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Think back on the past few years of your life–what are the some of the strongest memories you have? Your favorite stories? Your hardest or most challenging moments?
I’m guessing they aren’t get up, take a shower, go to work and sit at a desk, come home to eat a forgettable dinner, and then sit in front of the TV for a few hours before bed.
Rinse and repeat.
I was living that story before. I went to college, got a great job in Washington DC, and then… Yeah. Those five years all kind of run together–punctuated by activities, events, and interests outside of work, of course, from trips to go climb a mountain to memorable weekend getaways.
I was content… Complacent… Certainly not unhappy. But complacency can be so much more insidious than being truly unhappy. At least being truly unhappy is more likely to spur change.
We all have the power to choose to live a better story.
Last year I attended the World Domination Summit in Portland which asks us how we can live an unconventional life in a conventional world.
The key note speaker at the event was Donald Miller (the video is definitely worth a watch), an accomplished author who spoke about how, just like a writer crafting a good story, we can consciously craft better stories for our lives.
More than a year later, I finally got around to reading one of his books, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a book about turning another book into a Hollywood movie. That other book, Blue Like Jazz, is one of Donald Miller’s previous works, which is an apparently sometimes disjointed collection of essays and stories about his life.
The screenwriters come visit Don to work with him on the main plot points of his book (and of his life) and begin suggesting changes and revisions… Effectively editing his life into something more interesting, all while he is present and involved.
Don finds the process to be somewhat unsettling and comes to realize that, as a writer, he has made a career out of telling great stories, but hasn’t necessarily been living a very interesting life himself.
It is through this process of rewriting his old stories (and his life) for the screenplay and learning more about the key elements of story, that we are taken along as he begins the process of editing his current life.
All in pursuit of living a better story. Today.
A good story goes somewhere. There is a goal, an end destination in mind–maybe the character makes it there, or achieves what he is after, or maybe he doesn’t. That is all part of the story.
For you to really get anywhere at all–whether that is to go to the super market down the street or to get a better job–you have to be intentional. You have to know where you want to go before you can get there.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The Rat Race isn’t really much of a race at all. It is more like a never ending treadmill. We get on the treadmill because that is what we are supposed to do.
Then we have no direction–we just keep going.
The Inciting Incident
The trigger or event that changes your life and your story. It is the door you walk through which you can never re-enter.
Your inciting incident might be getting fired or laid off from your comfortable job. The sudden and unexpected death of a loved one or someone close to you. The end of a marriage or relationship.
What do you want?
“I want to travel…” “I want to get a better job…” “I want to make more money…”
None of these things are specific. None of these things are going to help you get there. If you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t really matter which way you go.
Where do you want to travel, when, for how long, and how much money would you need? Now we have some information we can work with… Now we have a timeline, an idea of how much money you need to save, and something specific.
I publicly set my goal on this blog to cover 100% of my expenses by October.
Will I get there? Maybe, maybe not.
I might fail. The point, regardless of success, is that I know where I want to go, and with that information I can lay out the steps needed to get there.
Think of it like the GPS in your car or smartphone. It can only be of service to you if you tell it where you want to go. Otherwise the thing is absolutely useless–it just stares back at you.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a compelling, thought provoking read, that I think most people will find fascinating. Donald Miller is himself a great storyteller, even when telling a story about storytelling. The book follows his transformation from passive character in the story of his life to someone who takes an active role.
The book relays his stories of asking out the girl, meeting his estranged father for the first time, riding a bike across America, struggling up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and starting a mentoring project for kids without fathers.
All the while he is teaching us about the elements of a good story and how we too can choose to live a better story.
The book is sprinkled with nuggets of wisdom throughout that both made me look back on my favorite Hollywood flicks while realizing new and subtle aspects of their masterful storytelling, and made me think about the story that I am telling with my life and how to improve it in the future.
I absolutely think it is a worthwhile read for anyone looking to change the trajectory of their life or career.
Don says if we can answer the following three questions, we’ll be better positioned to realize how we can live a better story and move toward it.
Who are you?
What do you want?
What’s the first step?
“I found myself wanting even better stories. And that’s the thing you’ll realize when you organize your life into the structure of story. You’ll get a taste for one story and then want another, and then another, and the stories will build until you’re living a kind of epic of risk and reward, and the whole thing will be molding you into the actual character whose roles you’ve been playing.
“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time. The more practice stories I lived, the more I wanted an epic to climb inside of and see through till its end.”
What’s your story when you look back on your life? Which direction are you taking your story right now?
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