Once you decide what you want to do or build or join or create, you’ve taken the first step in becoming a hero on a mission: you’ve invited yourself into a story. After you step into that story, you’ll exit what Viktor Frankl called “the existential vacuum.” Life is now asking you a question that requires action to answer.
Will you decide to work remotely and take your family on a yearlong trip around the world? Will you write that book? Will you start a community garden? How will it all work out?
The story question is the magic ingredient that keeps you interested in your own life. And the action you take to answer that question pulls you out of the narrative void.
Now, you might ask what story questions are creating narrative traction in your life?
All stories are built around the main question. Will the team win the championship? Will the couple fall in love and live happily ever after? Will the hero disarm the bomb? The story itself doesn’t matter all that much as long as it poses a question. And that question must be so compelling that you are willing to change the trajectory of your life to make the preferred answer happen.
After we decide what we want, the next challenge is to see the ambition through to its conclusion—but seeing things through is a challenge in and of itself.
The hard thing about reading things like this is that we are inspired and feel great about life, and then find ourselves right back in the sea of distractions. A year later, we sadly realize we haven’t moved forward in our story.
To make a story happen, we have to get up every day and “put something on the plot.” That’s the exact phrase I used while starting my writing career. I’d get up in the morning, go down to the local coffee shop, and “put something on the plot.” It’s the phrase I used as I built my company, and it’s the phrase I used every morning when riding across America (sometimes with an expletive mixed in). More recently, it’s the phrase I use as Betsy and I build Goose Hill, our home that functions as a kind of mini retreat center for friends and family.
Talking about all of these stories is easy, of course. Living them is hard.
The process of living a story (or, for that matter, writing one) can feel overwhelming. During Ernest Hemingway’s early writing days in Paris, he used to stand at his apartment window looking down over the city and say to himself, “Do not worry. You have always written before, and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” With that in mind, he’d sit down and add another line to his legacy.
The stories we live seem romantic in hindsight, but in the moment, it’s all work. When we are trying to live these stories we are attacked by the fear that things won’t work, or we are just not in the mood to put a little something on the plot. It’s the constant interruptions, diversions and other people thinking we are a little crazy that cause us to stall in our stories and return to the narrative void.
But we have to keep going. We have to keep putting a little something on the plot, day after day, if we’re going to find the narrative traction necessary to get us interested in our own lives.
For more than 10 years I have been performing a simple morning ritual that channels my focus and intensity. It involves reviewing my life plan and then filling out a daily planner page. Regardless of how foggy my mind is, my ritual changes the way I see the world. My morning ritual gives me clarity about what my story is about, why it’s important and what I need to do that day to put something on the plot. With that clarity, I start my day.
What’s your ritual? What’s your story? How will you act on it?
Excerpted from Hero on a Mission: A Path to a Meaningful Life by Donald Miller with permission from HarperCollins Leadership. Photo by @Nastyaofly/Twenty20