I am a firm believer in the power and usefulness of maintaining a personal journal. I require all my mentoring clients to make daily entries into their journals. I provide them with the following guidelines:
The journal should be used to record your thoughts as you are working through your assignments. It will be important as a record of the evolution of your thinking as we work together. Try to make an entry each day.
Add each new entry at the top of the journal so that you can read it front to back. If there are things that you are thinking consistently about, put subject headings at the beginning of each paragraph. Don’t go back and edit prior entries.
Such a journal provides a line of breadcrumbs which allows you to go back and re-experience what you were thinking. The focus particularly useful when someone is learning a skill or developing a capability. There are early entries will show how they struggle to come to terms with a new idea or a new way of looking at things. My prohibition against editing the entries is important because one of the lessons that a journal can teach is how you respond to new ideas and new perspectives. Think of it is a double learning curve.
Later on in most mentoring work I introduce an idea which I picked up from an old Navajo shaman. He talked about the “long view”. By that he meant holding a vision of your life from the beginnings of awareness to the current moment. He told me that there were a number of challenges. Pitfalls to be avoided. It’s so easy to judge looking back and muttering something like, “how could I have been so stupid?” But that’s just revisionist history. What he was suggesting was that you just look at your life in the “long view” without judgment or analysis.
In a meaningful way, this old shaman was suggesting the importance of a life journal. And so, as a first experiment, I set about developing my own. I started by setting up chapters for each of the years I’d been alive. I then went back and tried to remember what I was doing in each of those years, what I was thinking, what my aspirations were and who I associated with. It was a much more difficult process than I had initially anticipated. I was amazed at how much I could not casually remember.
It took a lot of work and help from a range of friends and past associates. But I finally got it mostly filled in. The process had been so absorbing that I hadn’t taken the time to read it front to back. But then, one evening, I sat down and did exactly that. The results were, to say the least, life-changing. Patterns became visible, tendencies highlighted, aversions identified themselves as the pattern of a life came into perspective. For me, this became part of the foundation of self-knowledge. It wasn’t the be all or end all and I didn’t see it as a definitive summation of my life. But, following my proscription to the journal writers, it was an entry at the time. And time and accumulated wisdom would certainly write it differently in the future.
Somewhere near the end of the first year of mentoring work, I help a person to develop that “long view”. It’s a real joy to see their responses and how similar they were to mine. At first, they are amazed about how much has happened in their lives and how much they have done. Then they focus on the missed opportunities and how much is yet to be done. For many, it is a rocky journey but, with my guidance, they almost always get to the place that I did. A tranquil and non-judgmental appreciation of a life.
The power of developing this “long view” is that it opens up a way forward based upon a more solidly based self-understanding and self-tolerance. It can lead to a recognition of strengths and weaknesses without self-castigation. And that is incredibly empowering. Those who have made the journey to the “long view” are never the same. They understand themselves differently. They see others differently. Now, with the illumination of the “long view”, they understand what was there to be understood all along. They begin to understand the meaning of an old Zen proverb:
It is better to understand!
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD
PJ, Mentoring Client,
Mentoring Client, CEO and Serial Entrepreneur,
Mentoring Client, Deloitte,
CEO of Croix Connect and Host of ABC Radio’s ‘Taking Care of Business’,
Partner, IT & Telecom, Defense Solutions,