While I keep a journal, it's largely a haphazard thing, a vast assemblage of notes, rambling diary entries, weird little narratives, and textual snapshots that illustrate odd moments.
I dip into it occasionally, especially at those strange times (invariably late at night) when I'm trying to remember who I've been. It's like looking into a mirror that reflects only the past.
This isn't just narcissism. You should try it. Think back to who you were, say, 15 years ago. Remember your circumstances (where you lived & worked, how you enjoyed yourself) at that time, and try to reassemble that distant self. In what social circle did you travel? What were your thoughts & feelings? What impulses drove you? I doubt they're the same as what drives you now.
And knowing how you've changed over the years is critical. After all, you can spend your career accumulating material wealth and public accolades, but those things are ephemeral. What truly matters in a given life are the capacity for love and the ability to achieve wisdom. And neither love nor wisdom can reach their greatest potential without self-knowledge.
This is basic philosophy. I know I'm not breaking any new ground here.
Now, journals are invaluable for this type of exercise. Here's a nakedly metaphysical note culled from my own journal, from over a decade ago:
"For me, writing is a form of prayer, a form of spiritual exercise that rewards effort with restoration. It's a way of centering myself, ordering the chaos that is my quotidian existence, allowing me the serene illusion that I am actually accomplishing something real."It's a paragraph that has essentially repeated itself on an annual basis since I was a teenager, meaning this thought has bubbled up to my forebrain time and time again (which goes to show you how repetitively obsessive I can get). I don't know who I stole it from, but it rings deeply true for me. And, well, I guess in terms of my commitment to writing, nothing much has changed since about the third grade.
But a better way to learn about yourself is to find out how others see you.
So I'm throwing out this challenge, hoping for some kind of response: Please take a moment and write me a quick message about how you see me. Better yet, if you have some significant memory of me (an anecdote, perhaps), then send it along to me via email. (Need I mention that all such responses will be kept confidential?)
I'm not looking for flattery. In fact, the more unflattering the perception or memory or anecdote, the more likely I am to find it useful! I'm looking for honesty. And remembrance.
Think of it as your good deed for the day. But write. I look forward to hearing from you, if only to find out how many different versions of me are floating around out there in the world. And who knows? Maybe your response will find its way into my memoirs, should I ever get around to publishing them.
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