Throughout 2018 I’ve taken part in a mentoring course called 52 Weeks of Momentum with blogger and psychologist, Benjamin Hardy. It’s been an extraordinary journey and has helped me put a lot of pressure on how I’ve used my time this year and on clarifying what matters to me most in life.
I’ve done a huge amount of reading this year — around 120 books — from life lessons to philosophy, from fiction to Jungian psycho-analysis, from poetry to books on writing process and the writing life. And one of the fundamental questions that arose for me was from Jim Rohn’s The Art of Exceptional Living. Namely: What are you becoming?
It’s a question that resonated with me since my personal and writing blog is: ‘Becoming a Different Story’, and the idea that we can re-invent ourselves, that we live in stories and can shift those stories, is a vital concept for me.
An ordinary life lived exceptionally well
Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash
Rohn talks about living an ordinary life exceptionally well. He puts a huge stress on reading, on being a constant learner, and also on simple daily rituals or habits. And he is someone who advocates journaling, so there was a lot of common ground.
Most of all though, that question has accompanied me throughout the year, morphing from ‘What are you becoming?’ to ‘Who are you becoming?’
Being, I believe is primary. Our values and how we live them matter so much more than how much money we earn or who has heard of us. The person at the core is everything.
Rohn is big on goals. I’m more excited by quests. It fits the way I think of life in narrative terms, but as someone who journals a great deal, I’ve always spent a lot of time, especially as a year is drawing to its close or beginning, reflecting back on what I’ve learn, checking on how I am connecting to the people who matter most in my life, remembering events and what they mean — not just lists, but the texture and emotions of the year — and looking forward to what next. The primary question is not what do I want to have, but who do I want to be and how would such a person act in the world?
A life of congruence
Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash
Over the last year, part of that ‘becoming’ has been a project related to ‘virtues’. Each week I’ve focussed on one of 13 virtues to try to become a better version of myself. (13 allows each virtue to repeat 4 times during the year.) Who we are is fluid; we have the capacity to change, to become the person we want to be.
But change can be difficult or completely thwarted if we are unable to match our external environments and relationships with the internal shift. A sober alcoholic has much less chance of thriving and staying sober if her environment is full of alcohol and all her friends drink heavily and mock her abstention. We need a level of supportive congruence, whether in persuading others to view us as the self we want to be or in aligning our inner self-image and outer behaviour. As Mahatma Gandhi said,
If your words, your thoughts, and your actions are all in harmony, then you can be happy.
If the world you live in is incongruous with the world you inhabit internally then the only way to become different is by dint of willpower. And eventually that will fail anyone. So that question, ‘Who are you becoming?’ has many layers to it.
seeing yourself as the person you want to be
writing by the Seine, Adam Craig
If you are a writer, you have to write. If you want to be a generous person, you have to give. You can’t fool yourself. If you want to see yourself as a fit person, you have to do the exercise and eat healthily. If you don’t, the person you are breaking promises to is yourself, and you will know it and see yourself accordingly. On the other hand, when we live our values, our self-confidence rises. You see yourself as the person you want to be.
signalling yourself to others
next draft, Adam Craig
It can be difficult to get people who’ve known you for a long time to believe you can make changes or set out on big quests. But no-one is really ‘self-made’. We all rely on a network of influences, environment and relationships and people who love you will support the journey if you let them in.
Of course there will be some people who do not want you to change. A group of drinking friends with little else in common might not be the best supporters for someone giving up alcohol (though they could surprise you and start to make their own changes). Change can make you vulnerable to losing certain people. If the relationships have been purely transactional (about what one party is ‘getting’ from the other) then they may not survive.
But the important relationships in your life will always be the transformational ones — they ones where sharing and mutual support become more than the sum of the parts. In these relationships, asking for support to make changes is likely to result in not only receiving support, but creative thinking and a ripple effect of changes in others’ lives too.
As I come towards the end of 2018 I’m excited by the ideas of
- living an ordinary life exceptionally well
- living a congruent life in which my inner and outer worlds match
- seeing myself as the person I want to become
- signalling to the important people in my life that I need their support
I’m excited because that 52 weeks of momentum course has made me re-appraise my quests and how I see myself.
I’ve run an independent publishing house for 13 years. I’ve loved it and it’s come a long way, but my own writing is becoming increasingly important to me. I realised this powerfully when I took a month out in 2017 to research and write in Budapest. This year I built on that and took ten full weeks for writing in two blocks, plus some individual weeks or long weekends.
I travelled to Spain to research the third book in a trilogy in the summer, and returned to Budapest to launch A Remedy for All Things in the winter. In the previous decade I’d barely taken a holiday and even when I did it was generally combined with work. Whilst the writing months weren’t vacations, they were radically different. I was reconnecting with myself as a writer.
I returned from the initial month in 2017 knowing I would make huge changes to my working life and several of these changes are now in place and more are in progress, including working on reducing the number of books we publish and providing more resources for authors to support their books.
The experiences from this year have put me even further in touch with that inner writer and have left me with a great deal to think about and a radically different shape to how I use time. I am becoming a writer first and editor/publisher second, or maybe even third behind writing, followed by mentor and tutor.
This is a huge shift and, like anyone, I still have bills to pay. But I know that the self in my head and heart has to be congruent with the environments and relationships that support me and that I, in turn, support. I can’t stop thinking: I’m a writer, and those thoughts are filling my conversations (in speech and in blogs) and those conversations are informing how I act, the kind of morning routine I have and how I use my time. My inner world isn’t going to stay only locked inside, not if I want to be a healthy human being.
Whatever your quest in life, you need to get excited about:
- living an ordinary life exceptionally well
- living a congruent life in which your inner and outer worlds match
- seeing yourself as the person you want to become
- signalling to the important people in your life that I need their support
You need to let your inner world emerge into the world. You need an environment and relationships that nurture your quest, rather than mocking or squashing it.
This may demand a lot of courage and a great deal of change, but it doesn’t have to happen all at once. The trick is to start heading in the right direction. Start with simple conversations. Let the dreams find voice and the voice start to effect what you do. Build small habits that signal the person who want to become until you realise it’s now who you are.
Life is too short for incongruity and internal conflict. Let’s make 2019 a quest to live exceptionally well, whatever than might mean for each of us.
Call to become your story
Thank you for reading — sign up to my email list and I’ll send you a free PDF on writing and the writing life. While you’re there, download my free course, Giving yourself time to become a different story.
If you would like to explore becoming your story further, my journaling course Becoming your story will inspire, encourage and support you to develop a writing life that is congruent with your values and your dreams.
Joanne Stryker says
I love this, Jan! The ideas you so clearly articulate here express almost exactly the journey I’ve been making the last year and continue into 2019. The more I commit to this path, the more deeply I know that an authentic life is really the only one worth living; in fact, I believe that the reason we are here is to fully discover, become and express our authentic selves, and doing so is our best and inimitable gift to our loved ones and to the world. The more widely these ideas are disseminated, the easier it will be for everyone to embrace their own journeys to become who they authentically are, and the richer and more beautiful our world will be. Keep writing, Jan. You have so much of value to say! ❤
Carolyn Waudby says
Thank you, Jan – this was a thought-provoking piece with many truths.
Good luck with your quests.
Carolyn O'Connell says
A wonderful and inspirational blog to start the new yeat Jan. I will remember it
Mark Fitzgerald says
Uplifting and compelling! Love the vision, all the hope in charting a course towards our true north. Thanks, Jan!