I have a friend–an artist–who keeps a journal. That’s a fairly common thing for people to do, but this friend of mine has kept a journal almost every day for the last fifteen years. He has filled well over two dozen of them, and I’m talking about the great big, acid-free bound ones, the kind used for archiving. I’ve seen them lined up on the shelves at his house, and while some people might think, “this guy is obsessed with himself,” I know he’s not. What he is obsessed with is building.
Let me explain. For my friend, journaling isn’t just documenting. It’s an act of slowly building a creation. Recently he took some of the images out of his journal and recreated them in a larger format, painting the images on actual doors. Now they aren’t simply journal entries, but beautiful and fascinating works of art. So that act of slowly working every day isn’t an act of self-involvement. It isn’t a silly waste of time. What it is is practice.
My friend has always wanted to keep being an artist, to keep creating, even as he’s gotten married and had three (I know) kids and continued to work a full time job. Still, he takes the time because he knows what he wants and he knows how easy it is to get distracted. In partnership with Jeep, we’re doing a series this month on squeezing the most out of life. Here are four things I’ve learned from my friend about being true to your goals.
1. You are what you do
If you want to be an artist then you have to create art. If you want to be a hiker or a traveler then you have to travel. If you want to be a writer then you have to write. I remember hearing the phrase when I was younger, “repetition is the master,” and this is the truth. The only way to achieve your goals is by putting in the time every day. Sure, every day won’t be wonderful, but over time a number of days will be wonderful. What’s more, it isn’t the high-achieving days that make us better at whatever we’re trying to achieve.
2. Have a sense of adventure about your failures
Be willing to write, create, do nothing of value for days on end even as you’re still reaching for that masterpiece. Understand that it’s the process of doing what you do every day that holds the key to improvement. The weekends spent scrambling up and down hillsides are preparation for climbing the mountain. No one ever just walks up and climbs the mountain. Own your practice and your conditioning. It’s the stuff of life.
3. Yesterday was practice for today
Many people, myself included, hold on to past accomplishments for too long. In doing so, we sort of end up collecting pieces of our own lives and making medals out of them. A medal, like a monument, is timeless. But it’s also, in a sense, dead. Acknowledge that fact. Take pride in your past successes, but don’t let them define you.
In order to move on in his work, my friend has actually taken a number of his pieces and burned them. After burning them, he’s taken the ashes and used them to make ink which, in turn, is then used to create new work.
4. Living this way will create a refuge for you
This kind of “one builds on the next” way of looking at life, work, practice, and goals has an added effect beyond the primary goal of practice. It creates a lifestyle for you that’s self-reinforcing. In time, there simply becomes no question about whether you’re working towards your goals or not because working towards your goals will have become “the kind of person you are.”
The world is full of distraction and reasons to deviate. It’s full of excuses to slack off and lose your way. Creating an ever-building, ever-growing way of looking at your passions and your failures builds a refuge, brick by brick. When the world is chaotic, believe me, others will notice that you’re still well on your way to getting exactly what you’ve always wanted.