those things you plan to do before you die—has only one line on it: WRITE A BOOK. Oh sure, there are other things I want to do before I kick the bucket—learn to snowboard, take my kids on a National Parks trip, get back on a surfboard, learn the guitar, live on a beach—but there is only one thing I need to do in order to die satisfied. It’s the thing I once knew, then forgot about, and then was reminded of again, thanks to my journals. I need to publish a book. Sure, I plan to publish many, but one is the absolute minimum standard before I go. That’s all I need to do.
How about you? What one thing do you need to do before you die in order to leave satisfied? Open up your journal and flesh out your deepest need. This is a tough one, because it forces you to separate needs from desires. Start off more generally, making a list of everything on your wish list of life experiences or achievements. What types of things come first to your mind? Are they career goals, like promotions or raises? Learning a new skill, such as a musical instrument or a language? Travel? Physical achievements, such as weight loss or running a marathon? Adventures, like sky-diving or swimming with dolphins? After you have your list together, see if something stands out and speaks to your soul more forcefully than the others, something you are unusually drawn to. Would that experience be enough to allow you to die satisfied? How risky is it for you to pursue this most important endeavor? Risky in what way—financially, physically, emotionally, or something else? How far out of your comfort zone is it? Is it something you have always dreamed about? Have you verbalized it, even if only to yourself (your version of my “I am a writer” mantra)? How difficult is your item to achieve? Do you need help from anyone to achieve it? Are you willing to ask for that help? How long until you will be reasonably able to knock this off your list? What will it mean to you to have done it? Will it bring more excitement or relief? How badly would it disappoint you to not do it? Leave me a reply and let me know: What one thing must you do that will allow you to die satisfied?
No day but today,
P.S. If this letter helped you put some things in perspective for your life, pass it on. I encourage you to sign up to receive each week’s post in your email inbox. Now write!