“If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.” Terry Pratchett*
How do you turn your life into a story? A timeline of your social media posts might provide a hint to your narrative’s trajectory, but the best way is to begin recording what’s happening in your life on a daily basis; on paper, in a journal.
One of the best jobs I ever had was leading a freshman seminar, ‘You Can’t Go Home Again, Now What?’. At the beginning of the fall semester I gave each first year student a blank Moleskine notebook. The direction was simple – “record your observations of people and place… keep your memories the old fashioned way – on paper. This is your personal space for your personal thoughts.”
Keeping a journal is way to establish a routine in a new environment and at the same time reflect on the unique experience of joining a new community. It’s a practice where you take ownership of your story.
“When you leave college, there are thousands of people out there with the same degree you have; when you get a job, there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living.
But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.”
College is just one catalyst to begin the process of recording and reflecting. The ‘Back to School’ aisles in your local Target are full of notebooks in every imaginable shape and size, just waiting to capture your creativity.
Why a notebook and not an online journal? It’s important to disconnect and avoid distraction when you’re talking to yourself about your day. And then there’s the apocalyptic view: when we are all off the grid, we’ll still have our journals.
When we scribble a few words, we are compiling a record that simply makes sense of the day. And on those days when things have not worked out as planned, it’s the perfect place to vent, in the privacy of the lined (or unlined) page.
What happened to all those first year students and their Moleskine journals? I think some may still be in a storage bin, blank. But for many, they contain the treasure of a story of transition and change, a template for continuous, lifelong learning.
String a few years of journal entries together and you begin to see career patterns emerge: choices, consequences and course corrections.
Your journal is your story. There are no rules. You’re writing your story in real time. Don’t edit, but do read what you write.
Take care of the life of your mind while paying attention to the life of your heart.