Lessons from a Year of Writing
This is my 50th consecutive weekly post. When I started in November of last year, I decided to write something weekly with no clear sense of how long it would last and more than a little doubt about whether anyone would find it worthwhile. Today, readership is at about a thousand people and gradually increasing each week. I thought I would use this week’s blog to reflect on what I’ve learned.
Don’t break the chain
As I sit down to write each week, I am reminded of the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Early in his career, he made a commitment to write a new joke, good or bad, each day. To hold himself accountable, he would mark an X on each day of his calendar and connect the Xs with a line. He was determined, in his words, to “never break the chain” of connected Xs. In other words, to never miss a day. He credits his extraordinary success to never having broken the chain. Similarly, Dolly Parton, one of the most accomplished songwriters in history, has written over 3,000 songs since the age of five. That amounts to writing a new song each week for over sixty years!
In the words of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” One of the most important takeaways from this past year is the imperative of deciding who you want to be and then doing it repeatedly. Most people, myself included, get paralyzed by the overwhelming nature of the vision they set for themselves. The antidote to this paralysis is taking one small action and repeating it. If you want to be a singer, sing. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to change the world, start with one small thing every day. And don’t break the chain!
Embrace resistance and doubt
There wasn’t a single week over the past year where I didn’t experience some resistance to taking the time to write or doubt that what I would write would be good enough. Fortunately, I had written in my book about this phenomenon. This past year was yet another reminder that resistance and doubt are normal and can be used as allies in the creative process. Regarding resistance, the following excerpt from my book is about the experience of writing my book:
Often, I would feel the pull away from the act of sitting down and committing to writing. Rather than fear this counterforce, I embraced it. I leaned into it. I began to use its energy much like the aikido master moves with his opponent’s energy rather than against it. I began to see resistance like gravity, an omnipresent energy that, despite its downward pressure, allowed for infinite possibilities of movement and action.
As for doubt, I quoted in my book Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art:
Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I a really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are.
The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
In some ways, the more resistance and doubt, the more committed I am to write. This is a critical ingredient in the path to mastering anything.
Let in the appreciation
I believe one of the most challenging things in life is for one to fully allow himself to be loved and appreciated. At least that has been true for me. So here I go. The responses to this weekly blog have been extraordinary. I am so grateful (and proud) that I have been able to add some small value in a year that has been quite challenging. Here are a few of the many notes of gratitude I have received.
I love this one! Sent to my two older boys.
Thanks for writing this Darren…it’s just what I needed to be reminded of this morning.
I just wanted to share with you how much I've been enjoying your "Master Your Code" newsletters. I find myself reflecting on, and writing in my journal about, nearly every one of them. Good stuff....very much appreciated!
These articles have meaningful impact on me and I am sure many others. Keep this work up, it is wonderful.
I really loved this article. Thank you for this gift for today!
This is beautiful and brings tears to my eyes. Thank you.
T H I S I S F A B U L O U S. Well said and thanks for putting yourself out there.
I love reading your stuff. And - you’re still burying your lead :) [This was a reminder from a friend who I deeply respect. It led me to start each blog with two or three sentences that capture the essence of the post.]
Loved this one. Speaks directly to my soul.
Oooohhhh this is good!!!!
This is a beautiful, vulnerable and heartfelt blog Darren – it touched my own heart as I’m sure it will others. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks. I’ve been looking for some help in attitude adjustment and your email did it.
Love this! Thanks for this weekly gift. It always lifts my spirits and helps me think positively.
Wisdom is timeless
2020 has been an extraordinary year. My quick glance back at the 50 posts reminded me of how much has happened over the last twelve months. One of the gifts is that it has given me an opportunity to write about a number of powerful themes that feel even more relevant today than they have ever been. They include self-mastery, belief, choice, identity, polarity thinking, locus of control, resilience, greatness, values, rituals, love, death, and personal responsibility. And I was able, in doing so, to honor some extraordinary people, including Kobe Bryant (twice), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Naomi Osaka, Setsuko Thurlow, Nelson Mandela, John Lewis, Mother Teresa, Michael Jordan, Marcus Aurelius, Stephen King, Bryan Stevenson, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s truly been an privilege. Thank you.
If I were to leave you with one set of questions to reflect on, it is this. What is it that you have wanted to do but haven’t done? How can you use resistance and doubt to your advantage? What would it look like to take one small step towards manifesting it? In the wise words of Marcus Aurelius, “Waste no more time arguing what a good man [or woman] should be. Be one.”
Love him or despise him, it’s hard to argue that Sacha Baron Cohen isn’t a genius. In my view, this wonderful article makes the case effectively.
One of my all-time favorite quotes that consistently inspires me is from Werner Erhard. “It is important that you get clear for yourself that your only access to impacting life is action. The world does not care what you intend, how committed you are, how you feel or what you think, and certainly it has no interest in what you want and don’t want. Take a look at life as it is lived and see for yourself that the world only moves for you when you act.”
If you haven’t yet read Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art, I highly recommend you do so.