I was lost.
I’d published my second novel, Johnny Gone Down, after a couple of years of working on it. Now, I was free. I was working in a new job, living in a new city, meeting people, eating out, dabbling with charity, learning a little yoga, traveling, experiencing.
I should’ve been happy.
Instead I felt restless, adrift, uneasy.
I knew where I’d gone wrong.
I wasn’t living life like a story.
Think of any great novel. The Alchemist, Moby Dick, Harry Potter. The hero needs a goal. Lofty, all-consuming, bigger than himself. The Alchemist had to find the treasure. Harry Potter couldn’t survive without vanquishing Voldemort. Captain Ahab would die a spiritual death if he didn’t pursue the whale.
I hadn’t set any unattainable goal.
I stopped dabbling and threw myself into learning yoga. I decided to write a novel that would inspire many to embark on a spiritual quest by making it a racy adventure. I felt calmer, quieter. Life had an organizing principle once again.
Are you living life like a story?
Each time I feel lost and uneasy, I go back to the tradition of storytelling and ask myself these three questions:
1. Are you consumed by a lofty goal?
To paraphrase Tolstoy, in all of literature, there are only two stories:
The hero goes to a strange town
A stranger comes to town.
Are you going to a strange town this year, metaphorically of course?
I’ve wasted years of my life in small, incremental improvements, staying within the boundaries of what I know, trying, dabbling, making marginal changes.
Now I try not to.
If your entire living, breathing energy isn’t flowing in a direction; if you don’t experience that strange reductiveness where all the usual activities that make people happy—eating out, traveling, vacations—pale in comparison to the joy of the pursuit; if you’re not creating or building something that stretches you—a book, an organization, a new life, something—then you’ll likely feel that uneasy drifting of a plotless story.
Find that goal, lose yourself in the story of trying to get to it.
2. Does the goal have a strain of selflessness?
I scrapped a detective thriller I spent one year writing because it had no meaning to it. I lost all my money in an online business venture which had no purpose beyond setting up a passive income for myself. Again and again, I’ve seen myself fail in seeing things through when I haven’t been directed by an ambition beyond myself. Now I don’t do anything that hasn’t got at-least a sense of impact beyond myself built into it. Else I know somewhere I’ll lose the will to see it through.
3. Is there a ticking time bomb that forces you to get to the goal fast?
Robert Langdon would be imprisoned if he didn’t find the Holy Grail quickly. I couldn’t become a father until I could answer the meaning-of-life questions that had dogged me in writing The Yoga of Max’s Discontent.
A story becomes a story when there is urgency, pressure, tension for the hero to achieve his goal.
The bad guys will close in, your world will be torn into pieces, there’s going to be a physical, emotional, spiritual consequence if you don’t accomplish your goal. What’s your ticking time bomb?
How will your world destruct if you don’t get where you want to get? Fast.
What’s your story in 2017?
I’ve been strangely adrift in 2017. Now, I’m defining my goals. What are yours? Is there an physical or spiritual consequence of not meeting them? Do drop me a note in the comments below and let’s keep each other on track!