I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last month reflecting on my personal and professional goals for the next year. It started off as a really trying exercise because I have absolutely no idea where I want to be in five to ten years, therefore making it difficult to figure out what I’m working toward. After a bit of struggling, I’m proud to say that I’ve made some progress. I can now articulate the type of work I’d like to be doing and the skills I would love to be using. However, I still find it pretty frustrating to essentially be working on a map that guides me to nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
Last week I picked up Bird by Bird, a surprisingly captivating book about writing and life. The author, Anne Lamott, is a professor and in the book she shares everything she knows about being a writer while tying in life lessons along the way.
In one of my favorite chapters, she talks about the common myth that every successful writer is able to sit down and immediately write the most beautiful, engaging pieces of work without any effort. Much like selfish and naive teenagers, so many of us budding and aspiring writers believe that we’re the only ones who become distracted and grow frustrated with the crappy words, thoughts and phrases that will flow from our brains to our fingertips when we sit down to write.
Lamott tells us to stop fooling ourselves, explaining that the process is no different from one writer to the next. She then proceeds to share the following story:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.
That’s when I realized that life is no different. The pressure of thinking I should know where I want to be professionally in the next five to ten years is beyond overwhelming. And that’s perfectly okay.
In life, we will hardly ever have a solid sense of what our destination will be. Each of us has a unique story to tell that can only be written one day at a time. The only way for it to get told, though, is for us to start somewhere. Even the best authors had to start by sitting down to write.
So that’s what I’ll be doing doing. I’m starting right where I am, with what I know. Taking it day by day, word by word, and bird by bird until my story has been told.