I love to read non-fiction self-helpy type books that make me think. You might have guessed that from some of the Friday Feast articles I share. Self growth is very important to me. As the saying goes, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying” and in a large sense that’s true. Life is about learning, not only about the outside world but also about ourselves. What are our truths? What makes us Happy? Who are we? What are our stories?
That last question is a new one for me. Steve and I think about our stories to come, our post-career lives when we can choose how we spend our days and the adventures we will have outside of full time jobs. That’s as close as I’ve come to “choosing my story”, a future daydream. That’s how most people choose their stories. But our real stories are what we’re doing right now…today. We are choosing the story of our life with each decision we make. What kind of story is it?
Donald Miller wrote an extremely interesting and inspiring book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years“, that made me really think about the stories we are crafting with our lives. A Million Miles tells Donald’s story. Donald wrote a very successful memoir and then settled back into normal life. It wasn’t until 2 film producers decided to make a movie out of his memoir and asked him to help edit and change his own life for the big screen that he began to question the life we was living.
Think about it. Normal life doesn’t make a good story. It’s boring. His example: A man wants a new Volvo. He’s always seen Volvo as an indication of success and he’s worked for years to be able to afford one. He spends hours researching and going to dealerships until finally……he buys it! End of movie. Not very exciting, huh? When your life goals involve buying things, the story is not very interesting.
So Donald goes through the process of learning what makes an interesting story, one that the readers will love and a main character that they’ll be rooting for. Then, he realizes those same things that make a great movie also make a great life. He starts crafting his life like he IS the movie. He hikes the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu by saying yes when asked (even though he thinks its crazy) and then motivates himself to get in shape after learning how absolutely terrible the trail is.
He kayaks and puts himself out there to meet some amazing people. He realizes that good stories involve doing something meaningful to help others and decides to start a mentoring program for boys who grew up without fathers like him, finding his purpose. He decides to bike across the United States for charity even though he’s a beginner cycler because serious life-threatening challenges make characters grow and change…and guess what it does for him?
As I read this book I couldn’t help but think what an fascinating concept it is. Look at your life like you were writing a movie script. Are you finding it interesting? What would you do to challenge your character? Make them grow? Give them meaning? Make them happy?
Sometimes, looking at our lives as an outsider instead of as an insider can completely change our perspective. And it’s not just the big stories that matter. What about the little ones? The things we remember because they were so out of the ordinary – like the food fight we had with our parents as children when we were sure we were going to get yelled at instead. Or that time we skinny dipped in the pool in the middle of the night. Or the spontaneous camping trip where you had one of the deepest conversations of your life. Those are amazing stories too. They make the movie more meaningful. They make the character’s life more meaningful.
What did I realize? I need more amazing stories and every single day is an opportunity for them. My big story involves working hard to epically retire at 33, going on awesome adventures and pushing myself to my boundaries and beyond. My smaller stories are day by day. Being a total goof with my husband and swimming with bats. Deciding to surprise a friend just because. Looking for ways to share my knowledge and joy with the outside world.
Everyday is a chance to live an authentic epic story and I’m going to try and craft each one of them to make my story the best story of them all for me.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.