Are You Really Growing? Thoughts From a New Journal

journal“Sin happens whenever we refuse to keep growing.” — St. Gregory of Nyssa


Today I started a new journal.

It’s nothing new, really. I’ve been keeping a daily journal for more than 15 years.

There’s a box in my closet with dozens of college-ruled notebooks and fake leather-bound journals. Thousands of pages bear witness to my teenage self’s earnest hopes and prayers, and the bottomless pool of questions that showed up on darker days. They record the people, places, and schedule of my life. They mark the course of growth: lessons I’ve learned, ways I’ve failed, things I wanted desperately, and dreams I’ve since forgotten.

So on a day like today, I’ll open up a new journal and begin to mark the pages with what my life will become in the next couple hundred days.

But before that, I’ll remember what’s in the journal I just finished up. In the past couple hundred days, the journal reminds me of the books I read and the movies I watched. It tells me who I had over for dinner and who invited me into their home. It marks the days I learned to use meditation to grow deeper awareness of myself, of God, and of others. It shows the days when I gave into fear, anger, and resentment again, and the times I failed to show up with my best honesty and grace for others. It reminds me of conversations I had over coffee or beers, and it reminds me the person I was when I started that journal is not the same person I am at the end of it.

If you’re the same person you were back when, are you really growing?

Are you embracing the variables of life and making the most of your opportunities?

Have you left the previous stages of comfort and consistency that helped your younger self, but will only coddle and suffocate you in this new moment?

Not Pinned Down

It’s scary, I agree. You may feel like the crystal merchant in The Alchemist, who said:

“I don’t want to change anything, because I don’t know how to deal with change. I’m used to the way I am.”

The merchant was a man who lived in the same place and worked the same job. He never considered any other path for this life. He didn’t know what he was capable of, and he was too comfortable in his neat little boxed-in life to try anything else. We’re all subconsciously scared, and that’s the excuse we use to avoid new challenges.

But is that growth? Is that healthy for your body, mind, and spirit? Is that exercising your faith in God, realizing your potential, or making the most of your life?

To explore where you’re going, consider where you’ve already been.

How can you tell if you’re really growing?

It’s not just about change for the sake of change; it’s about the movement of your life and the inner and outward transformations that make you more open to love, God, people, and yourself. “New stages of growth, maturity, and consciousness bring with them greater freedom, inclusion, and complexity.”

You can’t easily easily summarize the world, stereotypes about people and God don’t fit into tidy boxes anymore, and you learn to acknowledge the beauty and pain and joy and frustration and possibility of life at the same time. You see things that are far from ideal, but you recognize it’s not your job to fix everything and everyone else; you learn to do what you can in your own life and invite others to change, too, but you don’t force them.

Changing the world by forcing others to change = manipulation.
Changing the world by deciding to change yourself = responsibility. (tweet that)

It’s bewildering to look back and see proof of your gradual transformation, because it makes you wonder: How much different will I be the next time I look back at where I am now?

Social researcher and author Brené Brown writes in Rising Strong:

“Our identities are always changing and growing, they’re not meant to be pinned down. Our histories are never all good or all bad, and running from the past is the surest way to be defined by it. That’s when it owns us. They key is bringing light to the darkness—developing awareness and understanding.”

How do you develop that awareness and understanding? I think journaling is one of the best ways. In my book, I described it like this:

“Journals are time machines, transporting me back into exact places and experiences with people and a mind swarming with ideas….The brazen authenticity of knowing your own past—that’s both the blessing and the curse of journaling. I cannot change what I did, the ideas I held, or the failures I experienced those years ago. My old self is stuck in the past, frozen in the unchanging state of unusable humiliation. But on the bright side, my old self is stuck in the past, and I am always adapting with each new page I add to this variable life.” (Read more)

Exploring What’s Next

Here’s what the new journal asks:

  • What will you do with your next few days, weeks, and months?
  • Where will you spend your time, money, and social energy?
  • What will you create, share, and develop?
  • What habits will you begin, and what will you leave behind?
  • Who will you bring along on the journey? Who will you meet along the way?
  • Which new perspectives will you explore, and which will you abandon?
  • What motivates you to join in the unfolding mystery of what it means to be an integrated, fully alive human in the 21st century?

How Will You Fill the Pages?

Several years ago, my friend Brian gave me a hand-lettered quote in a frame, which said:

“Look at the blank pages before you with courage. Now fill them with beauty.”

Now it’s your turn.

You are sitting at the table, and a new journal is open before you. What will you write on its pages?

  • What will you do?
  • What will you explore?
  • What will you leave behind?
  • How will you change?
  • Who will you become?

You don’t need to know precise answers. You just need the courage to keep moving forward.


Gain clarity and confidence as you grow and change. Sign up to get a free chapter from John’s book—plus get The Variable Life Soundtrack: Extended Edition.

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